Media Watch Here’s Why ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ Is Not A Feminist Show

Here’s Why ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ Is Not A Feminist Show

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the women empowering serial- "Zindagi Gulzar hai"- a guide to middle class girls on how to achieve social mobility by remaining virginal and thus, marrying burger guys who can claim to deserve them after "being boys for most of their life".

This award goes for female empowerment, for the thousands of Kashafs out there, to feminism, this award goes to you,” a smiling Sanam Saeed exclaimed as she received the best actress award for her role in the most popular serial after ‘Humsafar‘, ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai.’

It is undeniable that Zindagi Gulzar Hai emphasizes on the importance of female education. It introduces us to a character like Kashaf who’s not fragile, not dependent on a man and a self-made woman. It’s also true that Kashaf takes a stand against her father and is by every means a heroine that gives Pakistani women a better example to look upto than the usual damsels-in-distress on TV whose aim in life most often, is to exert their influence over the men in their house (be it brother, son or husband). However, despite these reasons, there is a lot in ZGH that furthers all the problematic things.

Zaroon’s pursuit of the ‘perfect woman’ reinforces and justifies the double standards of our society when it comes to giving personal and sexual liberties to both the sexes. Implicitly, the serial reminds us that a girl in a sleeveless dress, reaching home at 1 in the night with her fiancé will somehow always be worse than her brother who is fond of flirting and spending time with a new girl everyday. And that a woman whose ambition in life is to establish her career is somehow only worthy of condemnation and the wrath of her children. A ‘slutty’ man can somehow get away and aim to marry a virginal girl and still have the audacity to point fingers at her character after marriage on the basis of the fact that she managed to attract other men before him. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the women empowering serial – Zindagi Gulzar Hai – a guide to middle class girls on how to achieve social mobility by remaining virginal and thus, marrying burger guys who can claim to deserve them after “being boys for most of their life.

It’s scary how seemingly, Zindagi Gulzar Hai seems to feature women empowerment, but all it does is re-establish patriarchal norms. Kashaf is a self made woman who strives for her education, although, ultimately it is her marriage to Zaroon which wins her approval from society; a careful reminder to women that not marrying is not a choice for them. Similarly, the usual stereotype of modern and liberal women not being capable of being good wives or mothers has been carefully promoted. Asmara, Zaroon’s sister and his mother, all wear western clothes and enjoy liberties; all are bad women who need to be monitored and controlled. All of them fail in their respective relationships or in their roles as wives, mothers or fiancées. The lack of capabilities in Zaroon and his sister are supposedly the result of their mother’s obsession with her career. You guessed it right! Because a woman’s ambition in life (by the course of nature) is to pop out kids and look after them, and it is her fault for having such unnatural dreams, a man is not supposed to help her raise their kids and fulfil their dreams. Of course, a woman can drive, work and shop on behalf of her man, but the man shouldn’t be expected to take on her duties. We all know how fragile masculinity and male honour is; of course a woman can’t be selfish enough to ask a man to risk his masculinity.

Zindagi Gulzar Hai reinforces the conservative values of South Asia which gives a man the right to make decisions about and for ‘their’ women. Be it her clothes, her sexuality, her preferences to spend her time outside the house, Zaroon is shown to condemn Asmara (his fiancée) simply because she chose to wear what she wished to and posts her photos on Facebook. Not only this, he criticizes his sister for coming home late and says, “I am a man I can come home late, but you are a girl, imagine what people will say.” And his sister is somehow shown to be wrong because she ends up getting divorced, and lacking any ability to be a good wife. So basically a free woman is a failed or a ‘bad’ woman. Period.

Ultimately, Zaroon’s assertiveness over his fiancée is justified and his preference for Kashaf is entirely based on the fact that she is a woman who has never been involved in a relationship which somehow guarantees her success as a wife. The female rivalry promoted in this series is also a reinforcement of chauvinist attitudes. This is done by portraying that Kashaf’s stepmother was responsible for changing Kashaf’s father and was always plotting against her own mother; and hence, the typical stereotype of a woman being a ‘home wrecker’ was promoted. Female rivalry caused in the pursuit of men was again used to reinforce men’s importance and ‘exalted’ position in the society.

