Pakistani dramas: Are women really less empowered now?

Published: September 7, 2012

Women are stereotyped as weak and the inability to stand up for themselves is portrayed as a virtue. DESIGN: IMAAN SHEIKH

Pakistani drama culture is back with many brilliant writers and directors entering the industry and producers investing generously.

However, recently it seems that our writers have run out of ideas. It is like our society has no other issues other than ‘khandani’ politics and scheming in-laws. To quote the way my brother puts it:

“The women are always the most innocent creatures while men are vile, cruel and evil and are always lured away by the evil sister or evil friend and eventually they realise their loss and end up sorry. The end.”

Sadly I have no choice but to agree with him.

The reason it is so disturbing is that instead of portraying and motivating women to be strong and independent, they are displayed as petty creatures, who need constant protection and those who dare to make their own decisions are nothing less than evil. The girl must know that the sole purpose of her existence is to get married.

Well, what if she can’t find a suitable match?

Why isn’t she encouraged to be confident enough to make a future for herself?

Women are stereotyped as weak and the inability to stand up for themselves is portrayed as a virtue. There are many examples to prove the above point but the one ripest in my mind is a scene from the serial Madiha Maliha.

There is a stark contrast between the circumstances of the two sisters. While the obedient sister wastes her life away reading digests, the other, who is planning a life ahead, is portrayed as evil. When ‘Maliha’ suggests to her sister to go out and put her skills to use instead of sitting at home doing nothing, ‘Madiha’ just stares at her in disbelief and is only able to utter the words,

“Tum kesi batain kar rahi ho?”

(Why are you saying things like that?)

Another example is the drama Vasl, which is currently being aired from the same channel as Madiha Maliha.

The lead character, ‘Hina’, is a doting wife and a mother of two but is so helplessly dependent that when her husband divorces her and takes away her children, all she does is ponder over the tragedy instead of trying to get back to them. In an attempt to get to her children back, she marries a US citizen, but when he tells her to stay put instead of trying to find her kids, she is bound to do as he bids.

Reason: she is a good and obedient wife who, despite having access to all resources, cannot take a stand for her children.

‘Marina’, on the other hand, is a headstrong and ambitious woman who bluntly tells her husband that she won’t start a family till she establishes her career. The victim in this situation is the insecure husband who sulks when his wife is promoted at work instead of appreciating her.

Man Jali is yet another story of a woman’s sacrifice. The main character named ‘Zareena’ consumes herself compromising for a corrupt and cruel ‘maulvi’ husband. Despite knowing all that he is up to, she never questions his behaviour so she can ‘protect’ him and her home. How such behaviour helps a family, I can’t even guess.

Why are women in our society made to think that their so-called sacrifices (read: cowardice) are helping anyone? Why is there such a need felt to maintain an abusive marriage? People normally say, it’s a necessity driven by the need to provide children with a ‘normal’ home. But how can you ensure the mental health of children who watch their fathers abusing their mothers constantly?

It is really ironic that women in contemporary serials are portrayed in such light while the female characters in serials released in the 70s and 80s were strong and independent, and weakness was condemned.

Don’t you think?

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Farwa Naqvi

Farwa Naqvi

A Mass Communication undergrad and a blogger, Farwa tweets as @fbNaqvi. twitter.com/fbNaqvi

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Haider

    Without reading the complete blog, i am writing that Indian culture is influencing our serials now. Recommend

  • ab

    well i think many things can be changed at least in the urban class very quickly in term of abusive marriages. there is a saying when there is a will there is the way.

    secondly you gave the example of marina above i think many things can be decided at least i will say in the urban middle class and above if the girl want to work or not or if she want to pursue further studies between the families very easily instead of the boy and girl wasting their time before the marriage talking on the useless things why not make some decisions.Recommend

  • Sidewinder

    @Haider
    reading is a good habit,so read before you comment,and btw no country in whole world is offended by the influence of Indian culture,except may be you can guess.Recommend

  • sajid

    Is every husband that jealous when his wife gets a good job? Because according to
    Pakistani dramas they are.

