Browsing "Feminism"
Oct 4, 2014 - Feminism, India    1 Comment

Here is to the future

 

indian scientist

Last month, India became the first Asian nation to reach Mars when its orbiter entered the planet’s orbit and this is the picture that was seen around the world to mark this historic event. It shows a group of female scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) congratulating one another on the mission’s success.
Female desi scientists in their colorful saris celebrating their success is so amazingly beautiful. I hope young girls everywhere see this realize that they can be so much more than they are lead to believe.

Another victim of misogyny or is it Shariah!

Just about everyone, including UN Commission on Human Rights, has heard and condemned how Farzana Iqbal was pelted with stones and bricks outside Lahore High Court. Farzana was attacked by her family including her father, brothers and former fiance because she chose a marry a man she loved and her family did not approve of that union. She died as a result of that attack, her unborn child also died with her. As if that was not tragic enough, the newspaper report manage to push in a quote by a useless policeman  judging the husband for fleeing the scene to save his life and not being there to die with his wife.  The exact line was

A police official said Muhammad Iqbal was not near Farzana as she was attacked but did not try to prevent the attack, instead saving himself from the members of her family.

It was a brutal crime – a horrific murder – that was committed in front of many witnesses but given the way shariah has literally screwed with most laws in Pakistan, the murderers would not be apprehended because this is how qisas and diyat roll. Your family, instead of state has the power to pardon or seek money instead of justice. As most honour killings are committed by families, they decide pardon.  Husbands, fathers and brothers kill their female family members with impunity because they know that they can get away with it. At times, when they feel like killing someone else, they kill a female member of the family along with the other person to save their hides citing honour killing as a valid reason.

A good 15 years ago, I was interning for a human rights organization and I was given the task to go to court with one of the lawyers and to report on the way court works from a layperson’s view. I was quite excited because I had never seen a real court room before. My colleague was representing a woman seeking khula because her husband was violent and a serial rapist. I naively suggested that getting divorced under those circumstances would not be difficult. My colleague, who spent most of her professional life dealing with douches of all variety was a lot less optimistic. We went in the court room and my colleague presented a couple of witnesses who testified that the husband was indeed a sadistic violent man. The judge seemed uninterested through out and looked outside the tiny window during most of the proceedings. The minute we stepped out of the court room and into the veranda, the husband grabbed his wife and started beating her right there, in that corridor, in front of literally hundreds of people.

My colleague and I tried to stop that man, but after he pushed my colleague too hard, I did not go after him and tried to get the police constables on the duty to stop him, they did nothing more that to verbally ask him to not beat his wife. In the mean time, my lawyer colleague caught hold of the judge presiding that case and asked him to order the police or other court officials to stop it. The judge’s response was something that I will not forget till the day I die. He asked my colleague if the couple are still under nikah which was stupid because the lawyer was arguing for dissolution of that same nikah only a few minutes back. He then went on and said that as long as the woman is married to that man, he cannot do anything about it as it is a domestic matter, in any case, the religion allows it  (Jab tak yeh aurat apnay shuhar ke nikah mein hain, hum kuch nahen kar saktay, yeh gherloo azdawaji mamla hai, waisay bhi  mazhab ne ijazat dee huee hai). The husband also got his message across that he basically owns his wife so he left his sobbing wife behind and walked out of the court as if he did not break multiple laws in front of many witnesses. That was the day I realized for the first time that I was a second degree citizen in my own country and it was not just misogyny but the argument supporting misogyny that is at fault. Yes, I am talking about religious legislation and religious sanction that basically endorses every misogynist idea – be it polygamy, underage marriage, making husbands and fathers wali, Qanoon-e-shahadat, qisas, diyat, hudood to name a few.

The incident that happened 15 years back in Karachi High Court is responsible in a way for what happened with Farzana outside Lahore High Court. If that  judge had taken action against public display of violence against the wife back then, it would have set a precedent and perhaps more judges would have shown sensitivity in matters of gender discrimination.

Every one and his dog has condemned this murder but condemnation is cheap, it did not save Farzana and nor will it save future Farzanas. Everything is set against women – the legislation is against women when they get half the share in inheritance and their witness is considered to be half of that of a man. The society favours men, the economy favours men by recognizing their labour and paying them more for the same job, the familial set up is designed to put men on the pedestal and it all is rooted in religion. As long as religion forms the core of the legislation and how we conduct ourselves in public and private spaces, things will not change. Continue to blame the tool, (man and misogyny) because that is necessary and take measures to deal with it but also blame the argument (religion and how it supports that men are superior, women are subservient etc) that feeds that tool. Unless we are brave enough to address that, things will remain the same.