To any feminist, the blatant promotion of patriarchy in this ‘women empowering’ series would be very unsettling, but reading the novel was almost a toxic experience. Zaroon didn’t just posses double standards, but was the typical chauvinist male who demands obedience from women like a right. He burnt down Kashaf’s dress because she refused to wear it on his command. He also slaps her during an argument, which ended up forcing Kashaf to leave the house. But of course, boys will be boys, and he still led a beautiful life with her.

The reason I am writing this article is because the fact that the writer of this novel is a very popular TV writer in Pakistan explains why Pakistani society is the way it is. The last time I checked, writers were the intellectuals of a society and responsible for changing people’s perceptions, however, the fact that Urdu literature has been left in the hands of people fond of amalgamating it with religion or reinforcing conservative values explains why our society isn’t progressing. It is to be kept in mind that the drama was also a huge hit in India which again explains to us why patriarchy is so eminent in our societies even till today. It’s high time we start condemning these plays no matter how good looking the actor is, at the end of the day, it is popular media of such kind that reinforce patriarchal values and make zindagi so ‘gulzar‘ for us women.

Also read: 4 Ways Pop Culture Villainizes Modern Women

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  1. Ankita Neha Sethi says:

    I completely agree with your argument but felt some points were ignored as well. There is no doubt that Zaroon was a chauvinist and a patrarichial society has been presented in the drama but may be it is because it is the reality of today. Women like Kashaf, Asmara and Sara are trying to come out of shell and are being opressed by various patrarchial powers but still they manage to win and overcome. Sara being independent might have failed to have Zaroon but has been showed as happily married. Asmara was also a strong women who realised what it takes to be in a relationship and make it a success. I personally dont think that a liberal woman makes her man wait for her for hours ?
    Zaroon’s mother remained independent and a good decision maker even after she realised what she left behind for her career. She did not quit but maintained a balance after the reform.
    Murtaza’s second wife is nothing but a reality. Such woman do exist but being a feminist doesnt mean closing your eyes and not believing such woman are there.
    Women empowerment is also shown through the fact that despite not having any moral & financial support from her father, Kashaf achieves what she wants.
    2. Kashaf’s family wished her to get married and might have played the role in getting them together but the ultimate decision to marry was of Kashaf only.
    3. She is the one who refused to take financial aid from her husband when she needed to buy a home for her mother.
    4. She gave birth to her daughters. Thats being liberal.

    Fawad khan’s cuteness might have played the role in showing him positive but just like Sara said he was a chauvinist and wanted ” allah mia ke bhens ” .
    So if this show highlights patriarchy & chauvinists which i literally hated, it also highlighted the women fighting for what they think is right for them ! Thats being liberal i guess. Having the right to choose.

    I rest my case.
    Further arguments are invited.

    Thank you

    • Meher Wadi says:

      I agree with you Ankita.. atleast a beginning has been made, though a tiny spark, there’s lot of hope in the future for that spark to glow brightly ..

  2. Nishtha says:

    I agree with you Ankita. The financial independence Kashaf had and how she bought a house for her mother is something to be proud of. Women who are supposedly in a modern family with good income of her own still share their expenditure details and saving plans with their husbands. There is nothing wrong in it but the fact that they are “supposed to” So Kashaf got thumbs up in that aspect.
    But at the same time it was Zaroon who got away with his thinking. His patriarchal mindset won at the end. His idea of the ideal woman took the lead. And for young girls, its not a very good lesson. To get a handsome guy like Zaroon, you shouldn’t sit on the car’s front seat. At the end his mother realizes that she was wrong.

    The show made us fall in love but cringe as well at certain points.

  3. Sunny says:

    Im a woman from another country i loved the soap and also though at the begining that it was kind of refreshing to something different from what im used to watch here so let me point out some of my thoughts.

    1. I loved her goals (K) but not her attitude she was as narrow minded as the society that bothers her.
    2. I understood him (Z) but didnt agree with the double standard.. he said at one point he was so confused about them yet he didn’t change his mindset.

    Points i did discuss with my family were about the importance to accept your daughter with equal right to education as a son, Comunication within the couple and Prioritize your family if you decide to have one.

