When will we hold Ayeza Khan accountable for her representation of Pakistani women in the media?

In her latest drama, the actor falsely accuses a man of harassment. Here's why that's not just problematic, but also irresponsible
Updated 30 Jul, 2021

The Pakistani woman in the media has undergone many transformations. From the gullible and vulnerable to the bold and badtameez, from being cheated on to being the cheater and from reliving difficult stories of their assault to falsely accusing partners of domestic violence. The female protagonist has done it all, including rarely being empowered and having little to no representation of actual issues.

Actor Ayeza Khan has recently come under fire for a scene in her drama Laapata where her character falsely accuses a shopkeeper of harassment after he rightfully asks for his money when she purchases goods from him.

Written by Khizer Idrees, her character threatens to falsely expose the shopkeeper and ruin his image, all because she is a woman who has access to social media.

Many people, including celebrities, have called out the actor for her irresponsible project choices at a time when Pakistan is facing a surge in gender-based violence.

Perpetuating damaging stereotypes in the name of creative freedom is not okay. Why? Because in a country where women have to go through constant exhaustive emotional labour to speak up against harassment — only to be disregarded, character shamed, questioned and finally dismissed as liars — writing characters that disregard victims of abuse is insensitive and downright disgusting.

How does Khan get away with it?

Despite her problematic choice of characters, Khan is still an actor that resonates with the Pakistani public. A large part of that, perhaps, is because she falls seamlessly within the expectations of an ideal Muslim woman working in the media.

Of course her quintessential fair skin, innocent, delicate features, two children and modest clothing add perfectly to that narrative. Her popularity comes from her image of the perfect desi girl that has entered showbiz but hasn't forgotten her culture. One who has borne children, but looks like she hasn't aged a day. That is desirable, but not in a way that makes desi men want to send her dirty DMs.

This is probably why unlike her counterparts, Khan is not someone who possesses a local male following that constantly reminds her that she has digressed from expected behaviour. Instead, she is lauded for constantly perpetuating dangerous stereotypes that continue to paint women in brushstrokes of black and white.

She will either be silent in the face of a merciless 'home wrecker' who steals her husband away only to eventually find contentment in settling with a younger, brother-like male cousin who has been wanting her all along (read: Koi Chaand Rakh); or you will find her in a red silk dress, pulling off a bold lip and cheating on her husband to build a life with a richer man who finds her desirable (read: Mere Paas Tum Ho).

She will either be virtuous or a guilty pleasure — but never will she be held responsible for the kinds of stories she is willing to be part of. Why? Because at the end of the day, she will be playing a character that thrives on her own misery. And what better way is there to dissect a Pakistani woman on national television?

This is not an isolated event

What is troubling is that this is in no way an isolated event. We live in a country where the extent to which one can exercise patience is the biggest virtue for a desi woman. Hundreds, if not thousands, are told to "wait till he comes around" when it comes to their cheating husbands.

Yet when it came to Mere Paas Tum Ho, all Khan took away from the project was popularity while men across the country had the pleasure of adding a new phrase to their vocabulary — "do takay ki aurat".

When a debut artist was attacked and made to apologise for making an ill-informed project choice, when Khalil-ur-Rehman was bashed for the script, why did we not demand that the main characters be held to the same level of accountability?

Poorly scripted versus problematic

Directors, producers and even actors have often argued that with the high ratings such shows receive, this is the kind of content the audience wants. But for viewers that have proven the local industry claims false by binge-watching 150-episode series like Ertugrul not once but four times in a row, we know that's just an excuse.

It's high time the team at Hum Network realises that as content creators, they are on a stage before society. At best, you can choose to address your audience with thought provoking, feel-good content that leaves them reflecting on their collective morals; at worst, you can abuse that power to make some extra cash. Either way, your choice will determine what the public is consuming and eventually normalising.

As an entertainer, no one is asking Khan to burden herself with the responsibility of giving a positive message every time she chooses a project to appear on screen. But as a senior artist who has a global fanbase that continues to grow — and as someone who is not unaware of the conversation on gender-based violence taking place in Pakistan today — we do expect her to take some accountability for the way she is carelessly portraying women making false accusations of assault. That too, only for the purpose of morbid enjoyment.

What the audience really wants

It is true that viewers want complex and nuanced scripts. However, when people say they are hungry for new stories, they don't mean flip the narrative and make use of sensitive issues like harassment and fake accusations as a tool for lazy storytelling and bagging high ratings.

