Monday, October 15, 2012

Dear Madonna, your strip tease for Malala was really uncool.

In a concert a couple of days ago, the American singer Madonna briefly talked to her audience about the Pashtun heroine Malala Yusufzai. She has the name MALALA tattooed on her lower back. But she gave a strip tease to a cheering crowd before her speech. She says:
In Pakistan, a 14-year-old girl was shot in the neck for writing a blog about the importance of being educated as a female. She was shot on her school bus because she wrote a blog about how passionate she was about going to school. She is in a hospital right now. Let's all pray she's gonna make it. [pause] Her name is Malala. And this is for all the girls around the world who deserve to have a voice.
And so here's a response to Madonna.

Dear Madonna,

Your song tour seems to be going well. You're a good singer, and it seems like you're also a good, caring person. I wish you well! BUT! But you did a strip tease in Malala's name! Girl, what were you thinking?! It also seems like you're another of the many Americans with a complete lack of understanding of other people's cultures and religions. Your song dedicated to Malala is nice and all, and I think it's great that you're bringing attention to Malala's cause, but you're doing it in a way that I as a Pashtun and Muslim woman (Malala is Pashtun, remember?) can confidently tell you Malala will not be happy with. You want to support her and her cause? Then give some respect to her by, without accepting her culture and religion as your own, respecting her culture and religion. You performed a strip tease in her name and you've tattooed her name on your lower back! To the point that you had to lower down your trousers so that people could see the name more clearly. Couple these issues with your body movement and associate it all with Malala, and we've got trouble. (No, no, nothing violent, worry not.)

If Malala ever sees this--and I think she unfortunately might, considering how everyone's talking about it--she's going to be embarrassed because we Pashtuns just don't delightfully watch half-naked people on screen, especially when they associate themselves with us or when they're trying to promote or support our cause. Malala's father, who's probably her main supporter, is also going to be un-impressed and very much feel embarrassed. That's just how our culture works, you see. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you did this out of ignorance, which unfortunately tells me that you, like most other Americans and other westerners, have no  decent understanding of other people's cultures. Fine, I don't expect you to learn about all other cultures in this diverse and sometimes-beautiful world of ours, but I don't think I'm asking for too much when I say that I expect you'd at least try to understand who Malala is (she's not just another girl who wants to go to school and isn't being allowed; she's everything her culture and religion and society and this world is, remember? We're all more than just our names and our sexual/gendered identities), and if you'd done a little bit of research before your strip tease [2:05 to 3:28!] and this whole song in honor of Malala, you'd know well that wouldn't be a good move if you're going to mention Malala in your concert at all.

Does any of this mean that I think you've no right to dress however you like? Absolutely not. You and I and all other people have the right to believe and think and dress and do as we wish. And it's not your dressing style in general that I'm criticizing here. That's none of my business. But it's the fact that you talked about Malala in your talk and then you had her name tattooed on your *lower back* (a part of the body considered unacceptable for public exposure in the culture and religion that Malala proudly identifies with) and then you did what people are calling a little "strip tease" to have her name revealed to show how much you care about her. I think that's where you went wrong.

If you'd done your research, just a tiny bit, you'd also know that Malala has been constantly accused of being a CIA agent--and your research would also answer the question of what's wrong with being a CIA agent, just as it'd explain why your move is problematic in that sense as well. I'm going to assume here that you didn't think about your act long and hard enough before doing it, and so I'm going say: I wish you'd thought about it before and considered what this could mean both to and for Malala.

You know what else is wrong with your way of showing support to Malala? This: Malala is hardly 14 years old, and you're stripping for and to her. In U.S. standards, that classifies as pedophilia, as a friend of mine just pointed out. No?

Then again, you're a liberated woman, and poor young Malala, all covered up in all of her photos. She needs to be liberated, too, no? Of course she does; every woman does. And this is how to liberate them or encourage them to liberate themselves.

Do you see the other issues here? The link between "liberation" and "covering of skin"--and Malala's age and your stripping for her? Look, it's okay for you to understand liberation however you want, and I'm not here to contest that. But it's the connection of your stripping to Malala that I'm troubled by.

