There is a systematic formula that has accompanied soap operas for years that helps the non-viewer understand the basics and their significance. While the episodes are a half hour to an hour in length, they contain the lives of multiple generations, more often than not, children are absent from the screen but we know they are there. They often depict men and women in the workplace, typically portrayed as doctors or lawyers; in this sense, men and women are on professional par with each other. Although they are professionally present, they spend most of their time experiencing personal and domestic crises. Although the crises may fall under themes of unwed mothers, a great sacrifice, or winning back an estranged lover, they have been known to tackle controversial issues such as rape (Modleski). Soap operas were fundamental during the progressive women’s rights movement in American history and currently serve as a contributor to the contemporary movement in India through the use of strong female leads and set the norm for equalization of genders in the work environment.
America has seen waves of women’s rights movements, although there are still strides to be made before all social injustices are ironed over, we are a country that is relatively on the forefront. Women in America began watching soap operas as a way to connect to a world outside of themselves while tending to the home and family. Soon, women became emotionally involved, the actors became like a family while they were expected to care for their own. They begin to understand the lives of their “family” on television and connect one of two ways: relationships to personal attachment, or the relief that “thank goodness that isn’t me.” Within the past fifty years, the movement has become prevalent in making efforts in programming for soap operas such as As the World Turns. This program dealt heavily with Chris Hughes' law practice and the travails of his wife Nancy who, exhausted by being "the loyal housewife" in the 1970s, became one of the first older women on the American serials to become a working woman (Associated Times). Instances such as these make it a prominent theme of working women that transcends through the consistent formatting of soap opera episodes in not only the United States but countries such as India and Iran. I think people like stories that continue so they can relate to these people.
Starting in the 1980s, soap operas became popular because of the increase in television sales. They soon became an integral part of Indian culture, depicting conflict between love and arranged marriages, especially the relationships between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law. As India expands its outreach and is increasingly becoming prominent in the world market, their population is seeking equalization, especially when it comes to women. Traditionally, Indian media has portrayed women as accommodating, highly patient, and possess the ability to put their aspirations on hold for the family, according to Uday Shankar, chief executive officer of Star India. He goes on to say, “ times are slowly changing. That's the kind of thing you need…for your shows to…resonate with the viewers." With the rise in new industries, such as information technology outsourcing, times have led to an increase in professional women, “who increasingly select their own spouses and live separately from parents” (Leahy). With the increase in professional women the viewership has reflected positively when real characters that battle real issues rather than the previous “kitchen politics,” as Rajesh Kumar, Colors chief executive, phrases it. An example of programming that fought against traditional norms is Sasural Genda Phool. This show is about a rich woman who marries into a middle-class family but insists on maintaining a modern life, becoming possibly the only woman on Hindi television who wears only western dress. This isn’t to say that the problem is fixed, but it is being addressed. Programming like this challenge the traditional norms established through thousands of years. India has become increasingly progressive in recent years when discussing women’s rights and has spread this awareness to other countries, one of which being Iran.
Just as in India, the role of soap operas has become increasingly important in Iran, depicting lives outside of the norm. In Iran, many young Iranian women are living vicariously through the Farsi1's American, Colombian and South Korean soaps and comedies. These programs give them, “a taste of life beyond their conservative families and the Islamic regime” (Bozorgmehr). In attempts to preserve conservative Islamic values and hinder the movement, the Iranian government has established internet filters, confiscated satellite dishes, jammed signals and closed dozens of newspapers. Additionally, by observing the governmental reaction to programming labeled “vulgar” because of its depiction of kissing couples, the progressive soap operas are challenging the societal norms.
So the next time you are flipping through the channels and casually dismiss a soap opera, think about the impact that these shows are making elsewhere. Soap operas have not only had a fundamental contribution to women’s rights movements here in America but are also making strides in countries such as India and Iran.
Associated Press (April 2, 1988). "At a Ripe 25, 'Hospital' Is Healthy". The New York Times (nytimes.com). Retrieved December 19, 2012.
Bozorgmehr, Najmeh. "Foreign Soaps Give Iranian Women Taste for Forbidden Fruits." Foreign Soaps Give Iranian Women Taste for Forbidden Fruits 3 (2010): 7. Lexis Nexis. Web. 2 May 2014.
Leahy, Joe. "Indian Soap Operas Strike New Note as Women Find Their Voice." Financial Times 1 (2010): 1. Lexis Nexis. Web. 3 May 2014.
Modleski, Tania. "The Search for Tomorrow in Today's Soap Operas: Notes on a Feminine Narrative Form." Film Quarterly 33.1 (1979): 12-21. Print.