Tag Archives: Feminism

On the Notion of “Honor” and Masculinity

I speak from a South Asian perspective – briefly so. The idea of “saving” a woman’s “honor” is not a man’s job. It is highly complicated in the sense that when a woman is sexually assaulted or harrassed, she is seen as a lesser being because her “honor” has been “stolen.” The attacker against said honor is often a man. The guardian of that honor is, erroneously so, a man again. Therefore he has to “save” her and “protect” the “sanctity” of her reputation from that criminal not because he believes that women deserve equal rights and access to the same privilege he has, but because the honor of the woman – an object under him – has been violated. The running emotion behind it is often misguided in that instead of making it her issue, he makes it his own. He finds himself less masculine if his sister, wife, mother or daughter is assaulted. He blames himself. She becomes a fragile, easily-broken, easily-tainted object. The concept of “Ghairat” that continues to thrive in the minds of men in our society is also endorsed by many women. To believe that it is only men perpetuating this mindset, is overly simplified and flawed. I do encourage men and women to protect each other but also to view each other  as equal human beings, that an assault on a woman’s body is not supposed to undermine a male relative’s honor but that it is inherently the attacker’s fault, the shame should be thrown upon him. When a man is assaulted, his ‘honor’ isn’t fretted over upon by a woman. His issue is his alone, his body belongs to him. But when a woman is assaulted, the related man believes he has been insulted. Her body becomes a battlefield. Another problem that arises is that instead of holding the male attacker responsible for the crime, the woman is instantly hidden from public view. The belief is that by hiding her, the problem goes away. But it doesn’t; it grows stronger, angrier and more dangerous for the woman. Silence implies complicity in this case.

Many people forget during feminist discourse on patriarchy that while patriarchy oppresses women, it also defines hyper-masculine, rigid requisites for men. “He must not cry, he must not express emotion, he must be strong every single day of his life.” Men should not define their masculinity by narrow concepts of “honor” but by supporting the idea that their masculinity is defined by the noble drive to hold women’s status and respect equal to that of men.

A real man is the one who respects the individual space and voice of a woman. A real man does not define honor for a woman. That her issue is hers alone and that the help and protection offered is not out of upholding his sense of ‘ghairat’ or honor but because it is her right to be safe from assaults. It is her right to be treated with respect.

Khatam shud.

Part II

In the light of what has been discussed after I posted my open letter to Maya Khan which was later on published on Express Tribune’s blog, I’ve decided to clear several things out for the first and last time before someone misunderstands me for supporting sex trafficking and prostitution in family parks.

I don’t.

I don’t support occupying family spots for these acts. I don’t encourage anyone to strip naked on a wooden bench while kids play on the seesaw. I really don’t endorse the idea of soliciting people for paid sex in such vicinities. I’m not here, as several argued, to incinerate the very fabric of ‘Islamic’ social and moral conduct. Some people accused me of being in favor of letting young males and females engage in “questionable” acts due to which they get hurt sexually, physically and emotionally. One even told me to “leave the country” and “go back to USA” where “this shit happens on a daily basis.”  Implying that this “shit” is perfectly contained and controlled in the land of pure Pakistani perfection. Delusional people are most entertaining.

Some people also alleged that I am trying to be “hip” and “in” by conforming to the modern idea of PDA, socializing and modern relationships. They tell me that I am oblivious of what happens to young people when they are not told to avoid sneaking out, lying to guardians or parents, etc. They inform me that what Maya Khan and her kind did, was simply “interview” young couples in parks. Conflating “interviewing” with “harassing” is a dangerous misunderstanding. I could “interview” you too. It won’t be pleasant.

