I am a Pakistani woman and I ain't no damsel in distress

Pakistani dramas portray women as weak and dependent. In reality, Pakistani women are the complete opposite.

Rizwana Hayat Lakk May 23, 2014
Our Pakistani dramas have a good fan following in Pakistan as well as abroad. Many of my friends, visiting from different countries, make sure to add DVDs of Pakistani dramas to their shopping list, every time they visit Pakistan. Our dramas have a sensibility that the saas bahu (mother-in-law and daughter-in-law) feud-based Indian dramas lack. I personally believe that Indian dramas have no thought or concept behind them.

However, the way Pakistani women are portrayed in our dramas is also objectionable. Let me describe the types of women you come across in our dramas.

1. The middle-class girl, who has a love interest within the elite class. She works hard and is morally the best among the lot. She is a good daughter and has sound values. All these abilities will lead her to be the potential wife of her love interest.

2. The poor girl who is lucky enough to marry to a wealthy man. She has to prove herself better than her evil mother-in-law and her affluent cousin. All she needs to do is to make her marriage work by patience, alongside the awkward situations created by her in-laws.

3. The rich girl, whose parents suddenly passed away and her life is in turmoil because of her greedy relatives, including her siblings and chacha (paternal uncle) or mamu (maternal uncle). As usual, the solution to all her problems lie in marrying a guy who can support her to fight the evil that is her family.

4. The orphaned, Cinderella-type victim who is beaten by her ruthlessly evil aunt and cousins. She is chosen by a guy who happens to be a heartthrob. She will use her innocence, tears and domestic abilities to make him stay. The story will end after countless conspiracies inspired by her evil relatives and she gets her happy ending by marrying him.

5. The loving and dedicated wife who is betrayed by her husband as he is secretly married to another woman. She will cry and her kids will cry and, well, basically there will be a lot of crying. She will live a tough and unhappy life and all she does throughout is, you guessed it, cry her pretty little eyes out. She ends up winning her husband’s love in the last episode or he ends up being paralysed due to some fatal accident. Apparently, karma works when you shed some tears.

6. The rich girl who falls in love with a middle or lower class guy – your typical plot from the 60s and 70s movies. They get married and start their new life happily. But their families conspire to separate them and, in some twisted way, manage to succeed. Later, the couple realise that they cannot live without each other, since this realisation wasn’t present when they were inclined to get married and never leave each other. In the process, they get to see the true face of their families and this helps them patch up.

The list goes on. Except for the types mentioned above, the women in our dramas can be largely divided into two categories – the evil ones and the good ones – and both happen to be in love with the same guy.

The latter is good and pure, so she ends up winning Prince Charming’s heart, and everyone is happy that she is getting her happily ever after. The former is bad because she, in her conniving ways to win him over, will ruin his life if he chooses the good one – and for all that, the bad one will rot in hell. She is hated for being in love with the same man because she, obviously, does not have a heart or the capability to love another human being. And lastly, the evil one has a modern mind-set and dresses accordingly while the good one is conservative and is never without a dupatta.

This mind-set has made us judgmental about people’s character based on their appearance. I have come across many dupatta-wearing girls, giving loath-filled stares to those women who do not carry a dupatta with themselves, and saying,
“They are dressed up this way to seek attention”.

Clearly, it did not occur to them that these ‘attention seeking’ girls might dress up like that because they like it or because their families do not have an issue with dressing up so.

When young girls see that only the submissive and dependent girl gets to win over the heartthrob’s heart in these dramas, they try to be like them. Their expectations from and dependence on men increases and their self-esteem goes down.

I came across a young girl who got a reality check after watching some of these dramas. According to her,
“These dramas set high standards for who is considered a good husband. He is required to be rich, handsome, educated, successful and nice whereas all a girl needs to be is pretty. No, it does not work this way. Men have concerns as well.  You need to have a similar background, good education, a pleasant and confident personality. A woman should complement them in all their traits. They, too, want a companion, not some low-esteem subordinate”.

These mourning, weak, damsel in distress characters are not the true depiction of the Pakistani woman. I have seen women working in the fields alongside men as bread winners for their families, getting a job to help support her low-income household, performing active roles as engineers, doctors, lawyers, bankers, social workers, entrepreneurs, strong-willed housewives and mothers. I have come across many stories where a woman proved herself to be a man’s equal during hardships.

The women I know are strong. They do not cry over petty things and neither are they obsessed with marriage. If a man dumps her, she moves on. She does not lock herself in a room and cry herself to sleep just because she is not getting married. In a male dominated society, she faces discrimination, harassment and discouragement, yet she keeps going on.

Endorsing the mindset that women are weak and all their dreams and wishes will be fulfilled by the man who chooses to marry them takes away their right for empowerment. The writers need to stop depicting marriage-obsessed and crying women as role models for young girls. We want our girls to be strong, not damsels in distress, always depending on the opposite sex to be rescued.
Rizwana Hayat Lakk A banker by profession and a doctoral student at SZABIST Islamabad. Her research interests include development economics and behavioral finance.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Hira Mirza | 7 years ago | Reply To add to this, the trend of leading scripts is now changing to one that brings up social subjects more than love stories. And, since saas bahu subjects have been beaten to the ground, audiences now support topics like sexual/marital/child abuse, adoption, transgender issues, etc. While there is a still a long way to go before we can stop presenting our women as fragile, emotional beings, there is hope that things will change soon.
Farhan | 10 years ago | Reply Pakistani Dramas should be brought under some guidelines as its misleading youth of Pakistan.
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