Monday, October 24, 2011

Gender Performance in Pashto Music: An Outline

Dear readers, I finished my outline for my study of gender performance in Pashto music. I expect to add more points to it as I complete the paper (I have only just started, and all I've got is the annotated bibliography, the assignment that's due tomorrow). I'll post the annotated bib another day. Feel more than free to offer feedback and suggest any readings or Pashto music videos/songs or Pashto films that offer an insight into the performance of gender (or sexuality), whether you think it's an accurate portrayal of the culture or a distortion of it, whether you believe the performers are Pashtun (men or women) or Punjabi.

Many, many thanks!

~ Qrratu

Overview: Gender Performance in Pashto Music and Media

South Asian musics have been studied and analyzed widely, and, to a large extent, women’s and men’s different roles in music production have been an important research focus. However, minimal attention is given to the study of Pashto music, particularly to Pashto music videos and gender issues. This study hopes to fill that hiatus by focusing on how Pashto music videos portray heterosexual women and men and their sexualities. Most videos I analyze appear to present both genders negatively, emphasizing the woman’s seductive “nature” and the man’s sexual urges, thereby sexualizing both. However, by surveying the role of music and music videos, such as conveying a message to their audiences, I offer other ways of interpreting this presentation of gender performance. For example, is the sexuality of women and men as expressed in Pashto music videos a response to the perceived suppression of sexuality in public in the Pashtun society? The study attempts to answer questions such as: is music intended to offer a portrayal of the culture in and about which it is produced, and, if so, how do Pashtuns respond to this depiction of their culture? Are cultural norms manipulated in music videos so as to produce an imagined, possibly an ideal, culture or society? How can the popularity of those music videos that defy cultural standards contribute to these queries and offer a different, nuanced understanding of the ideals and practices of the culture? The study also explores racial elements, such as the privileging of certain skin colors  over others, by analyzing some Pashto lyrics to determine beauty ideals for both genders as well as to understand notions of masculinity and femininity in Pashto music and music videos. Emphasizing the role of those who perform in these music videos, called "damaan" in Pashto, I also discuss how particularly the female performers ("damaaney") negotiate their sexual and cultural identities to create space for themselves in the music industry in a society where they are traditionally stigmatized because of their careers. 

I.                   Introduction
a.       Islam and music
                                                              i.      start with my experience in an online Pashtun community on the call for a tilawat (Qur'an recitation performed in a beautiful voice) competition, my insistence that I will participate or it will not happen; it did not end up happening because, as the members argued, Islam prohibits introducing the female voice into the public sphere, since the female voice is considered aurah, a term the Qur'an uses for something, usually a part of the body, that must not be displayed in public
b.      music as an aspect of a culture
                                                              i.      music as identity formation
                                                            ii.      music as identity expression
                                                          iii.      music as identity manipulation
c.       clarify my position
                                                              i.      examples of videos where both men and women are sexualized, men depicted as lustful of women and women depicted as naturally seductive and dangerously sexy
                                                            ii.      examples of songs where women are depicted as hayadaare (full of shame and modesty) and men as dak da nang (honorable)
II.                Critique of Pashto music videos
a.       the role of music videos (general)
                                                              i.      analyze responses to the videos on Youtube, discussion forums, other virtual communities
b.      representation of the culture?
                                                              i.      the role of dancing girls (or damaane) in Pashtun weddings (for men only)
c.       contradiction between Pashtun values and gender performance in music videos
                                                              i.      discuss ideas of honor, shame, modesty
                  d.   audience
                               i. who is the performers' intended audience? 
                                         a. appears to be primarily men (regardless of class) and upper-class women
                                         b. excludes low-class women
III.             Possible interpretations of the women's performances
a.       as space created for men and women to express their sexuality, which is arguably suppressed in the public sphere other than music videos
                                                              i.      assess their popularity despite being "un-Pashtun"
                  b.   identity assertion
                               i. what it means to be Pashtun, what it means to be un-Pashtun
                               ii. a standard for average Pashtun girls
c.      a response to the apparent suppression of sexuality
                                                              i.      illustrate with examples from other ethnic groups (e.g., the mujras, or Punjabi stage dance shows; Bollywood's Item Girl, a seductive performer on whose performance her own success as well as the success of the film depends)
                  d. sheer entertainment 
                              i. perhaps their performance is meant to be entertainment only
IV.             Difference between Afghan and Pashto music videos
a.       divided by performance, united by language: focus on the theme of sexuality in both regions
V.                Conclusions/Discussion
a.       the study’s contribution to music studies and Pashtun studies
b.      questions to consider for future direction


  1. Wow! I love reading about different cultures. Little things like how they celebrate birthdays? how festivals are celebrated? etc etc...

    I love how they describe everything in your post, in your signature style!!

    Though i wish u had included some pics :(

  2. Although I haven't seen the videos, just based on what you wrote here, I would be careful about labeling their depiction as "negative". Just because they depict "the woman’s seductive “nature” and the man’s sexual urges," doesn't make them negative. I mean, you might find that negative, but it doesn't mean the producers do. Is there evidence that they are critiquing women for being seductive? Critiquing men for having sexual urges? Or celebrating these aspects of their sexuality?

  3. Thank you, guys, for your comments! Much appreciated!

    Yes, SEPO, it really is fascinating! Sorry there were no pictures in this post :p I'll share some in another post, k? Promise!

    Zuhura, that's an excellent suggestion! I was hoping that my use of "apparently" would suggest that I am attempting not to make an assumption or insert my own view of gender portrayal in the music videos. I see I must change that now. :)

    I'll be posting my annotated bibliography soon, and one of the sources I rely upon is the book "The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Ancient Pleasure District" by Louise Brown, where the author narrates the stories of the dancing girls of Hira Mandi (an ancient brothel in Lahore, Pakistan) and quotes the dancing girls (read: not prostitutes; dancing girls) on their ideas of shame and self-respect. The reason why I hope and intend to use that book for my study is that these women very obviously have a different idea of what it means to be modest and shameful, or what it means for a woman to respect herself. Most of my other sources are on interpreting music (and one source on interpreting music videos), all of which suggest that there are more than one way of reading music videos and gender performance, which thankfully contradicts my initial thought that led to me to conduct this study. I realize, for example, that just because the society stigmatizes the women who perform in Pashto music videos doesn't mean that the women themselves see their acts as wrong. What's even more interesting, I think, is that these videos are very, very popular! And they're ancient (well, to some extent!). No matter how much Pashtuns claim they don't represent our culture and that they're bad and all, more and more videos with similar ideas are being produced, and we keep enjoying them. What does that say about the same people who reject them as un-Pashtun?

    So, in the little overview above, I certainly did not intend to dismiss these portrayals as negative. I'll rephrase it and share it in a minute!

    I'm so glad you pointed that out!


Dare to opine :)

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