Giving Feminists Everywhere a Bad Name
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
January 28, 2013
History tells us that men have led the battle for full legal equality for women and white people, white men no less, have cast the first stone against the glass house of racism
Imagine waging a grand struggle for something for 30 odd years and still being unable to make even a small incremental change towards your goal. Pakistan’s so-called feminist movement is a story of foibles, missed opportunities, humongous egos and personal enrichment. Meanwhile, in Pakistan, a woman’s testimony is considered half that of a man in terms of financial transactions, and Hudood Laws for all intents and purposes continue to infringe upon women’s personal freedoms. The little progress that women have made, and it is pathetically little, over the last 30 years has come from outside the influence of the cabal of feminist activists. In fact, at every opportunity, these feminists have tried to bring down people who have tried to speak for women’s rights and equality from a non-gender based perspective on the basis of equality of citizenship regardless of gender.
So what has the so-called feminist movement of Pakistan really achieved then? It has failed to make alliances with progressive forces, failed to even unite amongst themselves, has been unable to challenge the primacy of the Islamist narrative or even come close to achieving a minute fraction of what the feminist movement has achieved in the west. May I ask these ladies a simple question: where is Pakistan’s Roe v. Wade? Forget it. After the 30 odd years of hullaballoo, some of the leaders of Pakistan’s feminist movement still meet in their plush drawing rooms and whine about men this and misogyny that, before dispersing for their other meet ups and commitments, all the while fooling foreign donors into doling out cash, which they happily pocket in the name of feminism! Pakistan’s feminist movement is selling the collective misery of women, without lifting a finger to do anything about it practically. And why would they? What would they do if tomorrow some of these wrongs were actually redressed? It is a cash cow for milking purposes.
Before I am denounced, most certainly, as an anti-feminist misogynist pig — and apparently, I have already qualified for these epithets for reasons unknown to me — let me state as clearly as possible: no people in the world can progress or move forward unless women and men are treated at par with each other without distinction whatsoever. This means an end to all discriminatory legislation, and yes, Pakistan’s laws are very discriminatory against women. If one was to quantify, a woman is not considered even half the person a man is under the legal system as changed by General Ziaul Haq. Still women like Benazir Bhutto and Asma Jahangir have done wonders coming up the ranks, but they did so fighting on the ground of equality and transcending gender barriers. That is what is important: transcending gender barriers or as Lady Macbeth put it so eloquently, “Unsex me.” Here is another fact that must be driven home: it will be a cold day in hell before the Pakistani feminist movement achieves anything even remotely close to this state of affairs.
A more uniquely Pakistani problem is that the new generation of feminists — who are incapable of reading critically or understanding the diversity of the feminist movement worldwide — conflates feminism with other ideological offshoots such as feminist separatism, lesbian separatism and radical lesbianism. I personally do not have a problem with any of these ideologies but we have to proceed in our own environment and everything has a time and place. There was no finer man in the cause of racial equality of men and women in the US than the great Thaddeus Stevens, who helped in the passing of the 13th and 14th Amendments. He was a fervent believer in racial equality, a radical Republican and an ardent abolitionist. When the 13th Amendment was being passed, Stevens declared in his speech that he stood for only equality before the law instead of racial equality. Those who knew the man knew he was not letting his innermost feelings be known. His speech was seen as a major concession to those people in the House of Representatives who while wanting to abolish slavery did not believe in racial equality. With their help, Stevens and President Lincoln prevailed in passing the 13th Amendment and pronouncing slavery done and over with. It was the first important step towards racial equality in a country that had until then failed to recognise legally black people as citizens. Soon thereafter, legal equality gave way to racial equality. In fact, that was the beginning of the rights legislation, which ultimately led to not only civil rights for African-Americans but also voting rights for women.
Compare this to the angry slogan of Pakistan’s feminist separatists: men do not get to decide what is misogynist and white people do not get to decide what racism is! Well, history tells us that men have led the battle for full legal equality for women and white people, white men no less, have cast the first stone against the glass house of racism. Stop compartmentalising human beings on the basis of their biology. Let humanity stand on an equal footing regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Please stop selling all or any of these for your own personal enrichment and lending meaning to your hollow little lives.
Yasser Latif Hamdani is a lawyer based in Lahore and the author of the book Jinnah: Myth and Reality.