Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Chastity as Oppression"

I'll just stop promising my readers about what I'm going to write next, since I really don't have the time to continue my series of all those important topics I've started, BUT I promise -- with all my heart -- that my next post will be on domestic abuse in the Pashtun society. I'll explain why when I write it here, but basically, too many Pukhtun women (mostly young, mind you - like under 30) are going through the hell wrongly called just "abuse," and their abusers (their husbands) are supposedly "educated." Makes you question the whole theory that education can eradicate abuse in our society. No, it can't. No, it doesn't. Anyway, that'll come soon. For the time being, I wanna share an important article I just read called "Chastity as Oppression" by Duriya Hashmi. Strongly recommend especially to men -- even if you think you're an exception to the whole "such a large percentage of our men subjugate their women." Sometimes we subjugate people without actually realizing it, and, who knows, we might be among them ourselves.

An array of traditional and popular advertising across the country enchants the male customers to buy elixirs for impotency, but aborting an unwanted pregnancy is a hush-hush matter. The Urdu word for ‘menopause’ i.e. san e yas which means ‘age of despair’ denotes the sexual stigmatization of an ‘infertile’ woman [emphasis mine]

And they KEEP lying to us that the hijab/niqab will prevent men from staring at us and they (men) will respect us! Do they, really?! No, damnit - the hijab/niqab fails to serve that purpose in most Muslim societies! Stop lying to us!
One often hears a hijaban (especially the Arabised Pakistani females) justifying her headgear as an act of modesty and purity which 'protects' her from lustful males and the 'sinful temptations'. Perhaps the Saudi-inspired hijaban fails to understand that this concept of modesty which she is flaunting as her own choice has actually been inculcated in her by her polygamist patriarchal counterparts who have been maneuvering chaddar, chardeewari and chastity to control her physical and social freedom.
The education imparted by her textbooks repeatedly reminds her that modesty is the greatest ‘virtue’(sharm o haya aurat ka zaiwar hai ) and her subservient role as a pious mother, sister and daughter –not an individual- is supposed to be confined to the domestic sphere otherwise the ‘honour’ and ‘pride’ of the nation or society would be lost. The sentiment is vigorously expressed by the Urdu poet Akbar Allahabadi:
Be pardah nazar aien kal jo chand bibiyan
Akbar zameen mein ghairat e qaumi se gadh gaya

In fact, a conservative society like Pakistan, often views women as a private property thus dictates a certain cultural or psychological code of conduct for women which furthers the male dominance. Harem, hijab, chastity and shame are social tools to maintain the manipulative machismo and shape passive female sexuality. In a societies where women have no right as to choosing their attire, where shame has been attributed to their physical and sexual existence, how could one think of a woman’s right to her own body, sexual orientation or reproductive health. It is not surprising that despite playing their socially defined ‘pious and chaste’ characters, hundreds of women are killed in the name of honour in this country but their murderers are patronized by the misogynistic laws and society.

The feeble stereotype created for women also justifies the cruelty inflicted on women like rape, forced conception and domestic violence leaving them unable to speak up against the culprits while invoking a persistent sexual guilt. According to Aurat Foundations' report on violence against women,1000 cases of rape were reported in 2010 and the number could be higher since most of the rape victims did not want to talk due to shame and fear of society. This feeling of guilt and embarrassment has been incorporated into the consciousness of the rape victim by a chauvinist male society to exert its unbridled phallic power.
Suppressing women's sexual identity through veil, modesty, virginity and shame are concepts similar to breeding submissiveness in the ‘slaves’ of colonial era who hated themselves for being 'Nigers'.
Shame is not only a socially unacceptable and negativebehavior, it has served as a maneuver of oppression to subjugate the sensual being and psychological growth of women. With shame comes the acceptance of superiority of males in all realms of sexual activity thus imposing a passive sexual response on a woman. Rights activists now openly identify shame and sense of hounr as the major impediments in curbing the acts of violence. Hijab or any modest dress code exclusive to women is actually a symbol of controlled sexual choices for female of society.Why should only women have to ‘cover’ their body from head to toe? Why do the societies, enforce ‘modesty’only on women - tagging guilt to the very beginning of their existence making them look down on their own physical being while the males inherit an inborn phallic pride?

