Imran Khan & The Vulgarity In Our Society – And, What Women Have Got Do With It?
Imran Khan‘s view that if women only dressed more modestly, men wouldn’t be tempted to rape them-isn’t ‘baffling’ or ‘outdated‘. It reflects a centuries-old mindset of what men- regardless of their social status– think of a woman’s place in ‘their’ society
It was just another day, in a year full of days, when our Prime Minister Imran Khan appeared on a weekend program where he encouraged Pakistani women like myself to cover up so that men don’t rape us.
Then I wondered how a supposedly progressive, Oxford educated man has gone from commenting on International Women’s Day with
“I firmly believe that inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development can only be ensured by providing equal opportunities and a conducive environment to our women”Imran Khan
“This entire concept of purdah is to avoid temptation, not everyone has the willpower to avoid it”?Imran Khan
So I started making excuses for the PM, who had all of sudden lost his egalitarian spirit; a man I had rather jubilantly voted for. Surely, he can’t be in cahoots with the likes of Khalil Ur Rehman-so called patron saint of men’s rights? Jemimah Khan too, it seemed, was at the similar stage of denial, tweeting:
No. It surely is a slip up, a human misjudgement during a live interview that CANNOT be equated to Khalil Ur Rehman’s all too frequent live meltdowns.
The Tweetstorm Ensues
But then, the twittersphere erupted and the so-called discourse of gender dynamics in Pakistan, yet again, cleaved into two camps. When one side of the battleground leads the offense by
The other tackles the defense by
The battle to up-one each other has lately gained wide currency in a country that, it seems, doesn’t have the patience for a nuanced and in-depth discussion on the gap between Islamic traditions of womanhood and modern feminists sensibilities.
But then, this wasn’t even an issue here for God’s sake!!! Imran Khan wasn’t advocating the rounding up of women to lock them up inside their homes in order to douse the urges of lustful-but otherwise pious-men of the nation.
But was he moral policing-something many politicians resort to when failing to solve the root causes of an issue?
And so, I refused to join in the passion play of politicized emotions on the world wide web, where one team invokes Quran-as it sits on shelves, caked in dust, its spine barely cracked, and the other team retaliates by screenshotting all follow up articles on this issue by international (ahem…Western) media outlets, lamenting the tarnishing of our national image and thus tapping into the vein of our national weakness: readiness to lap up critical judgements about ourselves especially from foreigners.
A Deeper Debate
What could I do to escape the kindergarten level online debate where two sides were so out of sync with each other? I decided to get out of this simplistic East vs West or rather Islam vs West jargon-laden narratives that always unfold on social media in the aftermath of such incidents. We all know what unleashes around Aurat March every year (an event I enjoy for the sheer amusement of witnessing the squirms, qualms and unconstrained rages of men against placard holding women).
For me, Western culture is NOT a North star, a guiding light around which other cultures must arrange themselves AND The Quran is guidance NOT laws. One culture cannot understand another unless they appreciate the main foundations of each other. But that’s the debate for another day, and certainly not the one to be had under the 280-character limit that only allows for an anecdotal approach to discussing civilizations.
Told ya it was complicated…
Disclaimer: By writing this I am in danger of dismissing all those who don’t measure up to my civilizational standards (the urdu side of the twitterverse, for example). Hence with my opinion, I don’t claim to be portraying the views of the entire female gender. I know my cultural self perception is not all-encompassing. That said, let’s delve into what’s actually going on here.
The Superiority Complex
Men like Imran Khan, sometimes subconsciously, carry a firmly entrenched belief inside them of being the superior sex, scornfully asserting their inherent primacy in ways both blatant and discreet. Why wouldn’t they? Afterall, they have been in charge of all social, political, economic spheres of a functioning society since time immemorial. Women only upgraded from the cottage industry to formally join the workforce of their national economies at the birth of the Industrial Revolution around 1760. So that’s less than 300 years !!!! Zilch, compared to thousands of years of documented life since humans became ‘civilized’. We (women) had been absent from the discourse for so long that men couldn’t help but see us the way they wanted to, and over the centuries, legitimized that gaze.
Freud had called our mind ‘dark matter’.
For centuries, we were suppressed in tight boxes labeled ‘mysterious’, ‘unknowable’, ‘fickle’, ‘subjective’; sexist commodification of our chastity dictated our anonymity in the gender discourses; our bodies were snatched from us and hung up on an honorary pedestal so high that we started resembling those transparent ghosts from Harry Potter; we were constantly discussed but never paid attention to; we were so regularly and consistently invoked for our plebeian values of domesticity, geniality, sacrifice and love, that we became a bedecked, unyielding mythical creature who is chained by the very embellishments that seek to glorify it; with a safely glowing halo placed on us, we were forever swinging between the extremes, abandons of praise and cascades of critique- in short, we were the La La Land of sexes.
So cutting to the brasstacks, the debate here is about ownership of our fates and our bodies. When we, the shadowy ghosts, supposed to remain hidden in plain sight, broke free, defying all notions of suppression and concealment that female gender had been associated with, and (since then) demanded the right that our bodies should belong to us and only us, the men grew so insecure and scared (of both their lust and the carefully-regulated equilibrium of societal morality) that they found ways to lock us up again in virtual chains formed by years and years of patriarchy. They (naturally) wanted to go back to the old ways. They felt safer (untested) that way.
The Vulgar Woman
In our society today, we can’t always be shackled physically, so men in high places (civil, religious authorities) tend to tame us psychologically, by linking our bodies to the respect or shame of our families-being the divine guardians of societal moral compass as they are. These men are so concerned about our dangerous, unbound, freewheeling (vulgar) bodies that they legislate piety onto us. This grand cultural narrative wears a garb of thin-skinned hypocrisy of course; it’s the lust that requires regulation (both men’s and women’s)- it’s no different than praying.
‘The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.’Virginia Woolf
That’s why they retaliate-in defense of the endangered dominance of masculine values and infringement of their rights disguised as emotive rallying cries to get the wayward westernized society back to the golden days of mighty Islamic empires. It’s foolhardy to try to fence off a pristine Islamic world – a world unruffled by cross breezes of global culture. It’s a dystopia Imran Khan longs for though (Hence the obsession with Turkish historical series). That’s what Muhammad Akram Nadwi calls ‘Spiritual Sclerosis’.
‘When a culture focuses on outer aspects of faith, their religion just becomes about identity. At the end of the day, people are carrying a dead body not a soul’Akram Nadwi, Dean of Cambridge Islamic College
So now I know when Imran Khan says things like
“I reaffirm my pledge this day to take all measures that would help our women to lead a safe, secure and prosperous life”Imran Khan, on International Women’s Day 2021
He wants ‘our women’ to take the hint. That we will only be as safe as men allow us to be.
Read about the 5 Great Women In History !!!
Maleeha is based in Lahore and pursuing a bachelor’s degree. She snacks on books, films, cookies and anything artistic under the Lahori hot sun. Her ultimate goal is to get a room of her own and a fixed annual income in her name (as per Virginia Wolf’s recommendation) to write forever, without falling prey to capitalist trappings. You can follow more of her ramblings on Instagram and twitter