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How media portrayals of toxic masculinity impact our society

  • Published at 03:56 pm June 18th, 2020

Bangladesh's social condition is reflected in dramas and films, media personalities said in a webinar

Aarna, a campaign against gender based violence, hosted a webinar focusing on the role that on-screen media play in glorifying toxic masculinity and normalising violence against women through negative stereotypes and archetypes of both genders.

Various media personalities as well as experts from different fields expressed their views at the webinar on violence against women in Bangladesh on Wednesday night.

Dhaka Tribune was the broadcast partner of the program.

The panellists agreed that the country’s social condition was reflected in entertainment-based programs, including drama or films. Audiences widely accept a cheap portrayal of toxic masculinity as it really exists in society, they said.

So actors, both male and female, have to raise their voices against such script content, and directors have a vital role to play, said the panellists.

Tahsan Khan, prominent actor and musician of the country, discussed how on-screen media could often glorify toxic masculinity and normalize violence against women through negative stereotypes and archetypes of both genders.

“Our mainstream media represents the type of masculinity that exists in most of the people of our society. Most people of our country also accept that type. Toxic masculinity is prevalent not just in our country, but all over the world,” Tahsan said.

“We have just started the dialogue in our media community to eradicate toxic masculinity. Perhaps it is the achievement of 2020,” Tahsan added.

He said if media personalities started talking about toxic masculinity, then society would also start thinking about it. 

Sara Zaker, a renowned Bangladeshi actor, entrepreneur and social activist, pointed out that women were being objectified on screen since the beginning of the television industry in the country.

While talking about the impact media had on people’s behaviour and psychology, she said: “Mediascape does reflect on the mindscape of the people.”

“While casting roles in a drama, man is portrayed as the source of power as part of marketing strategy. The role-playing person (actor or actress) can do nothing about it. But when we direct such drama, play or jingle, we have an opportunity to play a pivotal role,” Sara Zaker, who is also a director, claimed.

“When a female raises her voice to speak the truth on social media platforms, have you seen the abuse she receives from other people?”


“Unless all of you raise your voice, consciousness will not grow,” Sara added.

She suggested raising the voices of women as well as men to fight domestic violence together.

Ashique Selim, lead psychiatrist and managing director of Psychological Health and Wellness Clinic in Dhaka, said lessons and behaviour one learned from the family could lessen domestic violence.

“Learning from watching everything that happens in front of us impacts the most in our society, where media portrayals intensify the discourse,” he said.

He said there were some certain archetypes or a blueprint of behaviour in our culture that people automatically followed.

“As we have seen in many cases, a school girl who is in a relationship just thinks about whether her partner loves her. She does not even think whether he respects her,” Ashique pointed out.

Farin Daula, a lecturer at North South University and founder of the social awareness raising movement  One Circle, thought that many people in the country identified sexual or physical violence as serious crimes, but did not recognize emotional violence as a serious crime.

“For example, male partners demand passwords of social media from their female counterparts, which is a breach of personal privacy. Our society is used to such circumstances,” Farin asid.

“We have to teach our children to grow up as ‘a whole’, not to be a ‘better half’ according to the traditions of our society. We have to realize that all people are equal,” she added.

Popular Telefilm Director Mabrur Rashid Bannah said he was trying from his point of view as a director to raise awareness on this issue and urged everyone to do the same.

The webinar also dwelt on a woman’s account, who described the domestic violence she had to endure from her husband.

The woman said: “My guardians at that time helped me to get out of that situation and I will be forever grateful to them for helping me make that decision. Any time is a good start to start over, so to anyone who is stuck in torture cage all I want to say is leave and start over. It will be worth it.”

Farhana Muna, a celebrity comedian and women’s rights activist, hosted the program.

“Despite the progress we have made in many facets of the society, the status quo on domestic violence remains largely unchanged when it comes to recognizing abuse and empathizing with the victims," she said.

"We tend to judge and victim shame rather than call out this behaviour as unacceptable and have zero tolerance for domestic violence in any of its forms. Project #aarna is aimed at disrupting this narrative by spreading accurate information and breaking the stigma around this issue,” she added.

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