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Gender Roles And The Media in Pakistan: A Review

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By Zawwar Siddiqui with inputs by Waleed Tariq:

The first question that arises is what is gender stereo typing? Mostly people would say that it’s basically to put people down because of their sex. According to me, it’s simply a basic generalization made regarding gender differences, qualities and roles of groups or individuals. We must keep in mind the fact that stereotypes can either be positive or negative.

Pakistan has a flourishing media; both electronic and print. However, one of the most continuing prejudices in Pakistani society is its gender inequality as reflected in the socio-economic and political spheres of life, limiting the types of roles and responsibilities women can undertake.

Media in Pakistan generally portrays gender issues in a biased manner. Women are portrayed as weak, dependent and lacking enlightened approach, while men as aggressive, earners, insensitive and manipulative.

Here, my focus will be on gender stereotype in our national, Pakistani media. Dramas, movies are a way to describe gender stereotype itself. They are usually profit oriented ventures having a purpose of attracting audience and viewership. In order to do so, a drama has to be creative and eye catching in such a way that the message conveyed should be understood in the first attempt while viewing it.

The visual piece I’ve chosen to further illustrate my view point is ‘Khuda Kay Liye’, a nationally produced drama film, written and directed by Shoaib Mansoor in the year 2007. It is considered to be one of the super-hit Urdu movies of that year. It proved to be successful both nationally and internationally. The cast included Hameed Sheikh, Iman Ali, Fawad Afzal Khan and Shan with a special guest appearance of veteran Indian artist, Naseeruddin Shah.

Story goes on with a wealthy prosperous family of two brothers; Mansoor (Shan) and Sarmad (Fawad Khan), both being musicians. While Mansoor goes to a foreign university to study music, here Sarmad joins a radical Islamist group under which he is so influenced that he leaves his music career and becomes a religious extremist.

On the contrary, Mansoor learns music, falls in love with a foreign girl in Chicago and marries her. Sarmad who has a distant cousin Marium (Iman Ali), in Britain also wants to marry a white man, however, her father disapproves, yet he lives with white woman himself, whom he’s not married too.

Eventually he takes her daughter to the FATA areas of Pakistan and gets her married to her cousin, Sarmad, secretly and forcefully without the latter’s parents knowing about it. Sarmad and Marium are now staying as husband and wife in a remote village where women are kept at home most of the time, they cannot go to school or any place without a male relative accompanying them and that they have no say at all in the eyes of a man.

The gender stereo type portrait in this master piece is that throughout the film, women have been subject to abuse, who must obey whatever they are being told to do especially in the remote places like FATA. She cannot marry someone of her choice, cannot leave the house at her own will and have no right to question her husband regarding anything, even if she’s right. Her only job is to please the family all the time even if it’s against her own wish and must be obliged to whatever being told to do.

Not only that, even living in a modern family in London, Marium was fooled by her father to marry her cousin Sarmad, the best part being that she wasn’t even informed about it. It was an extreme sort of forceful marriage at the last minute without a family reunion or celebration, at least not the type I’m familiar with or ever heard of in my entire life.

The men in the movie were depicted as being bold, supreme, outrageous and charming. They were not told what to do; they had the right to do whatever they felt like doing regardless if it was against the interest of the opposite sex. It showed how Mansoor went to Chicago, did what he wanted which was to learn music and married the girl he liked. Basically, he had the option to choose rather than be obliged by someone or told what to do. The other brother Sarmad, who forcefully married his cousin, had all the rights over her, therefore he could abuse her, beat and ill-treat her and yet wasn’t answerable to anyone.

Towards the end, Marium took her father and husband to court where to defend her case, it was a progressive Moulana (Naseeruddin Shah), who again was a man with a very prestige image. At the end of the day it was a man who came for her rescue, he was her savior.

If we compare this with western stereotype, then the drama I prefer to pick is ‘Gone with the Wind’, which is also a master piece for its time and was like by millions all around the world. The major differences I came across the eastern movie ‘Khuda Kay Liye’ and the western movie ‘Gone with the Wind’ was that our movie was based on our norms, culture, ethnicity and religion which makes us more conservative. Whereas the western movies are based on the ideology of free will and liberalism, yet again they focus more peer pressure on women as being the slave and the man as being her master.

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  1. anjum dhamija

    The society, by and large, is coming out of all these shackles but, the negativity prevails on-screen. There is always a desire for certain people who can have pity over others.

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