We all have a Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in us

Published: June 13, 2015
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PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. PHOTO: AFP

PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. 
PHOTO: AFP Pakistan Peoples Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. 
PHOTO: AFP

It happens like clockwork whenever Bilawal Bhutto Zardari makes the news on social media. Invariably, the top Facebook/Twitter comment on any story regarding BBZ is a joke about his supposedly effeminate demeanour.

Those who wouldn’t mock someone for other variations in physical characteristics such as skin colour, height, and weight, also join in. It’s an issue with many cultures, but it rears its ugly head often in one as throbbingly pseudo masculine as ours. The jests aren’t only limited to top Facebook comments; Pakistani creators of internet comics often find BBZ’s mannerisms an easy source of entertainment for their easily amused readers.

These comics are shared and re-shared countless times, only to be followed by a contradictory comic preaching tolerance and respect for the delicious variety in God’s creations. It is as if the message is to respect everyone, except those who don’t wear their manliness on their sleeves. For them, our hatred rises from deeper murkier waters. It is personal hatred, a symptom of our own demons.

I am not fond of the Pakistan Peoples Party. Their five years of governance are an easily forgettable period for Pakistan. I am also not quite convinced if BBZ is his party’s saviour. I had hoped he would prove to be a revolutionary young politician polished by his time at Oxford University, but his mantra heavy speeches revealed how most of his education was spent memorising tired party jargons.

Yet, I strongly feel that while we have every right to criticise a politician for their mistakes, physical features aren’t fair game. I am sure everyone would agree. But strangely, while we are somewhat more respectful of other uncommon characteristics, those who don’t satisfy our traditional definition of manliness are considered fair game for mockery.

So here I am, about to defend the chairman of a political party I dislike. I am like Johnnie Cochran defending OJ Simpson, except I am not defending OJ for a homicide; I am defending him for being black. More than that, I am here to do some soul searching, to dive deep into these treacherous waters which give rise to such feelings.

Unfortunately, our nation has a masculinity problem, and it begins with our upbringing.

For many of us, the mask comes on early; the seeds of masculinity sown in childhood.

As children, we boys are taught not to cry. To varying degrees depending on the environment, this is reinforced regularly through our schooling years until it is ingrained deep within our psyche. We are trained to be unyielding, competitive, and tough. Crying is for girls, we are told. Feelings and emotions are for women.

Rather than getting trained to ride the dragon, we are told to lock the creature up in a cold dark room. Meanwhile, it grows silently, sometimes seething with fury. Growing up, I loved reading, writing, drawing, and for a few months sewing clothes for my action figures (they were ninja outfits). I was often criticised by authority figures for not playing more sports, or proving my masculinity by climbing trees. Today I still can’t climb a tree (probably because I am not an elf); though if you are a ninja in need of a suit, do drop me an email for rates.

For children whose upbringing is relentlessly masculine, emotions are left suppressed, hidden behind a grim mask of masculinity. Whenever the going gets tough, the mask comes on, leaving the increasingly fragile soul unseen behind the seemingly tough exterior. Certainly, Pakistan isn’t alone in its masculine culture, yet our progress is slow.

Andy Murray won hearts worldwide after breaking into tears when he lost his first Wimbledon finale. Meanwhile, Wahab Riaz, who after proving his manhood by nearly depriving Shane Watson of his own several times, became the target of a mean spirited internet meme when he shed tears at the end of the game.

We should encourage men like Wahab Riaz, a real man who wears his heart on his sleeve and gives it his all for his nation. Clearly expressing emotions is considered to be the opposite of what a man does. A large number of our children grow up observing a physical distance between their parents; displays of affection are discouraged. It is reported that the lioness of Karachi, Sabeen Mahmud, was assassinated because she favoured Valentine’s Day.

Are we so threatened by love? When we pick on BBZ for what we have been conditioned to believe are less masculine traits, we don’t hate on him, but rather, we hate on ourselves. Every time we laugh at a BBZ joke, in our hearts is a critical authority figure who encouraged us in our development phase to be the alpha male.

Some equate such displays of pseudo-masculinity with mental toughness, but mental toughness is sometimes nothing but a mask, hiding unresolved emotions. Such unresolved emotions can result in varying levels of social misbehaviour, including bottled up anger. Those who wear the mask tightly may find it leads to professional success, but when they come home at night, they often find themselves alone, even when surrounded by people. People who cannot fake love such as a spouse or a child don’t form real relationships with the ones who wear the heaviest of masks.

In essence, the mask is a ticking time bomb. The prize? Our soul.

When we encourage our children to wear masks, we deprive them of an important life skill; processing emotions in a healthy manner. If you are lucky, you may keep the mask on your whole life with little incident, but the longer you wear it, the more difficult it becomes to take off.

For men who wear masks and have sons and daughters, I encourage you to give your wife a tight hug and a big kiss (on the cheek) in front of your children every evening. For your growing daughters it will be a lesson in how to a pick a man when she is older. A man who respects her, treats her as an equal, and is not so frightened by his emotions that she doesn’t feel loved. For your sons, it may be a lesson in how to treat someone else’s daughter, to value all life, and to not be afraid of those different from him.

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Noman Ansari

Noman Ansari

The author is the editor-in-chief of IGN Pakistan, and has been reviewing films and writing opinion pieces for The Express Tribune as well as Dawn for five years. He tweets as @Pugnate (twitter.com/Pugnate)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.