    And whats with the portrayal of evil women as ones who work? I find that very offensive as my own mom was a working woman. Trust me its the Aunties sitting at home who have nothing to do and spread rumors and fights. Working woman comes to her house and starts working to solve the whims of her family.Recommend

  • Anonymous

    I agree with this article completely. Women need to start challenging the “Norms” in our society and the disgusting way in which many of the men (not all) in our society try to control, manipulate, degrade and treat them unequally, just because they think women are vulnerable and unable to take a stand and lack the ability to succeed. Unfortunately, many women would agree with my view, but would not actually implement them towards solid change but rather take a seat when someone passes a comment,or says “how would it look to everyone?”, or something lame and primitive as such. Women in Pakistan need to start realizing their worth and capabilities in so many other ways, not just taking care of their husbands and producing children.Recommend

  • Anum Talat

    @sajid, i agree wid u.Recommend

  • kanwal

    Such drama are protraying working women in bad light while showing depressed and oppressed ones as the ones winning the moral laureals. Its not only unfair, its untrue. Women sitting at home, watching these drama, doing nothing other than a set amount of work (which by the way takes less than 4 hours to do during the whole day; that is, if you are efficient) are the ones promoting evils in our society. They dont contribute to their husband’s hardships and labors (the last time a recession like this came, millions of men died; but who cares if the husband is paying all kinds of taxes for being a husband; afterall, ISLAM says he should do so. right? Its so unfair to our men for having no strong woman in house who they could turn to) and are not accustomed with the realities of life outside a certain circle. Thats why as a nation we are so damn gutted. Recommend

  • MonsieurCritique

    Housewives = Unemployed Mothers. Just Sayin’

    These type of shows were popular in the US in the 50′s.

    They didn’t really bother me until I realized what a large audience they have. I just can’t believe that people (not just stupid people but educated and mature people) watch these shows. Recommend

  • NK

    Mam, If you dont agree then dont waste your time watching these serials. Simple!Recommend

  • Najmie Hafiez

    I think the dramas are trying to portray what happens in a lot of families, but then again you cannot shut your eyes on such behaviors but try to give ideas or suggestions how to handle those situations.
    I have a suggestion for women sitting at home bored : if they look around them a lot of people need help may it be teaching children or adults, giving company to old people or just helping some invalid with chores, this is called social work and that would make a lot of difference in society.Recommend

  • Nobody

    Spot on! Considering the audience these dramas reach, they can be used as a powerful tool to gradually change the notion that working women are evil or independent minded women are besharam. Or that it’s okay for a man to sulk or be abusive towards his wife (or any woman for that matter). Tackling yet another angle, instead of portraying men as insecure, egotistical whiners or women as innocent, abused angels, portray a man who supports his wife’s choices as a positive thing allowing it to become more acceptable, or a woman who isn’t a spineless victim, but has the b** to walk out of an abusive relationship. The more people see this, the more acceptable these things become. Won’t be enough by itself, and definitely won’t happen overnight, but it can’t do more harm than good. Recommend

  • Practicality

    @Haider

    I completely disagree with the thought of you considering:

    “Indian culture is influencing our serials now”strong text

    What knowledge do you have the indian culture?
    I’d recomment you get to know your facts first. Recommend

  • http://None Abbas

    Well I guess, I just saw an advertisement of a drama (soon to be aired) written by “Haseena Moen”, So Farwa your 70s girl will be back on TV.Recommend

  • http://www.myfrequentranting.wordpress.com Farwa

    @Abbas Yes I am extremely happy about that :) Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheViewThroughJagansLookingGlasses?ref=hl Jag Nathan

    For a start, cultural influences cannot be contained or compartmentalized. Human history is full of instances of nations and regimes trying to do exactly this and failing miserably. The latest victim of this syndrome is Iran where the government is continuously trying and failing in its attempt to stop westernization.

    Secondly, there is no such thing as Pakistani culture. There was no Pakistan before 1947 and culture is not something we develop by the flick of a switch. Pakistani culture is nothing but an extension of the greater Indian culture which in itself is a medley of Dravidian, Aryan, Islamic and European and now American cultures. Countries that are able adopt, adapt and assimilate the best of other cultures have historically enriched itself. The Indian, Chinese, European and American cultures are examples of cultures that adopted and assimilated the goods of other cultures to their own benefit.

