“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
Featured Image Credit: zindagitv.in