A study titled 'Staging Aggressive Masculinity' conducted by the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI), revealed that a high level of aggression was observed in a majority of the news shows sampled. It further found that more male anchors employed an aggressive tone than female anchors.
The study, which was led by Laxmi Murthy and Usha Raman, a professor at the University of Hyderabad, seeks to understand hegemonic and toxic masculinities, particularly in the media.
"Our critique is not of men, but of the hegemonic and toxic associations of masculinity with aggression, dominance, misogyny and, ultimately, violence. An in-depth analysis of behaviours that convey aggression (as opposed to assertion on the basis of evidence), dominance (as opposed to negotiation and cooperation), and sexism (as opposed to gender inclusion and respect), could allow us to formulate and promote alternative expressions of professionalism through example, training and mentorship," read the report.
The report monitored the journalistic performance of masculinities on 31 prime-time television news and talk shows in 12 languages, including English, between 19 and 25 September 2021.
Expressions of Aggression
The report revealed that aggression was observed in more than 50 percent of the news shows sampled. The percentage rose to 85 percent for talk shows.
Aggression was monitored on the basis of observable expressions (including verbal, physical, and emotional cues) of physical or emotional harm, or threats of physical violence, whereas anger referred to observable feelings of fury, rage, and hostility.
It revealed that the panels moderated by male anchors displayed more (54.55 percent) aggressive masculinist behaviour on several metrics than those moderated by female anchors (12.07 percent).
It further revealed that the tone of voice was the most common expression of aggression. Marginally, more male anchors employed an aggressive tone (78.13 percent) over female anchors (75.28 percent). More shouting was observed in male-moderated panels (48.75 percent) as compared to female-moderated panels (15.52 percent).
The study read, "Toxic masculinity combined with right-wing, hyper-nationalist, majoritarian ideology was evident in the discourse on social media. Anyone critical of the ruling establishment was branded 'anti-national' and subjected to verbal assault by online trolls. Online violence sometimes included increasingly real threats of offline violence."
Presence of Dominant Behaviour
Dominant behaviour was studied taking into consideration observable behaviours, such as competition rather than collaboration, denial of agency to women and queer persons, evidence of identity-based prejudice, among others. It revealed that dominant behaviour was very common, i.e., 66 percent of the total number of cases, irrespective of the anchor’s gender. Both men and women anchors were observed to use a domineering tone of voice (male: 81.25 percent, female: 74.16 percent).
The study added that the biggest recorded disparity between male and female performances of dominance was with respect to interpersonal dynamics. "Male anchors were found to demean or otherwise undermine their guests/sources in 58.33% of the observed instances, whereas the same behaviour was observed in female anchors 30.34% of the time," read the study.
Sexism Propagated by Anchors
There was not much of a visible difference between sexist behaviours propagated by male and female anchors. The use of dismissive language towards women or other genders was slightly higher in the case of male anchors than their female counterparts, i.e., 27.66 percent and 19.54 percent, respectively. The absence of female and non-binary persons as guests on panels, even when issues with a gender dimension were being discussed, were also flagged in the study.
Difference Across Languages
A few differences were observed across media of different languages. "This reflects the different ways in which masculinist cultures pervade various regions and across linguistic groups," read the study.
The variable of aggression was 'highly present' in the English media, which made up 19 percent of the sample, followed by Gujarati media, which was the third-most monitored language. For the variable of 'dominance', Hindi media took the lead with 34.86%, while Bengali media appeared to have fewer elements of dominance. Tamil media, which made up only 5% of the total samples examined in the study, had the maximum share of 'highly present' for the variable of 'sexism' at 38.70%.
The report offered a set of recommendations as well as a handy checklist for anchors and talk-show hosts. "The discussion at the round-table meeting in Delhi in December 2021 (which included activists, journalists, academics and writers) brought up many important points relating to the context, content, and delivery formats (words, images, graphics, sound, affect) of television news, as well as the many factors—both political and economic—that constrain change,” read the report.
Read the report here.