By Ali Rizvi
What got our attention and what didn’t
Dec, 11, 2011
Unfortunately for most of us in Pakistan, our ideals of heroes have changed drastically. When a country of more than 180 million people is moved more by a naked Veena, than a burning Raja Khan outside the parliament, you know something is seriously wrong somewhere. For me though, I’ve had enough of nudity for the last few weeks.
First there was Alia Mahdi, the Egyptian girl who posted a nude picture of herself, ‘self shot’ wearing nothing but red ballet pumps, stockings, one foot resting on a stool and a red rosette in her hair. In a normal setting, this would have easily passed for paedophiliac erotica, but when you add some well articulated rhetoric about women rights, freedom of expression, liberty, liberalism, countering the threat of a regressive Islamist mindset, what could have easily passed for vintage erotica magically transforms into something revolutionary.
There are certain regressive tendencies in our flawed perception of the scenario. The picture troubled me for quite some time: it compelled me to question a belief system that we hold very close to ourselves. I wondered, if in that situation, if in the name of liberty, if in what is being termed ‘defiance’, a slap on the face of oppressors of women, the act of posting a nude picture was truly revolutionary.
Commodification. The same champions of liberty and freedom of rights, champions of liberalism, use this word time and time again, the commodification of religion, the commodification of sexuality, the commodification of education. It all makes sense. Commodification of objects we hold close to ourselves, objects we cherish, objects we attribute value to, is derogatory and offensive for us. Similarly, women are not mere objects of sexuality but more than that. They are not mere objects of pleasure and consumption. In presenting them as such, in presenting them as a commodity, where they are merely another product, the sole surviving caged animal of the planet, up for display is not only denying them their humanity but stripping them of the equality that they so often campaign for, equality they truly deserve.
The nude image of the 20 year old Alia Mahdi instead of evoking in me even an iota of inspiration, repulsed me. It was a contradiction in terms. On the one hand, she said it was an act of defiance against the oppressors of women, and on the other she herself chose to post a sexualised picture of herself presenting her in a male-pleasing eroticised manner, indirectly advocating the very sexism she supposedly was campaigning against. And if Alia wanted to be noticed, she sure did get all the attention she wanted because ‘flesh sells’. My problem is not with a woman’s right to reveal herself, but how in the act of ‘supposed defiance’ she has resorted to the same commodification that she detests.
Which brings us to Veena Malik and the recent furore over her ‘asset revealing’ shenanigans. All of us are well aware of her attention-seeking antics. Intriguingly Veena Malik in an interview for BBC has acceded to the fact that she posed topless and not nude for the Indian magazine. Therefore all the ‘optimists’ who were hoping that the image was indeed morphed have been silenced by her own admission.
There has been the Islamist camp that has reacted vociferously against her ‘topless’ act while there have been those liberals who have supported Veena’s right to nudity. For those liberals who are viewing Veena’s nudity as something bold that aims to break free from the fetters of the taboos haunting our society, a reality check: Posing nude really isn’t doing any wonders for the cause of women in Pakistan; she through her act merely dismembered herself into a thing, broken down into components, legs, torso, hips, female body parts. She reinforced the idea that a female is wanted more for her curves than her brain, more for her external form than her intellect, that women are, in fact, objects of consumption.
The fact that a nude Veena has managed to move a nation sickens me. The attention being giving to Veena was denied to Raja Khan, a man who stood for real change. A man who burnt himself outside the parliament because he could no longer afford to feed his children, a man who died in vain. It took a single man burning himself alive in Tunisia to topple a government and bring a tsunami of change in the region. For us, however, a naked Veena is more important, because she is ‘in her own way challenging the limits of the dominant religio-cultural discourse in Pakistan, which seeks to conflate superfluous notions of honour with the female self.’
‘Wah yaar, clapping hojaye.’
The writer is News Editor, Profit, Pakistan Today.
Source: Pakistan Today, Karachi