Sometimes, while watching TV, I get the impression that producers do not fully understand women.
Or perhaps, producers choose not to understand women beyond a certain point and limit their purview to this context.
If you are following TV, you will notice that even the word “stereotypical woman” is a far cry from what we see on the air.
Not too long ago – as recently as Alpha Bravo Charlie – the portrayal of a female character was part of an intelligent design. They had real strengths, weaknesses, problems, reactions and emotions.
There was little to no exaggeration in either direction.
Writers like Haseena Moin spent over 40 years evolving female characters from just housewives to entrepreneurs, students, or just generally outspoken or outgoing women. Forty years undone within a few years of Indianisation on television! Women have gone from fully realised human beings to two-dimensional caricatures chronically involved in sob-fests and conspiracy-galas.
Read on: Gender in the media today
It may have come across your attention that we are fast running out of truly talented female actors with equal parts beauty and brains who could really sell their roles, like Shehnaz Sheikh or Marina Khan.
Modern female actors may be gorgeous, but they are unable to sell air to someone who is drowning. Such poor casting choices are fast becoming an epidemic and are reflective of the respect shown to the process.
Female producers, directors and editors who can undo the damage done by their male counterparts, are not enough in number. Even the majority of female writers emerge from a very specific crop, namely Urdu digests, and are visibly tethered to those writing standards.
The pool we draw from is small enough already, and by the time it is funneled through the many male perspectives, it is no longer the original product.
A great example of this would be Haseena Moin’s 'Meri Behan Maya', which was so heavily filtered, that it may as well have been written by a novice.
This creates a product where most scenes involve someone crying and older women inventing ways of ruining someone else’s life. It has come to a point that anytime you see two women on screen, you begin dreading some inexplicable conflict between the two. This is such a weak product that a slight deviation from this norm (ala Pyaaray Afzal) results in high praise.
Most male producers and directors see women in such limited light that they have become incapable of acknowledging the need for an expansion in roles.
In their mind, crying = ratings and that is just about as much as they are willing to explore that reasoning.
Explore: Pakistan's quiet gender revolution
The entirety of the above can be summed up as an HR issue; replace the people and you might be on your way to fixing the problem. As difficult as that will be to accomplish, it is relatively simpler than another, even bigger issue that even the most understanding men cannot relate to: the TV industry is not a female-friendly environment to work in.
Outside of a few exceptions, women usually have a client-vendor relationship with this industry because it is easier than continuously dealing with these men. This also lends to why content-filtering is so heavy. It is not possible for me, a man, to fully relate to the experience, but I can safely say that if I were a woman, I’d think twice before setting foot in there.
The worst victim of this bias is the global image of the country. If we are incapable of even fathoming a coherent female character, we brandish ourselves a nation of people who cannot facilitate the notion of women’s rights and empowerment.
This trend weathers on even in light of the fact that our latest international achievements have all revolved around women, from Malala’s Nobel Prize, to Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy’s Emmy and Oscar win all the way to Burka Avenger’s Peabody win and Emmy nomination.
However, exercising amazing short-sightedness, the industry’s only take-away is more documentaries and animations.
There is a growing national trend of being apologetic towards problems by accepting them as “our” fault, even when things are not. This problem highlighted here is not “OUR” doing, the viewers are just unwilling victims of this devolution.
We can start undoing this damage by distancing ourselves from the people who nurture this environment, because the longer it remains a trend, the harder it will be to recover from it.