For the past few days, the hottest topic of discussion has been Mehwish Hayat receiving the ‘Tamgha E Imtiaz’ and how many people think that she is not deserving of that award. The sanctity of the award was called into question as were Mehwish Hayat’s morals. The onslaught of memes, jokes and just downright rude comments have flooded social media, and of course, Mehwish could see it all too.
After all the negativity, Mehwish finally took to Twitter yesterday and told off the trolls.
She said something very important. She talked about how the ‘Tamgha’ became an issue of gender. This is indeed a gendered issue now, because of the way people used Mehwish being a woman against her. Of all the celebrities who’ve been awarded, most, if not all trolling was directed at her, using her performances to downplay her achievements and call her actions into question.
This name-calling and slut-shaming are not just limited to Mehwish, you’ll slowly realize that this is a pattern; we do not react positively when female celebrities and women in general, achieve something or are recognized for their efforts.
Fifi Haroon is someone who has followed the Pakistani Entertainment industry for years and conducts some of the most engaging interviews for BBC Urdu. We spoke to her about this behavior of bringing down female Pakistani actors.
If Mahira had gotten the award they would bring the dress & smoking up. Or if it was Sanam Saeed or Amina Sheikh won it they would say oh Cake's producer is in PTI. Be it Mehwish/Maya/Mahira or Mawra, the fact is we pull our female actors down. We will always find a reason. https://t.co/efZExlTLHG
— Fifi Haroon (@fifiharoon) March 25, 2019
All of this begs the question; why are female actors constantly targeted?
“When have we celebrated our female achievers? Be it Malala Yusufzai or Sharmeen Obaid we’ve done everything in our power to belittle them when they win accolades. I don’t have an issue with people discussing whether Mehwish should have gotten this award or not but they will say things like, ‘I haven’t seen her films but I have seen Billi or she’s only been working for 3 years’. Actually, she’s been working for 10 years, not 3.” said Fifi Haroon when we posed this question to her.
She continues to say, “and then the insinuations of liaisons and what not – because of course a woman whose public persona is free-spirited and confident couldn’t possibly be talented enough to win an award on merit or have any real impact on Pakistan’s fledgling movie industry, right?”
People online had just summed up Mehwish’s entire career to one item song and using that song to justify calling her all sorts of disgusting names and slurs. What people fail to see, and a point that Fifi brought up, is that Mehwish has delivered Pakistan’s biggest box office hits. We cannot talk about the ‘revival of Pakistani cinema’ without talking about her contributions to it.
Also, let’s be real, if a male actor, the same age were to win the ‘Tamgha E Imtiaz’ no one would bat an eye. No discussions about him ‘sleeping his way there’ would be happening nor would people bring up roles he’s done as proof to his immorality and indignity.
‘When have we ever celebrated our female achievers?’ How did we even get here?
The basic fact is that the entertainment industry is still seen as ‘not so great’ career choice for women in this country. Because of this, female actors have to balance a lot of expectations, both in their jobs and their personal lives, since there are literally more than a million eyes scrutinizing
About undue expectations we have from our women, Fifi says, “We live in a society where respect for the arts and especially for female celebrities, has always been a contentious issue. Many but not all of the early Lollywood stars came from less privileged backgrounds or were talent-hunted in Lahore’s andrun shehr though this was referred to in hushed tones. I suppose that added to the film industry historically being considered an unsavory profession for women in Pakistan.”
Despite the evolution in the TV landscape and educated women joining the entertainment industry, society’s evolution hasn’t been at the same pace
“Television and the revival of cinema in Pakistan has brought in a new breed of better educated, independent-minded women like Amina Sheikh, Mahira Khan and Sanam Saeed to the fore and while they certainly command greater respect than past heroines, there is a part of mass society that hasn’t fully caught up with this change,” shares Fifi.
“They are often confused with the characters they play in middle-class morality soaps and expected to be lily-faced and proper like Khirad or Kashaf. These are extremely challenging standards for anyone”, she expressed.
There is obviously going to be some level of disconnect between a character an actor plays and their personal life, however, they imprint the character upon the actor. This is why Mahira Khan’s ‘smoking’ picture got the amount of hate that it did. If we take this explanation and apply it to Mehwish, we can begin to understand why people reacted the way they do.
It seems like Mehwish is facing an opposite issue here. Due to the ONE item song, people assumed some things about her morality and talent, which is making her award hard to digest. This is ridiculous considering all the other roles she’s played, maybe it be Anmol from ‘Dillagi’ or her performance in ‘Load Wedding’.
More than the ‘perception’ of the entertainment industry, social media has also played a large role in the hatred being easy to throw around
Clearly, social media hasn’t created the entertainment industry’s perception, however, what it is doing is giving a voice and a platform to everyone – be it the stars, their fans or their frustrated trolls. Let’s take the case of Sharmeen Obaid- she’s won 2 Oscars for her documentaries however got no validation from people online. Entire hate campaigns were targeted at her, although, internationally and nationally, she was being lauded for her filmmaking.
Fifi also shared her thoughts about social media and the growing trolling phenomenon. She says “social platforms make the abuse of female stars immediate and extensive whereas before social media they were a bit more cocooned from slurs. Now it’s done in full glare of a public forum and is extremely hurtful, damaging and relentless.”
How can we get to a place where we respect our women and their achievements?
“You can’t force society to change overnight – especially when politicians and talk show hosts behave so badly in social forums setting such terrible examples. As a result, petty minds and people with small followings will always be hard at work to troll and abuse because it gets them attention and elevates their fairly quiet real lives into a colorful media space,” Fifi shared.
However this change is not impossible, she believes, “what will make a change is proper implementation of defamation and slander law, especially on social media, and the consistent reporting of trolls and harassers to official platforms.”
This is a large societal issue, we don’t see women as equal and are extremely willing to weaponize their morality and past against them. This is not only disheartening but it is also very concerning in terms of how we’re limiting the growth of Pakistani women. We as a people need to grow past this petty behavior of pulling each other down. It’s 2019, for fuck’s sake!
Cover Photo Courtesy: @mehwishhayatofficial / Instagram