Sorry Bilawal, Pakistan’s misogyny will always confuse sensitivity with femininity
“Aur tu aur Billo Rani bheebol rahi hai. Asif Zardari sahib, itna haram kamaia aap ne, thora sa Bilawal per lagain aur us ka technical masla theek karain.”
(Now even Billo Rani is speaking. Asif Zardari, please devote some of your illegal wealth towards rectifying Bilawal’s technical problem).
“Mein ne siyasat mein naheen aana, kyon ke Sheikh Rashid mujhe har roz gandy gandy messages karta hai.”
(I don’t want to come into politics because Sheikh Rashid sends me dirty texts every day.
The first of the above is an excerpt from Sheikh Rasheed’s speech in 2014, and the latter is one of the Facebook memes I have seen in the past few days which refer to Bilawal and mock his supposed lack of masculinity after he recently visited the Quetta massacre victims and cried.
I can also cite many dubbing videos which convey the same message that he is not masculine and therefore not fit to lead our “macho” nation.
Bilawal is someone whom many of the urban middle class hate and their way of showing their hatred is by associating him with females and hence with the transgender community and gays. I don’t know whether it humiliates him but it surely does reveal our society’s collective misogyny and homophobia.
In our culture, misogyny is deeply rooted and at times expresses itself in seemingly ‘humorous’ forms. For example, when we want to put a guy to shame, we doubt his masculinity and try to equate him to a female or simply call him a transgender.
Masculinity has become associated with bravery, intelligence, and some kind of superiority and thus when we want to appreciate some individual due to these perceived qualities, we call him a real man. In fact this kind of mind-set has become so common that at times when we want to appreciate bravery of a woman, we try equating her to a man. For example, many a time, I have heard people saying that a particular woman has more ‘balls’ than everyone else. This statement, though apparently appreciative of the woman in question, nevertheless is an outcome of the culture which equates so called better qualities like valour with masculine physical attributes.
Likewise, when we want to ridicule a man, the ‘best’ way to do so is to call him a ‘sissy’ or effeminate. Thus feminising becomes a way to insult a man because at a collective level, misogyny reigns supreme. And this misogyny is also expressed at a political level.
Right now, this is what I am observing with respect to Bilawal Bhutto. Many, particularly from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), are making fun of him and calling him a lady boy, a transgender, and a homosexual because of the alleged effeminacy. It shows problem at two interrelated levels. Firstly, it is somehow or the other considered degrading for a male to resemble a woman even remotely; secondly, if he resembles one, then he is a homosexual, which again is in some form or the other considered disgusting in our collective mind-set. Misogyny blends with homophobic behaviour to show acute contempt for the individual whom we dislike.
Lo Bhai Bilawal Bhutto Kay Doodh Walay Daant Toot Gai Hehehe Grow Up Disco Boy #BilawalKid
— Wasay Jalil (@WasayJalil) October 18, 2013
— Sohail Cheema MD (@sohailcheemamd) October 30, 2016
It is the very manner of showing contempt which is so troubling. So what we are in essence saying is that women are second-rate humans – and since transgenders and gays are similar to them, they too become second-rate citizens. By this logic, if a male we dislike has even remotely feminine physical attributes – such as a high pitched voice or delicate hands, then calling him a female is our way of showing our dislike.
The irony is that some even apparently educated women are themselves a part of this exercise, oblivious of the fact that eventually they are merely undermining their own gender and in the process strengthening the patriarchal social paradigm.
When some women are a part of this so called mocking exercise, instead of raising voices on this degradation of their own gender, it is a sorry state of affairs and shows that in our society, certain modes of thinking have been internalised.
It is sad the way our politics has degenerated to name calling which is reinforcing existing regressive practices and third class mind-sets.
And while we try to equate femininity with cowardice and try to prove that Bilawal is effeminate and hence a coward, in reality he is braver than the rest. He talked about Aasia Bibi, minorities and Malala. Do the leaders of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and PTI, even venture there? Despite his youth, he has shown a lot of maturity.
One could argue on the competence of Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP) governance, but it still remains the most progressive mainstream party. It is okay to be critical of a party and its stances but there is a line beyond which criticism is no longer criticism and ventures into irrational hatred and of the sort which is misogynous in essence.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.