Misbehaving women

The liberal elite routinely polices women in its own circle, shaming them for exercising control over their destinies
Updated 10 Aug, 2016

Pakistan, as we were reminded with the sorrowful news of Qandeel Baloch’s murder a few weeks ago, is not a country that rewards women for taking an active role in their destiny.

Few countries are, mind you, but Pakistan can be more brutal, more flagrant in its utter contempt for women than most. Feminism is still considered the preserve of women too plain to ‘snag’ husbands, or to people who give it more credit, a tool of the West to undermine the happy Muslim family unit. It is a testament to our low expectations of Pakistani men that the media reported with an air of pleasant surprise that Qandeel’s father actually wanted to see his son convicted for her murder.

With her public profile which continued to divide public opinion even after her death, Qandeel inspired, at least in the English press, an unprecedented reflection, the sorry state of women in Pakistan, and its unforgiving, patriarchal mindset where male egos are Aztec gods requiring regular human sacrifice.

There are so many instances of rage and brutality against women that the violence of the details in the ones that make it to the papers; maiming, torture, murder, is repeated too often to shock. We’re only reading the tip of the iceberg and still the occurrence is so frequent that it seems to sap rather than spur resolve for change — bringing on the lethargy of utter helplessness.

Qandeel’s death reminded me of another woman who didn’t let societal convention stand between her and the kind of life she wanted. Veena Malik, who posed allegedly nude (she insists her underwear was photoshopped out) on the cover of Indian FHM magazine in 2011.

Numerous righteous Pakistanis bayed for her blood while also frantically googling her bosom. It is hard to say which activity accorded them greater pleasure. Scoffed at by an elite who sing a different tune when it’s a Hollywood star nude on the cover of Vanity Fair, Malik’s own father wanted to have her arrested, and in retrospect one considers that it’s quite good of him to at least abide by the letter of the law, flimsy as it is, and not just kill her himself.

It is a testament to our low expectations of Pakistani men that the media reported with an air of pleasant surprise that Qandeel’s father actually wanted to see his son convicted for her murder.

In a moment of what would have been high comedy in a less sinister country, the then interior minister stepped in to decide what action was to be taken against her. It is her good fortune that she had the means to escape — means not available to Qandeel.

In Taliban-occupied Swat, it was the bullet-ridden body of the dancer Shabana displayed in Mingora’s central square that quashed any signs of defiance Swat’s citizenry may have considered showing. Shabana was killed for ignoring warnings from the Taliban to give up her sole means of supporting herself; through dance performances at private gatherings. It is hard to say whether Shabana’s death would have elicited a similar amount of horror had she been shot not by the Taliban but by a male relative.

Women who step out of the ever-narrowing bounds of propriety aren’t often accorded such wholehearted sympathy. Certainly not dancers and other such purveyors of temptation who might give people ideas. To be the unwilling recipient of sexualised attention is to be expected and born without complaint, but to wield feminine wiles knowingly is unacceptable. One keeps reading that Pakistan is at war with the Taliban, only it’s just hard to tell who’s who sometimes.

The only Pakistani woman I can think of who not just survived her deliciously scurrilous private life in the public sphere was the late great Malika-e-Tarannum, Noor Jehan.

While the line between ‘conservative’ Pakistanis and militants seems to be just a matter of facial hair and firearms, Pakistani liberals too aren’t quite what you’d hope. As has often been remarked, the term liberal has been usurped, along with much else in the country, by an elite who confuse being progressive with the ownership of a cocktail shaker and a social life involving women in body-con dresses.

This is the same liberal elite who routinely police women in their own circle, beat their wives, set as a condition of love a woman’s complete submission to their interests and priorities, and find in sexism and body shaming (while themselves settling into the comfort of obesity) the fodder for loud, thigh-slapping humour.

They’re happy to extend unqualified sympathy to the female victims of jirgas, who could never aspire in any way to undermine their power, but their own ex-girlfriends are still stupid sluts and when a friend’s wife leaves alleging cruelty and domestic abuse, we’re told there are “two sides to the story.”