Queen – ruling hearts

Queen-Hindi-Movie-Hd-Wallpapers

More often than not, Bollywood fare comes with masala entertainment, paisa vasool hilarity and a ‘leave-your-brains-at-home’ kind of fun. I decided to give a slew of such recent releases a miss, but ended up checking out Queen on the insistence of a friend. And am I glad I did.

Queen’s storyline may not seem much on the surface: it is essentially a coming of age story where the protagonist overcomes adversity by the end of the film, but what makes it unique is its refusal to tie up all loose ends neatly. It takes the bold step of leaving viewers with a sense of freedom seldom associated with Bollywood.

Queen is the story of Rani, superbly played by Kangna Ranaut, a young girl who is looking forward to her big Punjabi wedding in Delhi to her engineer fiancé. Her monologue voiceover, a peek into Rani’s head before her big day, retrospectively turns into a commentary on marriage in desi culture, where the wedding itself becomes the be-all and end-all of the process. The innuendo-laden pre-shadi hilarity along with Queen’s breakout hit song ‘London Thumukda’ nudge and wink at the impossibly glamorous idea of the ‘honeymoon’ with all its attendant promise of exposure to a world of sexual intimacy and travel. But before Rani can taste any of these hitherto forbidden fruits she is jilted by her fiancé two days before the wedding day. In her first flush of deep despair she decides to leave for her ‘honeymoon’ on her own. Thus begins, not just Rani’s journey of self-discovery, but a new-age alternative to the honeymoon, the single woman traveller who can taste both physical pleasures (within bounds acceptable to an Indian audience, of course) and the pulse of the outside world all on her own.

In Paris, she learns how to pronounce ‘Champs Elysses’ correctly but much more importantly manages to outlast a bag thief by tapping into deeper reserves of courage the pre-jilted Rani would never have dreamed possible. Outside of her comfort zone she makes friends with people who are superficially different but so alike when you peel the upper layers. Lisa Haydon, who plays Vijay Laxmi, a free spirited Parisian woman Rani befriends in France, is a lot of fun to watch. Not only she is beautiful and glamorous, she walks off with her head held high in a supporting role.

After a few days in Paris, Rani catches a train to Amsterdam and bids adieu to her friend. What Paris did not teach her, Amsterdam does. She ends up in a youth hostel with a bunch of racially diverse men as her roommates and after a hiccup or two she became really good friends with them.

As a South Asian woman, I hardly ever come across fictional characters I can relate to. The Western characters belong too obviously to a different cultural framework while the characters produced by our entertainment industries seem stuck in time. Rani is unique in the sense that I could relate to so many of her fears, heck I have even lived some of them. Even though the first time I stayed in a youth hostel, I shared my room with girls, but it was no less traumatic for me because of my sheltered upbringing and a very private life. I could relate to her hesitation in trying new food or going to places that she had never been before. Even when you leave your restrictive environment behind, you take your cultural baggage with you even when you are in a city like Amsterdam.

As a long time consumer of Pakistani television dramas and Bollywood, my biggest grouse against both is that most female characters either annoy me to hell and back or make me feel sympathy for them. Queen did neither.

The end cements the rest of the movie’s good sense by refusing to indulge in chest beating histrionics or loud declarations of independence from patriarchy. It just leaves the audience with a subtle awareness that Rani’s life is her own as viewers partake in the joy she experiences when she realizes that she is truly free at that moment.

There is no masala here, no copying of formulaic romantic comedies (Had it been one, she would have found a Raj, Rahul or Prem by the end). It is honest storytelling around a major life changing incident in a girl’s life and how just one decision – of not wallowing in self pity and going ahead with the plan – turns her into a much braver person.

Kangna Ranaut delievers a top notch performance. Her Rani is endearing. She changes, but the change is subtle and intangible. She does not turn into a drastically different person but a more open and courageous version of herself who is ready to embrace life at her own terms. Her changes are not validated by her finding romance with a new man or even the old one.

The film could’ve done with some serious editing in the first half and the characters of Taka, the vertically challenged Japanese roommate and Rukhsar/Roxette, the Muslim stripper with a heart of gold, were clichéd and reminiscent of less subtle cinema of the 1980s, but I could not find fault with much else.

I am a sucker for coming of age films that reaffirm my faith in life, people and humanity in general, so I had the biggest grin on my face when I came out of the cinema. Five stars for honest storytelling with a lot of heart and some stellar performances.

Originally published in The Friday Times

Email encounters of the other kind!

