Pakistani Marriages
October 9, 2012 1:38 PM   Subscribe

The Pakistani Women You Have Probably Heard About How can we engage with the economic and physical violence against women, everywhere and anywhere, without falling into the trap of creating strict, rigid lines of good and evil that are unfair characterizations of populations? Additionally, what purpose do pieces such as the above-linked NY Times article on so-called “free will marriages” ultimately serve? Now that those of us who sit as spectators of Pakistan, from the outside, know that this is an experience of many Pakistani women – what do we do? What can we do?
posted by parmanparman (17 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
From the blog post:

And while “we” perhaps do, these images make it easier to see a country like Pakistan as one that breeds a woman-hating, religiously zealous population, which then makes it easier to ignore the violence being done to them through our own governments.

I think the blogger underestimates the ability of readers, whether of the NY Times article or of her own blog, to focus on more than one issue at a time. It is possible to decry both the "violence being done to [Pakistani women] through our own governments" and the violence that is being inflicted on them by religious fundamentalists in Pakistan (this being the most recent example). I have no problem in describing both as "evil".
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:59 PM on October 9, 2012


I think the blogger underestimates the ability of readers, whether of the NY Times article or of her own blog, to focus on more than one issue at a time. It is possible to decry both the "violence being done to [Pakistani women] through our own governments" and the violence that is being inflicted on them by religious fundamentalists in Pakistan (this being the most recent example). I have no problem in describing both as "evil".

then there's the violence against anyone moving at the wrong place and the wrong time in Pakistan meted out by semi-autonomous aircraft piloted from the US... how evil is that?

or how about that the only reason that violence against Pakistani women is featured in the nytimes is that one leg of the fragile consensus behind said policy of semi-autonomous bombing, being generally hard to justify, is that saving muslim women from their own culture is a "wedge issue" for American women, not generally trained to believe that "death from above" for honor and glory is kick-ass.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:25 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


then there's the violence against anyone moving at the wrong place and the wrong time in Pakistan meted out by semi-autonomous aircraft piloted from the US... how evil is that?

I think that's one of the "both"s that longdaysjourney was referring to.

the fragile consensus

Honestly, I think most Americans just don't give a fuck either way.
posted by mr_roboto at 2:28 PM on October 9, 2012


I think that's one of the "both"s that longdaysjourney was referring to.

the problem with "a pox on both their houses" is that we are firmly living in one of those houses: the house that doesn't actually care about the rights of muslim women but pretends to in order to justify various wars.

that we can point to the horrors of being a woman in pashtun afghanistan/pakistan while at the same time largely be authors of that horror, in large part due to the policies of the last Nobel Peace Prized Democratic president Jimmy Carter in Afghanistan, who thought it was better to be dead than red, is a testament to the utterly banal evil of the nytimes foreign policy writer.
posted by ennui.bz at 2:44 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that's one of the "both"s that longdaysjourney was referring to.

Yes, it was, thanks.

the problem with "a pox on both their houses" is that we are firmly living in one of those houses: the house that doesn't actually care about the rights of muslim women but pretends to in order to justify various wars.

So we can never criticize Pakistani fundamentalists as long as the U.S. Government is conducting drone attacks in Pakistan?
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:50 PM on October 9, 2012


I wish voices like these got heard more often because it is absolutely true they are barely heard if they do not fit into the Western-culture narrative that is imposed upon them:
Portrayals of and discussions on Pakistanis in our North American media rely heavily on the tragedy of the Pakistani female form. When a Pakistani woman is not being brutalized by her countrymen (emphasis on men) she is being triumphant over that brutality. Whatever her position is – a poor Christian woman or the British-bred Prime Minister – a Pakistani woman’s identity and experience is laden with, as a previously linked Atlantic article headlines, “abuse, shame and survival.” She is abused by the men in her life and by the state; she is then made ashamed of the abuse she has suffered, and if she is lucky, she survives and overcomes.
I would love to agree with longdaysjourney on "the ability of readers... to focus on more than one issue at a time" but I cannot. Those narratives Other these women (for their religion, or their poverty, or their skin color, or their culture); insisting they can only be victims denies them their identities and gives Western culture a comfortable, uncomplicated position as "rescuers". I am pessimistic the average media consumer is going to try to think outside the blatantly-manipulative "feel-good" narrative they're being fed.

Exploitation of Afghan Women makes some similar points:
The media such as TIME magazine focused on the oppression of Muslim women and the campaign to Save Muslim Women after 9/11. Abu-Lughod claims that this discourse has a colonial resonance—that white men are positioned as needed to save these women of color. The women in this video don't explicitly say this, however they welcome aid from the U.S. if that were the only mission of the military.

