LAHORE: Ayesha Omar, a household name in Pakistan’s entertainment fraternity, might not yet be among the ranks of Mahira Khan or Saba Qamar – however, as an activist she has the kind of influence that would make her opinion heard, especially if it’s about feminism.
Speaking exclusively to The Express Tribune, the Lahore Se Aagey actor revealed why it is important for women to stand up for themselves.
ET: It is a harsh fact that women in media are still judged in one way or another. In your opinion and in terms of moral judgement, why is a woman working in a multinational firm or teaching at a school, not always treated the same way as a woman associated to media is?
Ayesha Omar (AO): Indeed, it is a harsh fact that women in the media are judged differently than women in other professions. Women in media are acting and portraying different characters all the time, so they are playing roles other than themselves. They are stepping into different environments and not being contained at a single workplace unlike teachers for example. The working hours for women in media are also usually more than the working hours of other professions, which means that they have to stay out for 20 or more hours at a stretch. This is still something that is not yet acceptable for women in our society to do.
Furthermore, women working in the media in Pakistan are sometimes required to sing and dance and that is considered to be taboo in our culture; it’s still looked down upon. Also, women have always been objectified; not only within this industry but in all media-related businesses. They’re still used as a glamour element or their roles have not been as important or as influential as the male ones. So, there are a lot of factors, which I feel, contribute to this kind of judgement towards women in the media. However, things are changing. I see a lot of women-centric projects on air and a lot of films that have influential female characters. Our drama industry has some strong female characters as well.
ET: There’s a lot of confusion lately about what the feminism means. Feminists repeatedly insist that their goal is gender equality; critics continue badgering them with accusations of hating men. What would you call yourself? A powerful woman or a feminist?
AO: I’m not sure whether I am a powerful woman, but I do believe strongly about certain things. I want to come across as a strong woman and I do call myself a feminist as well. However, the definition of feminism is very vague and many women refrain from call themselves feminists because they think feminists are angry man-hating women, which is far from the truth. My meaning of feminism means equal opportunities for men and women. Women are undeniably physically different from men but they are not weaker in any way. I would love to get involved with projects aimed at empowering women and redefining feminism in our society because this kind of work is seriously needed. I consider myself to be someone who is constantly trying to fight stigmas, taboos and social labels, and I find myself pushing boundaries to take positive risks, which will help people see things from different perspectives.
ET: What are you views on the Mahira-Ranbir controversy that sparked the nation?
AO: Whether it is Mahira or any other actor, I feel it is very unfair to talk about someone’s private life because it is a complete breach of privacy. Clearly, that moment was not being projected to the public; it was not shared with the consent of the people in the picture. The paparazzi are everywhere and when one is in the company of a Bollywood star, suddenly everyone becomes really interested. All things considered, whatever celebrities decide to do in their private lives should not be subjected to judgement and bullying.
ET: But why do you think that people reacted so brutally when the images came out on social media?
AO: We, as a nation are very brutal because we have developed certain habits which have become a routine for us, making it difficult to break from them. These habits include criticising everybody, blatantly writing a lot of filth on social media and discouraging people, especially celebrities. As a nation, we will also react to anything that is said, done, performed or seen that is against our own personal moral standards. We don’t give ourselves time to settle down or sort out our thoughts; we are not tolerant.
We need to change this dangerous trend because this kind of frustration will only lead to less people having the freedom to do what they please and hence, a lower self-esteem. I feel that everyone should be free to do what they like, however this should be done without hurting anyone else physically or mentally.
ET: How do you view this incident in terms of feminism or women standing up for themselves?
AO: I do feel that women are not treated equally. Women are seen through a harsher lens and as a society, we judge women based more on moral grounds than on logical thought. For example, if a man was photographed with a woman, he wouldn’t be judged as much. In fact not all, he would be celebrated as a stud. I do identify myself as a feminist. I believe in equal rights for men and women, and I also believe in being your own woman and holding your ground. I do not despise men for any reason and I don’t seek to take advantage of being a woman. Women, however, need to stand in solidarity with each other in this patriarchal society, which will help broaden our collective horizons.
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