Disclaimer: These are personal experiences and an account of what I’ve seen in women around me and my experiences overall in the years I’ve worked in different segments of the business market.
“Don’t have a kid for at least 5 more years, and lose some of that cheek fat on your face. Only then you’ll find good work on TV channels as an actor,” said the woman, with a cigarette in her mouth, blowing smoke out of her lungs like a dragon.
‘But I have skills, I have done so much theatre, I know I can make it if you give me a chance. I don’t really want to be a lead, just a good role,’ she asked her.
‘Sweetie, good roles go to girls who are skinny and don’t have babies, or plan to have any in the near future. You are married, so that is also a problem. Will you go out and socialize with people and drink at parties with them? You have to do all that to remain in the ‘IT circle’ and that’s how you get projects, darling. I am pretty sure you can’t do most of the things mentioned, as you are a good girl,’ she chuckled, like it was a ‘gaali’, an abuse to be hurled at someone.
Maybe I just made up a story, or maybe this was an excerpt from my life. You can decide on your own.
Truth is: it’s a little bit of both. When I was 20, I started looking for jobs to support my education plans. I wanted to finish my masters, and had financial issues in the middle of my University years. It was fairly easy for me to find ‘odd’ jobs, like working as a Marketing person in a random travel agency and working as a Content writer in some other firm that cashed in on advertising and running social media pages. Truth is, I didn’t really know that the future held so many plans for me to learn from all the 101 jobs that I went through my entire life.
From Travel agencies to Marketing agencies to Writing agencies to News agencies to TV Channels to Schools to the Entertainment Industry, I have kind of experienced it all. The only thing I haven’t been is probably an Engineer and a Doctor; you need harder qualifications for those.
Anyways, a degree in Journalism led me to believe that it would be fairly easy to find work in the ‘Journalism’ industry of Pakistan, or that’s what I thought. I worked for different ‘odd’ magazines and a couple of nice newspapers, but as somebody who would write monotonous articles on health and entertainment for a living. All of this hard work would earn me some cash at the end of a month, and I was happy in my life. That’s because I was in my twenties, and I didn’t have a lot of obligations back then.
As you grow older, you realize that there are so many things in life that you were doing wrong, or taking for granted. For example: time. Time is something that we all take for granted, especially when we are younger. I wasn’t sure I was necessarily ‘wasting’ it, as I was ‘STILL’ working, and when you’re making money rather than sitting at home and not doing anything, it still feels better than sitting at home and wasting time, which feels worse because you’re not making any money out of it. Right?
But the truth is: both kinds of wasting time are wasting PRECIOUS time. But in the job wasting time you kind of realize that at least you’re learning something out of it, and polishing an already acquired skill. In my scenario, I did a lot of writing and so now I can type really fast and can edit articles much quicker, proofread quicker and research quicker, which makes me earn a better living as a writer and a journalist, and I acquired ‘Journalistic Writing’ through all my work at the news agencies, which is what some companies look for with their Content Executives.
I was unable to become a ‘Crime Reporter’ or a ‘Criminal Writer/Journalist’ because I was told it was too ‘hardcore’ and ‘dangerous’ for me to enter the field, especially as I had to go to prisons and interview people or be at crime scenes, which isn’t really the ideal working space for a woman in Pakistan. In Pakistan, people get murdered on a daily basis and there are no follow ups; there’s families still seeking justice after years of tragedies. There went my plan to become a Crime Reporter, right out the window it flew; and never came back to me ever again.
Another thing I desperately wanted to be was a News Caster, as I had good English-speaking skills (that’s what they said they wanted) and good pronunciation. I was interviewed and I got the job, starting out as an Internee in probation. I was told to join in next day at 05:00 am. Okay, what? My parents were NEVER going to allow that, and I knew it wasn’t ideal because I’d be sleeping the entire day once I got back from the internship and this was going to continue (without any money) for 3 months or so. I had to give up that dream because conditions didn’t look too suitable, and so out flew another dream, past my bedroom window.
If you dare make something out of your dreams, you better be ready to face A LOT of rejection by society (firstly, because Pakistan is yet to celebrate artists or working women in general in their full capacity even in today’s world) and also because you can’t make a decent living out of your artistry unless you make it like Atif Aslam or Ali Zafar. My passion was never going to become my dream, I knew, but to this day I still follow it; I know that as long as you have the will power and love to do something, it always creates something good in the Universe and people recognize your art, sooner or later. It’s just not that appreciated, that’s all.
If a woman is married, she best be ready to face even more hurdles in her path: now it’s the IN-LAWS that are going to have a problem with everything you do, because once you’re a part of their family, they (kind of) have the feeling that now they’re in charge of your life, and so anything you do affects them (unintentionally or intentionally) and everything you do is supposed to be parallel to their ‘beliefs’ about what you will do with your life. How many things can a woman do at once, and still not be appreciated?
When people say ‘Why don’t you follow your dream?’ or ‘Why didn’t you do this sooner?’ or ‘Why aren’t you making any more music?’ I want to give them all these answers, yet I never really found a chance to. For the first time, in my life, I have found a way to express all my innermost answers to all of those people who tell me I am too lazy or I procrastinate too much or that I waste precious time; that please, step into my shoes and you’ll know, how many things a person has to manage and still settle with doing as much as one possibly can.
On top of that, if you have mental health issues, then GOD BE WITH YOU. As if all of the aforementioned wasn’t enough, now you have to deal with the demons inside your head as well. Great!
Often times, the girls have fantasized ‘having a husband and a dream life’ so much that they never get into the habit of making their own money or ever being independent; they find it a stupid concept because ‘if you have a man to earn for you, why do you need to?’
Not only as an artist or as someone who is in the entertainment industry, this complication for women who are married/unmarried and career oriented will remain. There is a lack of part time jobs for women who cannot afford to work full time, as full time work exists till the late evening hours and it’s not possible for most of the women to work till late as they juggle with a steady home life at the same time.
Moreover, there are no day cares for women with kids, and that’s why women with kids are mostly sitting at home, sulking and waiting for the next opportunity that they can get. I myself have had thousands of friends email me to find them a ‘freelance job’ online so that they don’t kill themselves with the work overload at home. With time, people are learning through experiences that there should be more safe spaces for women to work in, and professions with day cares so they can easily invest in long-term jobs and not be held back if they have other obligations.
It should not be this hard for women in Pakistan to work and to pursue their passions at the same time, because men don’t have (most) of these problems (household chores, taking care of children and in-laws, cooking dinners) and I generally feel more support is needed towards our female population. Otherwise, the education sector will be the only place they are going to make money in, and they will have to grip tightly to that market segment only; and we all know that every human being cannot have the same passion for education. Let’s not kid ourselves: we are killing a lot of dreams here due to societal pressures and a lack of opportunities for Pakistani women.