As we look back to some of the currently popular Pakistani dramas on television today, they all seem to have the same thing in common: a toxic man who plays the love interest of the female protagonist. For instance, both “Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay” and “Ishq Hai” are written by women like Umera Ahmed and Rehana Aftab and are centered around the lives of women, but yet both of them include male love interests who exploit and abuse the women they live with.
In the latest episode of “Ishq Hai” we watch the male protagonist Shahzeb (played by Danish Taimoor) suspect that his wife Isra (played by Minal Khan) is cheating on him with her ex-fiancé and forcibly removes her from their home. Then, he proceeds to stalk her and after watching her visit her ex-fiancé’s home, he comes to up to further accuse her of cheating without asking her for an explanation or reason and decides to leave her.
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While in “Hum Kahan Kay Sachay Thay” the main love interest Aswad (played by Usman Mukhtar) gaslights and demeans Mehreen (played by Mahira Khan) over false assumptions like smoking or spending time with men despite not knowing the truth or even bothering to find out whether these accusations are true or not. In Saturday’s episode, he further accuses her of destroying the family’s reputation when he and his mother see her sitting next to a man at a restaurant. Mehreen however doesn’t let him diminish her this way, and reminds him that unlike his assumptions, no woman exists to conform to the expectations of the men in their lives!
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Teaching audiences that women must remain passive beings to the men in their lives is a product of the patriarchal structure that reminds us that men must remain dominant and aggressive to be acceptable in society’s views. We’ve all grown up listening to phrases like “mard jo hai wo ghar ka hakiki mijazi hai“, “aurat ki kamien mein barkat nahi hain aur mard ki kamien min barkat hoti hai” or even “aurat ko sirf ghar ki char deewari mein rehna chahiye” which have kept justifying women to refrain from being more ambitious in their education or their careers to earn less than the men around them, or to remain silent about the abuse they suffer in their homes just to not be blamed for breaking up their homes. Toxic men on screens are further justifying the growing gender inequality and its time we all re-alligned what being a man should be like
Adnan Malik an actor who has also passionately spoken out against toxic masculinity and the patriarchal structure had defended his character Romeo in the film “Cake” and how he is breaking stereotypes of what male leads must act around. In an interview with Shondaland, he pointed out how Romeo respects the women in his life by refusing to be aggressive or selfish towards them, and how toxic masculinity has become a serious issue in Pakistan that needs to be tackled by changing the way we portray men on screens:
“I liked Romeo’s character because he is a 21st century re-write for how men are represented on cinema and television. Male characters here are often loud and brash. They’re aggressive. They will chase the girl and get her at all costs. Romeo is sensitive, intuitive, gentle — a man who can take no for an answer. He also works for the Jamali household as a nurse, so he’s part of a lower class than their oldest daughter Zareen, who is his love interest…When a society is hyper-masculine, men have to succeed and make all the money, and all the pressures of that builds. At the same time, the men never develop an emotional language where they can really express themselves, and it leads to toxic masculinity. I think it contributes to the objectification of women, and not knowing where your boundaries are — and frustration, and testosterone.”
So lets please advocate for more men to abandon the regressive standards of masculinity that tell us that being a man means having to prove your worth through silencing the women in your life. Pakistani dramas still have a long way to go in order to help audiences understand that women do not need to center their lives around abusive men!