If you are an avid follower of Pakistani serials/dramas, the one thing that is common in almost all of them is how women are portrayed.
There is a ‘good girl’ who is a homemaker, wears eastern clothes, who will sacrifice everything for family, who is often seen in the kitchen cooking food or cleaning the house, who hardly steps out of the house unless it’s with her husband and/or family, who will forgive her husband for many things, including domestic violence or infidelity or both.
Then there is the ‘bad girl’, who is more often than not a working woman, who wears western clothes, drives a car, goes out on her own, is ambitious and ‘conniving’. Divorced women are either shown as bad girls or sad girls.
We often wonder how educated writers can write such stuff and why educated women actors can take up such roles.
Actor Hina Bayat in an interview with Fifi Haroon for BBC Urdu once said, “ “Most scriptwriters today are women who have never seen the inside of an office. In their real-world, working women don’t exist so they don’t write them into their fictional worlds either – except perhaps as negative characters or mothers who ignore their children.”
This explains why the writers write what they do to a certain extent.
As for the actors, maybe there is not much they can do when acting is their bread and butter and these are the roles that are in the market. We are not blaming the actors, but we do believe that if there is a market for plays like ‘Udaari’, then why do we need plays like ‘Jhooti’ that perpetuate falsehoods about domestic violence.
We need more progressive writers. Otherwise, these dramas will keep feeding our already patriarchal and misogynist society.
Lest we forget, when 20-year-old law student Dua Mangi was kidnapped from Karachi on November 30, 2019, it highlighted a dark side of Pakistan that we often ignore, i.e. extreme misogyny.
BBC did a story on the Mangi case titled, ‘Dua Mangi: Slut-shamed in Pakistan for being abducted’. The story talked about the inappropriate remarks regarding Dua’s dressing and comments on how she was out at night with a male friend were discussed more than the actual incident of kidnapping.
It was tragic to see that there was more outrage online over Dua’s clothes, her friend and why she was out at night than over the actual crime. It should have been a moment of introspection for us. Instead, we ignored it once again. By ignoring or not calling out such perverted behaviour, we normalise misogyny. Horrid practices like ‘honour killing’ and ‘Vani-Swara’ are not frowned upon; instead, they are dismissed as tribal culture.
When women and young girls are used to settle family disputes, it is a crime, not tribal culture.
That our society is prevalently misogynistic is no secret as this vile misogyny has always been on display when it comes to crimes against women.
When General (r) Musharraf was asked in an interview with the Washington Post about the high-profile gang rape case of Mukhtaran Mai, he said, “You must understand the environment in Pakistan… this has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped.”
When heads of a state of a country can think like this and say it out loud to an international media organisation, we can imagine the state of overall apathy and insensitivity regarding women.
Meesha Shafi’s sexual harassment case against Ali Zafar is another case in point. The kind of abuse that Meesha got online shows why it is hard for Pakistani women to talk about sexual abuse let alone coming out in public with the details.
It doesn’t matter if the woman is Mukhtaran Mai, Meesha Shafi or Dua Mangi, she will get abused. Victim blaming and victim shaming has become the norm. It seems as if being a woman is some sort of a crime. According to a report by Media Matters for Democracy, “95 per cent of women journalists feel online violence has an impact on their professional choices, while 77 per cent self-censor as a way to counter online violence.”
This is the reality of Pakistan – where women are the culprits even after being harassed, raped, kidnapped, shot at and even after being murdered. A country where ‘Aurat March’ triggers ‘ghairat’ but where the kidnapping of a young girl cannot even elicit apathy.
This is why we don’t need regressive roles for women in dramas. This is why we don’t need to portray working women who are independent and strong as the ‘bad girls’ or ‘vamps’. This is why we need good writers who don’t demonise women or stereotype them. This is what we ask of our entertainment industry.