By Mahwash Ajaz
18 June, 2018
His comment comes at a time when the feminist movement in Pakistan has been gathering a lot of steam, and also ridicule from right-wing factions of society.
Imran Khan is no stranger to controversial media interviews. From labeling liberals “bloodthirsty” to calling international cricket players coming for Pakistan Super League T20 “relu kattay (hoi polloi of the cricket world)”, his utterances are fodder for the next news cycle.
Now, Khan Saab has decided to target a subsection of the so-called “bloodthirsty liberals”: The feminists.
In a recent interview to a news channel, Khan said, “Feminism, which is from the West, has degraded motherhood.”
Many female journalists, such as myself, took to Twitter to respond to his diatribe against feminists. The army of trolls that is often associated with his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), rose to his defence, calling us dastardly feminists with a ‘Western agenda’ and insisting that feminism does indeed ruin the motherhood experience.
As an example, they cited how children were neglected if a mother was at work, while conveniently ignoring the fact that children do grow beyond the age of four, attend school and eventually become independent human beings. For them, all we evil feminists want to do is cause earthquakes by wearing jeans and raise ill-behaved children because we want to put our degree to the use it was meant for.
Evil feminists such as myself have been speaking out against honour killing and sexual harassment and female infanticide. Also, let’s not get into how feminists support women’s right to breastfeed their children without fearing stigma, and the belief that men should be better fathers rather than distant or absentee individuals that have no impact on a child’s well-being.
Let’s just speak about how Khan’s comment comes at a time when the feminism movement in Pakistan has been gathering a lot of steam, as well as ridicule from society’s right-wing factions.
Recently, a popular slogan, ‘Khana Khud Garam Kar Lo’, at the ‘Aurat march’ for women’s rights inspired memes, social media fights and a television Eid film. Many actors and actresses in Pakistan openly denounce the word feminist and it has become more of an insult than a quality to admire. Most of these people, like Khan, have done little to research the term and its history before giving their uninformed opinions.
If you believe that women deserve equal rights as men, if they deserve equal opportunities as men, if they should not be killed in the name of honour, if they should not be abused, attacked by acid or be shot for refusing a proposal, or stabbed 27 times in broad daylight, or sexually harassed — you’re a feminist.
It is tempting to respond to Khan’s statement with many below-the-belt statements. But more important is to note just how flawed Khan’s barely 10-word statement about feminism is.
The question is whether Khan thinks mothers are degraded by ‘Western’ feminism even though it is the rights movement in the West that has given women the right to an education in universities, the right to vote, to campaign for maternity leave, to speak up against sexual harassment, and to fight for equal pay.
It is also pertinent to note that it is the same feminism that allows many women to argue that his current wife, the veiled Bushra Maneka, is not to be targeted for her attire, simply because it is her choice. Respecting a woman’s choice is exactly what the “Western concept of feminism” has been teaching women.
Or does Khan genuinely believe that women who work are somehow lesser mortals than those who stay at home and choose to bring up their children full-time? And for many women, especially in our part of the world, this is not a choice but a pattern of social norms where they are disenfranchised to the point that they do not have enough education or freedom to study and work. Many women stay at home and rear children because that is what they have been reared to do. That is how they have been told to shape their ambitions: To make a Gol Roti and to have perfect Gori skin.
Does Khan not realise the struggle of the average Desi woman, whether it is in the fields sifting wheat, or in the corporate jungle, fighting to be paid fairly? Or maybe he discounts it, the struggle of the millions of women who have been trying to balance work and home, not because they like having a million balls in the air, trying to meet deadlines and clean the kid’s diapers, but because patriarchy has not made it conducive for a woman to choose easily between a career and a home. The culprit is not feminism here, Mr Khan. The culprit is patriarchy.
Khan’s ill-informed flippant statements are important and critical in the grand scheme of General Election 2018. He has followers, voters, sympathisers and apologists who take his word as reference points for future discourse.
Khan’s party is said to be fighting tooth and nail to defeat the PML(N), which won the last election. While the PTI’s voter base consists of an urban, educated, well-informed cross section of society, his rant against feminists may find a curious resonance with the deep-seated mullahesque mindset that is most challenging for many women in Pakistan.
The former cricketer also represents the classic stereotype of a man hating feminism despite having had multiple marriages, romantic liaisons and a circus after circus attached to his divorces and weddings.
Such experiences would have prevented a woman from fighting in the political sphere unscathed. Her marriages, her romantic linkups and her divorces would have been used against her as a statement of how immoral she truly is, and how she should be sitting at home praying for a good man to marry her instead of contesting the election. Khan benefits from this system, a patriarchal code that allows men to get away with a whole lot more than it allows us women.
Is it a small wonder, then, that he hates feminists?
Mahwash Ajaz is a liberal, feminist journalist, YouTuber, Supermom & biryani connoisseur in Pakistan.