    If Pakistanis are afraid of losing their cultural values because of the influence of Indian culture, it only points to an ignorance of what exactly is their culture (which is an extension of Indian culture) and a lack of self confidence in themselvesRecommend

  • RK Singh

    @Haider

    u r rightRecommend

  • MAK

    @Jag Nathan, the blogger has nowhere mentioned about not accepting the indian culture. Her blog is not about this aubject at all. Your comment is purely a reply to Mr. Haider’s comment which most if the people here have not agreed with. Please rest assured that except for a few, no one is afraid of losing his/her cultural values here. Recommend

  • Turbo Lover

    No creativity in Pakistani dramas, since they can’t think up of anything, either they end up copying India or hold around the lines of stereotype.Recommend

  • KM

    This is such an apt question. Really, Pakistani women are ingrained with the idea that they should leave their susraal only on the occasion of death.The truth is that what women see as sacrifice is actually torture for any children involved. Recommend

  • ..

    @Jag Nathan:
    India is a collection of number of cultures. Yes there may be an underlying similarity among some of the sub cultures which you then classify as an Indian culture (these could include dress code, food, religious rituals, language, poetry etc)

    To say that Pakistan has no culture of its own is down right arrogant. Similarly Pakistan is a collection of cultures with an underlying theme which is then classified as a Pakistani culture.

    I come from a family of Nawabs. We have own unique culture at home (a lot of formality;adab) which is quite different to my Punjabi or Pukhtoon friends. But a unique Pakistani culture binds us which is also continuously evolving.

    I’ve interacted with numerous Indians at University and work and have realized that we have basically two different underlying themes of culture. A simple example is an Indian friend will represent Indian culture by wearing a Saari, making a vegetarian food and playing bollywood music while I would by wearing a Shalwar Kameez, making meat Biryani and playing Qawalli or Sufi music. Ofcourse it gets more complex than this. Each culture has it own beauty and points which need reformation.

    @Author – sorry if my comment is off topic.Recommend

  • rafazliban

    Its all about changing your mind set. Dramas are actually empowering women now.

    Most dramas actually show a powerful lady controlling so many men under her. Bari appa, mara saeein 2, ek nazar meri taraf and many more. Why we have problems with everything these days?

    This is not an issue, I’m sorry. There is no need to be “intellectual” and finding nothing to write long articles about. You could have used this time for something more productive you know.
    I dont know why we as a nation have to make an issue out of everything. This nation can never be stable because of our own actions. Now we have problems with dramas when the women are not complaining, the actors are not complaining, the industry is not complaining, but some critic who happens to sit alone in his room is bugged about it.

    We need to chill. Go watch ladies park and maybe you will have a second opinion,Recommend

  • shabana

    @Haider: i m not agree with Haider, our dramas are beyond the imagination of Indian dramas, our script is powerful, our artist faces are so much beautiful than Indian artists. there music and camera work only on zoom zoom, but our foot work on screen is so powerful.Recommend

  • http://somereasonsomerhyme.blogspot.com Tasmeena

    ok firstly, to the very first comment on this blogpost: there is hardly any pakistani drama that seems to be even remotely influenced by the Indian culture, currently.

    to the author: You’re generalizing wayyyy too much. Just btw, Vasl was actually aired on Hum TV before as well, maybe you should wait til the ending to pass such judgements about it’s plot.

    Also, where I do agree that some dramas actually show women as weak and timid, there are however, a lot of them are showing positive images as well.
    Try Daam, where a girl’s struggle takes her from a small, poverty-stricken house to becoming a successful surgeon. Or Maulvi Sahab, where an opressed wife learns the true teachings of Islam regarding treatment of wives and then rises against her husband…these are just a few.

    look at the broader picture :)Recommend

  • Rashid Nazir

    I think the comment on drama Vasl is not justified, in the last episodes the main character of drama is shown as a very strong and couragous woman who decided to take all her decisions herself and also ready to face the consequences. Infact the last episodes have some very good scenes and dialogs where Ayesha Khan stress that its all happened her kids suffered as she left her decisions on male and now she will decide her own fate.Recommend