So here’s what I’ve proposed to all those who misconstrue me needlessly on two major fronts among others:

  • Concerned about indecency in public places? Use the right medium to educate

    Closet Maya Khans sit comfortably in their privilege as they preach those under them. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Her act was not just a moral policing one, but also a classist lashing against those with less a chance to meet in the places she goes to. We all know what happens in opulent, endowed settings. There is no difference between the “illegal” act happening in a poor man’s household and that taking place in a rich man’s mansion. It is very easy to attack and admonish the weaker party. You can use religion, morality or simple concern as an excuse. I don’t deny the reality that unsettling things do occur in parks and the idea to address those happenings is valid. But there are ways to go about these problems. Creating social and religious stigma around them is the least preferable thing to do. Someone with a little decent knowledge of ethics – media and otherwise – would know. Stigmatizing public places not only deviates the majority from the real issue but also limits accessibility to them. You are not helping by locking the venue up.

  • “Girls get hurt when they don’t tell their parents about their lives!” 

    They actually do, you’re right. However please help me wrap my head around the approach consisting of publicly naming and shaming a young person in order to make them aware of their actions. How does shoving a camera into a young girl’s face rectify her dishonesty? If we all are so worried about our young women, why hasn’t any one of us ever considered talking to them in their classrooms, in their school halls, in their colleges? Why hasn’t anyone of us bothered writing about it? Some of you seem so horrified behind your screens about the looming danger waiting to claw at our girls yet you offer no pragmatic solution to solve this problem. If Maya Khan and her troupe wanted to help girls from getting harmed, why didn’t she turn the camera off, implored the girl to listen and offered her well-intended advice in privacy? A group of panting men and women holding cameras after a young couple doesn’t change anything. You were not assigned by the government, constitution or God to ram “naseehat” down someone’s throat. Worried about young girls’ safety? Guide them without shaming them. Disgusted by indecency tainting the family park? Report to authorities firmly and promptly. Public vigilantism is not the right way to go about it.

It may sound tangential but many of you want to help women from getting hurt. That’s wonderful. I realize that many of our parents and well wishers do not have access to internet or open media sources to learn more in terms of going about discussing sexual safety, rights, etc. This is where you become useful and spread the word without becoming a moral preacher like the woman aforementioned. Tell young women how to fight against sexual harassment, educate young girls about sex because it is one of their primary rights, empower them through education, conduct classes, seminars and conferences open for everyone and talk about it in Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, English, whatever.

Get to it or

Feminism Ain’t Always Perfect

And I, a feminist, have said this along with many others.

Jessica Yee says it best:

We’re not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when white women are praised for winning “women’s rights,” and to painfully forget the Indigenous women and women of colour who were hurt in that same process. We are not equal when in the name of “feminism”, so-called “women’s only” spaces are created and get to police and regulate who is and isn’t a “woman” based on their interpretation of your body parts and gender presentation, not your own. We are not equal when initiatives to achieve gender equity have reverted yet again to “saving” people and making decisions for them, rather than supporting their right to self-determination, whether it’s engaging in sex work, or wearing a niqab. So when feminism itself has become its own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it? Western notions of polite discourse are not the norm for all of us, and just because we’ve got some new and hot language like “intersectionality” to use in our talk, it doesn’t necessarily make things change in our walk (i.e., actually being anti-racist). And I have to say that these uncomfortable processes have been worth the many paths that brought the different contributors of the book together to tell their sometimes uncomfortable truths — not just about feminism, but about themselves and where they are coming from.

But now I’m going to take a stand and say that I’m constantly questioning what feminism even is, and I’m increasingly disturbed every day by the gate-keeping of who and what gets to decide the answer to that question.

So here’s another truth about me: I’m at a point in my activism where in many spaces I no longer feel comfortable just saying that I’m a feminist, full-stop, without adding a few words before or after. I say I’m a multi-racial Indigenous Two-Spirit feminist. I say I’m a hip-hop feminist, a reproductive justice feminist. Like many people, I feel like I’ve been burned out by the mainstream usage and representation of feminism and I’m not making any apologies for what I call myself, because I’m speaking the English language of the colonizer, and if it takes people a few extra words to give me my right to self-determination of what I want to be called in English, so be it.Being uncomfortable with this truth about feminism helps keep my fire alive to change it, and also helps me to not forget where we’ve really come from and where we’re really going.

