The Representation of Women in Pakistani Dramas

In this day and age, no one can reject the tremendous power of television. Despite the cyber revolution, TV, too, is a powerful medium to notify, educate, entertain and create awareness. The episodic television serials, popularly known as ‘dramas’, are among the most-watched programs on television in Pakistan.

Most of these dramas centre around the family, especially women, often as independent people and most frequently as mothers, sisters and wives. Women are crucial to almost every story but how are they characterized in our television plays?

This is one of the more controversial issues under debate since the beginning of television, not only in Pakistan but also globally. As a media observer, I realize that the majority of Pakistani dramas today are a weird mix of progress and regress.

While some serials do hold a few liberal, progressive and gender-sensitive statements, most of them reinforce patriarchal values. Women are increasingly shown being dehumanized by men — slapped, beaten up, humiliated, abused — and, oppositely, men are portrayed as the exclusive decision-makers, who merely order around the women in their lives, instructing them what to do or what not to do.

What is incredibly worrying about such scenes portraying male dominance? The serials reinforce violent stereotypes about women and project a highly negative image of women. In almost every serial, the indication is that the woman is to be blamed for whatever is wrong in her life, or even in the life of her family and people she interacts with or is connected to.

Another problematic perspective of many dramas is the overly negative emotions connected to having a daughter. Words and phrases constantly refer to the existence of a young daughter as a burden, a load that needs to alleviate as soon as possible.

Connected to this patriarchal strategy is the problem of a divorced woman or one in the process of getting a divorce. Reactions involve sarcasm, insulting the woman and downright matam (mourning).

The blame is positioned squarely on the woman for not being eligible to keep her marriage intact or her husband happy. A woman who asks for divorce is described as committing an unforgivable act.

A man can say talaq (divorce) three times to his wife for no reason with impunity, but a woman wishing to get out of an abusive or hard relationship is still made to look socially inappropriate.

I also have problems with many of today’s serials where women are lessened to being mere objects, and their looks are considered their biggest asset. Then there are serials where the most unusual scenarios are presented (even though the issue could be genuine).

For example, two creepy old men are shown staring at the young maids who work in their home, in the programme Shauqeen. Their behaviour is clear-cut sexual harassment but illustrated as a joke, something the two maids are also shown enjoying.

Moreover, the women are being depicted as very old ladies while in their real life, they are young as shown in recently playing drama Mushk and in Soteli Mamta. Pakistani media has recently undergone several modifications, involving the role women play in it.

It is seeking to create awareness among the masses about women’s rights and speaks largely about feminism. In rural areas, women lacked awareness and education however due to media, now they are more aware and the gender pay gap is diminishing to a great extent.

Most people thought that the media has launched a negative image of women and brought her weak points to the lead. The drama industry has a big responsibility to shoulder in this respect.

The drama Zindagi Gulzar Hai was a great success by showing a positive image of women in society and their cultural significance. Most of the time, media shows negative things regarding women but this drama turned the direction to 180 degrees.

This drama especially the role of Kashaf should have resulted in the inspiration of many females and families who lack sons.

Such dramas must be admired and more efforts like this must be done to facilitate the role of women through media.

But the need of the hour is to redefine the storylines of dramas in Pakistani society so that the gender gap must be excluded and society turns towards stability.



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