Posts Tagged ‘Pakistani feminism’

Fashion and feminism today have a very problematic relationship. In earlier feminist movements, dress and fashion were a means of rejecting social expectations. Whereas women today subject themselves to waxing, high heels, and cosmetic surgery, things were much worst all the way back to the eighteenth century. Fashion then, was a sign of privilege, wealth, and social class. High-class women dressed in silks and taffeta, wore itchy (and unbearably hot) powdered wigs, whitened their faces, reddened their lips, wore pinching shoes, and wore tight corsets and alarmingly large hoop-dresses. All this indicated that you were a wealthy, noble, and high-born woman. Such things were unimaginable for lower-class peasant women. Feminism sought to remove these customs, and do away with torturous corsets and whitening powder, so as to shift away from the expectation of what women must look like.

As second-wave feminism sought to prove that gender was social, and sex biological, feminists adopted gender-neutral modes of dress. While bra-burnings may be a bit of an exaggeration, feminists did go bra-less, in men’s shirts and chunky shoes. As unattractive as it may seem, it must be remembered that second-wave feminists were not just fighting gender violence and inequity, but also sought to emancipate women from being the playthings of men.

As liberation through fashion continued through the 90s, things took a turn for (according to some) the worst. Whereas earlier feminists sought to put an end to female objectification, women now sought to liberate themselves through current fashions and trends. The 90s show Ally McBeal is sometimes praised for presenting a career-woman who wears mini-skirts and actively dates men, to criticizing how the title character internalizes patriarchy in order to validate her own submissiveness in the face of misogynist stereotypes such as remaining single, unwed, or childless.

Pakistan is not new to fashion or superficial cosmetics. In “Royal Mughal Ladies and Their Contributions”, Soma Mukherjee describes how Mughal women, including concubines, slaves, princesses, their female relatives, etc. lived in the lap of luxury in the zanana. The royal ladies mostly spent their time by adorning, decorating, and beautifying themselves,” she writes, and further goes on to describe that the most honoured woman was the one who gave the king his first male child, and that the more importance she held, the more privileges she held. But while we know that Mughal women lived a lavish lifestyle, how were they able to do so when they were not allowed to go outside the zanana and work?

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Portrait of a Mughal woman, bedecked in jewels and expensive clothes.

Mukherjee explains that their main source of income was allowances and pensions given to them by the king and other royal princes. They also owned jagirs, properties, all gifted to them by the royal men of course. They would also frequently receive gifts of precious stones, pearls and diamonds and gold, exotic silks and royal cloth, perfumed oils, toys and cabinets and rare items. Often, ambassadors from other lands and diplomats would give the royal women precious gifts in order to curry favour with the king. Mukherjee paints a vivid picture not of the lives of Mughal women, but rather, that they were little more than playthings for men. They were ancient Barbies, living in their dollhouse, decorating it, decorating themselves, living in the lap of luxury, content to stay within those four walls, used as a means to an end by all men. The main source of importance for a woman was to bear the king a male child. Imagine the life of the king then, with his concubines and wives and secondary wives always clambering to have sex with him!

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Feminists did not initially take Pakistan’s fashion industry very seriously. Specifically, during the rise of fashion in Pakistan in the 80s, feminists did not speak against fashion because military dictator Zia-ul-Haq was against the fashion industry for obvious reasons. When feminists were fighting the Hudood Ordinance and burning their dupattas in defiance of Zia-ul-Haq’s barbaric Islamization, how could they possibly speak against the fashion industry when it was defying the dictator in the same way?

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Members of Women’s Action Forum, Lahore burning their dupattas.

It was detrimental to their cause then to speak against fashion, but in recent times, feminists have started speaking against it. Karachi feminist Abira Ashfaq writes in a blog titled Blood Cotton,

A lawn suit bought at Gul Ahmed for Rs. 4,000 could equal 100 working days of a woman in rural Sindh.  Add to that her malnutrition, lack of education and social safety nets, and exposure to pesticide.  Add to that the contamination in food and water and how that affects the health and prospects of even the children.

It’s not lawn, it’s blood cotton.

Within Pakistan, the fashion industry exists in its purest form, where dress and cosmetics are a symbol of your social status. Middle-class women now clamber to buy the infamous lawn dresses which take the country by storm each summer, so as to portray themselves as moderately wealthy. Lawn suits tend to cost Rs.5000 and upwards; some designer lawn even costs as much as Rs. 20,000! Interestingly, the fashion industry in Pakistan also claims to combat terrorism by projecting a progressive view of the country, a country which has a thriving fashion industry, holds its own fashion week, and has multitudes of talented designers and stylists.

Unfortunately, all of that is utter bullshit.

Fashion in Pakistan is vastly elitist and privileged. There is absolutely no denying it at all. Whether being trendy and stylish is anti-feminist or not is a separate matter; one can dress sharp on low budgets as well, and depending on which perspectives of feminism you adhere to, it can either be anti-feminist or feminist. But to follow high-class fashion, to wear designer lawn, buy only from boutiques, shop at large malls is an indication of wealth and social class. And Pakistan’s elites are nothing if not status-conscious.

