Movies, Pop Culture

If there’s a girl wearing jeans in a Pakistani drama, she’s definitely going to be the villain

Is it even possible for them to get more unrelatable and cliché at this point?

Humsafar ruined Pakistani dramas for me.

Despite its cult favorite status, the thing is a mess of misogynistic tropes and stereotypes and features some downright bad writing. It doesn’t get better from then on.

Since a majority of Pakistani dramas are targeted at an older female audience and often based on novels written by women, it makes sense that they would prominently feature women’s issues, both social and communal, as central plots. Unfortunately, they feature something else so prominently that I find myself permanently prepared to cringe.

Almost every single drama will have a “Pure, Innocent Snowflake” female protagonist. The said protagonist must always be very traditional and interested in love and/or marriage. Naivety is appreciated, but not a prerequisite. Dressing in shalwar kameez is an absolute necessity.

Ambitions, career goals, and spunk are all rarer than they should be and less important than they are.

[bctt tweet=”Naivety is appreciated, but not prerequisite.” username=”wearethetempest”]

If you happen to see a female character wearing jeans, working in an office just because she wants to, or actively pursuing a romantic relationship?

Yeah, I hate to tell you, but there is a 90 percent chance that girl is a villain.

I guess that means that to most Pakistani novelists and screenwriters, an ordinary girl like me – outspoken, educated and opinionated, with a deep love for skinny jeans and red lipstick – is only good for breaking up marriages and conspiring to destruct families.

I’ve been in girls-only schooling since the fourth grade.

Strangely, after nearly a decade and a half of my life in classrooms filled with just young women, only the tiniest fraction of my friends and acquaintances might relate to what the majority of female characters on Pakistani television go through. It’s not because they all belong to the same religion or social class or region. It’s because a lot of Pakistani dramas, despite targeting women and their issues, often wind up limiting them in stereotypical little boxes, where the slightest misstep means being an evil adulteress vicious harpy.

[bctt tweet=”It’s because a lot of Pakistani dramas, despite targeting women and their issues, often wind up limiting them in stereotypical little boxes.” username=”wearethetempest”]

To be fair, there are the rare dramas that will do something beautiful and extraordinary and fearless. There are dramas like Udaari, which highlighted child sexual abuse, and Yakeen Ka Safar, which featured arguably the best slow burn relationship on Pakistani television, but it is far more likely for a woman to use her intellect to sabotage relationships than to use it for her development. The central theme for a startling majority of dramas is marriage, which automatically excludes anyone whose life does not revolve around getting married as soon as possible and settling down with a husband, smitten parents-in-law and 2.5 sons.

There’s nothing wrong with marriage, obviously, but do Pakistani dramas suggest that it is selfish to want more than that? It certainly seems that way.

[bctt tweet=”There’s nothing wrong with marriage, obviously, but do Pakistani dramas suggest that it is selfish to want more than that?” username=”wearethetempest”]

The situation might be different if the target audience was particularly progressive or accepting. But it’s not. Pakistan is, unfortunately, a place where the importance of sex education is still being contested, which means the artists of the nation have an important task at hand. They can educate the masses through their art – and the television drama is one of the most widely consumed mediums of it.

Why, then, does it insist on limiting women so completely?

Stories told by women, for women, about women, to women are the ones that stereotype them so cruelly, telling them that being modern and ambitious essentially makes them bad. For a form of writing that is supposedly targeting women’s issues, it also perpetuates an alarming number of damaging stereotypes that hurt Pakistani women and their social situation.

Frankly, it needs to stop.

The wide-eyed, guileless small-screen heroines who specialize in roles like these need to step it up. Maybe, if women like Mahira Khan and Maya Ali start playing characters as spunky and driven as the actresses themselves seem to be, we might have a saving grace.