    Zaroon’s mother disrespect her husband by not comunicating properly but its BOTH responsability to comunicate likes and dislikes and BOTH have to compromise wich beyond of freedom implies respect for the person you are sharing your life with.

    Within Sara’s relationship the problem was also her explosive personality she was pictures as a woman who gives a Damm about everything wich despites her husband being flexible caused the divorce.

    Regards of Kashaf’s mother she was overly permissive with her (ex)husband despite being well educated too. And i do believe I wasnt the only one with rage over some of the conversations she had with Kashaf’s father including accepting a son from another marriage at her care.

    I do think Kashaf let herself go to protect the “image” of her mother wich ended up accepting the proposal of this man that liked her “values” like being home early and work hard with intelligence because he knew he didnt want to argue over liberalism with her wife.

    So its a soap and both side had the bad of both worlds.. one with a mother incapable of let go her ex husband support despite her education and the family with lot o money but no time spent togheter.

  4. Tasfia says:

    so true…
    beautifully written!

  5. zara says:

    When did zaroon burn one of kashaf’s outfits? When did he slap her?? Which episodes did these incidents occur? I finished the show recently and I don’t remember either of these. He almost slapped her in the library scene when they were still in university but Osama sweeped in and stopped him. That was like the only time he ever thought of laying a hand on her in an abusive/violating way. He didn’t even come close to raising a hand on her way after they got married and they got into an argument about him allegedly having an affair with Asmara, towards the end of the show.

    • Evangeline says:

      please bother to read, those instances happened in the novel not the show, she mentioned so clearly

  6. I firmly believe that the only reason that show was so successful is because of Fawad Khan’s incredible good looks. The writing was just horrible. I was aghast at every episode I watched. A woman does not have to be bitter and rude like Kashaf to be strong. Frankly, if she were real I’d suggest a good psychiatrist. Zarun’s character was also weak being that of a spoiled child. I liked his manner immediately after marriage but her responses were a total turnoff. Why should anyone hide their feelings from their husband?

    The entire series was choppy moving from episode to episode abruptly at times without any sort of proper flow. Great acting, terrible writing.

  7. Sandra says:

    I’m African-American, but I just started watching this show and I was thinking all the same thing!

  8. Have just started watching the show after friends said it was incredible. Am still on the 7th episode.. and am thinking at some point it may redeem itself. As of now, I think it’s awful and regressive. I think the romance angle and Fawad Khan are probably the only reasons for its success. The rich boy poor girl angle works most of the time. I found Kashaf to be rude, bitter and honestly, awful. I don’t think she’s a role model at all – She’s constantly crying about how terrible her life is, and is always complaining about her lack of money, about how she’s so unfortunate etc etc etc. I wish they had shown her as silent and hardworking instead of just nasty and hardworking. And a woman can wear a sleeveless top without being a bitch. I hated the way they portrayed Zaroon’s mother and Sara. A career woman doesn’t take off without telling her family where she is going! And if she does, it’s because she may be busy. The attitude isn’t like – who are you to ask me I don’t see the need to tell you anything. What total bs. And a woman who wears sleeveless dresses doesn’t necessarily keep her fiance waiting for hours and then says Let him wait. God knows when series will progress beyond this junk. Focus on a good story and leave the BS moral preaching out of it.

  9. Anushka says:

    This drama is exceptionally good!!!

  10. Navneeta Sirohi says:

    I liked the drama only to the extent of Kashaf’s strong character! Not because I dislike the patriarchy in our society but I was astonished that in such a so called women’s empowerment drama…any woman who actually even worked, forget about possessing or exercising their opposing views was shown in a negative light…that ends with repentance …whether it be Kashaf’s mom, Asmara, Sara or Zaroon’s mom!!! The way it showed Kashaf’s dad and Uncle accepting that child education is important irrespective of the gender…similar stances should have been taken for all issues in the drama! If Zaroon’s mom was working, they should have made it clear that quality time over quantity of time makes a difference…of course, she was giving them quality time! Wearing a sleeveless dress, maintaining friendships, having a career are all decisions that a woman should be able to decide independently. And yes, if feminism is shown as undermining men and their role, that’s also not right…the director mixed up these two aspects and ended up being an anti-feminist drama!!!

  11. You have described it very well! Thank you for this insight!

  12. Speaking my mind girl <3

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