Gender and television

Published: January 7, 2013
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance communications consultant. She tweets @tazeen and blogs at

The gender-based discourses on Pakistani television may not be very dynamic but the way they are discussed leaves one to ponder if those who are at the helm of the affairs have any idea about the impact of their careless deliberations on the subject.

Take the case in point of a television serial ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ airing on Hum TV these days. Only last week, the male protagonist of the story picked a fight with his girlfriend about her clothing and a direct quote from the play said, “if you had seen her clothes, you would have known that she was a walking invitation for harassment”. In times like these, where there is global protest about women’s clothing and how it has no relevance to the sexual violence they face, here is a drama where a protagonist — who is extremely popular among women — is telling women that yes, their clothing invites men to harass them. In case anyone is wondering, the woman was wearing a sleeveless top with a shawl draped around her shoulders.

This was not the lone case of misogyny in that particular play. The protagonist also had issues with the mobility of his female family members. He wanted to impose a curfew for his sister and wanted his mother to seek the permission and approval of his father before she could leave the city on a work assignment. He said repeatedly that “he is a man and can go wherever he wants and whenever he wants and women cannot do the same”. While it may be a reality in our society, reinforcing such ideas in the guise of propriety and religiosity is shoddy and has consequences for the audience. What disappointed this scribe even more is the fact that both the writer and the producer were women and that the producer has a personal history of struggling for her rights.

Our television plays seem to glorify the role of women who are situated within the four walls of their homes, sacrifice their happiness for their families and do not complain if their husbands beat them or take second wives or are just really horrible to them. Those who are financially independent, situated outside their homes and interact with men who they are not related to are the bad ones. This does not only judge all women who choose to interact with others in the public sphere, but also presents a distorted version of reality to women who stay at home, that all those who do step out in the public sphere do so after compromising their morality.

Ours is a society that is used to either lecture or indoctrination. It is a society where powerful forces indulge in monologues and there is hardly any room for dialogue. We do not open up conversation on gender; we tell people what is appropriate through Islamic programmes, television dramas and literature and expect them to follow what is told.

It is about time we challenge the television narrative that focuses on taming female sexuality and identity, and glorifies the sacrificial women whose ideal sphere of activity is the private space and is critical of those who venture out in the public space and implies that they do it at the cost of compromising their morality and roles assigned by religion. In any case, the concept of a stay-at-home woman is a very urban middle class one and if half the population had stayed at home, the economy would have collapsed a long time back.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Parvez
    Jan 7, 2013 - 10:40PM

    I have not seen the TV drama in question but from what you write and playing the devils advocate, could it not be possible that the producer and writer are actually subtly trying to convey what you have said through the medium of the TV play.
    Although I completely agree with you that for our audience the message must be loud and clear because subtlety very often gets lost.


  • Lahoria
    Jan 7, 2013 - 11:57PM

    Please wait until the serial concludes. I am sure they will try to depict that the behaviour was wrong in the coming episodes. Even if they don’t, wait for the serial to end before passing your verdict.


  • Arifq
    Jan 8, 2013 - 12:57AM

    Why talk of a fictional TV series, have you seen your elected female representatives, constantly trying to cover their heads with a dupatta for public appearances. A person like Benazir Bhutto Shaheed had to conform to societal pressures even though she was educated in a western system and her father wanted his daughter to be a independent personality. State sponsored ideology backed by the threat or actual use of violence has re-engineered or regressed Pakistani society, one that represents conservatism as defined by tribal values.


  • Mirza
    Jan 8, 2013 - 1:43AM

    Being a feminist myself, I agree with the author. However, how can one stop even educated women to become a second, third or fourth wife? I do not waste my time in the type of dramas that you mentioned but that are a typical male attitude and the writer may want to show that. The way most people use religion is like a buffet dinner. They pick and choose and ignore what they do not like. That is the primary cause of the abuse.
    Once I visited a much younger brother overseas in a Far East country. I have helped him several times and he respects me for that, so he claims. One evening after a few drinks (I don’t like the taste) he tried to convince me (a feminist) the superiority of man over woman. He told me that woman is required to bow down in front of her husband. I told him in Islam you do not bow in front of any human including your parents and it is old tale by illiterate people. He was going to kill me and throw my body in the woods for saying wrong thing about his parents! All this time his live in friend was there and he wanted to impress her. Later he apologized and one day we all were sitting with our parents and I asked them is a woman required to bow in front of her husband they both said no way. Needless to say I visited his country several time and never informed him about my presence!
    The moral of the story is a more educated much older brother was trying to prevent younger brother from “shirk” and he wanted to kill him! That is how we pick and choose.