Our orthodox society's discriminatory approach towards the sexual roles of male and female is also quite interesting. An array of traditional and popular advertising across the country enchants the male customers to buy elixirs for impotency, but aborting an unwanted pregnancy is a hush-hush matter. The span of a man’s sexual life is believed to be infinite but a woman is ‘presumed to be eligible’ for sexual pleasures only till her menopause. The mindset actually views sex as a means of procreation and acknowledges the female sexual activity only as a means of reproduction as prescribed by the holy books.The Urdu word for ‘menopause’ i.e. san e yas which means ‘age of despair’ denotes the sexual stigmatization of an ‘infertile’ woman. Similarly, virginity is a virtue for Pakistani women and any woman having a physical relation other than marriage is either legally punished under Hudood Law or socially ostracized and considered slut since she does not qualify for the traditional pious woman. Yet, the local wisdom assumes it quite natural and morally acceptable for a patriarchal Muslim man to indulge in multiple sexual relationships to satisfy his desire.Polygamy allows a man to further exploit women sexually but promiscuous behaviour of a woman is deplorable  for the male-domination because it allows a woman to explore her sexual choices as a free individual not a married slave. Swear words, though they ridicule feminine pride, are very common in our culture yet the social norms restrict a ‘noble’ woman from uttering them because they empower her to explicitly express her emotions with a sexual imagery while putting the shame aside.

The assumption of inferior female sexuality or male sexual supremacysurely is not a divine or scientific premise rather the manipulation of patriarch rule backed by a ‘God’ as its sacred head and unanimously approved by almost all religions. If the women believe in sexual equality they have to break away from the clich├ęs of virginity, chastity and piety and give in to these social norms just as much asthe men of their society do.

Click here for the source.


  1. Your point about education is something I've been thinking a lot about lately, there's a difference between teaching somebody the 3 Rs and actually imparting a sliver of moral fiber, religion is supposed to rectify this - except the version of Islam people are brought up with is immoral and only corrupts them further.

    As far as the article goes, Men aren't supposed to wear suggestive clothing either, but I agree that when a woman covers her face she explicitly tries to step on her own individuality and that this should never be praised as a pious act. (Rachid Nekkaz is still an epic troll though - speaking as a liberal).

    I do hate to gripe but the rest of the post is just a huge rant, (not that I'm against rants I rant a lot myself) whoever has written this has lost the plot though

    Yes being so single mindedly focused on chastity is a bad thing - but that doesn't mean chastity before marriage is a bad thing (for both men and women)

    Yes using vulgar language is a bad thing (FOR BOTH GENDERS) - it isn't just noble women who shouldn't curse - men shouldn't either.

    Shame is not a bad thing - it depends on what you're ashamed of. Yes the patriarchy is evil and sinister - but if you look at it in terms of colonialism the reason our communities were colonized is because our invaders were intellectually superior, it was our own fault for allowing ourselves to be colonized and toyed with, our own fault for not having developed deadly weapons to protect against theirs or a system of government that rivaled theirs, our society has since degenerated beyond the point of no return

    The reason women aren't taken seriously is because a lot of the time they don't take themselves seriously, they let themselves be subjugated. By all means blame your oppressors but you have yourselves to blame for being oppressed as well.

    Don't take this the wrong way, I had an argument about this with an Indian friend who called me a racist for expressing my views about colonialism .

  2. Thanks for your input, as always, POA! Greatly appreciated, man!

    How true that the version of Islam most of us are brought up with makes us even more corrupt. It's so hard to find a person of religion who upholds the main principles of Islam, such as honesty, respect, etc. It's unfortunately such that being called "religious" is rather an insult! I think it should be a compliment.

    As for the article, I don't think the author's suggesting that shame is necessarily a bad thing -- neither would she agree that being chaste is bad or that every girl should be unchaste! I think it's that these two terms (and many others!) are tied solely to females, and that's what makes them problematic. That's what makes chastity an oppression. If being "shameless" and "unchaste" is going to cause you harm but NOT cause any harm to a male, then it is oppressive. That's where the author's social critique lies. And I think you'd agree that as long as it's for BOTH genders (as you emphasize in your comment), it's all good -- but we know that in reality, it's not for both genders; it's only for women. In fact, almost all of social/religious law is to be obeyed by women, rarely by men! Think of what happens when a man loses his virginity. Think then of what happens when a woman loses her virginity. Compare the consequences of the loss for both genders. The misconception is that you can tell when a woman's a virgin or not, but we know this is untrue because the hymen can break very easily ... but most of our people don't know this, so a husband is likely to punish his wife for not being "virgin." But who gives a damn if the husband's not a virgin, right?
    Think, also, of what happens when a woman doesn't wear a niqab/hijab somewhere -- think, then, of what happens when a man stares at a woman, whether she's in a hijab/niqab or not, as in the photo above. What are the consequences for the men? What are the consequences for the women?

