Dear Hum TV, Stop Trying To Justify Abuse

Last night a Pakistani-American engineer was telling me that people only hit those they love. She also told me that if a woman’s husband hits her, it’s entirely her fault; she must have done something to provoke him.
I wouldn’t post this on here if this was an isolated incident but these views are sadly really common among Pakistani women. In a poll published two years ago, the Express Tribune found almost half of the Pakistani women surveyed thought their husbands were justified in beating them. This is beyond disturbing because ET is read only by privileged people. If (fairly) wealthy & educated Pakistani women feel this way, I can only imagine how the poorer majority feels. As well, the Guardian published an interactive list of women’s rights across the globe. Unsurprising, Pakistani women were worse off than almost every other country in the region.

In a survey published by the Express Tribune, a disturbingly large amount of Pakistani women stated that abuse is justified in certain situations.

The reason is easy to see.
Watch any drama on Hum TV, Pakistan’s favorite TV channel. Notice how hard they work to normalize abusive relationships. Hum TV uses a good girl vs bad girl dichotomy wherein the “good” girl is the one who is submissive and obedient to her husband and his family. She endures even the harshest of abuse from them with a smile on her face. She never fights back. The “bad” girl, on the other hand, is assertive & dominant. She does not get along with her in-laws. She contemplates and might even get a divorce unlike the good girl who always returns to her husband. Ultimately, the good girl gets a happy ending. The bad girl gets a slap in the face. Literally.
Hum TV dramas exaggerate their “evil” female leads so much that a viewer would feel no remorse after watching her get beaten by her husband. The bad girl will starve her mentally ill mother in law. The bad girl will cheat on her husband. The bad girl will try to seduce a married man out of greed for money. All of these women end up getting slapped by men. All of these incidents of abuse are justified by the viewers. “It was a light slap. She totally deserved it.”
So what does this mean for the hundreds of thousands of women who are brutally beaten by their husbands and in-laws in Pakistan? What does it mean for the victims of acid attacks and honor killings? They did not receive a “light” slap. Will you argue that their fate was deserved?
The fact is that we have a culture that glorifies and condones violence against women. We have a culture that shames victims & tells them it’s their fault they’re getting abused. We have a culture that doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that this kind of gendered violence and people’s reaction to it is pandemic.
I have seen how Pakistanis react in real life when they find out a loved one was abused by their spouse. I have seen how Pakistanis react when women divorce their husbands for ill-treating them. Frankly, I’m disgusted by both.
Thousands of Pakistanis overseas watch Hum TV. For many, it is the only link they have to their culture in a foreign land. Imagine the impact this blatant misogyny is having on their beliefs.
If we want to start addressing violence against women in our communities, we must first change the culture that promotes it. We must support victims, not the abusers. We must not shun women for divorcing their abusive husbands. We must discuss Hum TV’s attempt to normalize domestic violence, even if it is a reflection of our own cultural values. Enough women have already died as a result of spousal abuse. How many more until we finally say no?

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