Qandeel Baloch: Feminism, honor killing and the naked truth

Qandeel was a fun loving soul, who fought her circumstances of marital, financial, social ordeal etc. but let us leave her doings at that rather than putting our labels on her

Qandeel Baloch is no more. Who was Qandeel? The girl who was not shy of posting her half-nude videos on the internet with silly, seductive commentary attracting many; the internet celebrity who proposed to Imran Khan and dared to strip for Shahid Afridi; the one with attractive, voluptuous curves who brazenly danced on Aryan Khan’s song or the one who had no inhibitions about flirting a bearded cleric, only to post some photos of the venture on social media? She was all that. Today, she is the girl who was brutally murdered by her brother in the name of family honor. That is what the focus of our discussions should be today.

Though I never approved of her, I was bitterly sad on her murder. The grief was soon taken over by a gripping confusion when I entered my comfort zone of social media and news. I saw some serious campaigners of liberalism and feminism in Pakistan, writing lengthy articles and snippy social media posts mentioning her with the hashtags of women power, feminism, inspiration, liberal, etc. Suddenly, she is a bastion of courage, audacity, bravery, a role-model! I was perturbed because I could not find myself agreeable to the bigwigs of feminism. Although I think of myself as a feminist, I could not relate with the ‘bravery, courage, feminism’ that she portrayed and with the admiration of these ‘liberal’ pundits to whom I look for direction. What a feeling it is to find a flaw in the ideology or the interpretation thereof!

So I decided to write this to explain my narrative. These are my thoughts. I do not see the world in black and white and this actually had more grey than I thought. I am willing to learn as I go in life but I like to think out loud sometimes rather than snow-balling the confused mass of protoplasm on me.

By saying that I do not approve of what she did, I do not intend to undermine the fact that her life was precious and was taken away wrongfully and unjustly. I decided to write not to express my elucidation on what was it that she did ‘wrong’, but to highlight what is it that we may not be doing right, because that alone can leave an impact in this world we call ours, and the world she no longer exists in.

Firstly, we are focusing on a wide off the mark issue if we make it a point to bring feminism and women empowerment in this discussion. Our egos go farther as liberals if we see ourselves standing with the fraught and the oppressed. But Qandeel Baloch did not live a life in oppression. She died at the hands of oppression. Our focus therefore should be on her death and for that we need neither condemn, nor condone her life.  Also, she did not portray herself as subservient.  In fact, she swayed a hundred and eighty degrees from this and beat the norms of culture and restraints of society when it came to living. She did what she wanted to do and with no qualms about being ‘good or bad’. She did not pursue our approval. Did she seek our admiration? May be, and that she acquired in the form of millions of likes and replays of her internet posts.  Yes, she did receive a lot of disrespect too. She actually was sensible enough and agreed to take the disapproval. She herself stated that she did not care about it and that people who did not like her needed not follow her. Could she foresee the negative repercussions? Not likely. Nonetheless, she was savvy to know that the negativity is part of the deal.

Even in the most liberal societies nudity is criticized by many and not always taken as a sign of self-liberation. The balancing required by liberalism is not just a compromise made by a ‘Pakistani liberal'. The debate has had its share of schism even in the so called forward-looking West. So the words like chauvinist, conservative, insensate, mentally stunted, may read strong in an article by a vociferous feminist, but do not qualify as a clamor for sensibility, let alone rationality.

Secondly, Qandeel asked to be given credit for speaking for ‘girl-power’ by getting half naked in a society which she poorly understood. Removing inhibitions at any cost in the misguided pursuit of freedom has its consequences and sadly she suffered those. The collective cultural thinking of our hypercritical and hypocritical society still attempts to sexually objectify a fully clad woman, let alone a woman who dares to publicly strip down.  She was no Beyoncé or Lady Gaga, Cher or Madonna in that respect. Even their plight of self-exhibitionism under the emblem of feminism is not only far from being embraced,but is rather rejected and refuted by many a liberal and feminist in the West. We have to remember that for an ideology to be acceptable in a society, it has to be presented in a certain suitable way, keeping with the sensitivities of many factors that define that particular segment or a society. This is not compromise but a much thoughtfully crafted conformism. Nudity cannot be imposed on a conservative culture in the name of liberalism. Neither is it a slogan of feminism. So let us hold our horses and think for a moment that by doing so not only will we deface the perception and recognition of the ideology, we may actually widen the divide on the real issue, which is of her life ending the way it did. She was and she revealed herself to be a fun loving soul, who fought her circumstances of marital, financial, social ordeal etc. but let us leave her doings at that rather than putting our labels, bad or even good on her.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the focus needs to be on the heinous crime of her murder and the permissiveness of the society and more so of the law in this regard. Her brother will plead it as “honor of the family”, and this vile concept is not just an attitude to be blown off as misogyny and ignorance, but a deep rooted mindset reinforced by many including the masses, the educated hardliners and religious clerics who have succeeded in endorsing it and attaining the protection of the law. That is what killed Qandeel.

It is righty said that focusing on the victim, is one step away from rationalizing the crime and two steps away from blaming the victim. So let me reiterate that I did not write this to focus on her life but her death. In fact, her life is a separate discussion that takes her out of the picture now that she is no more there to speak for her own self. That argument now involves all those who drooled over her distastefully or shouted at her disrespectfully.  I will end that argument here in Mustafa Zaidi’s words:

meiN kis keh haath peh apna lahu talaash karuN

tamaam shehr nay pehnay huay haiN dastanay

If Qandeel was a victim of some evil, it was that of honor killing. The rest of her story is all about our desires and dislikes. She had many of those that she celebrated and many more that she did not give two hoots to!

Rest in peace, Qandeel Baloch. Given the few choices, you chose how to live your life and it was your right to do so, but no one has the right to choose how you die. We are all mourning your death and our ignorance.

F.  Shereen, MD, is a Missouri-based physician who is practicing Rheumatology

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