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.

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19 thoughts on “On the Notion of “Honor” and Masculinity

  1. absolutely true!!! one can only hope that we can replace this “ghairat” thing with some actual sense of respect . . .

  2. Your post is very well written. I always wondered when I was younger why when a girl was caught with a boy – the girl always suffered…while the guys always seemed to just get away with it.

  3. A very well written piece and feel a bit ashamed that this point, which is so obviuos, has to be driven like this! Islam is often tainted or mis-represented, but to me, the true place of a woman has been so beautifully established by living examples that the same can just not be refuted. Who can every argue otherwise if one just thinks of Bibi Khatija! She was a very storng and a financially independent business woman, who fell in love with the greatest man ever created, sent a message that she would like to marry him. After marrigae, Hazrat Mohammad (PBUH) not being financially stable at all, moved in with her where the househol was run by Bibi Khatija. Though there are many examples, but do we need even a single more example after this one. This clearly establishes the true place of a woman which is side-by-side, shoulder to shoulder, not be be treated as an object which needs to be protected but an equal partner.

  4. Hi mehreen i would like to add something here. as far as this honor is concerned, we have so many problems underlying..
    and i would have loved it more if you have elaborated on the point of women also a part of this act as you did touch it in the middle of the article.

    also the fact that sometimes some men do want to act differently but then again it’s the way our society is working, perceiving and going about things. even those who want to take the initiative are sometimes suppressed by the very ones who are teaching and preaching this message to others.

  5. Mehreen jee, I say, instead of lowering the differential for men to match that of women, an ideal society, or one that I would have in mind, is one where a women’s honour is raised to match that of men. What I am saying is, and how I really see it in life, is that a related woman is part of a man’s honour, and a related man is part of a woman’s honour. A woman that undergoes disrespect is for the related man to take care of, and a man that undergoes a disrespect is for a woman to heal. What we do not see today is the women’s share of honour part, and that is what I believe led to you posting a post such as this. But I sincerely believe that somewhere deep down inside everyone, the system of equality that I’ve outlined still exists.

  6. Interesting perspective.

    Isn’t this related (albeit loosely) to the apparent need to ‘uphold the honour of my community’. Aren’t similar feelings erupting then?

    Anyways, you’ve just won yourself a new fan!

  7. “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.”

    You hit the nail right on the head with that one. A man owns two bodies, that of himself and that of ‘his’ women.
    Odax’s comment… >_<

  8. Heart-warming article, in the sense that a lot of self-proclaimed “feminists” from our green pind, who, more often than not, happen to be from a proto-bourgeoisie khandaan where feminism is actually more an opportunistic excuse to have some intellectually credible discussion in Karachi’s or Lahore’s cafés, reduce “honour” (or ghairat ; which is more holistic in our societies) to a sociological instrument of masculine domination used by evilistic über-men ; that’s not only a gross reduction, but a criminal generalization because, as you eloquently put it, the men are victims *too*, of a system of values which compel them to follow an ethical path which transcend, surpass and – at the end – oppress them – “If I cry, I’m not a man *enough*” et cetera Bollywoodoid tirades then pop up in his then fragile mind.

    That said, I believe that all these problems are defined by our surrounding social set-up : with the socio-economic empowerment of women and their independence from men will *de fact* bring structural changes in their relations, and even little measures like ending sexual segregation in schools can, in the long term, affect the overall interactions between the two genders. How to do it – education, that’s not rocket science, it’s the only way for women to be introduced as a legitimate actresses in the market.
    As an example, women in Europe began to claim their legitimate rights only during the Industrial revolution, and, later on, “received” the right to vote when they participated as volunteers (nurses, spies, …) in the WWII – why ? Because they proved to the men that they, *too*, are a production force in their societies… men and women are complementary

    My Marxist’s rant becoming a bit too heavy with intellectual masturbation, but, yep, thanks for the meaty piece, I rarely comment, let alone on blogs.

    From a pakora-eating-Kashmiri-lad optionally pro PTI \m/ with luv.

  9. It all comes down to the fact that women in our culture are objectified, doesn’t it? When a woman is violated, it is seen as a reflection of the incompetence of her male “protectors” to defend her, as if she were a piece of land or a cow. Even more demeaning- when a rapist offers to marry his victim out of the goodness of his heart, thereby relieving her family of the burden of her “tainted honour”. Sadly, those offers are often accepted.

    Then of course, like you said, there’s the blame-the-victim mentality that is displayed even by supposedly educated and cultured folks in South Asia. Case in point- the Director General of Police, Andhra Pradesh, who recently blamed “fashion” for the growing number of rape cases in the state. You can read the rest of his outrageous statement here: http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/andhra-pradesh-dgp-blames-fashion-for-increase-in-rapes/1/166548.html

  10. Agree with you completely. I have met so many people who are a victim to this phenomenon which is so unnatural, altogether. What they simply ignore, backward as they are, that there’s no better, or worse, half, there’s just an individual. Everyone is their own person, and nobody is responsible for anyone. Sure, men being more able to handle men, we can later let the man protect us and provide for us, but that still doesnt mean we are dependant on them. Whether it’s a man or woman, we are all moving and able individuals with our own conscience and right.

  11. Just read your post, I totally agree with you and I suppose women shouldn’t be considered weak anymore!. They can very much protect themselves, their dignity & earn respect!

    It is our actions that portray a ‘stronger’ or a ‘feeble’ picture.

  12. Reblogged this on Iconography ♠ Incomplete and commented:
    “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.”

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