So Momina Mustehsan is a feminist now...

Updated Mar 13, 2018 12:11am
I'm glad Momina has taken the time out to educate herself. She CAN sit with us but we also have to be cautious of allies who haven't done their homework and could be detrimental to the cause.
I'm glad Momina has taken the time out to educate herself. She CAN sit with us but we also have to be cautious of allies who haven't done their homework and could be detrimental to the cause.

As preposterous as it sounds to the modern woman, it is clear that feminism has an image problem. To the average Pakistani celebrity, feminist is the F-word they're scared to say on camera.

Here is Momina Mustehsan last year on the Lux Style Awards red carpet (along with Sanam Saeed, Anoushey Ashraf and Shehla Chatoor) pretty much avoiding defining feminism like the plague:

So you can only imagine my shock when a NowThis Her video of her basically giving us "Feminism 101" started circulating on social media, on Women's Day no less. Under the video, I saw many comments of people who were just as surprised at Momina's newfound feminist stance.

In the three minute clip, the Pakistani singer talks about how she is "[using] her fame for change" and that she "wants to help the conservative world embrace feminism".

Now that's interesting coming from someone who in the past has not only steered clear of acknowledging feminism but has also come under fire for posting a critical tweet about Qandeel Baloch, in which she said that the murdered YouTube star was not a model for women empowerment because she used her body as her only asset.

Nearly a year later, Momina did defend Mahira Khan when pictures of the actress with Ranbir Kapoor surfaced online. However, if she believed in Mahira's case that women should be able to do what they want, why didn't she extend the same support to a woman not from the upper echelons of society?

So what changed?

Well, we don't know.

In the new video, we get no explanation regarding Momina's progression from someone who thinks feminism is a scary word to a supposed spokesperson for the movement, wearing a 'Feminist 100' t-shirt and everything.

But is that a problem?

In one sense, no. I mean, we've all been there, I was a sexist teenager myself. You can't fault young people for absorbing the narratives they've been fed, and I recognise it takes time and effort to unlearn what we've been conditioned to believe and to recognize our own internalized misogyny.

Growing up in the era of social media doesn't help: mistakes (aka tweets) from the past can come back to haunt you at any moment.

Still, after a certain age it does becomes an individual's responsibility to become more self-aware. If Momina's views have evolved after self-reflection, and if she decided to embrace the concept of gender equality as a result, well, that's a good thing.

However, the problem is that Momina has 'embraced feminism' without retracting the contradictory statements she previously made. This means her effort comes off as insincere; it's the hypocrisy that irks.

if Momina is really so new to the movement, is she the right person to become the flag-bearer for feminism in Pakistan? Should she have passed the mic to someone else?

Make no mistake, this ISN'T an attempt to alienate her.

To the contrary, I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt, I'm glad she's taken the time out to educate herself and she can sit with us but while we have to make place for people to evolve, we also have to be cautious of allies that haven't done their homework and could be detrimental to the cause.

Here are a couple of valid questions we can ask about Momina: if she's really so new to the movement, is she the right person to become the flag-bearer for feminism in Pakistan? Should she have passed the mike to someone else?

After all, there are people around who've been fighting the good fight longer than she has, and they have a greater understanding of feminism and gender equality than she does.

Looking at what she says in her video makes this clearer, so what follows is an analysis of just some of the problematic things Momina said in the video and how, if she's really learnt to be on the right side of history, she can convey that better:


1) "In South Asia, there is a lack of understanding of the term 'empowerment' because majority of the people think that the definition of women empowerment is to wear fewer clothes, to renounce her culture and traditions, and that it's synonymous with immorality. We first need to define the term for the region."

I kind of get what she's trying to do here but this also perpetuates the absurd yet surprisingly prevalent the belief that feminism goes against our traditional values.

While feminism is at odds with the notion of a patriarchal society, which by the way exists all around the world, including but not just South Asia, it doesn't mean that equality is a western invention. Now is the time to take a long, hard look in the mirror; While we can continue to respect Pakistani cultural practices as feminists, will we do so for all of them, even the ones that blatantly hurt or demean women?

If you're saying that our culture is about how honour lies with just the women or that they should cover up or otherwise be sexually assaulted, then yes, the movement of feminism is antagonistic towards our culture but that means our culture is what needs to change, not feminism.

2) "Women empowerment in Pakistan means raising them equal to boys, providing them with the same education, giving them the same job opportunities, equal wages and equal respect."

...That's women empowerment everywhere.

3) "Do we hate our women? I don't think so. In fact, Pakistan has more women representation in government than the U.S and we have twice elected a female head of state."

Meninists, elitists and new feminists apparently love to talk about Benazir Bhutto when they're told Pakistan is regressive when it comes to women's rights. Can we get real and remind ourselves that Bhutto's two terms were made possible in large part by her ancestry?

It's time to check your privilege and read up on honour killings, acid attacks and the workplace/street/everyday harassment women in your country face. It's not all rainbows and butterflies here and painting it that way does nobody any favours.

4) "I've been personally attacked for respectfully expressing my take on women's empowerment. In my opinion, a woman's body is not her only asset. As feminists, we have to become more tolerant of each other's differences because we are essentially working towards the same goal."

More than anything, this just sounds like a justification for her tweet about Qandeel Baloch. Maybe Qandeel wasn't a feminist icon for everyone but we can't deny that the woman escaped a vicious marriage and paved her own path in life, giving others hope for social mobility. And most importantly, she did so without putting anyone else down in the process. And that's more than I can say for Momina.

If you want tolerance, you gotta dish it out first. After first portraying herself as someone who doesn't really get feminism, Momina Mustehsan should be more sensitive to the movement before choosing what empowerment means or speaking on behalf of all South Asian women.


I'm angry about the hypocrisy but I guess it's better late than never. She's starting her journey for equality and she'll get there. Or at least I hope so.

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