According to our television dramas, a quiet dependent woman is a virtuous woman. Despite all odds, she comes out resilient yet modest. Not a mark in her character, not a hair out of place, secretly crying over her miseries while also raising a daughter who keeps the wheel of melancholy in motion.
The fixation on depicting the female persona as a weak character with little or no autonomous authority or as a cunning deceiver, violating all ethics to get what she wants is a double-edged sword; the very same sword that places the burden of all honor on a woman’s moral character. Our mainstream productions range from the decade old like ‘Humsafar’ where the female lead is wronged when her morality is questioned to the recent ‘Meray Paas Tum Ho’ which centered around a woman leaving her placid, middle class life to chase a rich man. Both these characters were viewed through the prism of our society that judges a woman on her character and then decides her worth. It is the same lazy and monotonous narrative constructed around the questionable purity of a woman that deems her honorable or not and then puts the burden of proof on her head.
When the onus of providing evidence in cases of gendered violence largely falls onto the victim; when questions are asked “what was she doing there?”, “what was she wearing?” or “why was she with a guy?”, one begins to wonder whether our media is complicit in the ever-growing trend of dismissing the voices of victims. For instance, from the recently aired drama serial, ‘Laapata’ the female lead Ayeza Khan, threatens to falsely accuse a shopkeeper of harassment using her social media following; then there are serials like ‘Dunk’ where a male professor commits suicide after facing false allegations from one of his female students. Such stories not only depict women as being evil but legitimize the damaging idea that women coming forward with their experiences of assault and violence are potentially liars.
Why is it that only actors like Saba Qamar take on the responsibility to portray amazing characters like Saman (Maat), Rashk-e-Hina (Digest Writer) and Mannat (Cheekh) that leave an impact and are remembered for their excellent storylines? The drama industry does have independent and modern women in their serials, but they are often seen smoking a cigarette and going to bars. There is nothing in between a miserable daughter-in-law and a bold wicked mother-in-law, and if there is one then the story will only progress if someone dies in the serial or something miserable happens. The storylines in Pakistani dramas have been reduced to a love triangle, a rich guy falling for a poor girl, or a sister-in-law ‘running’ after her sister’s husband etc.
At a time when rape cases in the country are on the rise and survivors are constantly questioned on the legitimacy of their claims, our media continues to depict stories where the morality of a woman is their focal point. Domestic violence or false allegations are the go-to framework for a hit drama serial. The recently concluded ‘Phaans‘ caught the audience’s attention as it contained everything a hit drama needs─ a good cast, interesting plot and a relatable story. However, the production house failed to do justice to the drama by ending it on a weak note and airing it on the third day of Eid when people barely watched TV. They could have linked the drama with Noor Mukaddam’s case and given food for thought to a society that was questioning the slain Noor about dating a guy or the reason behind staying at his residence. But they did not bother to incorporate this angle. A social issue is not an issue until it is a golden goose for the channels.
It was only a few months ago that our entire nation stood shaken amidst a string of cases, including the atrocious motorway incident that drove the country into an uproar. But our media continues along its misogynistic path. We live in a society where a renowned singer who is an alleged harasser is not only heralded as a national hero but awarded the Pride of Performance Award. A writer who has disparaged women is called on talk shows to crush women’s voices under the shoe of patriarchy. A v-logger accused of harassing a model retains his large following and platform. The Prime Minister normalizes patriarchy by saying that women’s clothes may arouse men. The most popular religious scholar says that COVID is due to women’s’ disobedience and efforts to stand alongside men, even though 70% of women are victims of domestic violence committed by men.
In such an oppressive atmosphere, it is the duty of production houses to show empathy towards social issues. They should realize that our society does not want survivors: it craves victims. A woman who survives and speaks against her oppressors challenges the patriarchal system that every man benefits from. A dead woman who can’t speak out is a virtuous woman. It is time for our drama production houses to stand with women.
The writer is Senior Sub-editor Entertainment, Bol News.