How Pakistani morning shows are keeping women 'where they belong'

How Pakistani morning shows are keeping women 'where they belong'

Our hosts keep women's minds from exploring anything beyond activities in line with our patriarchal society.
Updated 20 Oct, 2015

Oh boy, I'm running late, my chai is still brewing on the stove, my stomach is grumbling ... these morning weddings, I tell you, they can create a sense of panic in the attendees.

You see, my favourite celebrity, who got married and didn't invite me, is recreating the events from her shaadi. I will watch with anticipation as she goes through all the rituals and traditions once again, just for the audience, just for me.

Lights, camera, dulhan!

If, at any moment, my level of interest drops, all I have to do is switch the channel ... to another wedding. For the uninitiated, let me explain.

Breakfast television in Pakistan roughly translates to bright blasts of energy with an overjoyed female host at the helm of affairs. She is the wedding planner, counsellor and gossip monger all rolled into one. So effervescent is she that in comparison, your own morning mood and 'moo' will appear as being hungover.

These morning shows cater mostly to housewives, a big part of the population that stays back home to bring up kids and build their identity around family life. They deserve as much respect as any other professional.

It is no mean feat to work tirelessly without much incentive or gratitude. Yet, most of them make for great managers: overlooking everything from birthday parties to funerals for as long as a lifetime.

A different kind of power resides with these women – they are the builders of society, preparing people you and I will have to face tomorrow, both professionally and personally.

However, with a fast-moving world, these women need to be exposed to more discourses of life to broaden their horizon, and television is one school they regularly feed from.

A simple google images search on 'morning shows' throws up visuals of revelry surrounding weddings-all from Pakistan only.

A.M. transmissions in the west tend to talk about traffic updates, community news and such. In Canada, people mostly tune in to watch the weather forecast to decide the kind of jacket they will wear that day.

Many channels and countless nonfictional shows in Pakistan remain religiously focused on keeping women 'where they belong': in front of the dressing table or in the kitchen, as is obvious from the plethora of cooking shows beaming across our screens.

The female audience of these shows has been tricked into believing they are learning something new each day.

The topics are limited and, even if a few programmes have tried to tread off the beaten path, they've all had to resort to doing their 'dulhan week' for the sake of ratings.

This subliminal misogyny by TV producers cannot be overlooked.

Over the years, a need has been created for such content through this method: offer a handful of options repeatedly and the audience will soon become addicted to the one which is the least worse.

See: Most people are okay with downtrodden women on TV: Sakina Samo

The bridal industry generates huge revenues, judging alone from the presence of a parlour at every corner of our streets. The average fee that each of these salons charge for face decoration is pretty hefty too, so much so, that it is advisable that the father of a newborn baby girl open up a separate savings account for her right away, in order to cover the costs of her shaadi 'looks' in time.

And, perhaps, all that is justified too, considering how hard the Pakistani makeup artist has to work towards accomplishing the herculean task of painting a new face over the bride's existing one.

The artist is thus both, a plastic surgeon and a desi avatar of Leonardo Da Vinci. These makeup gurus are invited on TV shows frequently to display their talent.

Thanks to the advent of private channels, our average homemaker has also graduated from knowing only Pakistani or desi Chinese dishes a few years ago, to adding Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine (amongst others) to her résumé.

The idea remains the same though: submit to your fate in the kitchen and channelise all effort towards pleasing your 'sasural' (in laws) through swelling their 'tonds' (potbellies).

Maybe, today will be my lucky day. Maybe, by some twist of fate, it will not be raining marriages on morning TV shows and instead, it will be the home remedies day.

A subset of which is weight loss day, which is really a misnomer because the last time I drank a concoction for seven days in a row, I lost nothing but my mind.

Maybe now they'll come up with a new way to feel bad about our bodies.

Our hosts have been given the task of keeping women's minds from exploring anything beyond activities perfectly in line with our highly patriarchal society. Yes, they may dedicate a show to talk about the Kasur child molestation case, but only as an afterthought, not as precaution.

Rarely will there be a serious discussion on reproductive health, community service, tolerating the 'other' or human rights.

Also read: In Pakistan, new TV show lifts veil on sex taboos

In a country plagued with as many issues as we have, it is imperative to empower the 'gharwaalis' so they, too, can evolve into independent thinkers, in order to add more value to a society whose foundations are shaky at the moment.

Morning shows get this invaluable two-hour window of opportunity every day, but they are hell-bent on keeping women in a perpetual state of giddiness, mirroring the emotions of a new bride.

So, when the aunty from upstairs goes on and on about the new lawn print out in the market and how she will have to resort to robbing her husband's wallet for it, I am reminded of a Jaun Elia couplet:

Kiss liye dekhti ho aaina,
Tum tou khud se bhi khoobsurat ho

(Why do you stare in the mirror,
You are more beautiful than even yourself).

As for me, I will just let my remote find BabyTv, which still has more value for grownups than the inane circuses underway on our morning shows.