You should have seen the liberals take a swing at Zahra Haider, a girl who wrote a piece in Vice about the lack of sexual freedom in Pakistan saying, quite rightly, “if a woman from a middle-class family or underprivileged background is caught having premarital sex, serious shit goes down.” When she revealed that in spite of the rigors of the morality brigade she’d had a number of sexual partners in Pakistan, the same people who posit themselves as spirited defenders of women’s rights slammed this honest young girl as a “bad example” and “promiscuous”, a word which desperately needs to be retired, along with the people who use it.

The only Pakistani woman I can think of who not just survived her deliciously scurrilous private life in the public sphere was the late great Malika-e-Tarannum, Noor Jehan. I don’t know if we were a different country then, or if she was pardoned the human impulse for desire on the basis of her phenomenal talent (it’s too much to ask for women to be musical geniuses to accord them the respect men get for free).

I just always loved that of the women behemoths Umm Kulthum, Lata Mangeshkar and Noor Jehan, who were the beloved official voices of Egypt, India and Pakistan respectively, ours was the only one who was also a cheeky, irreverent, unapologetic sexpot. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I’d not believe it today.

Faiza S Khan is the Editorial Director of Bloomsbury India


M. M. ALAM Aug 09, 2016 01:14pm
The so called liberals do need to understand that women in our society can not succeed by copying values which even in the west is being shunned as un- acceptable. Moderation , respecting the religion and tradition, can be the only way forward.
Irshad Aug 09, 2016 01:15pm
Liberal has a conscience too. We cant encourage those who mistreat people, they have no right to insult men in the name of boldness. All men and women share equal rights and wrongs.
SAEED MASOOD Aug 09, 2016 01:41pm
What is so bold about all this...???
johnpauljones Aug 09, 2016 01:45pm
It's not a question of Liberals my dear but the conservative myopic lot and the simple answer is NO
Aalo Ghosht Aug 09, 2016 01:55pm
I don't think one is defined as 'Bold' if they share provocative pictures/videos of themselves on social media platform. No doubt that she should have met the fate that she did, but wearing bikinis and engaging in provocative discussions on the social media was her only claim to fame and not considered as Bold. I believe Bold women who have challenged the societal norms are the likes of Samina Baig, Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Malala etc. who works and actions has been appreciated and benefited the society.
farhan iftikhar Aug 09, 2016 02:07pm
Enough of this when she was alive everyone was abusing her n now u guys have found one topic to write n shine
Aamer Aug 09, 2016 02:09pm
Being Bold and being vulgar are two different things. I am sorry to say Venna Malik, Qandeel Baloch and Meera are vulgar not bold. We had very strong and classy women in our country for example late Benazer Bhutto, and Madam Noor Jehan. Plus there are so many other women who are doctors, Lawyers and politicians. Than we have classy celebrities like Shabnam, Barbra Shareef followed by Neeli, Reema Khan and Saima Noor who ruled the film industry through out the 90’s with a respectable image. Women don’t have to expose themselves to gain fame and fortune. In a country like Pakistan women can achieve so much as long as they know what’s good and what’s wrong.
waleed fakhar Aug 09, 2016 02:18pm
she was terrible not bold.
Dipak Singh Aug 09, 2016 02:27pm
if a woman wants to shoot in nude or semi nude than why so much of chaos in the society? her life she can do what ever she want to do. She may be belongs to a country but she also belongs to her own. don't relate to countries Name or religion in every story.
Khalid Rafique Aug 09, 2016 02:39pm
what do you mean of bold? just a expression of non prohibited parts of women body and more importantly the women working in showbiz they are the only ones who are brave.But actually Pakistani women working in all field of life and proving themselves as,educationist,writer,bureaucrat,technocrat,lawyer and number of other field.These women facing the challenges of man dominated society and contributing for her family and country as well are the real braves.Here media is projecting a humble background women as heroin against status quo.Actually if a women even working in paddy field she is brave person because her duty is not to feed his family but still she is working hard to contributing for her family.