  3. Interesting that you see this as a rant. A lot of other people see it similarly. I don't. Oftentimes (though not always), we think someone's ranting simply because she is pointing out the flaws in our ideas, practices, culture, when her intention might be to point out something that we rarely think about it but that's harmful for us all. That's what I think she's doing here. I don't mean you're one of those people who can't handle being shown the fallacies of his culture, but I mean a lot of people are that way. Very similar to when people accuse feminists of being angry when they're trying to convey a certain message about the mistreatment of women or some other group/gender in a society. Some people think I'm ranting, too, when I critique the Pukhtun society :D

    I fully agree with you that a lot of times, women themselves are to be blamed for their mistreatment. We're programmed to accept our mistreatment as natural. Many female family members of mine tell me that there's nothing wrong with a man beating the hell out of his wife -- because he's doing what's best for the wife! What the hell? But in such a case, I don't think we should blame any one person or group of people for this thinking. It's a social thinking, prevalent in the society, and girls are being raised to watch their mothers being abused and suffering those abuses and not doing anything about it; naturally, they'll think nothing's wrong with it, and naturally they'll expect it from their own husbands. And most daughters love their fathers to the point of seeing them as the perfect man, the role model. Too many girls want to marry men who're just like their fathers. There are many reasons for this, but this is beside my point. My point is that when these daughters respect their fathers so much and think so highly of them, then when they see their fathers being abusive, they will obviously think, "Well, my dad did/does it, so it can't be wrong."

    So I don't think it's ever fair to blame anything on just the men or just the women. We're all being oppressed by a system, one in which we both participate, the victims and the perpetrators. We know this is the case because often, even women are abusive to other women (think of mothers- and daughters-in-law!!!! I don't know of ANY man who's as abusive as many mothers- and daughters-in-law I know... then gain, it's not like I see men abusing their wives in front of me... know of only a few). So, worry not! :) I fully agree with you that both women and men are to be blamed for the way women are treated.

    Aw man ... I wasn't supposed to talk about abuse here! That's for the next post.

  4. Yes I understand what the author was suggesting but she wasn't suggesting it in a very palatable way, she jumped from place to place pointing at different things. What ultimately classifies it as a rant is that it proposes no solution other than "breaking away from cliches" but - seeing as I have neither the time or the inclination to engage in my own rant about why the author of the article in question was ranting I'll try to justify myself succinctly.

    You're right - all of these attitudes are societal problems, they're hammered into people over a long period of socialization but problems do ultimately have a root cause - everything has a cause (except God) and in my opinion cliches themselves are not the root cause of sexual discrimination - they are symptoms of it -there has to be something deeper, something else that gave rise to these cliches - if one can identify or at least try to identify these things, ending discrimination gets a little bit easier otherwise one is simply writing about a series of observations.

    As somebody with Socialist/Marxist leanings in regards to quite a few issues - I often look at the worlds problems and I blame them on capitalism, just as Marx did - and to be honest capitalism does indeed represent the origin of so many things that are wrong with us - but if you try and go even deeper.. what causes capitalism? Human nature? I don't know the answers to any of these questions - but when I read something that tries to answer them I feel like I've gained something.

    On another note, Major revision going on atm - finals are soon - I'm going to see a musical that I've wanted to see for ages, in a couple of days (Avenue Q) and my Grandparents are holidaying in London - and I will have to go see them for one day at least (eating into my revision time X_X) anyway 'tis time to read your next post.

  5. You have a lot of informative and interesting stuff to offer, POA!
    And I agree with you that social/cultural cliches are certainly not the root causes of sexual discrimination (and that they're in fact symptoms of it), but I'd hesitate before assuming that or expecting the author or every author to approach all issues the same way. I agree that's more effective, but I don't think all authors have the same objective with their articles. Sometimes they just want us to know that X is the case.

    Best of luck on your exams! You'll do great! And I hope your grandparents enjoy their stay in London! Be a good grandson, now, k?

  6. Assez bien!
    (I hope Google Translate doesn't isn't lying.)

  7. Dear Readers,

    "The Hijab or Niqab certainly saves a woman from the eyes of men but if the women do not wear attractive "Veils", the veil must be loose not tight which display the parts of body! May "God" give us "Modesty" and guide us towards "Islam" true rules and regulations for the whole humanity! (Aameen)! :)

  8. Dr. Bilal AfridiJune 24, 2013 at 1:14 AM

    Dear all!
    I don’t agree with the writer to a big extent. One can’t blame Hijab, Chastity etc after a woman receives disrespect or sinful gazes etc. These things could be individual acts. Before targeting Hijab or chastity like issues one must refer to its religious and social values before comparing it.
    For a constructive discussion, I welcome any one to compare the following things in the societies where women have full rights and societies like the Pushtoon’s in Pakistan or Afghanistan.
    1. Respect as family member
    2. Rape ratio
    3. Divorce ratio
    4. Love marriages Vs the marriage system in Pushtoon culture
    Real discussion would begin then…

    1. Thanks, Bilal, for your comment! Much appreciated.

      Only thing is, it looks like you misread the article and have gone off on a tangent somewhere.