Furthermore, the entire process of beautifying yourself is not just privileged, but it also oppresses other women. The Mughal women oppressed their slaves, who would dab perfumed oils and dress them and place their jewelry on their body, all the beautiful luxuries that they did not have because they were poor. Today, we have women cutting and filing our nails, cleaning our feet, massaging our hair by the roots to ensure growth, applying expensive creams on our face for facials, and basically decorating women with all the things they don’t have.

A common and popular facial in salons is Dermalogica. It costs up to but not ending at, Rs. 5000. Minimum price is normally 3000. 2500 if its a cleansing and not a facial.

A common and popular facial in salons is Dermalogica. It costs up to but not ending at, Rs. 5000. Minimum price is normally 3000. 2500 if its a cleansing and not a facial.

A young girl working in a salon or parlour could never afford a Rs. 1200 manicure, or a Rs. 5000 facial, and these are standard prices I’m quoting. You’re not just pandering to superficial standards of beauty, you’re also oppressing other women with your privilege. Give yourself a round of applause for being a horrible person.

Gotta love the smell of privilege in the air.

Gotta love the smell of privilege in the air.

All this is what makes this photo shoot particularly disgusting. Titled “The 5 Stages of Getting Hitched,” this fashion shoot by Karma seems to aim at satirizing the obviously ridiculous wedding ceremonies and customs in Pakistan. The first photo mocks how the wedding ring is Kryptonite, with the bride holding a giant green chunk of Kryptonite. While the image would work better if the bride was wearing a large rock on her finger as opposed to holding it, the indication is obvious, and even amusing.

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The second photo is somewhat neutral- titled Mehndi, the sweets that are too sweet, the bride is holding a stack of mithayi boxes, as feeding brides a spoonful of sweetmeats is customary at wedding ceremony. These mithayis by the way, are sickeningly sweet; many people now opt for keeping Smarties in a  bowl, or even cupcakes, which are significantly less sweet in comparison.

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The third is of the nikkah ceremony, titled “the pre-nup that is too long.” Here’s where things get problematic. Pre-nuptial agreements are not a bad thing. They are definitely not a bad thing in a country where the law is seldom on your side and women are treated as inferior even in educated families. (thereby proving a separate point that misogyny is not mutually exclusive of social class or level of education) So if you take a photograph of a bride signing piles of paper, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t indicate mistrust. It indicates security. It indicates that you’re going to be fine if your husband dies and the family blames you for cursing them. Or if your husband takes to drinking and beating you. Or if you have no idea that the sweet man you’re marrying will torture you and keep you from seeing your family. Or, let’s repeat here, that your husband will beat you. Because that happens far too much in Pakistan, and too few women get to escape such marriages.

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Now all of this aside, here’s the real problem with this photo; pre-nups do not exist in Pakistan. The only document signed in Pakistani weddings is the nikahnama, which is the marriage contract, not a prenuptial agreement! The concept of this photo thus defies all logic when the only contract signed in Pakistan is one which cements the marriage itself. Moreover, even if someone does decide to have a prenuptial agreement, the fact is that a) even affluent, privileged women in Pakistan have precious little to their own name other than the jewels they receive upon marriage and their inheritance, if they ever get their hands on it that is and b) Considering that “Of the 49.5 million illiterate adults in Pakistan, again, two-thirds are women, the third highest rate in the world” are we really deluded enough to think that majority of women in Pakistan are empowered enough to demand a prenuptial agreement from their prospective in-laws?

The fourth image is again, amusing. Titled “The rice that is too abundant”, the bride is standing next to sacks of rice, as it’s a Punjabi custom (rooted in Hinduism, I’ve been told) for the bride to throw rice before entering her new home, as an indication of fertility. Considering that we live in a country with many people living below the poverty line, I’m not really sure why we want to waste food in such a manner, but okay then. Regardless, the photo actually indicates how ridiculous that custom is.

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And then comes the utterly brilliant (not) fifth photo; “The flower that has been deflowered.” The valima ceremony follows the wedding night or rukhsati, and is apparently a celebration of the marriage being consummated. If you’ve seen cheesily decorated flowery beds on the wedding night in Bollywood movies, it is not at all an exaggeration. (How one has sex with rose petals sticking all over you is beyond my comprehension. Personally, I’d worry about beetles and creepy-crawlies biting in awkward places but that’s just me)

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No matter what your social class, financial status, level of education, or family background, if you are a woman born in Pakistan, you will be told since childhood that your body is a pearl to be protected in an oyster shell, a lollipop to remain covered so as not to get dirty, a temple to be worshipped by the perfect man i.e. your husband, and so on and so forth. Even if you belong to a “liberal” family where your father does not dictate how you dress and your mother doesn’t tell you that you look like a slut in sleeveless dresses, that does not change the fact that you will be objectified beyond repair, that your seemingly liberal parents would throw you out of the house for either dating or for getting pregnant, that a woman’s “chastity” will eternally be tied to the honour and noble name of the family, and the mythical burdens of family honour and respect.