  • Huma
    Jan 8, 2013 - 1:54AM

    I’m watching the play and also found that, well, “not nice”. However the female lead has a father and an uncle and a step mother and is fighting for her rights and place in society, as well as against the patriarchal system.
    With regard to the male leads reactions, i guess for the viewers they are showing them in the present, but what i find odd is that if his sister is coming late or friend wearing a top etc, he should be used to it by now and not commenting on these things, Thats weirder.


  • Zainab
    Jan 8, 2013 - 3:56AM

    I am so glad you wrote this piece. I have been frustrated with the same thoughts since these scenes have been aired – not to mention another one where the hero asks his sister to mend his shirt buttons, as this is something she should learn now that she is about to get married!
    I hope that as the drama progresses it shows how wrong this thinking is – if not, then it will be a massive shame – truly disgusting and disappointing from Hum TV.


  • Ahmed
    Jan 8, 2013 - 9:07AM

    In “Zindagi gulzar hai”, they are clearly showing these misogynist attitudes in negative light. They are showing them as undesirable attitudes which hurt women. I have no idea why you see them as promoting misogyny. I do hope you had the good sense to assimilate such trivial things. Or is it just that you wanted to pick up some example whether it fitted or not?


  • hassan khan
    Jan 8, 2013 - 12:28PM

    You are telling only one side of the story? You forgot to mention that another character in the drama ‘Kashaf’ who belongs to the poor family whose mother is suffering from the hands of his husband who has done second marriage for a boy. He left her and 3 daughter all alone whose misery are increasing day by day. Inspite of such sufferings she send kashaf to High profile universities where mostly students belong to westernized background society.

    I agree drama to holds inbalance but again its just a drama, its a projection of our society. It is about time we should see whole things in all perspective rather just to focus a specific narrative.

    Besides that there are many dramas who dont project social narrative but rather imposed the new ones.



  • Jan 8, 2013 - 12:47PM

    Media has played havoc with the mindset of this society in the last one decade, be it news channels or entertainment channels. They have been promoting stereotypes especially gender stereotypes that has further strengthened the evils. And sadly women and girls are the majority audience of these misogynist plays and internalize such behaviors and roles. So yes, patriarchy is cleverly using the oppressed for their own oppression. Sigh!!


  • Omer Khan
    Jan 8, 2013 - 1:14PM

    The purpose of a television play is to depict a real life like story that people enjoy and can relate to. It’s not about building ideologies that a certain group of people favour. This country has had enough of extremism, now let’s not be liberal extremists. If a person is going abroad for a week or two and his/her family members have no clue about the plan, the makers of the drama can hardly be blamed for showing it negatively, irrespective of whether the person is a male or female.


  • galli ke larki
    Jan 8, 2013 - 2:35PM

    ET your blogs are way better than columns of this kind!


  • Jan 8, 2013 - 4:18PM

    Tazeen, Pay some respect Freedom of Media too.


  • Yusuf
    Jan 8, 2013 - 4:19PM

    Why do Sindhi Dramas on Sindhi Network show Man Slapping Woman Frequently. This Tatamount to Abuse Also. We understand Feudalism Abuse Higher on Female Gender. Sindhi Television Generally Must highlight on Respecting Woman. How many new Primary Schools opened in each constituency must come into Print so we know our Tax Money is working for the Poor in Sind.


  • sk
    Jan 8, 2013 - 8:47PM

    “While it may be a reality in our society, reinforcing such ideas in the guise of propriety and religiosity is shoddy and has consequences for the audience” – for your information, in this case, the guise of religiosity was not used


  • Zain-ul-abdin
    Jan 8, 2013 - 10:13PM

    although i agree with the article but the male protagonist was just telling how our society thinks rather then imposing curfew on his sister and on the mothers part it is called irresponsible behavior rather then not telling anyone when you are leaving and just going away but yes our dramas do show a stereotypical roles of women and highlight them.


  • waqas tariq
    Jan 8, 2013 - 11:46PM

    i hate when people ask for their rights and forgets about their duties. if your husband leave u in the midle of night without informing is not freedom its shair negligence and i am sure you will leave no stone unturnned to stop your husband.


  • Jan 9, 2013 - 11:56PM

    I am not sure if this mind set can ever be changed.. lets just hope so..


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