Feminism · Rant

Of subtle and not-so-subtle misogyny


It’s been a relatively crappy week as far as the internet and women’s rights are concerned.  I’ve come across so many instances of misogyny on both a smaller, more personal scale as well as on a larger, national scale that it’s got me railing, angry and upset.  And of course as a result I’ve come to you, dear blog and dear readers, to vent it all out.

Where do I start? Well, there’s the relatively smaller but annoying piece of info I received last week in which I found out that a nikahnama is necessary for registration for a delivery at the Aga Khan Hospital.  Well, you might say, so what?  It is not the business of anyone who gets pregnant without getting married to be delivering at such a fine hospital as the Aga Khan University Hospital, Karachi, you say. To which I would say, fudge you.

Let’s leave aside all the reasons why a married woman may not possess her nikahnama or be unwilling to submit it as part of a wholly unnecessary formality at the hospital (such as the fact that it might not be made, she may not be muslim and thus not possess one, she may have left it abroad, etc etc.).  Let us assume (for the conservatives’ sake) that a woman who is unmarried comes to the hospital and wants to deliver her child there.  What is so wrong with that? Is she undeserving of medical care? Is it the place of the hospital to be making moral judgements on her, and to provide or refuse to provide her care on the basis of those judgements?

No, it is not. And these sort of formalities that are in place in even in places like AKUH make me wonder how, at the very core of our society, we are essentially women-haters.  It proves that either the people at AKUH (and society at large) consider unwed mothers a myth, or that they don’t consider them worthy of medical care. I hope there’s a more rational reason behind such a rule, and I intend to find out if there is, but Iwould not be surprised if there was no such reason.

The second incident that has happened is a nation-wide one.  Since 2009, a domestic violence bill has been in the pipeline for Pakistan.  It has, as far as I know, even been implemented in Islamabad, but has still not gained approval for implementation in the rest of the nation.  The bill was not passed by the Senate and as a result it has come to be decided by the parliament.

Wherein comes the idiocy of our esteemed religious right-wingers.  The bill has received outright opposition from the Jamate Ulema-i-Islami-Fazl (JUI-F), who have promised to fight it “tooth and nail”.  Brilliant isn’t it? I always knew the maulanas were misogynists, but I never thought they’d have the gall to oppose a bill protecting women from domestic violence.   But wait, it gets better.

Not only have ridiculous statements about the “westernisation of women” and “involvement of NGOs” been made in conjunction with the bill, but the party’s leader, the infamous “Maulana Diesel” or Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, has called the bill a “copy of Indian law” and denounced it on the basis of that.  Superb, isn’t it? As if most of pakistan’s laws weren’t leftovers from the british era.  Even the PML-N has not been behind in their mistreatment, with MNA Saad Rafiq making unbacked claims of “foreign involvement” in bill’s making. WTF does foreign involvement even mean, dammit?!

I could go on and on, but instead I’d like to link to and quote from an article by Fouzia Saeed, a prominent women’s rights activist in pakistan, who apparently witnessed the trashing the bill received from these pompous male-priveleged scumbags in the parliament:

The main issue seems to be, as one parliamentarian had said earlier, “Now we can’t even slap our wives any more! What kind of system do you want?” That seems to be the main problem, which usually takes the form of saying, “We disagree with the text”.

Saad Rafique after taking the floor twice and yelling at the speaker, came over to the Maulanas and they all had a laugh sitting in the front rows. I had never seen Maulanas laugh so hard. They were falling off their chairs. I wondered if they even knew the meaning of domestic violence, if they have ever seen a face of a woman covered with bruises, or red marks of sticks on a woman’s back, or broken limbs of a crying sister. I wondered if they are even capable of ever feeling the pain of what it is like to be hurt or sexually molested by someone with whom you have to live every day not knowing when he will turn into a monster.

It breaks my heart to see this sort of thing happening in my country – I mean, the fact that a bill protecting women from domestic violence actually has to undergo scrutiny is beyond me, but that its facing outright opposition? What kind of a nutjob country am I living in? Dear god. And they claim to have religion on their side, they claim that god has given men the right to discipline the family.  Well that may be the case, but it makes no sense why outright domestic violence should go unpunished.  We’re talking about a crime here, a crime committed against millions of women daily. How can anyone in their right minds justify that?

If that were not enough, the third incident is that there have been protests by supporters of JUI-F, female ones no less.  Protests against a bill for women. By women. If you’re not already weeping at the irony, maybe some quotes from that article will help:

Zakia Abid of the JUI-F said that she and the other women members are literate and educated but they don’t want the freedom associated with this bill as it will “abolish the sanctity of marriage and the dominance of the husband”.

Freedom.  They don’t want the freedom associated with the bill. Oh dear lord.

When asked what “dominance of the husband” means when he is violent, she answered that domestic violence usually begins when the wife tries to become the head of the household.