Of course, knowing you and having read some academic work on you and your contribution to the feminist movement and women's rights in general in the West, I understand that your move can be interpreted differently as well: you believe that it's actually her culture, and maybe also even her religion, that are trying to silence her. And you're defying these two things, Malala's culture and religion, even if knowing how important they are to Malala. So I understand. But the counter response to that would be a clear and emphatic: "it's really not her culture or her religion that are trying to come in Malala's way. In fact, Muslims of all cultures all around the world are standing with Malala, supporting her and condemning the vicious attacks against her. The fact that women and men and children of her own culture (and religion) are standing with her shows that it's really not her culture. It's a group of evil people who are ultimately afraid of women's power and what women are capable of doing who are in her way. These cowards realize that if a woman is this young and can achieve such great things, how much more can she do, how much more is she capable of achieving when she's just a little older?" So she's a threat to not her religion or her culture but to a group of men who are just trying to figure out what their masculinity means in the 21st century."

So please understand that, no, it's not your little strip tease that I'm concerned about here. (lol? That'd be so lame to write a blog post on, I swear!) But it's your association with Malala, your apparent concern and love and appreciation and respect for Malala *while* you have your name tattooed on a part of your body that Malala would really be embarrassed ("shy" isn't the correct word here, I promise) to look at and appreciate. Her parents, especially her father, too, would be embarrassed for the same reason. It's just not what we Pashtuns do. We don't go around appreciating and thanking people for pulling cloths on their bodies down a bit so that they can reveal more skin, even if it's for a good cause.

k, I think that should be all for now. I'll see you the next time you talk about Malala without giving any respect to her religious and cultural beliefs.

Good luck on the rest of your tour!


~ Orbala, another Pashtun girl from Swat, hardly a few miles away from where Malala lives


  1. You hit the nail on the head! As a fellow Pakistani who has been to the beautiful land of Swat and understands the dynamic of that rich culture, I understand what you are saying and agree with it completely.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Farah! :) And welcome to my blog!

  2. Qrratuu it's been such a long time since I commented. Good to see you haven't lost any of your usual spirit haha.

    Poor Malala accused of overshadowing the deaths of drone-victims and now tattooed on the behind of a 50/60yr old crone who doesn't know when to retire.

    1. lol. Yeah, I'm so sorry poor Malala is being accused left and right of all these strange and unfair things. People are being anti-drones in her name, pro-drones in her name; others are dedicating songs to her and stripping in her name; others are talking about how oppressed all Muslim women are and how oppressive Islam is . . . Sighs.

      Na, I still have my spirit :D Thanks for your readership! :) Always.

  3. Lets hope Madonna reads this and syncs it into her thick head and be more respectful and understanding towards other cultures in future while giving her respects.

    1. haha I doubt she'll come across it, but if she does, I do hope she's able to read it and think about it.
      Thanks for your comment, Usmana! :)

  4. There are a lot of Americans who would completely agree with you that Madonna is a national (if not international) embarrassment. Even people who vote along her political line cringe at her, somewhat like a tacky, out-of-control eccentric relative who always manages to say or do the wrong thing at the wrong time in front of the wrong people. This is one of the prices of freedom: people such as her say and do outrageous things (Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin, political opposites, are just as cringe-worthy), so you bite your tongue, despite the fact that you wouldn't exactly be unhappy if a satellite dropped out of orbit and buried any one of them 50 feet down.

  5. There are a lot of Americans who completely agree with this. Madonna may hate injustices, but the way she tries to communicate this usually turns out wrong. She is NOT a spokesperson for a free society; she is and always has been reckless, thoughtless, uninformed, and crude. She is no different from her polar opposite counterparts, such as Ann Coulter or Sarah Palin (whom she loathes). These people are like embarrassing, out-of-control relatives who will do nearly anything to get attention, ones that you merely tolerate and hope don't come around too often, and hope don't try to hang with your friends.

    1. Just saw this, Peter! Apologies for being late :) Thanks for your insight!
      Yes, I'm also certain Madonna meant well, and I appreciate whatever positive intentions she had. It just came out wrong, as you said. I actually respect her in many ways, considering how far she has come in a society like ours that thinks it's cool to sexualize and objectify women and that sometimes the only way for a woman to get to the top is to at least tolerate, if not also submit to, her objectification.


Dare to opine :)

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