Brainy Bhaijan Aug 09, 2016 02:51pm
They cannot. The country was created in the name of Islam and in Islam boldness of women is not allowed.
Zafari Aug 09, 2016 03:19pm
@Dipak Singh If you are so bold and tolerant, your family must also be equally bold. Why not show us a few nudes of your family member as a proof ?
Skeptic Aug 09, 2016 03:22pm
So many glowing articles about this character, after her demise, is just mind boggling. Enough already. Move on. Or build a monument for her and go visit it every day to remind you QB! She was a titillating, attention craving, insecure woman, who got her 15 minutes of fame. RiP!
Ali Aug 09, 2016 03:40pm
Honor killing is shameful and must be met with severe punishment by the state. On the other hand, feminism is not synonymous to nudity or vulgarity. Do you perceive men's privileged position in the society by their expression of sexuality? Or is it the ability to choose freely their career, opinion and passion? We have a lot of women in our country who have successful career against all odds and they are true inspiration for women empowerment. Exposing your body to get cheap publicity is not freedom. So please do not use the curse of honor killing to promote vulgarity in the society.
Billu Aug 09, 2016 03:50pm
so basically being nude and vulgar means boldness?? or Boldness means nudity?? either way we are conflicting societal norms and religious teachings.
Seedoo Aug 09, 2016 07:03pm
@Zafari There is a difference between respecting someone's actions and doing it yourself. Just because Dipak is standing for her right to pose nude does not mean that he and his family engages in the very act. In the West they say: "I MAY NOT AGREE WITH YOUR VIEWS, BUT I WILL FIGHT FOR YOUR FREEDOM TO EXPRESS THEM". Please learn to respect other people's right to express themselves, even if you don't agree with them. Just because you find something immoral, does not give you the right to impose your views on others and take away their rights also.
j.j.p. Aug 09, 2016 07:17pm
@Billu as they should be. Religious teachings are antiquated and overall useless. Let's focus on the happiness and well-being of people, rather than man-made nonsense from thousands of years ago.
Hasan Aug 09, 2016 08:13pm
What happens when we try to put a truck engine into a Fiat or VW bug? Conservative nation with hand full of liberals can't accommodate such flamboyant attitude, especially if it is counter to the believe set(divine decree) of the vast majority. By the same token, we can't walk into Southern Bible belt states and start demonizing Christianity. Outcome of the aforementioned will never be anything that the humanity will be proud off My two cents
Arslan M Aug 09, 2016 08:52pm
Showing ones skin is NOT BOLD. It's considered a WEEKNESS OF CHARACTER U hv to show skin get attention or get famous.. It's pathetic Bold r those women who work hard in all fields of life n hv made Pakistan proud.. Boldness is when U stand up against evil n stand up against unethical social taboos such as women can't work etc etc But get this straight - wut happened to her was wrong but SHE AINT NO WOMEN INSPIRATION OR ROLE MODEL.. We know our role models - our hard working Women all over Pakistan - doctors, engineers, sports women, in politics, we r proud to hv a 1st female PM, pilots, in movies n dramas, nursing, social works etc etc
The Observer Aug 09, 2016 09:20pm
With time passing by, definition of many terminologies have changed. Acts very shameful for some could be bold for others.
tuk Aug 09, 2016 09:38pm
There will be many more QBs! Pakistanis must get used to it. We don't have to agree with everything everyone does as long as it is legal.
Shaukat Ali Khan Aug 09, 2016 09:40pm
There is a marked difference between bold and vulgar please.
Anzalna Aug 09, 2016 10:15pm
Its the fact that men have the right to express their sexuality, and women don't. If a man were to, let's say have intimate relations with someone before marriage, not a single eyebrow would be raised, yet god forbid if a woman were to do the same, she would be shamed for it for the rest of her life. Let's not forget the countless other rights or shall i say privileges men get the minute they're born, simply because they're men. We will respect and even defend men who watch all these so called "vulgar" things and shame the women who are doing it, when the fact is that they're both equally wrong. Although there is nothing wrong with a woman expressing herself, i'm speaking according to Pakistani society. This poison called sexism needs to end immediately, especially in Pakistan, and it can't if people keep thinking like this and refuse to acknowledge it.