Also in Pakistan, we like to sell women off in marriage frequently. Mostly, we sell them off to settle debts and feuds. Most of the time we don’t care how young they are. Let me point out here that if you get your sixteen-year-old daughter married off, that still counts as marrying off a minor, and it IS child abuse to thrust a young teenager into the bewildering world of marriage and “wifely duties.” And considering how often women are married off against their will, many suffer the trauma of getting raped on their wedding night. A sixteen-year-old child-bride is going to confusedly ask what her husband is doing by undressing, and will scream at being brutishly used, and that IS spousal rape. And it is common. It is much more common than you may think, and more real than you realize.

Moreover, we sadly live in ancient, barbaric times, and our men are encouraged to emerge from the bedroom and victoriously display bloodied bed sheets as a sign of the bride’s virginity. I can tell you one thing for sure; bleeding the first time you have sex is not mandatory. It may be painful and awkward, but many women do not bleed if their husbands or boyfriends are careful and considerate. If however, you ravage a virgin, she IS going to bleed and it is going to hurt and it will be traumatic to have your body violated and it WILL be rape. And this happens more frequently than we realize. We a as a nation are very used to saying, “Oh, these things happen in middle and lower classes where they do not have education or awareness.” A close friend of mine from one of the most prestigious and elite schools in Lahore told me about how his classmates would victoriously crow about how their girlfriends bled during sex, and those boys would bring their friends home and show them the blood stains on their sheets with great pride. Please note, these were rich, privileged young men from “good” families, families with social and financial stability and studying in a top elitist school. So much for the lower classes being barbaric only, eh?

(And when you defend your social class by saying that just a few terrible young men are not representative of a class, let me just point out that while you’re correct, I never said that they’re representative of a class, I used the example to illustrate the point that by claiming that “in our families, these things do not happen, it’s in lower classes or low middle class families who have less education and awareness that these things happen”, you’re simply deflecting the issue at hand and honestly, putting your own future female generations at risk by perpetuating the illusion that if you’re educated, you are not capable of brutality, rape, and violent behavior)

When you take this factor into consideration, you cannot deny that the deflowered flower photograph IS a rape joke, it’s attempting to satirize the idea of a virgin meant to be ravaged, deflowered, brutalized, raped on her wedding night, and as such, simply cannot be subverted in any logical way!

Referring to the image as “the flower that is deflowered” is perpetuating the mentality that a woman should be chaste and beautiful like a flower, only to be “deflowered” by her noble knight in shining armour husband. The title also ignores the reality of spousal rape, and ignores how many women suffer from domestic abuse. This is not a satirical take on how ridiculous all the hullabaloo over the wedding night is. It is a privileged view of women and sex, ignoring the suffering of women who don’t have daddy’s credit cards and uncle’s FIA contacts to live off of. Most women are raped on their wedding night, raped for many nights for the rest of their life, and there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. And women, all women, are NOT delicate flowers to be presented as a gift or treasure. A woman’s virginity is no one’s matter but her own, and a woman should be free to make her own choices about her body, whether that means remaining a virgin till she marries, or being sexually active. No matter how offensive or immoral you find this, you cannot impose your perceptions upon all women. You cannot view women in black and white. Some women are virgins and some are sexually active but that is no indication of what sort of people they are, nor is it anyone’s business.

Consider this; in red-light districts, a girl’s virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder. In “decent and moral families” a girl’s virginity is sold to the highest bidder also. And if the girl of this decent family is not a virgin, then she will not “find a good match” according to her family, and be disgraced socially and called a whore. First of all, this approach is dehumanizing to sex-workers. You can criticize the sex industry, I certainly do, but you can do so without dehumanizing women. Secondly, what’s the point of demeaning a woman by calling her a prostitute (and thereby demeaning sex-workers by using prostitute as an insult) when your customs and traditions were prostituting her the same way that women are “whored out” in a red-light district? Let me remind you here, lest you find my claims ridiculous, that the marriage contract asks if the woman is “divorced, widowed, or a maiden.”

The artist behind the styling and concept is even more disappointing than the shoot itself. She defended the photo and caption with “the whole shoot is challenging the stereotypes that are set forth.” But the problem is, she hasn’t challenged the stereotypes. Challenging the stereotypes would mean that the model doesn’t look beautiful and holds white flowers in her hand and ethereal white flowers in her hair. Challenging the stereotypes would mean showing the model dressed in darker colours, to indicate that there’s nothing joyful in a woman’s chastity being considered to be a symbol of respect. Maybe she could have looked less happy. Maybe the flowers could have been black or dead. Perhaps the artist would argue that this makes it too obvious, but really, what is the current photo portraying? You don’t need to identify as a feminist to be disgusted by this, not by a long shot.

Here’s where it gets worst; the artist actually deleted comments criticizing the photo. For an artist to censor disagreement with their concept is just so baffling and antithetical, I don’t even have the verbal finesse to articulate it into written words. Moreover, the artist is actually a feminist. That’s what makes me sad. Even if you’re a feminist who believes in fashion liberating women, defending this photo makes absolutely zero sense. If anything, the entire concept panders to patriarchy and stereotypes, rather than defy it.

I’m not sure why I’m so disappointed or disgusted. Fashion tends to leave me with a bad taste in my mouth anyway. But this really pushes a limit. It isn’t just misogynist, but it’s also the view from a privileged little bubble. And it is very dangerous to live in such a bubble. It is easy to fall prey to shallow superficialities if you’re born into privilege, but while you’re not to blame for the conditions you were born into, you are to blame for not acknowledging that privilege, and for continuing to see the world from a bubble.

