While wasting time on YouTube, I recently came across a series of Pakistani commercials for the phone service Ufone. I tend to roll my eyes at the attempts of companies to get people’s money, but with Pakistani commercials it’s different. Watching Pakistani commercials remind me of the winter evenings I’ve spent in Pakistan, cuddled under the warm comforter with my aunts and cousins watching Pakistani or Indian dramas interspersed with wholesome, lively Pakistani commercials.
As I watched one commercial after another for Ufone, I noticed an interesting trend. Other than the fact that many of these commercials made me literally laugh out loud (the comic writing is quite clever), I realized that their depictions of women were noteworthy. (I am well aware that these are not recent commercials.)
It is important to note that my reactions to the commercials were based on my own intersectional experiences living in the West – a part of the world which depicts Pakistani women as helpless, oppressed, and with no choice but to cover from head to toe. As a Pakistani-Canadian, I know the diversity of women in Pakistan, but I am also aware of the very real and problematic patriarchal nature of Pakistani society.
Of course, the manifestation of patriarchy is very much tied to economic factors and so comparisons between patriarchal societies are futile, often leading to racist conclusions. However, I cannot ignore the serious problems of patriarchy in Pakistan. My awareness of the issues is based mainly on the words, works, and efforts of those many in Pakistan who question and challenge the patriarchy from within, not those of us in the West imposing our views on others. My discussion of these commercials will therefore occur within this context.
The first one to catch my attention was this amusing commercial.