At a time when women are being groped in broad daylight, raped in front of their children, choked to death in their own homes and beheaded, these are not the kind of stories that should be given space on national television. Why, you ask?

Because we live in a country that already has a hard time believing a survivor when they come out with their story. Conversations about harassment, abuse and sexual assault are still discomforting for us. We still don't want to hold predators accountable in fear of destroying relationships in the process.

This is why when you make a conscious choice to tell stories of outliers, you are being tone deaf to the actual problems of society. You are perpetuating the idea that women lie about accusations and you are normalising false narratives. You are discrediting victims and justifying it in the name of "the other side of the picture." You are enabling predators and sanctioning media representation — through renowned popular artists — for harassers and other men to openly discredit women who open up about their abuse.

What you are not doing is being responsible.

As a senior artist who has the power to choose from a multitude of projects coming her way, we collectively expect Ayeza Khan to do better.

The author tweets here.


Today Jul 30, 2021 05:22pm
She looks so middle aged... Who says she hasn't aged a day lol
Mujahid Jul 30, 2021 05:41pm
To make a drama where a man harrasses a girl promoting a favored stereotype is OK but not other way round. They are all stereotypes. Neither all men are harrassers, nor all women false accusers. Why allow one but not the other?
Umair Jul 30, 2021 05:49pm
Are there no false accusations of harassment? Maybe a person named Ali Zafar would like to disagree
Saffi Ud Din Ahmed Jul 30, 2021 05:59pm
And now you feel what an everyday feeling is, being a male in this society! Should I start naming all the drama and so-called entertainment projects where males are misrepresented and enjoyed? You can't answer gender discrimination with more gender discrimination! Respect and get respected!
Fastrack Jul 30, 2021 06:00pm
Did you just hate and bash an actress for a role created by a playwright and producer? Have you ever seen this done anywhere else? And would YOU now police around and decide what our dramas ought to show?
Fastrack Jul 30, 2021 06:02pm
Media shows obscenity, extramarital affairs: no problem. Media shows men are evil: kudos. Media shows a negative female character: HOW DARE..!!??
Fawad Jul 30, 2021 06:07pm
Morality is learnt and ingrained at home and in one's upbringing. Please don't blame tv actors for depicting good or bad that is essentially part of our lives. If one is influenced by mere TV characters, blame lies on that person not TV actors.
Faiz Jul 30, 2021 06:41pm
Most of our 'Artists' don't have any moral values once they see their checks coming in.
Abrar Jul 30, 2021 06:44pm
Holding an actor responsible for a character is absolutely not right, there is whole team involved in it, and by the way there is nothing wrong with stories where females are portrayed in negative roles, these dramas are work of fiction and should be seen as such
Ehsan Jul 30, 2021 06:50pm
The whole entertainment industry needs to change their mindset
Bash Qamar Jul 30, 2021 07:04pm
Actors don't write the script. Its the writer, producer and the TV channel responsible for such acts. What is PEMRA doing? It's the job of the regulatory authorities to take action and establish a code of ethics and implement it.
ST Jul 30, 2021 07:05pm
I liked the idea. Whats wrong in that? Most of the me too movement may be like this.
Simi Jul 30, 2021 07:08pm
Well written, these "celebs" need to be called out for dangerous stereorypes they are perpetuating (it is wrong to say they are creating these stereotypes because they already exist). In no universe they are empowering women but subconciously making them more complacent to restricted rights and patriarchy.
AF Jul 30, 2021 07:11pm
This!! I swear these artists have gotten away for far too long with these excuses such as, 'oh, it's not in our hands' and 'we're just actors', always giving this impression, so innocently, as if they literally have no choice; and I am sorry but I do not accept this BS anymore.
FARJAD ZAIDI Jul 30, 2021 07:28pm
A typical biased narrative. Sounds more like Bush " Either you're with Us or Against us". Why can't we be Just and accept that these kind of issues do exists in our world. Ayeza is a great actress and that's why she is respected by everyone. Remember, respect is earned, not expected.
Abdullah Umar Jul 30, 2021 07:48pm
