The media is regarded as a social transformation agent. It has the ability to almost hypnotise us all. In the West, women were marginalised in many aspects of life prior to the rise of feminism. This list did not exclude the media. Despite the fact that women are a fundamental and essential part of life, the portrayal of women in the media has caught our attention. Whereas the West was able to break out of the box and allow women to flourish over a century ago, Pakistan is still grappling with gender stereotypes. Only a small percentage of Pakistan’s educated people have managed to remain unbiased when it comes to gender issues and female under-representation. Unfortunately, a patriarchal, male-oriented culture still exists, with women having a value comparable to that of a pet animal.
When a damsel in distress meets a powerful and gorgeous prince, they fall in love, marry and live happily ever after despite some unanticipated circumstances. This particular discourse is repeatedly disseminated to the general public through a variety of popular media outlets, ranging from children’s bedtime stories to cartoons, dramas and films. Popular media encourages this narrative since it earns the most cash from individuals seeking enjoyment from it, but the gender stereotypes it promotes, as well as the hyper-romanticisation of female protagonists’ lives after marriage, go ignored. Similarly, popular media has worked for years to portray women as weak people who need to be rescued by powerful men and who can only find solace through marriage.
Women are depicted as dusting the house, sewing clothes, cooking and nursing children in Urdu short story collections. Her husband is treated as if he were a celestial being to whom she owes allegiance. The majority of the stories depict women who are fashion-savvy and cognizant of their appearance. They are unconcerned about serious issues, and matrimony is usually their primary focus.
Furthermore, Urdu short stories published in magazines such as Khawateen Digest (Women’s Digest) depict a submissive girl whose sole aim in life is to marry and protect her future. Her life’s aim becomes to serve her god-like husband once she gets married. This is regarded as a volunteer service.
Due to the complexity of Pakistani society, where conventions, values, traditions and religion play a prominent role in all social classes, this recipe for creating content is not entirely followed by Pakistani popular media. History shows that the drama industry, or television, has dominated Pakistani popular media and is thus the most powerful domain. Currently, Pakistan’s theatre business is a capitalist enterprise that produces two types of content about female characters. For starters, it caricatures women by portraying them in fixed gender roles. Second, it creates content that allows women to exert their agency within these established positions and break free from cultural oppression.
Dramas are narratives that change our perspectives and unintentionally persuade us to embrace a body of knowledge that supports power structures and sustains hierarchies, but they may also be used as a tool for resistance
Women in Pakistani drama are either defined in reference to their male counterparts or as reliant characters within the binary categories of good and bad, innocent and wicked, conventional and untraditional, and so on. In other words, in Pakistani dramas, virtuous women are those who fulfill their roles as mother, sister, and wife, but women who play deviant roles are seen as wicked. Characterful women are portrayed as tragedy queens who suffer, whilst evil women thrive on their misfortunes, rendering dignified ladies angelic and corrupted women demonic.
The local Pakistani theatrical industry lends credence to this narrative. The clearest instances of this representation are Khirad and Sara from the well-known Humsafar. Khirad is an educated, devout, and innocent eastern girl who is emotionally and financially reliant on her husband. Sara, the antagonist, is an opinionated independent girl who dresses in Western garb. Sara’s persona has negative connotations because Khirad epitomises customs and traditions whereas Sara defies them.
Manno of Man Mayal is a good wife who is beaten up by her husband but chooses to stay with him till Salahuddin comes to rescue her. On the other hand, Jeena, the play’s antagonist, is portrayed as selfish simply because she makes decisions and sticks to them.
In Hamsafar and Hum kahan ke sachay thay, Mahira Khan played a contentious part, where the abusive marriage was romanticised. After hearing her daughter’s divorce mews, her father died in 90% of cases. Dramas are based on true stories. As a result, they imprint this scenario in the minds of women and encourage them to marry abusers. Meanwhile, plays such as Mere pas tum ho, Khuda aur Muhabbat and Rang Mahal have been airing on television, which broke the records for the highest ratings, were actually themeless, with scripts based only on traditional love stories.
Domestic violence, marital rape, honour killings, acid attacks, women trafficking and gender discrimination are all prevalent in Pakistani operas, according to analysts. Every other drama in the country depicts women being oppressed by men, rendering them helpless and sad. Men make sexual approaches toward women in most dramas, which contributes to normalising sexual harassment in the country. What is prominently featured in the media becomes common knowledge among the general audience. Experts argue that numerous cases of domestic violence and severe attacks from a husband’s relatives on television shows have normalised these events as part of a normal marriage. When husbands realise how society has shaped their gender, they are more likely to beat their spouses in real life.
Currently, Pakistan’s theatre business is a capitalist enterprise that produces two types of content about female characters. For starters, it caricatures women by portraying them in fixed gender roles. Second, it creates content that allows women to exert their agency within these established positions and break free from cultural oppression
Ordinary men and women have been led to believe that such positions are custom-made for them to suit their personalities, with men beating women and women accepting it willingly. Some media critics claim that Pakistani soap operas portray a strong and independent woman as “negative” and “cunning,” refusing to take full responsibility and disobeying her spouse. On the contrary, they claim that her image as a “educated, strong, and independent woman” may be portrayed in such a way that she works hard and contributes to her husband’s success and the prosperity of her family.
In the dramas, a woman is depicted as someone who is denied knowledge just because she was born to run her husband’s household. According to critics, the discriminatory language used in the dramas reflects an age-old, outdated attitude in which a woman is considered a burden and forced to marry off early.
Despite this, television in Pakistan also serves as a means for challenging Pakistani women’s subject position as subjugated creatures and giving them a voice.
It depicts these women as active members of society who, despite adversity, overcome oppression and misery. Whether it’s Zara of Tanhaiyan or Zoya of Dhoop Kinaray, Marvi and Laila of Marvi, Kashaf of Zindagi Gulzar Hai or Mannat of Cheekh, women are presented as strong, intelligent, and independent negotiators who continually combat misogynistic society and carve out space for themselves. Nonetheless, the role of disadvantaged and illiterate women in these plays can be questioned, because the general perception is that those women are submissive and lack decision-making authority.
Dramas are narratives that change our perspectives and unintentionally persuade us to embrace a body of knowledge that supports power structures and sustains hierarchies, but they may also be used as a tool for resistance.
Numerous dramas are made in Pakistan that show women as meek persons who lack decision-making abilities, play the role of passive victims, remain domesticated, and never utilise their rights to express themselves in both private and public areas.
And yet, in the Pakistani drama business, on the other hand, there are also compelling tales that destabilise assumptions about Pakistani women by portraying them as active mediators who negotiate with patriarchal power structures and take control of their own lives. Women in these stories develop critical views of patriarchy, position themselves in relation to standards, and carve out space for themselves within the patriarchal system and norms.