To all those reading this, here’s my idea. Boycott Karma. Boycott Damas jewelers. Hell, boycott the artist and her salon. Because women who get expensive mani-pedis and stylish up-dos for a night out and gelish nail treatments, all on a regular basis, are women who actually hate feminists a lot, so I highly doubt I’m committing defamation or damaging the artist’s business by calling for a boycott. But if you’re a feminist who likes to get an OPI manicure every now and then (and I know I certainly do, the coffee manicure at Bina Khan is just to die for, and I love that she posted a status on her FB page commenting on the ridiculous whitening cream phenomenon some time back) or who gets a protein treatment for damaged hair at just any small salon, and don’t need for these treatments to be expensive or fancy as long as they get the job done, then opt for a different salon, and a different stylist. I know I would, but I’m silly this way, my principles unfortunately matter to me quite a bit.

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Dear pre-teens, teenagers, young girls, women, and everyone remotely female,

You do not have to be blonde, white, and have coloured eyes to be beautiful.

You do not need a specific waist size or hip size or bust size to be attractive.

You don’t need expensive hairdos, buckets of makeup, or accessories to stand out.

You do not need ass-hugging jeans, painted-on tops, high heels that push your ass up prominently, body piercings, tattoos in suggestive areas to be desirable.

Actually, you do not need to be beautiful, attractive, or desirable.

You need to be true to yourself. To your individuality, that unique spark that makes you you.

What do you like to do?

But you have no answer to that, because no one ever told you that you could like things on your own. All you’ve ever known is that as a girl, a woman, you’re supposed to be sexy, flirty, friendly but not too friendly, mysterious but not too elusive, stylish but not too trendy, air-headed but not too flighty.

Do you like to paint? Or draw? Or write?

Do you want to construct buildings and skyscrapers and banks and homes?

Do you want to do interior decorating? Open up a flower shop? Be a party planner? Design clothes?

Do you want to serve and protect people as a cop or firefighter?

Do you want to be a veterinarian, helping injured animals, or an animal rights activist, helping and protecting animals?

A doctor, healing people, giving people hope in miracles? A surgeon, giving people’s lives back to them?

A social worker, helping those with the sort of disturbed home life you had, helping orphans? An NGO worker, protecting minorities, women, disabled children, the elderly?

A car racer? A sportswoman? A businesswoman? An entrepreneur? A teacher?

A musician perhaps, or a singer, or an actress? Or an anchorwoman on a news channel, or a journalist?

The possibilities are endless. You can be all this, and more. There are hidden talents inside you. Discover them and use them to spread joy to others. There is an intelligent mind in your head. Nurture it, watch the world around you and learn, read, travel, meet different people, because even the most vile, reprehensible person can teach you something.

You will make your own way in this world on the basis of your deeds, your work. And people will flock to you, look up to you, and admire you for everything you are. Learn humility for them, even as you try to nurture the person inside them, to teach them to realize their inner potential. Your path will be difficult because unfortunately, life tends to be like an abusive ex-boyfriend, constantly haunting you and stopping your progress with flashbacks and repressed memories. But you are capable of overcoming those difficulties, because a vagina is not a sign of weakness. It just indicates your gender. It’s a part of your body, nothing more, nothing less.

Who you are, depends on your actions, your words, your good nature, your amiability, your honesty and integrity, your kindness.

Who you are, does not depend on how aroused a man gets by your outfit, or how many boys ask you out to the prom. Who you are in life, is not dependent on how many ladies want their sons to marry you. Who you become one day, does not depend on the colour of your skin or hair, your fashion sense, your expertise with frivolities like hairstyling and makeup, your coquetry, your tailored giggles and flirty glances.

You are who you make of yourself in life.

You are never, ever, anything on the basis of your physical appearance and sexual desirability alone. They have zero significance, and well they should, considering that they get in the way of the outstanding individual you could be, if you weren’t trying to get a Kardashian body or Jennifer Anniston haircuts or rocker chic raccoon eyes.

You rock. Not because you’re hot or sexy or pretty. But because you’re you.

I’ve refrained from blogging for a while because I felt as if I was lapsing into a routine about ranting on feminist issues. Speaking for women’s rights is a great thing; becoming a serial ranter is not. But I absolutely must share this with the general public, its a conversation I had with a girl on my Facebook, and I think its a classic example of the submissive mentality that women in Pakistan suffer from.

R: (Facebook status update) “Yes, I’m a female. I push doors that clearly say PULL. I laugh harder when I try to explain why I’m laughing. I walk into a room and forget why I was there. I count on my fingers. I hide pain from my loved ones. I say it is a long story, when it really is not, just to get out of having to tell it. I cry a lot more than you think I do. I care about people who don’t care about me. I am strong because I have to be, not because I want to be. I listen to you, even when you don’t listen to me. And a hug will always help. Yes, I am a Female, and i am proud of it! ♥ Re-post if you’re a female and proud of it.”

Me: Wow, so you’re proud to fulfil every single negative stereotype there is about women in a society that is strongly, determinedly patriarchal? One giant step backward for every single Pakistani feminist risking everything to ensure that morons like you receive their rights.