(Source)

Like any woman of color, I can’t simply give in to feminism completely. It is a Western ideology that does not mesh well with mine. It has its roots embedded in a history that not only had White men oppressing their own women but their women were equally involved in oppressing my indigenous people – men and women together. I refuse to obediently follow every postulate stated by Western, Eurocentric feminists. Does that make me an incompetent supporter of women’s rights? Does that render me unsuccessful in this march against oppression and malevolent patriarchy? Does that invalidate my opinion on how to bring gender egalitarianism about? Does that make me an adversary in this struggle? Does that make me a bad person? My questioning of agendas and modus operandi should be taken as positive criticism for change.

When a white feminist conducts a conference on gender equality, I want her to introduce me as a Human Being, not an example for her friends and sponsors to examine and exhibit and capitalize on. I want her to ask me what my thoughts are concerning feminism in academia. I want her to understand that there are compartments to my feminist movement; that feminism in my society in the professional realm is far different than feminism in the domestic dimension. I want her to understand that things are not simple. I want her to stop reducing my people to a piece of cloth. I want her to look back and realize that feminists, too, can be very well racist and oppressive. I want her to know that enforcing her idea of success, happiness and liberation on women alienated by her very own culture does not help. I want her to talk to my sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, activists, women from the village, women from the city, women from every corner of my country, my culture, my history before she even thinks of concluding her thoughts on how to define feminism around the world. I want her to open her mind.

I want her to know that the conference she conducted on academic discussions on women’s rights, while poorly-paid migrant workers – my brothers and sisters – are preparing lunch for their lofty thinkers only to get deported the next day, is no good when she can’t acknowledge her own participation in silencing the rights of those around her. I don’t want to be invited to seminars where someone indirectly hints at me wearing my “cultural attire” to show diversity. What am I? A mannequin for the lot?

I want her to know that it is not necessary for anyone to have a post doctoral degree in women’s studies to speak about her own experience and to be regarded by the ones listening and reading. I want her to get rid of her own privilege before she goes on to highlight that of others. I am tired but undefeated of the constant sight of colored students who are expected and sometimes demanded to learn languages, theories, -isms that erase and appropriate but, worse, further colonize their history, heritage, culture and identity.

I want the West to understand that my women and men and I will not adhere to every single idea stated from that corner of the world concerning emancipation and progress. I know the men of my culture have committed extreme acts of brutality against their women but it makes you no good when your ancestry points to lineages and more lineages of colonizers who tortured and enslaved both men and women of my culture.

I am a feminist but consider the ineffectiveness of a title when sub-titles are added for further clarification, explanation and validation. When I speak on public radio or show up on TV, I have to explain my identity: A multi-cultural, anti-racist, Muslim feminist. Sub-titles are created when the primary title fails to encompass other identities, other voices. This is also why I have no issue with women of color creating their own movements like South Asian Women Equality, Womanism, Muslim Gender Equality, Racial and Gender Liberation, so on and so forth.

So stop forcing me to believe you have purged yourself of racism, of cashing in on my experience and history. Stop telling me feminism is “perfect.” Stop telling me you’re here to “help” and “save” me and my sisters. The only person you need to save is yourself before you turn into a subtle instance of yet another colonizer.

Allergic to Sexist Pity

When I was growing up, my mother would often hold cosy gatherings with her friends in the city. Sometimes if she found out a new neighbor had arrived in the area, she’d cordially invite them over as well for a cup of tea and some light-hearted chit chat. My sisters and I would play in the hallway while the ladies would discuss weather, Pakistan, recipes and health. During those conversations, I often found one lady or the other asking my mother a question that seemed less inquisitive, more accusing in its spoken nature: “To aap ki betiyaan hi hain, buss? (So you have daughters only?)”

My mother: “Jee. Teen. (Yes. Three.)”

Reply: “Haye, Allah baita de aap ko. Barri himmat hai. (Oh my, may the Lord bless you with a son. I commend your courage.)”

And I’d feel incompetent as though my being a daughter was somehow an insult, maybe some sort of incompetence on part of my parents. I love my mother for her response though: “Nahi, shukriya. Yehi baitiyaan hain, yehi baitay hain. Hum bohut khush hain. (No, thanks. These are our daughters, and our sons. We’re very happy with them.)”