I get emails – almost anyone who exists in the virtual world gets emails – even if when they do not share that email address with anyone, they still get emails from Nigerian investor wanting to invest in their business and their email provider’s admin. I, unlike other people, get weird emails and I am not talking about spam here.

The emails I get are all not just weird, they cover a very broad range of spectrum. They could be people asking me to give them Urdu language tuition (never taught Urdu in any of my lives and though I speak it fluently and enjoy Urdu literature like any other enthusiast, I cannot teach Urdu Grammar to save my life – sarf-o-nahu anyone?), people sending marriage proposals after reading my articles (they are almost always men from India with a couple of random rishtas from Middle East but I have a feeling that they too would be Indian men), aunties seeking education advice for their sons and daughters (I am supposed to be awesome at fooling universities into providing grants and waiving fees – which I am obviously not – otherwise I would be enrolled in some kind of doctoral program instead of working and dreaming about a life where I would be rich enough to be idle) and people inviting me to expensive “Lawn” exhibitions (people in Pakistan would know what that phenomenon is, the rest don’t need to worry about that and those who know me must wonder why I get those invites considering how sartorially challenged I am).

The point of this whole tirade is that I get weird emails and should not be shocked when I get offers of digital qurbani (slaughtering your goat via skype) and “exclusive” dating services specializing in highly qualified brown people, but nothing prepared me for the email that was waiting for me this morning in my inbox. I actually went WTF out loud on my morning commute – much to the chagrin of an Asian lady sitting next to me at my very unladylike language.

The text of that email was

“I am working on a fiction book which includes a female character’s experiences with online dating. The woman is in her late 40s. I am soliciting stories from women who have dated online. I need unusual, weird, crazy, scary stories. Your name will not be used. Specifics will be changed to protect your privacy. You will NOT be paid for your story.

If you are a single woman – divorced, widowed or never married – who is 40 or older and have met and dated men via online dating websites, please contact. Since this is a Christian novel, stories have to be clean stories. No sex or deviant behaviour, no use of alcohol or drugs and no bad language please. Like I said earlier, keep it clean.

I mean really?

I tried to muster some outrage because the sender thought I was over 40 and over eager (no disrespect for those who go for online dating) enough to have an okcupid profile but come on! How can one not laugh at the message that is clearly bonkers? You want stories of online dating but no salacious details! Why would anyone want to read a book that has nothing going for it? I mean I am no pervert who would want to know details that should not be shared but if you take the bite out of life then what else is left? Would people actually shell out money to read about the stories of online dating for women over forty if it is going to be about creeps stalking your facebook profile, some hand holding of non-platonic kind and group sessions about Jesus saving your sorry selves? That book sounds like a snoozefest even before it is written.

Is there really a market for Christian romance out there? Probably in the Bible belt. I, for one, never thought there was a market for mommy porn but 50 shades proved me and the rest of the snooty people wrong. Who really knows what people actually want, Christian online romance may turn out to be the next big thing, after all Nicholas Sparks’ A Walk to Remember was not only a best seller, it also launched Mindy Moore’s rather tame acting career.

Sep 18, 2013 - Feminism, Personal    1 Comment

Living with a rape schedule

“When I was in college, a teacher once said that all women live by a ‘rape schedule.’ I was baffled by the term, but as she went on to explain, I got really freaked out. Because I realized that I knew exactly what she was talking about. And you do too. Because of their constant fear of rape (conscious or not), women do things throughout the day to protect themselves. Whether it’s carrying our keys in our hands as we walk home, locking our car doors as soon as we get in, or not walking down certain streets, we take precautions. While taking precautions is certainly not a bad idea, the fact that certain things women do are so ingrained into our daily routines is truly disturbing. It’s essentially like living in a prison – all the time. We can’t assume that we’re safe anywhere: not on the streets, not in our homes. And we’re so used to feeling unsafe that we don’t even see that there’s something seriously fucked up about it.” —      Jessica Valenti

After reading this excerpt from one of the many amazing piece written by Jessica Valenti, I too looked back at my life and realized that all of this is true. And as I have spent a better part of my life – esp teenage years – in Pakistan, the problem faced by me and women like me is even more complex. As a middle class Pakistani woman, I was raised to look at every man as potential rapist hence things as simple as rolling down the car window and asking for directions have been pondered upon relentlessly, often times not asking men for directions because we thought someone will jump at us.

That was me as a teenager, I overcame that fear as an adult but continued to develop other safeguards. I once drove with a bust tyre instead of changing it like a normal person because it was dark and there was not much traffic on the road. After a particularly scary incident in Islamabad, I even bought myself a taser because I thought I may actually need to use it.