The sick mentality of feminism is polluted to a level that these creatures can't digest a woman playing a negative role in dramas, and while a dozen male characters are being designed to fit the evil outfit by specific narrative is always enjoyed. These feminists need a new planet in space for their self proclaimed rightiousness
SMA Jul 30, 2021 07:50pm
This aged lady Ayeza Khan is loosing her mind. She is trying to become exposed herself as much as she could. This is dangerous sign fir our Muslim called Ulema in Pakistan is giving a blind eye to this menacing display if her body and shamelessness. Enough is enough stop her.
Sadaf Haider Jul 30, 2021 08:04pm
Who said this doesn’t happen ? Ayeza’s character Geeti is a manipulative, grey shaded character & its a role she is playing well . The drama also shows an incident of actual harassment of Sara Khan’s character as she walking home in her sports kit . Both images are valid . As a regular watcher of Pakistani dramas there is so much I have called out & continue to call out on these very pages but None of it catches the attention except a passing clip someone posted out of context . Ayeza Khan has played all kinds of roles , a diversity of good , bad , bholi and assertive characters & Geeti is just one face out of many .
tbone steak Jul 30, 2021 08:13pm
Pakistani dramas are a reflection of its society.. A culture where every time a woman speaks up about abuse its called using 'the female victim card' everytime she is suffering at the hands of her in laws its considered 'ghairatmand' to sit back and compromise... women are perceived as conniving beings and poor men are inconvenienced when they hear this metoo talk. They will never shed light on the subtleties of abuse/mistreatment but keep on pushing the narrative that breeds mistrust and violence against women. I dont expect anything better from them. shame.
tbone steak Jul 30, 2021 08:18pm
@Saffi Ud Din Ahmed 'misrepresented'. The audacity you have saying this, in a country where women are killed for disobeying their husbands, not warming food, not waking husbands up for sehri. acid attacked for rejecting marraige proposals...should i go on or do you want to wallow in self defense and victim hood?
Amer Jul 30, 2021 08:53pm
And now you want to stop freedom of expression. Not all women are victims nor angels. Please grow up.
Daniyal Khalid Jul 30, 2021 09:00pm
The same publication that published an article saying it's "all men", is now cautioning the media not to focus on "outliers". The irony is rich.
Sameer Jul 30, 2021 09:16pm
Whats wrong!? The actor is playing a role that is depicting the otherside of the story!?
Dr. Ahmed Jul 30, 2021 09:21pm
@Fastrack I totally agree with you. Please accuse the playwright not the actress. Do these people know how the drama industry works? I lost whatever little respect had for dawn long ago, and this was the last nail in coffin. What kind of tabloid news is it?
Khan Jul 30, 2021 09:22pm
Feminists bashing something which is very common in the western world. Ironic.
Annie Jul 30, 2021 09:26pm
She is the gender traitor. The worst of the worst..
Aasma Jul 30, 2021 09:27pm
@Fawad "If one is influenced by mere TV characters, blame lies on that person not TV actors." Then why does PM and rest population call for ban and keep blaming hollywood, turkish serials for growing rape crimes. Cant have it both ways when it suits you.
Ayesha Khan Jul 30, 2021 09:57pm
@Today And she is not fair skinned either. More like filtered skin.
Truth be told Jul 30, 2021 10:15pm
@Today aged with grace.
Truth be told Jul 30, 2021 10:17pm
@Saffi Ud Din Ahmed yes. totally agree.
Akber Lakhani Jul 31, 2021 12:20am
Do you have problem when a rich wadera behaves even worse in so many other dramas just because he is rich.
ambreen Jul 31, 2021 12:45am
What's her fault? I do not understand why actors are blamed - they are neither writers nor reformers. They are doing their jobs acting out a part in the drama - good or evil that's their choice. Should we start blaming all actors who play the roles of kidnappers and criminals then ???
Ammar Raza Jul 31, 2021 12:47am
the cancerous snowflake of a media strikes again. Pushing a double standard narrative to their idiotic fanbase who is too stupid to realize they're being manipulated.
Khurram Jul 31, 2021 12:55am
When men abuse women in dramas, it's fine for you. But when women cheats, then it hurts you. Why? Why always it triggers "the" something special in you when among 99% dramas degrading men, 1% shows a woman doing the bad thing? You want to tell that women are the best and nicest things on earth? Seriously?
AgaKhan Jul 31, 2021 01:30am
@Mujahid ; Because our religion does NOT allow that.
AgaKhan Jul 31, 2021 01:30am
@Fastrack ; Excellent comment.
AgaKhan Jul 31, 2021 01:33am