      Actually, the author's not blaming the hijab but the way it is used and abused by the society; it's therefore critiquing the social mindset, not the headcovering itself but everything that comes with it. Also, I appreciate that you're bringing religion into everything, but remember that hijab and chastity is not for women alone the way our societies understand it but for both women AND men. Qur'anically speaking, anyway.

      As for the points you are hoping would lead to a constructive discussion: I completely disagree. Respect as family member in Pakistan or Afghanistan? Yes, indeed, but which country out there doesn't respect women as family members? I'm not getting your point there (or anywhere else, really).
      Rape ratio: extremely high in Pakistan/Afghanistan, but remember that we have something called "honor" which compels us to hide the truth and so that no one ends up reporting it. I know of plenty of women who have been raped and then killed by family members (one of them is buried in her own house by her own father), and I know of others who never told her family because of what we do to rape victims.

      Divorce ratio? In all honesty, I prefer a system in which there's peace and happiness in the family and where the kids are NOT used as an excuse for the family to stick together. Such marriages/families destroy the children, although the parents don't realize what their constant fighting, beatings, etc. does to the children's psyches. In our society, unfortunately, we'd much rather be miserable in the marriage than to get a divorce (while the husband isn't miserable as much because he can have up to 3 other wives, so if he's not happy with one wife, he can get another one! What happens to the first wife? She's more miserable). Our society needs to stop seeing divorce as such a bad thing when even Islam allows it as a last resort. Sadly, we spit on divorced women (hell, we spit on widows, let alone divorced women!), so every woman is trained to avoid it at all cost, even if her peace depends on it.

      Love marriages? What's wrong with love marriages? A love marriage is one in which the couple chooses to marry each other and the family gives their blessings to go ahead with the marriage. Something tells me you're confusing "love marriages" with "marriages of elopement" where (in our culture) the girl ends up "eloping" with the guy to be able to marry him. But I don't care much for titles of marriages as long as there's consent from *both* individuals involved in the marriage (i.e., the bride and the groom). Call that arranged marriage, love marriage, love-arranged marriage, or whatever else, but so long as it's not forced, I fully support it.

      So, while I'm grateful your input in the discussion, I don't think your points are in any way related to the discussion.


    2. Dr. Bilal AfridiJune 26, 2013 at 1:46 AM

      Thanks Orbala!
      YOU: “Actually, the author's not blaming the hijab but the way it is used and abused by the society; it's therefore critiquing the social mindset, not the head covering itself but everything that comes with it”
      ME (in last post): “One can’t blame Hijab, Chastity etc after a woman receives disrespect or sinful gazes etc. These things could be INDIVIDUAL ACTS”
      I think I am not that much off the topic. I’m sorry but I think we have to take out the message from a context, not necessarily stick to the words.
      Yes head covering can bring problems with it if it is applied in an irrelevant society. E.g if u wear Burqa in Pak-Afghan, you won’t receive any disrespect but of course if u wear it in London, you would receive full attention as this has nothing to do with that society.
      As in rape discussion, I’m sorry but I don’t agree with you that it is higher in Af-pak like countries, kindly check the exact statistics even by putting the hidden numbers from af-Pak, yet the ratio would be much high in the west like countries. Remember in honor killing, not only a woman gets killed but also the man involved. Yes it is a bit brutal at times where there is no evidence and woman or men r killed on the basis of Traditional extremism. I am against that totally.
      Regarding divorce, I’m sorry but you gave a strange statement. I think the children suffer more in divorce than being squeezed in the battle between mom dad. What ever happens, but at least they don’t lose mom dad.
      Regarding your point, 3 or 4 wives. Yes I acknowledge that no man is allowed to have more than one wife if he can’t provide them with equal rights. Unfortunately this thing prevails in most of the Pushtoon societies. It must be addressed on every forum. It is total brutality n injustice.
      Regarding love marriages: Consent must be taken from a girl but I think neither religion nor culture allows affairs before marriage. So how would love occur then??????
      In short, I support most of your points but you also go wayward at times. Being Muslims, I think v better heed Islam for the solution of every thing. Thanks and hope I’m on the topic to big instant this time…


Dare to opine :)

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...