But it didn’t stop. I grew up with classfellows in Pakistan asking me if I had brothers. I would reply in the negative. After which an entire group of students would sympathize with me and offer their brothers to give me “protection, honor and strength.” I never accepted the (pity-filled) offers – sometimes politely, sometimes with downright indignation.

Eventually I learned that due to a set of religiously exploited and malevolent patriarchal reasons, a daughter is viewed as a burden in our society. Bringing them up is not only considered a grueling test but a constant walk upon thin glass every single day of a subcontinental parent’s life. Phrases like “Baiti walay“, “Dheeyan aalay“, “Kaanch jaisi izzat ka khayal” and other highly dramatic terms flood households with daughters. It’s sickening. Everyone knows that, right? Why am I extrapolating the said and done? It’s not redundant; Shaming those who constantly offer unnecessary pity to parents with daughters and siblings with sisters only should be mandatory. Growing up while constantly questioning one’s self worth only because their gender perceived by the society inhibits them from deserving common respect is not only painful but humiliating. Silencing parents from airing their worries and speaking up against violence and discrimination is wrong and inhumane. Parents are often told, “Baitiyaan walon ko awaz neechay aur sar jhuka ke rakhna chahiye (Those with daughters should not raise their voice or head.)” Instilling fear into a family only because the child is female is a practice rampant in this region.

So I decided to do what I do best: Doodle my rage.

I’m illustrating a book some day with this cover for every girl in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, countries in the Middle East, in North America, South America, Africa, even Antarctica. Here it is:

Depressing illustrations by Ms. Someone Really Sick Of Stupid Questions.

My mother usually had to go through this. She’s a civil lady so her disdain is often channelized into her tea cup. I don’t know how that works but whatever.

Which leads to:

Back in school, ironically enough girls would offer me sympathy for not having a brother. My basic reaction: You’re a girl too. Why let the culture and society control your idea of power and protection, of worth and esteem?

I also placed my (very unreasonable) demands when I was naive.

THE CHILD HATH NO IDEA OF WHAT SHE HATH ASKED FOR.

But my parents handled it ever so gracefully. Their stance: They don’t need sons to feel protected or respected. The biological sex of a child does not determine whether or not they are likely to bring shame or honor to the family. No one is a burden until you render them one. So the next time I find someone offering their “concern” when they find out I have no brother, I will most likely ask them to give birth to one and bring the kid to my place. Till then, shut it.

P.S. Hajj hiatus and other reasons kept me away from my WordPress blog. I’m back now and I’m ready to doodle. And stuff.

AND OTHER STUFF.

The Creepy, Waist-Crunching 1950′s

Despite my love for the 1950′s, some images just send a chill down my feminist spine (and make me cringe). Here’s a photograph showing the infamous cinch belt women were expected to use back then.

Cinch belt in 1957

Cinch belts were notorious for distorting the otherwise natural and normal anatomy of the women of 1950′s. By painfully squeezing the waist tighter, the belts would make an average female waist appear smaller and more ‘feminine’. Later on, after Second Wave Feminism, cinch belts were discarded by rebels. Excellent move, I’ll say. Here are two other images:

© 1954's Advertisement for David's Fashion for Women

© 1954 Advertisement for Lana Lobell Women's Fashion

Painfully gorgeous? Notice how her waist is smaller than her head. That’s proof related to how demanding (read unyielding and suffocating) a man’s expectation for female beauty was. It hasn’t changed for the better since then though. Here is my favorite image by Norman Parkinson in 1950 called ‘Impertinence’. I simply can’t get enough of androgynous photography. It’s cheeky and raw, one of the best sub-genres in photography. Check out how comfy male attire appears here.

© Impertinence — Norman Parkinson, 1950

You gotta love Second Wave Feminism, people. If it weren’t for those courageous ladies, we girls would still have to tighten ropes around our waists day in and day out. And I’m sure I’d bruise my flesh in the process.

P.S. I know I’ve been slow with updating the blog. Will refresh it more often from now on. Cheers!