Oh of course, she deserves to be beaten to a pulp, she’s getting too uppity dammit!

However, she noted that sometimes men act out of impulse and not reason, and then only can they be brought to justice by the peaceful teachings of Islam.

Peaceful teachings of Islam? A woman who gets a little uppity needs to be beaten into submission, but a man who’s crazy enough to do that needs the “peaceful teachings of Islam”.  Please. Show me the nearest cliff to jump off from.

“This bill tries to bring these issues into the courtroom, which will be inefficient and disruptive for society.”

This bill needs to get to the courtroom so these women have some recourse to law.  Does she think women want to drag family matters into the courtroom? Of course not! But if society isn’t going to help you, your inlaws aren’t, your own parents refuse to, then a woman needs help, and apparently even Pakistani law refuses to help her. UGH.

The fourth incident of the week was a smaller one, but almost as disturbing. In a discussion over a fb wall of an acquaintance regarding this bill, a slightly deluded but well-meaning young girl tried to explain to my acquaintance what the fuss was about.  In arch language, she explained how husbands are ‘majazi khuda’ and are perfectly justified in beating up their wives for disobedience, about how women have no identity in Islam, although they have “importance, persona and rights.” (bari mehrbaani, jee). Her way of speaking about her own gender slightly sickened me.  Not only did it have scant basis in actual islamic concepts (which are far more women-friendly than this young lady thinks) but it just seemed a disturbing exhibition of self-degradation. Maybe I’ve been exposed to too many muslim feminists, but I’d forgotten this sort of muslimah also exists, who geninely considers herself secondary to men.  It shook me up.  What kind of self image are we giving our daughters, what kind of faulty islamic teachings and role models are we providing if this is what they’re growing up thinking? I don’t know. I just know that this feels horribly, horribly wrong.

And now for the fifth and final incident, the cherry on this week’s cake.  A group called the Working Women Society has apparently been putting up these billboards all over karachi in relation to the immodesty of lawn advertisements.  Exhibit A, on Shahra-e-Faisal:

Don’t get me wrong.  I fucking hate lawns and would cheerfully torch lawn adverts from one end of karachi to the other. But modesty is the jewel of women? No. No. Fuck that.  I am sick and tired of notions like these.  Modesty is no more a virtue for women than it is for men, and obscene is the gaze of the man making me uncomfortable, not a sleeveless dress.  For fuck’s sake. If they’d complained about the commodification of women via lawn ads, or hell, even complained about the price of lawn, I would have supported them wholeheartedly, but this is the WRONG approach. I do not need more lectures on morality by fucking billboards, I already get them by random strangers on public transport.

And who is the WWS anyway? I can’t find a single trace of them on Google.  What have they done for women in Pakistan? How have they helped the women? Are they lobbying for this damn DV bill or are they more concerned with lawn ads? Why does this whole campaign stink of conservative prigs to me?

======

All these and more unanswered questions, and I close the week with a weary sigh.  I am sick of misogyny, I am sick of this stupid country.

Will try to be more cheerful next time folks. See you later.

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8 thoughts on “Of subtle and not-so-subtle misogyny

  1. The working women’s society is a front for religious fanatics who have now changed tactics and instead of going after ” obscenity ” in their traditional way.

    They are now using the cover of working women just as they used their female members to protest against the domestic violence bill.

    The thinking is that they’ll make the point now that look even the liberal self sufficient working women find the normal female clothes obscene.

    One would hope people don’t fall into the trap being set by the religious fanatics.

  2. Never heard of WWS. I myself am in the queue of those women who’ve boycotted the designer lawn this year. But certainly not for the fucked up reason in the billboard. I love clothes and want to look amazing but not at the expense of another person’s ‘rozi roti.’

    The rule at AKU shocks me. Any way at all you guys can protest against it?

  3. Muhammad Ali – I suspect you are right. I hope to point out the hypocrisy in this kind of ad campaign by writing about it – it really does reek of conservative, patriarchal mindsets.

    Amna K – I don’t think a protest would work. I discussed this with friends and they all think AKU is in the right place, that its just a legal precaution to make sure their ass is covered. that this should come at a cost to certain women is apparently justified. In any case I don’t think I’ll have much support wrt the issue.

    1. At my college, all the non teaching staff keeps one common paper under the glass of their tables. It speaks of how to beat a woman in a religious way. No surprises here! This feeling of being helpless is what eggs on our anger most. :/ I don’t know what to say more SH.

  4. The indefinite postponement of the domestic violence bill was, in particular, terrifying.

    Terrifying because 65 years since the creation of this country, we cannot even reach a consensus on something as inexcusable as domestic violence. Whether beating up women is a good or a bad thing is, for some reason, still on the table for debate.

  5. Hi, I’m working on a piece on these billboards for Newsline – I’d like to quote some bits from your blog in there. Please do get in touch soon, I couldn’t find an email address on the site so am leaving a comment – will check for a reply 🙂

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