Women have their own identity, whether people like it or not. They can think for themselves, live by themselves, can do whatever they want. But that is what men fear. They fear that with all this freedom that women are given, they will start to compete with them and that is the biggest threat that anyone can give to the chauvinistic men of any patriarchal society. On screen, womenfolk are looked down upon in every possible way. The words that are employed in specific circumstances are used in such a way that women always appear inferior to men. “Be brave; act like a man,” is often said to young boys who feel scared of something. Or if a small child cries, he is told not to cry like a girl. Hence crying, fear, and all other traits that represent weakness, are associated with women.

Instead of a character telling another not to cry ‘like a girl’, he can tell him that it is okay to cry on certain occasions, for it is human to weep. This small point can make such a difference to the way a society functions. In real life, the mere action of a man crying is looked down upon, even if someone close to him dies.

Cinema is no different in showing women in a degrading manner. If anything, the illustration of women in Pakistani films is worse compared to TV dramas. The themes are always the same. Pakistani directors have no new ideas to offer. The theme of a rich, previously-snooty-turned-humble girl marries the poor, plain and simple man is always the favourite one with our directors. Ever since Pakistan became a nuclear power, or the incident of Kargil took place, one has been witnessing our film-makers’ penchant for making nationalistic movies. There has to be some kind of reference, whether subtle or crass, to a ‘neighbouring enemies’ — which everyone knows is India. Whatever the theme is, the woman in it plays the same part, that is, of someone who has nothing better to do except fall in love with a man and fight her way against various cruel authorities, comprising dictatorial parents, and sometimes savage older brothers, and in the end gets married to the person she loves. That is what a woman does, that is what she is for, and that is the most of what she is capable of doing.

I would personally like to see a movie where the status of women gives them the respect that they deserve. In films, there are always older brothers worrying about getting their younger sisters married off so that they can lessen the burden of liability of a young unmarried girl in their house. And it is not just the men who behave in such a manner; women themselves make their case worse by saying things like “the in-laws’ house is the girl’s actual abode”. It would be very interesting to know where people get these ideas from.

A Pakistani film, of course, is not complete without women taking part in vulgar dance sequences. On the one hand, people carp about the changes that have occurred in our culture, and how the western media have had a ‘negative’ impact on it, on the other hand, one can see women in films wearing skimpy, almost vulgar dresses, doing obscene things. If anyone has ever been to a cinema to watch a local movie, he will know that it can be a very upsetting experience to witness and hear all the hooting and passing of comments by male audience members as soon as they see an erotic scene in the film. It is also very embarrassing to see men flashing beams of red lights on women as they appear on screen. Even in music videos on TV, all the singers come up with a very typical image of a woman who is meant only to be lovable. A man will very rarely sing about how important the woman is to him.

Likewise, advertisements on TV or in magazines and billboards use women as a major attraction. Even in those advertisements where the product shown is used by a man, a woman has to pop out of nowhere to attract the target audience. Needless to say, only good-looking women feature in these ads. An ad for a cooking oil often shows a healthy mother or wife telling everyone how important it is to use that particular oil. The women in ads seem to have no individuality or identity, no uniqueness of their own. They are all categorized into types so that they could be easily identified by the people around them. If this kind of attitude by the media continues, one should not be expecting any positive change as far as the common man’s perception of women goes. The media is largely to be blamed for gender discrimination, and unless it does not do anything constructive, it will be difficult for our society to come to grips with the issue.

RANA TANVEER AHMAD KHAN,

Sheikhupura, April 1.