R: (deletes my comment, posts on wall) Everyone has their own opinions and you should learn to respect that. I hope you understand what I mean.

Me: (on her wall) Why? I don’t agree with your opinion, nor do I respect it. There’s nothing to respect about being proud of amnesia and counting on your fingers childishly, which aren’t particularly positive traits. While you may own up to them yourself you really shouldn’t generalise them for the female sex, which suffers from enough negative generalisations already. In fact, pretty much all the things on that list are fairly negative traits. Why would anyone be proud of them? And even if you are, good for you, but please don’t say or even think that they apply to a larger population. Positivity about being female is good, but can be derived from much more flattering traits, such as the fact that we suffer so bloody much in society but we’re still on our feet and fighting – our courage in the face of adversity, our determination to achieve rights long denied, our tenacity in the face of adverse circumstances so severe in some places that women might as well be a different caste. And lastly, as a feminist, I reserve the right to call out both men and women for promoting sexist, negative stereotypes of women, and that too on a public forum.

(less than 24 hours, R deletes me)

Honestly, I don’t even know what to say anymore. How can a woman degrade herself so easily? How can a woman mock herself? How can a woman percieve herself as flawed, full of negative stereotypes, and accept it as part of being female?

Women are strong.

They’re smart.

They’re brave.

They’re talented.

They have the ability to suffer the worst things in life, and still remain strong and brave.

Women can work. They can vote. They can sue anyone who harasses them in the workplace. They can fight for justice if they are abused in any way. They can sleep easier knowing their rapist is behind bars. They can choose whether they want to give birth or abort. They can and will have financial rights. They can get married on their own conditions. They can attain as much education as they want. They can become doctors, teachers, lawyers, writers, social workers, businesswomen, entrepreneurs, heck, they can actually pursue any career that men pursue! Gadzooks! They can fight sexism and challenge misogynist perceptions about women as the weak, inferior sex every single day because guess what? Believing that is as ridiculous as well, believing that faeries live in the sky.

And if you need further proof, lets take a glance at history, and present-day, and see some of the women that defy cultural and social stereotypes to become great people.

Susan B. Anthony. “Men, their rights, and nothing more, women, their rights, and nothing less”. Among other things, the Susan B. Anthony became the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, allowing women the right vote, as well as being an abolitionist.

Simone de Beauvoir: Feminist, philosopher, and writer. Interestingly, in her book “The Second Sex”, Simone discusses how men stereotype women and thus organize society into a patriarchy.

Marie Curie: First women to win a Nobel Prize, first person to win two Nobel Prizes.

Margaret Fuller: Journalist, critic, women’s right advocate, author of the first American text on feminism.

Helen Keller: Deaf, blind, and dumb, Helen still lived a remarkable life as a prominent socialist and suffragette.

Rosa Parks: In 1955, as Rosa Parks tiredly made her way home in a bus, a white man told her to  give up her seat for him, since as a white man, he had superiority over the black Rosa Parks. Rosa refuses. And so began the American Civil Rights Movement, which resulted in African-Americans receiving the same civil rights as any white citizen of the United States.

Eleanor Roosevelt: Writer, chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights, co-founder of Freedom House.

Gloria Steinem: American writer, journalist, and feminist, who has written in support of reproductive freedom, a term she coined, created awareness about genital mutilation, advocates same-sex marriage, and supported the Equal Rights Amendment.

Harriet Beecher Stowe: Writer of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, she was referred to jokingly by Abraham Lincoln as “the little lady that started the Civil War”.

Nabiha Meher Sheikh: Blogger, writer, teacher, feminist, activist, and one of my idols.

Sherry Rehman: Journalist, politician, and current Pakistani ambassador to the United States, and a strong advocate of women’s rights in Pakistan.

Naseem Hamid: First woman to win the South Asian Federation Games 100 mile sprint in its entire history. at the age of 22, no less.

Sana Bucha: Journalist and anchor for Geo News “Lekin”.

Ayesha Siddiqua: Journalist, writer, military analyst, and visiting scholar at John Hopkins University.

Tehmina Durrani: Writer and social worker, author of My Feudal Lord,  works for rehabilitation of abused women.

Bilquis Edhi: Humanitarian and social worker. Wife of Abdul Sattar Edhi.

Asma Jahangir: Lawyer, president of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan, human rights activist, advocate for minority rights, author if several publications as well as two books.

Nefer Sehgal: Photographer for the Express Tribune, Nefer has dodged bullets, played arcade games at Lyari, traveled to Badin, and… you know what, a couple of lines won’t do her justice.

Aamina Jahangir: An entrepreneur at the age of 17, today at 21, Aamina is a savvy businesswomen, and on her way to opening her very own cafe/bakery. At 21. Yes, you heard that right. 21. That’s how old she is. You know how old she was when she started running  her own business? 17. When she was still at school.

Some of the women on the latter half of the list are friends, or at least people I know. That doesn’t create a bias, it gives me firsthand insight into what incredible women they all are.

So a little postscript to R, who inspired this blogpost: While you’re busy giggling over how silly and inferior and stupid and ditzy you are, rest assured; there are plenty of women to prove how wrong idiots like you are.