a.q Aug 09, 2016 11:04pm
Boldness must have some limits.... Our dramas are hitting the screen every time because still many of them are producing a stuff that is representing our culture...when we try to emulate bollywood or westren world...we disappoint our people and present a poor show
Agha Ata Aug 10, 2016 12:11am
@Shaukat Ali Khan "There is a marked difference between bold and vulgar please." Correct. But there is also a marked difference between who interpret these words.
abdulhaque shaikh Aug 10, 2016 12:54am
There is never a good excuse or a good reason to kill a human being. However, people who suddenly become darling of media and stupid media themselves must realize that porno boldness has capacity to incite many more murders, killings and violence in a society. Even in Western societies which traditionally allow far greater exposure of women's body has negative effects of boldness of showing women's body. Conservative or Liberal, human being is a created thing. Some humans have been given additional skill software and that skill should be used fairly so that impact on over all society in which not all have the skill software or does not have application software to suppress emotional parameters embedded in the fixed human operating system.
Nisha Aug 10, 2016 04:48am
This writer, Faiza Khan, has touched a raw nerve among some so called 'liberals'. Simply put, you cannot condone killing in the name of morality...specially most of those killings are singularly reserved for women. Wake up smell the chai!
Seema Aug 10, 2016 06:19am
Please dont use a very bold for nudity. Showing off skin, vulgarity, inappropriate conversation etc are not signs of boldness. Boldness is to strive to serve the community, to work for your country for family, to go out from your home and work in this male dominating society with dignity. Uploading nude pictures, vulgar messages how can be bold acts. Her murder should be condemn and those responsible should be given severe punishment. But please stop projecting her as an outstanding lady who was benefiting society or the country in anyway. She was using all dirty tricks to attract attention now people are using her even after her death to get their articles printed in media. Please act responsibly.
Faisal Qureshi Aug 10, 2016 08:57am
The role of Pakistani women in media who want to portray their personality to the outside world by their intellect these days depict the true culture of west and specifically Indian norms it has nothing to do with the true picture of women as given by Islam, Why our society forgets that Pakistan was not came into being for these sorts of ventures by both genders, In islam a women can not show their hair to other men, The fragrance you wear is only for your husband not for every one on the street, A big reason for turmoil that we face today in our society is because vulgarity created by our media and appreciated by us.
Shaukat Ali Khan Aug 10, 2016 12:07pm
@Agha Ata Very true; Sir jee. The values differ in the East and the West.
Shaukat Ali Khan Aug 10, 2016 12:09pm
@Agha Ata Is there any dictionary which interprets bold as vulgar, Sir jee.
Khalid iqbal Aug 11, 2016 05:51am
How does liberalism translate into nudity like situations , fashion that is way beyond Pakistani life style. There must be freedom of expression , but that should not lead us towards an R rated behavior.
Paxton Roy Aug 11, 2016 08:37am
How do "liberals" the problem when it comes to women's freedom and choices? Does the author understand the difference between liberals, conservatives, and ultra-conservative categories? Worldwide, the problem with freedom of thought and choice lies with ultra-conservative and reactionary groups that wish to keep traditions 'because we have always done it this way'!
Muhammad Adnan Aug 11, 2016 08:39pm
There is a difference between bold and vulgar. Vulgarity should not be allowed in any form
Alba Aug 12, 2016 12:31pm
The headline is a leading question - assuming they don't. Most liberal men are shy creatures looking for a woman as shy as they are.