In the same way that Chelser’s article, “The Violent Oppression of Women in Islam,” evokes strong emotion in the reader, there is a fine line between honorable efforts and exploitation of a devastating story. We should solely promote strategies and methods of empowerment with women caught in these very violent, unjust situations. The role of power dynamics is very critical here. It can be defying and counter-productive to take the power away from these women again by displaying their story as a charitable, sad case.
It must be so utterly frustrating to fight against this narrative & to feel used by it.
posted by flex at 2:51 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Taliban says it shot ‘infidel’ Pakistani teen for advocating girls’ rights

Interview with 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai who was shot by Taliban
posted by homunculus at 3:42 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


or how about that the only reason that violence against Pakistani women is featured in the nytimes is that one leg of the fragile consensus behind said policy of semi-autonomous bombing, being generally hard to justify, is that saving muslim women from their own culture is a "wedge issue" for American women, not generally trained to believe that "death from above" for honor and glory is kick-ass.

Is that really so? I have never heard this as a justification, and it makes absolutely zero sense. We're talking about Pakistan here, not Afghanistan. The US is not trying to or claiming to try to "liberate" anyone in Pakistan. The mission there is to kill Taliban members and their supporters. I really don't think the two issues have much to do with each other.
posted by Edgewise at 4:42 PM on October 9, 2012


And it seems that the recognition and propagation of their victimhood is our means of maintaining our gendered and political superiority as well as our overall humanity here in North America.


Jesus, what drivel.

This is the kind of muddle-headed foolishness that gets pushed in the weaker regions of the humanities and social sciences these days. We can never think about a problem in another country without making sure to blame ourselves more than them. In this case, we are faced with a case of inhumane practices elsewhere. But authors like this can't bear the thought that we might be thinking about something terrible done by a non-Westerner...so fictions are fabricated about how our very act of sympathizing with the victim is just another way of being terrible, Western bigots. It's always about us, and the axiom is that we are always the Very Worst People, no matter what the facts are.

What, do you think, are the odds that this author meets every story about U.S. drone attacks with an admonition to remember how badly women are treated in Pakistan? Y'know...just to keep things in perspective?

This pegs the nonsense meter.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 5:05 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


What, do you think, are the odds that this author meets every story about U.S. drone attacks with an admonition to remember how badly women are treated in Pakistan? Y'know...just to keep things in perspective?

We have no information on which to guess if the author does this. Unless we can get some such information, discussing the possibility is a derail. That's the opposite of keeping things in perspective.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:43 PM on October 9, 2012


This shit is so, so weak.

The position of women in Pakistan is horrendous. The threats that the Taliban, other Islamist groups, and the structure of mainstream Pakistani society pose to them are an enormous human rights issue. This is true independent of the equally enormous human rights issue of American drone attacks on civilians in the north of the country.

This is skirting Godwin territory, but we don't make sure to mention the firebombing of Dresden every time we talk about the Holocaust, and we don't have to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki every time we talk about the Rape of Nanking or the Bataan Death March. I would love Western media to focus more (like, 10 times more) on the civilian toll of the "War on Terror", but that doesn't mean they shouldn't focus on the human rights abuses perpetrated by countries targeted by it.

It's impressive that the anti-establishment, anti-Kristof, anti-liberal hatred of the day has caused leftists to defend misogynistic social orders, but here we are.
posted by downing street memo at 6:08 PM on October 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm confused by this reaction. The author describes herself as a "Pakistani Muslim woman". She speaks about "the manner in which the South Asian female form is constructed and seen through the North American media gaze" specifically citing mainstream media pieces written about women in Pakistan. Who better than to give us a perspective in how these pieces view, and might be viewed by, Pakistani women than - a Pakistani woman? Who better than to give us insight into how these pieces might affect Pakistani women than - a Pakistani woman?

If one is worried about the "victims", do you not want to hear what those "victims" have to say about it all? Her position is calling for nuance, and for breadth - for a narrative that doesn't involve othering and pity, because that is damaging.
Domestic and state violence against Pakistani women – specifically poor women – can never be understated, but should those experiences come to signify the experiences and identities of all Pakistani women? How can we engage with the economic and physical violence against women, everywhere and anywhere, without falling into the trap of creating strict, rigid lines of good and evil that are unfair characterizations of populations?
posted by flex at 6:15 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


This entire subject makes me sad on a very personal level. In my time working at the local university, I had the pleasure of knowing a family from Pakistan (pre-Facebook, this is important). They also lived in my apartment complex. Both of the parents were grad students and about my age. He was studying something related to water issues and she was studying something related to women's issues. Their son is a year older than my son. They have two daughters a few years younger than my daughter.