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is:  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute. ”

Rebecca West.

I’ve never understood the rationale behind it, but I’ve always been referred to as the ‘gharilo’ type. It’s pretty baffling because I’m far from it. Maybe it’s because my family’s so conservative and traditional that it makes me the ‘mummy daddy’ type. Maybe it’s because I’ve been cooking since I was about 8 or 9. Be that as it may, it’s a stupid stereotype and one I’ve always hated.

However, due to this misconception, I’d often draw the ire of feminists telling me I was shackling myself by cooking and I was too subservient to men and needed to stand up to my father and his patriarchal values. Due to a few random experiences along this vein, I had an abhorrence of feminists. All I want is to cook myself or my family a meal, do we really need to psychoanalyze that?

But within the past year or so, I’ve realized that I do have a lot of strong feminist ideals. I actually had no idea that some of my beliefs constituted as feminist, to be honest, maybe it’s stupid of me but I don’t sit and think about why I think what I think. And as someone with strong feminist beliefs, I am apparently a constantly PMSing nutcase.

A blog I wrote previously about my school- a school which remained unnamed by the way, because I did not feel it ethical to name it- garnered me a lot of criticism from old classmates. I was bombarded with abuse and death threats. And one comment in particular stood out; “You think you’re so smart well my school taught us to be good girls, not feminists like you.” So apparently, feminists that speak up on your behalf, enabling you to attend universities and mingle with boys are the wrong kind of women?

Yesterday, a guy on my timeline tweeted about how there weren’t girls on Twitter because 140 word limits were too small for them. It’s an offensive thing to say, stereotyping women as airheaded chatterboxes, and I called him out on it. He responded with statements about how such women need to be controlled, and that they should’ve been smacked when they were little. Later on he claimed he meant such kids should’ve been smacked, not girls, if you really want to believe him. Obviously, I told him off. He then went on to bitch about me to his female friends, who flocked to his defense and they all sat and mocked the crazy chick who was probably on her  period. (I’m awara because he said hormonal issues like a good little boy, and I’m being blunt and using bad words like period.)

The pathetic part is that all these people are studying at one of the top medical universities in the city. These girls are Pakistani women, who have access to higher level education, who can mingle with boys, who can have guy friends, and yet, these girls are the ones who were making statements such as “she should meet that girl from our uni, they can make their so-called women’s right group”.

These so-called women’s rights groups are why you’re in a medical university. If these women did not speak out for you, who would? The men, rooted in their traditions of patriarchy? The women, standing in their kitchens because they don’t know they deserve better? Because of women who constantly break boundaries and just by their very existence, prove the worth of women, who by example, show that women deserve equal opportunities and rights, we now live in a society where at least a minute percentage of women have some sort of freedom.

It’s so much fun to roam around at night with guys and not be beaten for dishonoring your family. It’s wonderful to wear jeans without censure. It’s fortunate that you get to study as much as you want without anyone trying to take that right from you. It’s great to be able to have the freedom to make your own choices in life. It’s great that you are allowed to actually work, and to have a career, and to not have a life that’s confined to cooking and taking care of the children.

But when the time comes to think, your mind shuts down. When the time comes to recognize why you have such a great life, you instead, revert to mocking the very people who made it possible for you to have that life. You mock them, censure them, call them insane, say they’re surely on their period, mock their attempts to provide equal rights for women.

We live in a society where we ridicule women, and then exclaim, “Take it easy, don’t get hyper it was just a joke!” We stereotype women as vapid chatterboxes but it’s all just in harmless fun. We state that girls who use slang should’ve been smacked when they were little, and then try to pretend we meant all kids, not just girls. And what’s worse, we live in a society where we support misogyny, the ridiculing of women, where we agree with men and mock anyone who dares to have a strong-minded opinion as a nutcase.

Is it so insane to stick up for my own sex? Is it so crazy that I want women to be on equal footing with men? Am I really just some loony who should be institutionalized? Sometimes, I feel like I have no other solution other than screaming long and hard every time I encounter such parhaylikhay jahils. Men shun me and those like me, women mock us and consider us unnatural- my previous blog had one girl calling me a frustrated lesbian- and where does that leave us? In the institution for women with independent minds and strong opinions, being taught how to submit to a man that can control us.

(Title of my blog lovingly adapted from Helen Ruddy’s song, “I Am Woman.”)

I’ve blogged previously about how most girls in my school wound up getting married at 17 or 18. A month or so back, I was digging up my old tenth grade Islamiat notes for references since I was writing an article on Islamic society for a class assignment of sorts. (long story there) I was struck by the content of those notes, and how absolutely wrong they were, which got me reminiscing about other aspects of my experiences in school.

Throughout my middle school and high school years, as we approached our teens, obviously, some teachers felt a need to talk to us about being girls. That isn’t really something bad, I can understand their concerns. But what bothered me, I guess even then, was what they talked to us about.

We used to have a lecture every year that all students from grades 6-10 had to attend, about the female body, delivered by representatives of Always. It was cool when we were 12, not so much when we were 15,  but we suffered our way through it. After the lecture, teachers would always ask us what we thought, what we learnt, answer our jokes and mockeries (lets face it, we were 15, we’d experienced being girls ffs, what else was there to learn?)