At times I wonder if women in any part of the world are free of this ‘rape schedule’. Do they even realize that this is what they are living with and that they need to break free and that one of the most important ways to fight back is to raise sons who are conscientious and treat women like fellow human beings, and not potential playmates. Are there any mothers among us who do not judge other women in front of their sons explicitly because they want them to grow into decent adults?

Dear Facebook, some of us are more than our biology

Note: This is a rant.

What in the name of internet gods is wrong with FaceBook?

Just because I am a woman of child bearing age who has not disclosed her relationship status, all the suggested likes on my timeline are about dating websites, new moms groups, fertility clinics, potty training, beauty clinics offering to make me smooth and dewy by lasers of all kinds, yoga websites, clothing companies, fashion designers, weight loss website or weight loss website pretending to be women’s health website. I mean seriously?

According to Facebook, people like me have got to be looking for romantic hook ups with other people through dating websites. If they are not looking for their online soul mate, they must either be procreating or trying to procreate through the help of the aforementioned clinics, or trying to potty train their spawn. If you are done with all that, then you must spend a fortune to try and look like teenager with no lines around the forehead and no body hair. You are also suggested to like designers you cannot afford (seriously what percentage of world population can afford Prada or Michael Kors!). If you are done with all that, then it is suggested that you must join yoga or a zumba or an aerobic class because unless you are made to feel horrible about your physique and body type, your internet experience is incomplete.

For the record, I just want to state that I don’t do online dating or speed dating. I am not a mom, young or old. I am currently not potty training anyone and if I ever get down to doing it, I most definitely will do it without plastering it on Faceook. I would also like to state that women are people too and just like their male counterparts, they have body hair. The world will not come to an end if a few women like me refuse to spend $2000 to make their legs smooth and shiny.

Get your act together Facebook, some of us are more than our biology and the identity that is thrust upon us by the society. Some of us take pride in being human beings without predisposed characteristics. It’s about time you realize that women are people too.

 

PS: I live in Canada so this is my personal experience, women living in different parts of the world may have a different facebook targeted marketing experience.

The F Word

Let’s just be very clear about one thing – ‘Feminist’ was never a very popular label to begin with. Since the first wave of feminism, feminists were labeled as men hating, religion shunning, morally ambiguous beings challenging the social order of the day. Though some things have changed since then – women suffrage is almost universal and most constitutions grant their female citizens basic civil rights – quite a few remains just as tough and the stigma attached to the label ‘feminist’ is just as clear and present as it was at the turn of 20th century.

While this abhorrence of the term feminist is quite commonplace, there is a new trend emerging of late. Female celebrities are getting up and denouncing feminism and declaring in the loudest possible voice that they are NOT feminists.

Why this regression in thought? Once upon a time we have had female celebrities who were headstrong and had no qualms about ruffling a few feathers and coming out as strong and independent women – be it Mae West or Dorothy Parker. Now everyone from Beyonce Knowles to Taylor Swift to Gwyneth Paltrow to Madhuri Dixit is at pains to declare it to the world that they are not feminists.

Just mention it to a female celebrity that she is considered a strong woman by her audience and perhaps she is a feminist and chances are that you will end up facing a deluge of words telling you that they are ‘oh so not a feminist’.

On one end you have someone like Lady Gaga who made absolutely no sense when she said, “I am not a feminist – I hail men, I love men. I celebrate American male and beer and bars and muscle cars,” because frankly a five year old – if he or she could articulate – would tell you that appreciation for beers or bars, loving men and demanding equality among genders are so not mutually exclusive. On the other hand you have Gwyneth Paltrow who distanced herself from feminism by stating that feminist activist Gloria Steinem wouldn’t approve of her lifestyle, having chosen to compromise her career for her family and relationship. Since when the approval of one woman – no matter how iconic a feminist she was – defines feminism and what it entails? Someone needs to tell Ms Paltrow that liberty of choosing a certain lifestyle is one of the basic tenets of feminism.

As late as earlier this year, Beyoncé in an interview stated, “That word [feminist] can be very extreme … I do believe in equality … But I’m happily married. I love my husband.” Somehow Ms. Knowles is under the impression that being happily married, having a family and loving your husband do not make one a feminist.

Demi Moore also joined the idiot bandwagon when she said that she finds the term feminism obsolete because the world does not need it any more. “I’m a great supporter of women, but I have never really thought of myself as a feminist,” she said. “I think clearly times have changed and women have made their mark in many different areas.”