@Fastrack ; Yes sir -- why - because that's what our religious teachers are telling us to do, and think and believe.
mesotwisty Jul 31, 2021 02:33am
Don't think it's really the actresses fault. The drama's are following a sensational formula and have become meaningless where the only topic is marriage or on antagonist who makes life miserable for 29 episodes and then suddenly finds jesus in the last episode.
Maryam Siddique Jul 31, 2021 03:02am
Ayeza Khan gets in trouble because she makes Pakistani women look like a villain. Pakistani women arent willing to accept that a woman can cheat on her husband and leave him for a richer man. Pakistani women arent willing to accept that Pakistani women can FALSELY accuse men of rape and harass. As for Mere Paas Tum Ho it was a brave role played by Ayeza Khan. The only thing I didnt like was that Ayeza was shown as a villain whereas in fact she was a victim of a husband who didnt do ALL he could to give her a richer and comfortable life and only did it out of vengence AFTER she divorced him. Had he pulled his weight whilst they were married then she would not have needed t marry a richer guy.
AH Jul 31, 2021 03:20am
@tbone steak If it's so bad leave. Go to these so called better countries you want to go to.
abu aliev Jul 31, 2021 03:45am
yusra you want women's should have privileges in a pakistani society .......and equal rights for women ( western) would you tell us about qandeel Baloch and Hareem shah these are contradicting facts of western values and a pakistani society, an underdeveloped under nourished but overdosed with libertarian luxuries .ayeza is also a fact not a ,.....
HumanA Jul 31, 2021 05:29am
False accusations don't take place because women cannot lie.
Tamza Jul 31, 2021 05:54am
Many years ago I met a young woman [girl of 17] at the start of an educational. And then again a day or two before she left for home. Even at 17 ‘knew’ “ how to use my body to get things in life”. If a man reciprocates, or rejects, her approach - he risks being accused of harassment. Today. Not then. Women today are overusing the #MeToo tag. There WILL BE blowback. For sure.
Tadka Jul 31, 2021 06:17am
@Truth be told aged is aged with or without grace....not that its a crime just higlighting to the writer as she wrote that
Tadka Jul 31, 2021 06:18am
@Ayesha Khan 90% of pak celeb pics we see r filtered...have u seen any real candid pics recently of any1?
Anjum Pervez Jul 31, 2021 06:21am
@Mujahid Well said. Exactly this over the top, deafening din by females about harassment is applauded, however when a flip reality is pointed out, they cry foul!
Aniza Jul 31, 2021 06:35am
Very nicely written article. Salute to the Author : Yusra for identifying this point as an issue in this female actor. Actors are totally responsible for the character they own for themselves. Its glad to know that there are few people in society which recognizes that all of nation has a role to play in this women abused society of Pakistan. We(women) need to wake up and show respect to ourselves. In a society like Pakistan where women are abused and considered second class citizens should need better ally ship from men.
Toni Jul 31, 2021 07:16am
Too judgmental! The West has Desperate House Wives, which shows how women can also manipulate just like the men and take another's husband and then move on but are found less guilty of being a house breaker than an unfaithful husband. The West considers we have no women rights in Pakistan, but the women in the West say the same but they keep on showing programs like the desperate house wives, sex in the city and other reality shows which could be considered anti-women that incite women harassment.
baby prasad Jul 31, 2021 08:03am
Are we going to ignore all the those females in Cars slapping police officers and stuff?
Rizwanaa Shaikh Jul 31, 2021 08:34am
@ST یہی تو کہا گیا ہے کہ خواتین کو جھوٹا دکھانے سے وہ مسائل جھوٹ لگنے لگتے ہیں جو حقیقت میں آنہیں درپیش ہیں۔
Abid Khan Jul 31, 2021 08:43am
Get a grip people - she is an actor playing a role in a TV drama/soap. Sometimes you do need to have such roles to show the bad side of both people, society and culture.
Bilawal Khan Jul 31, 2021 09:44am
Ayeza is just representing every face of woman in society. You need guts to absorb it when at the same time you go towards man from every corner
Umer Jul 31, 2021 10:16am
The presence of Ayeza in media industry & keeping herself modest couldn't digest few people. She has large fan following & had no scandal, leaked pics, videos in a decade long career. Do not forget false accusations by meesha shafi on Ali Zafar & other actresses supported her blindly, at the end she found guilty using her popularity in wrong mean. Ayeza khan has just protrayed this side of celebrity, nothing bad in it. I agree with you as it was not a pleasure to watch her 'mery pass tum ho'.