In one grade, one student got annoyed and said, “Why don’t guys get these sort of lectures, we’re so sick of hearing the same thing!” The teacher gave a vague reference to male puberty being different, and then launched into a lecture about how its important to learn what it is to be a girl, because as a woman, we would bear children, and it was our responsibility to keep our home, to have a welcoming atmosphere for when our husbands got home, how we must make sure we cook good food, keep the house clean, take care of the children, and more importantly, how it is our responsibility to procreate as women. The last was insinuated in such a way as to imply that if we did not take care of our health, we might have health issues and would not be able to live up to our responsibility of procreating. In other words, it was our fault. One girl said, “Yeah what about the men, they should take care of the kids too, what do they do?” the teacher explained that it was the men’s reponsibility to earn a living, and that the woman’s place was at home with her children.

In another incident, our tenth grade physics teacher lost his shit and screamed loudly at one girl because she told him the bell had rung and the period had ended. She did it because he himself had told us he was hard of hearing, and that we had to tell him whenever the bell rang. It was terrifying, to say the least. He was a tall guy, and we were all 15 year old girls. Imagine watching a grown man shouting so loudly that his voice echoed throughout the halls. We had a rough time concentrating in the next class because we were all so shaken up; the girl who got yelled at cried, she was a timid thing as it was, and in her place, I would’ve done the same thing.

Now this teacher, under the pretext of having trouble hearing us, would always stand extremely close, bend and shove his face closer than was necessary, and ask us to repeat whatever we’d said. What was really curious is the fact that he could hear whispering all the way in the very back row, despite being hard of hearing. Curiouser was how some girls, he could hear perfectly fine, but the pretty ones, he always had trouble hearing. We complained. Several times. No good came of it. The girl who got yelled at, brought in her father and elder brother to complain. The result? The teacher would constantly taunt her, making comments such as “If I scold you, you’ll bring your father to complain as well” to other girls, or when he was passing out our checked exams, he would throw the paper at her rather than handing it. He even did it to me once, I don’t even remember what I’d done because I was the epitome of a meek, respectful child in school. (Explanation: I listened to my father a lot more than I do now. :D)

One lecture I remember vividly was given by our teacher in tenth grade. I don’t recall precisely what the lecture was about. What I do remember is something she said at one point; “Could you go outside your house and stand on the street at 10:00pm? I’d like to see you try it,  being all alone without someone else in a dark street, it isn’t that easy.” The implication was obviously this; as women, we could not stand alone, not even on a street. Metaphorically, she was saying that it was very difficult to do anything in life alone, without a man standing by your side.

Back to the notes that prompted this blog. The controversial 2:223 was quoted, from Surah Baqrah stating that “women are like your fields, you may go them as you wish.”

Now I have my own issues with religion, but I will never, ever support misrepresentation of any religion at all. That quote is interpreted to mean that men can marry women if they so wish, and maintain relations with them/have a family with them etc. In other words, I suppose its discouraging premarital relations, and its telling men to maintain a healthy relationship. Personally, I support that. Not the monogamy or marriage thing of course, fuck no, but the healthy relationship part. After all, a farmer can’t plow another man’s fields, he can only plow his own fields. I’m not going to comment on the whole “oh so women are dirt fields are they!” debate because there’s a logical argument, and then there’s just nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking.

But. BUT. In my notes, I had written the explanation of this quote, as presented by my teacher. The explanation ran along the lines of “Men have every claim to women and if they choose a woman to marry, then she is theirs to do with as they please. In addition, a man has ownership over his woman and she is his property just like a field is a farmer’s property.”

Do I even need to say anything about this? The explanation itself is enough, what more could I possibly say? At the tender age of 15, I learned that when I marry, I become the property of my husband, whose word is law.

This chapter, btw, was about ayeli zindagi or familial life. Further in my notes was the sub-heading baqaye nasl-e-insani. In this charming little paragraphs I learned that the relationship between a husband and a wife has been established solely for the purpose of procreation, and that this system will continue on till Judgment Day. I’m grateful to my school and my teacher for making sure that I knew my only purpose in the world was to be a hole for some man to use under the name of religion and sprout out his spawn, whether I liked it or not.

Then comes the lovely sub-heading titled protection of respect/dignity. Here, my teacher dictated a paragraph about how the specific purpose of ayeli zindagi is the safeguarding of dignity and respect, and that upon marriage, a man builds a fortress and the woman is in charge of safeguarding said fortress. I’m so happy I’ll be locked up in someone’s fortress one day, whether I like it or not!

What’s amusing is that in the headings about love and understanding  and living in comfort, there’s only a couple of lines and the same short quote for both. The former stated that the relationship between man and wife is to promote love and understanding, so we live in a peaceful society. The latter states that the purpose of ayeli zindagi  is that all the members of the family can live in comfort and share emotional and financial comfort with each other. the way I see it, these headings should’ve been expanded on, but they weren’t. Because if they were, we wouldn’t grow up thinking that we’re nothing more than babymakers, and that we do not belong to ourselves, but to others. The one quote given in both these headings was Allah has created pairs of you from amongst yourselves so you may find peace with them.