Closer to home, Madhuri Dixit shunned the word feminist quite vociferously. “I don’t think I’m a feminist. I am independent and strong, which is what women should be like.”

As far as homegrown Pakistani celebrities are concerned, there has been no mention of the word feminist or feminism in any public discussion or media interaction – probably because our discourse is so religion heavy, it does not leave any room for non religious debate on anything, most certainly not on feminism.

It must be noted that despite eschewing the term feminism, these celebrities also try and tell the world that they are strong women who believe in equality and fair play because who would want to be called submissive, pliant and weak, right? Well newsflash for them because if they believe that women should be strong and independent and have the same rights at home, workplace and in the society then they too are feminists, they are just too much of a chicken to align themselves with the word and admit it publicly.

Why this rejection of the word feminism? Is it because of the all the misconceptions related to the word which basically says that all feminists are argumentative, dour faced, men hating lesbians (though in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with being either dour faced, argumentative or lesbian)? Is it because the celebs fear that by associating themselves with feminism, they will lose their popularity? Is it because we live in the social media dominated age where celebrities are constantly interacting with their fans and know what is expected of them and act and say the things accordingly? Or is it because these feminism shunning celebrities have given someone else the power to define what is acceptable (and feminism is not) and label themselves accordingly?

It is perhaps all the reasons cited above and more. Celebrities like Demi Moore and Lady Gaga rely on their popularity for their success and financial gains and are afraid to use the F word but it also drives home the point that there is no level playing field for women if they have to come out and say that they are not feminists, if anything it tells us that the world needs feminism and its feminist icons and role models.

Feminists do not hate men in general. Most of the women who label themselves as feminists like men just fine. In fact, they may state it more openly than their patriarchy endorsing sisters but that is not the point here. The point here is that they may like or dislike people for various reasons and they can be both men and women.

From Susan Sarandon to Beyonce, despite espousing the principals of feminism, they all shun the word – Beyonce suggested that something like bootylicious should replace feminism while Sarandon thinks humanist is a better word, but is that even the point? Had that been a natural progression of language where one word gives way to another, it would have been perfectly fine but this is not the case here. Female celebrities, who are role model to many, are actively shunning the word because of the negativity associated with it. It is not just a matter of semantics; there is a long history associated with the word and shunning it would mean not only denying that legacy but also dishonoring the struggles of women who made possible the freedoms we enjoy today through their efforts.

Feminism is not just a label, it was a movement – it still is a movement. It is not about the women who turn away from it for popularity but about fighting the fight against injustice for the people who do not enjoy the privilege of equality. The feminist worldview is about fighting patriarchy and creating a more just society for everyone which in turn would benefit everyone – men, women, children, animals and perhaps the environment.

Before these women get up and denounce feminism, have they stopped and pondered that it is feminism that has won us the vote, equal pay – at least in the law, the contraceptive options, property rights, and the right to education among others?

No matter what Demi Moore believes in, we are nowhere close to a world where feminism is not needed. The world is still deeply unequal and women everywhere are victims of discrimination on the basis of sex and it is dishonest to say that a feminism based rights movement is redundant. Even the nature of struggle has not changed – at least in a country like Pakistan where despite universal adult suffrage, there are pockets where women are not allowed to vote and no woman celeb had the decency to raise voice against it.

There was a time when associating oneself with gay rights was considered social hara-kiri. Now there is hardly anyone – at least in the Western world – who would openly say that they are against equal rights for LGBTs and this change happened because some people had the courage to get up and support what they believed in. Feminism needs such champions now. Ellen Page is one of those rare celebrities who wear their feminist identity with pride. She is not afraid of the label and believes that it needs to be out there. “How could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is considered a bad word?” asks Page.

Yes, these celebrities are no gender theorists and expecting them to be well versed in the academics of feminism is unrealistic, but expecting them to not disown feminism because it would mean more twitter followers or more popularity amongst the patriarchy supporting majority is not asking a lot. As famous people with clout, it is their responsibility to impact upon others to strive for a more just world. In any case, human beings are not just defined by one single label. We are complex creature and comprise of multiple identities – liberal or conservative, humanist, conformist or non conformist, democrat, socialist or capitalist and so on. It is about time we put an end to this ban on feminism as an articulated political and social concept and celebrities like Ellen Page, Kiera Knightly and Patrick Stewart (yes, men can be feminists too) who flaunt their feminist ideology will help in mainstreaming the word and the ideology.

Say it now, feminism is NOT a bad word. There is nothing wrong with being a feminist. I just hope that more people embrace it and help in ridding the word of all negative connotations.

Originally written for ViewPointOnlline

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