Sunny Khan Jul 31, 2021 10:53am
this drama is another side of the coin. Whats so wrong about it?
Memon Abdul Jul 31, 2021 11:58am
Ayeza Khan is a carry - she will carry any character you will write for her - she has been doing it for a long, long time. For someone who never watched Pakistani dramas, Ayeza Khan was amongst a group of very limited talented character carries that developed an initial interest. So yeah - it's media, it's fiction, it's pre-scripted, it's post edited - Ayeza Khan is just the messenger. If you want to scrutinize someone then there is a list of writers and producers and production houses and the networks to go after - you can't shoot the messenger, period. And Ayeza does better every project, she tries to do a different character every serial which maintains her appeal. Unlike the other lot that will either pick and repeat a sobby-eyed wet-faced 'mazloom' or a bala from down beneath...With Ayeza every character is usually never the same!
Anonymouseee Jul 31, 2021 12:08pm
Truth hurts.
Nadia Jul 31, 2021 12:25pm
@Umer The accusations by Meesha were not false but sadly in many Islamic countries the female victim is blamed and culprit is proven innocent. Regarding Ayeza she deliberately chooses roles that please the illiterate, misogynistic Pakistani audience. How can you presume she is modest based on her fake PR created image in the media? You certainly don't know what actors are in real life.
Nadia Jul 31, 2021 12:32pm
@ambreen It is never the actors fault and in fact many actors are never even told the entire script until the last minute. It is entirely the writers who are careless, irresponsible and trivialize such sensitive issues.
Nadia Jul 31, 2021 12:44pm
@Sadaf Haider Yes she has played all kinds of roles but for a while played safe and chose the bechari roles to please the viewers and avoid being targeted and abused. I remember she too faced criticism during her early career for her choice of roles.
Nadia Jul 31, 2021 12:47pm
@Maryam Siddique I agree with you Ayeza mostly chooses one dimensional characters that are either black or white not grey.
Mind Jul 31, 2021 01:02pm
The author is clueless about whom to criticize. Actoress is responsible for how good she has performed according to the script. It is the Director who is to be discussed. Actress is picked for same role owing to her outstanding performance in a similar role in 'Mere pass tum ho'. Furthermore, the society has many such chracters which are harassing and teasing men. So both faces of the socity has to be shown in limelight, if one calls for reality.
Aman Jul 31, 2021 01:03pm
@yusra habib STOP! @yusra habib STOP judging others! @yusra habib STOP policing others! Entertainment projects are not something that you should be policing! Next you would be judging an actors personal believes! @yusra habib STOP! Live & let Live! @yusra habib you don't have absolute power, STOP!
amna Jul 31, 2021 01:07pm
Most people in the comments here not agreeing with the article are men and that is reason enough to know how problematic this statement was and how this invalidates women who actually choose to talk about harassment
Ifti Malik Jul 31, 2021 03:06pm
I think art and artists should be free to express themselves as they wish. Didacticism shouldn't be forcibly thrust upon them. "Art for art's sake " versus "Art for life's sake" remains an ongoing intellectual debate.
Imad khan Jul 31, 2021 03:53pm
Hold her accountable? Sounds quite tyrannical.
Talha Jul 31, 2021 08:37pm
It is incorrect to put blame on Ayeza Khan, the character Geeti itself is negative which would have terrible consequences because of its wrong acts ( the character) later on in the story. Such a senior actor like Ayeza Khan must have had chosen script very wisely and I am sure this character would also be a lesson to the audience in the end just like Mehwish in Meray Paas Tum Ho.
Danish Aug 01, 2021 12:47am
This is absolute nonsense. False accusations against men are as real as men harassing women. Even if the ratio is 1 to 10,000, it is unfair to expect an actor to not play a character because of this reason.
Salman Hayat Aug 01, 2021 01:04am
Sahi public stunt kia ha baji. Ho gae na mashhoor
arzoo Aug 01, 2021 01:12pm
Never understood the hype around her. She is average at best in terms of looks and talent.
Confused Aug 02, 2021 04:06pm
I don't get the motivation behind the article, she's just an actress playing a role. It's entertainment for entertainment's sake. Actors play a variety of roles from murderers to alien superheroes, we never "hold them accountable" for how they portray murderers and aliens.