Would it really have been so difficult to expand on that quote? To teach young, impressionable teenagers that their God doesn’t want them to be alone, He doesn’t want them to struggle to make ends meet, He doesn’t want them to be lonely, and for that purpose He has established the institution of marriage. I don’t agree with the concept of marriage, not by a long shot; but the idea of there being someone out there for all of us cause God wills it so is just… sweet.

But that isn’t what we were taught. We were taught that we were property. We were taught that we must safeguard our man’s fortress. We were taught that men have the right to do to us as they will. We were taught that we have no independence, no freedom, no free will, and that everything we do, must be dictated by our men, as Allah commands.

We were taught our place, and this is the place that Pakistani society gives us. It is the place that so many of us fight to break away from every single day. It is the place that far too many girls believe is all there is to life. It is the place that our traditional patriarchal ideals would have us conform to, because there is no space in our society for a woman who can think for herself.

After all, if a woman thinks for herself, she might not want children, or feel like making dinner, or doing the laundry, or Allah forbid! She might want to go outside and WORK!

Sometimes, I really need to step back, examine my insane life, and appreciate it. I don’t know why I run across so many loons, from tharkis to OBL fans to God knows what else, but there you have it. My life, people. All this on top of my studies and university politics which I always avoid and somehow get embroiled in.

But of all the strange things to hear, being told that cooking is a way of oppressing myself as a woman just takes the cake. This is how it started. For about the past 8 years or so, I have this tradition where I make breakfast for my dad on Father’s Day, and dinner for mom on Mother’s Day. My dad’s birthday is on the 18th, so he’s a total child about his two consecutive special days. Sometimes, I bully him into going out for breakfast, but this time, I decided to stay in.

So a few days later, I was discussing what we did for Father’s Day with a friend of mine, and I told her that I made my dad breakfast. All of a sudden, she goes really quiet. Then she responds with, “Ghausia, do you cook for your dad often?”

Well duh, is the only response I can give to that. Here’s something I don’t normally mention a lot, my family’s delhiwalas, at least a weaker version of them. The only thing we have in common with proper delhiwalas in fact, is the food. I grew up surrounded by different aromas wafting throughout the house. Yes, I realize other people did as well. I’m pointing this out specifically because delhiwalas are known for being excellent cooks, plus we love to cook as well. Since I was ten, I’ve been cooking on my own, I learned everything I know from my mom and aunt, and lets face it, I’m a fat chick, I like my food. my friends and family love my cooking as well, so I’m always cooking, but seldom for myself. 😀

So then this girl tells me, “Ghausia, don’t you realize that by cooking so much, and even that for a man, you’re confining yourself to the role of a submissive female whose place is in the kitchen? You’re a step back for women everywhere. You’re always acting like a feminist, going on and on about equal rights, but you’re the one who’s the worst thing that happened to feminists.”

Its very rare for me to actually be stunned speechless, but this was one of those times. What do I even say to such an accusation? I mean, I’ve been on the receiving end of psycho-fems before, being that I used to be the typical Pakistani female when it came to marriage and self-confidence and going out and shit, but this was truly staggering for me.

My explorations on Twitter have introduced me to a lot of really great women who work for women’s rights in Pakistan. I used to abhor feminists-maybe it was something to do with them yelling “WHY MUST YOU SHACKLE YOURSELF IN THE CHAINS OF MARRIAGE AND PATRIARCHY?!” at me so much, or mocking me for being daddy’s little girl- but despite that, I was well aware that these women were not what feminism is all about. Hell, I’m beginning to realize I’m pretty feminist myself, to my chagrin.

But be that as it may, I am dead certain that no sane feminist would ever tell you that your hobbies are a self-imposed prison of patriarchy and submission. Forget feminists, no one in their right mind would think that.

This isn’t even the first such “feminist” (and I use that termloosely)  I’ve come across. Like I mentioned before, my low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence, combined with a lifetime spent around girls, had me very timid and shy. Hell, I still am shy, but I remember how terrified I was when I first started attending uni. However, I think it took me about half a semester to be comfortable in my skin. But during that time, there were plenty of opinionated girls telling me that I was confining myself by not talking to boys, that I was imposing a prison upon myself by doing so. In fact, even now, I’m told the same thing simply because I have more female friends than male. I’m encouraged to talk to more boys because its my right to do so. I already talk to the guy friends I have nonstop, I can’t handle any more friends, do you know how difficult it is to juggle so many friends?!

Then, there’s the fact that I used to be pretty pro-marriage. I had my perfect wedding planned out (if you’re lucky, you’re on my FB friends list and can see the note where I described it :D) I had the guest list and food down, typical girly stuff. I got a lot of pitying looks for that, a lot of sad head-shaking and becharis since I wasn’t priveleged enough to think marriage was beneath me.

Its deeply saddening that such individuals exist at all. Instead of having this weird form of extremist mentality, I wish such women understand the concept of equal rights, because God knows we could all use more women working towards that goal in Pakistan. But if you think that by cooking, by cooking for your dad or a male friend, by enjoying cooking, you’re being misogynistic, or you’re obstructing equal rights for women, then honey I’m sorry, but you need to go look up feminism in the dictionary, and understand what it truly means to be a feminist.