Pakistani Women: Vamps or Victims?

So in connection with our ‘Mediations of the Self’ event at NYU, we had asked some female artists in Pakistan their views about women’s representations in the visual media and the role that women are playing in the media themselves. Among the others we chose to incorporate  Hareem Farooq and Salma Hasan’s replies, as they were most relevant to our discussion. Both speak out against the ‘woman as a victim’ trope t seems to have captured the imagination of most production elite in Pakistan presently.

The ‘women as victim’  concept has been done to death over and again in Pakistani dramas and continues to hold currency with those producing these productions because we are told, it sells. Why this is so, is a subject open to investigation and academic inquiry. Do people actually enjoy watching helpless women suffer in various ways? Have we as a society internalized the patriachical notions of women eternally in need of male saviours? Do the ratings and TRP’s ultimately seem to be the deciding factor in the decision about what content we see on our television screens or are women actually the victims of the society ?

Salma agrees with the fact that women face constant oppression in one way or the other. ‘There are oppressed women in  different classes of our society  who are oppressed in different kinds of ways, but that does not mean that we pick up on these negativities and highlight them. And in the process forget about the progressive woman of today. By doing so we are giving them – ‘them’ as in the victims of our society whoever they might be – a chance to wallow in self pity  and somehow enjoy their status as a victim. Even the vamp is suffering from a sense of being wronged and that is why she has turned into a vamp because that is her way of trying to get her way. It puts across a very wrong message’ she says.

Salma also elaborates upon the ‘victim and vamp’ stereotype that is prevalent in the Pakistani entertainment industry and points out that nowadays the women in Pakistani dramas are either shown as social victims or vamps, the evil mother in law, sister in law. This reflects Osman Khalid Butt’s views, mentioned elsewhere, about the stereotypes of women as either the home-maker or the home-breaker.Clearly there is a problem with these representations of women based on these narrow binaries that are incessantly being showcased on popular platforms like television. Its however heartening to see that women associated with the media seem cognizant of these discrepancies and are speaking out against them. It is even more significant to note that the very same women who play these submissive roles seem to have no patience with them in real life.

Similarly Hareem says, ‘We need to use the media as a platform to tell other women out there, things happen in life but that does not mean only because you are a woman you end up being a victim. A woman has a strength that I don’t think any man possesses. I personally think times have changed women can no longer be considered to be the weaker gender. They are participating in all kinds of professions in life, and excelling at it. They are doing so many things that men can’t do.’  Speaking about her recently popular role in Diyar-e-Dil, Hareem says, ‘What I loved most about Arjumand’s character was that she was portrayed as such a strong woman. Even though she went through a lot in life but she did not give up, she did not become the victim. She faced everything and she moved on’

Hareem speaks about Pakistani women as role models on screen as well as off it. ‘We specially need to tell young girls out there to stay strong and never consider themselves to be the victims. Nowdays you see a lot of young girls who have the passion to join the media. That is a very positive thing, because once you’re in this industry you have to be bold and strong to hold your ground. I’m seeing other women do the same and its quite an inspiration for me as well , especially working women who are also  maintaining families.’

Salma also has similar things to say, Women today are progressive, fighting all odds, standing up for themselves and for their children. And that is what we should be showing. Why can’t the victims toobe shown as progressive, someone to look up to, someone to follow with the hope that . so we need to look at what we are doing to the society and how what we’re doing is impacting society’.

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