My husband and I once joined them at a table and ate as a family at an international students banquet. My kids were unfortunately at their dad's that weekend. From what I could tell, they were Hindu, but I can't say for certain. I remember the father being stern with his boy because that kid was not happy about wearing a tie. The mom was wearing a stunning but relatively simple salwar kameez in brilliant blue with gold embroidery. I was used to seeing her in jeans and a plain top. I totally envied that outfit. At one point, we talked about raising boys and how they have to learn respect and manners, and I mentioned that their son was one of the few boys in our neighborhood I was comfortable to have my son spend time with. They said similar things about my boy.

The dad then said something about dressing appropriately for an occasion and respecting women. I wish I could remember the exact quote.

Then, all hell broke loose in Pakistan. He had to go back for a bit to finish up part of his research. The mom and I worried together. Our boys played on skateboards. Dad came home and we were happy and relieved. Then she finished up and went home with the girls. Then he and the boy went back home for good.

Before he left, the dad showed up at my work (then in a computer lab) to give me a gift because I'd helped both of them with their studies. It's a lovely batik-style of tapestry that I still cherish. It's a piece of cloth from their home. He'd previously asked if I wanted anything, and my standard response to international folks is something from their home because I'll probably never get to visit there.

I don't even know where they live. I think about them often. How they forgave me for not being able to pronounce their names properly and vice versa. How our boys were good solid friends, both being smart and awkward. I have no way to track them down (pre-Facebook, remember, and it's been almost 10 years). I can only hope that they are well and happy. I hope that the father of the family still promotes the respect of women and knows he is not alone.
posted by lilywing13 at 2:31 AM on October 10, 2012


I'm confused by this reaction.

There's a certain mindset that detects bullshit in any form of social criticism that doesn't bend over backwards to say what it's about, what it's not about, where the problem is, where the problem isn't, and what its biases are.

I think it's an overreaction, although it is founded on rational skepticism. This essay would have been better if it had given us a more precise scope than:
The characterizations of the South Asian female differ from country to country in the subcontinent, from Bangladesh to Pakistan to India to Afghanistan. Despite these differences, however, their portrayals always rely on what is given to us as the foundation of their experiences and identities: they are victims.
I'm pretty sure this is the figurative use of "always" to mean "very often". I think the author would admit exceptions if pressed on the matter. I'd have appreciated it if those exceptions were included in the article. Since they're not, I wouldn't want to use this article for much--even though I agree with the argument presented.

Skeptics in this thread who are more reactionary than me have attacked the article's content, and their arguments consist mainly of the unacknowledged exceptions to the article's argument, as though that's more than just a weakness of the writing. I don't think it is; I think those guys' bullshit detectors are poorly tuned.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:39 AM on October 10, 2012


It's impressive that the anti-establishment, anti-Kristof, anti-liberal hatred of the day has caused leftists to defend misogynistic social orders, but here we are.

This has been around for quite some time (read Foucault on the Iranian Revolution sometime), but I have to say that this particular post doesn't seem to be a knee-jerk left-wing Western piece in the vein that some people see it as.

Take a look at the rest of this blogger's recent entries - I could get any biographical information on her, but she looks to be quite familiar with the Moslem world and with women's rights issues there. She just also seems frustrated by the particular blindspots of Western media outlets who aren't as familiar, and who are also inclined to ride their favorite hobbyhorses all over the issue.
posted by AdamCSnider at 7:48 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


We have no information on which to guess if the author does this. Unless we can get some such information, discussing the possibility is a derail. That's the opposite of keeping things in perspective.

It's a prediction. Go back through the author's writings, if you like. You won't find any such thing. I'm willing to bet money on it, and I'm seriously about that.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 3:09 PM on October 10, 2012


I'm not sure what the argument is about here. The lives of Pakistani women are immensely challenging. As a Pakistani woman, I have no quibbles with that claim. The author doesn't appear to have any quibbles with it, either. What she does have is a problem with the way that the Western media narrative pretty much only sees oppression when it looks at Pakistani women (and other South Asian women, for that matter, but that's not the primary focus of her piece).

I’m ultimately unsure of what it actually is that we’re offering by engaging in and creating a discourse that serves to only reinforce the thoroughly evil character of a country

Isn't this more the point she's making? That the Western media narrative paints the whole country in a negative light, and ONLY a negative light. I'm a little surprised that she seem to expect something different.

It's so hard to talk about this stuff when you know you are going to be met with skepticism and disdain from people who know only enough about your country to be able to encapsulate it in oversimplified opinions. "What is it like to be a woman in Pakistan?" is a question that I find just as ludicrous as "So, what was it like, studying in the US?" (both of which I've been pressed to answer about the same number of times). ANY answer is incomplete, because anything approaching a reasonable picture would take far more time than the asker has any interest in investing. So of course popular media is going to end up with this over-simplified narrative. It's just the nature of the beast.

(And yes, flex, it IS frustrating, and it is exhausting.)
posted by bardophile at 11:03 AM on October 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


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