The actress puffing a ciggy in a far, far away land has sabotaged the honour of the entire country.
"A woman is a woman's worst enemy." This is a clichéd statement that has been shrugged off by many in the West for its banality but, unfortunately, in a country like Pakistan it still rings true.
Friday was a news-friendly day for Pakistani media. Contrary to expectations, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi made some strong statements at the UN General Assembly, refusing to let Pakistan become a "scapegoat" for the bloodshed in Afghanistan. Also, his sartorial choices for the occasion were also widely welcomed. Yet Abbasi's political efforts did not get viral status on the internet. It seems, instead, that actress Mahira Khan stole his thunder by sneaking a little gasper in a backless white summer dress, on the streets of New York. Such blatant display of immorality, and that too around an Indian actor, made for the perfect sin.
Though Mahira and Qandeel [Baloch] come from two completely different strata of society, they are both victims of at least one common problem—double standards.
It wasn't long before the moral brigade found its latest prey and waged war against Khan and her "questionable" behaviour. In between all the hue and cry, memes and shameless trolling, the world also got a glimpse of the latest documentary about Qandeel Baloch—the Internet sensation who was silenced because she refused to conform to the nation's patriarchal standards—released by The Guardian. And though Mahira and Qandeel come from two completely different strata of society, they are both victims of at least one common problem—double standards.
A bare-chested Shaan on a film's poster gets a thumbs-up on public forums. A man urinating publicly is far too normal an occurrence to cause disgust. Hell, Mehwish Hayat shaking a leg as a sexy feline has men whistling in excitement inside cinema halls. But Mahira. Oh Mahira! The actress puffing a ciggy in a far, far away land has sabotaged the honour of the entire country.
It's natural to expect men in Pakistan (and indeed in most of South Asia) to be the torchbearers of misogyny and shun women for their choices at any given opportunity. But it's disappointing coming from fellow women in the community.
Openly slut-shaming her, blaming her liberal attitude for her divorce and calling her all sorts of names—women on social media have gone above and beyond to bring Mahira down. Ironically these women find her actions a shameful representation of womankind. Some drawing-room feminists have also been quick to point out how this "indecency" must not be mistaken for empowerment. But what they have miserably failed at is understanding the very definition of empowerment.
Some drawing-room feminists have pointed out how this "indecency" must not be mistaken for empowerment. But what they have miserably failed at is understanding the very definition of empowerment.
Empowerment is the authority to lead life as one pleases. It is the power to pursue any ambition, any sort of lifestyle that one relates to. Yet it seems Pakistani women want to limit it themselves with a moral clause; a certain description of demeanor that makes for a purer woman. But then some of these chastity-endorsing women haven't spared the more religious within the community either. Kanwal Ahmed—the brains behind Pakistan's famous women-only Facebook group, called Soul Sisters Pakistan—dons a hijab. Modest in appearance, she continues to engage women in a dialogue, offering them a platform to share and discuss various problems. Yet Kanwal was trolled by women doubting her righteousness over a video tutorial on ways to wear hijab.
In contrast, the recent story that Islamic preacher Nouman Ali Khan had been sexting women—which he claims to be consensual interactions—has sparked widespread outrage among his devotees, including female followers. Many women have poured out their support for Khan on social media, suggesting that the allegations are attempts to malign his reputation. Others have refrained from comment on the basis that one should not jump to conclusions and be judgmental without real proof.
It's unfortunate that so many women are complicit in damaging their own cause. The media is equally to be blamed. For example, an online publication, the Film and Fashion Journal, appeared downright scandalised about her dress and how much it bared. This kind of commentary is not doing society any favours. It's only feeding into an already deep-seated, sexist ideology.
We can be liberal or conservative, religious or non-religious but let's not all contribute towards a fellow woman's public trashing.
We hate stereotypes but we perpetuate them every day. It reflects a regressive mentality to be unnecessarily presumptuous about someone else's way of life and take the liberty to comment on their affairs. It's no one's place to judge Mahira Khan's morals over her dress or her smoking habits and it's definitely not ideal for women to do so.
It's about time we Pakistani women showed some unity and did more to support each other, with a healthy dose of "live and let live." We can be liberal or conservative, religious or non-religious but let's not all contribute towards a fellow woman's public trashing. Let's instead help the new generation of feminists in challenging the patriarchal status quo and create a new reality for our women. Because bringing each other down is not going to help us in the long run. As Ann Friedman said, "I don't shine if you don't shine." So let's all shine together because together we are capable of incredible things.
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