Don’t tell women to shut up

Updated 11 May 2015

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It is always confounding when women of power and privilege, in a bubble of arrogance, choose to patronise other women. —webzpk.com
It is always confounding when women of power and privilege, in a bubble of arrogance, choose to patronise other women. —webzpk.com

In a country where the odds are stacked against most women, Reham Khan’s scolding them for not taking responsibility for their plight is disingenuous.

It happens more than one would expect, but it is always confounding when women of power and privilege choose to patronise other women; all in a bubble of arrogance over their personal successes.

Reham Khan, media personality and new wife of politician Imran Khan, is the latest offender to do this.

As she basks in the glory of her celebrity and gushes about her famous husband in a fawning India Today interview by Mehr Tarar, she suddenly throws this zinger toward women: Stop whining about your problems.

This advice comes from an independent, successful career woman who has overcome certain hardships in her own life (she has alleged that she was a victim of domestic abuse in her first marriage).

It would have been laudable if given her new-found influence, Mrs Khan had chosen to stick up for millions of women in her home country who are fellow victims of domestic abuse, as well as of myriad forms of discrimination and sexism at home, as well as in the workplace.

Also read: Five ways Pakistan degraded women

And yet, all she chose to say when asked about the place of women in the Pakistani society was:

I really think women need to stop complaining. I’m very unsympathetic to whiners. Stop making excuses for yourself.

Cover of India Today.
Cover of India Today.

While her words seem to chide women for accusing men for their failures and ask them to take responsibility for themselves, they also seem to come from a very limited understanding of the very real challenges women, who are not as privileged or fortunate as she, face throughout their lives, from birth to death.

Reham's words fail to take into account all that could possibly go wrong in the life of a woman brought up in a traditional, average Pakistani household, that is not her fault.

After all, an average Pakistani household is highly likely to control, oppress, and discriminate against female members in the choice of their education, healthcare, nutrition, marriage,and career; all factors that could cause them to fail in life in spite of their best efforts.

At least 90 per cent of Pakistani women get half of the wages of their male counterparts though they work the same hours. The number of incidents of violence against women in Pakistan increased at least seven per cent in 2011-2012.

Statistics abound to show the inherent disadvantages girls face while growing up and throughout adulthood that pretty much ruin their chances of becoming, say, a successful anchorperson or a self-sufficient single mother of three, like Mrs Khan was before her recent marriage.

More often than not, they are doomed from the get-go, just by virtue of being born female.

Also read: The continued abuse of the Pashtun woman

So, should the response to such failures, that do in fact, have very specific blameworthy causes outside of women’s control, be to shut up and stop whining?

What if complaining is the first step toward giving future generations of women a chance, or really, the only fight some women can manage in their circumstances?

What if staying silent and not calling out the culprits only empowers the upholders of the South Asian norms of patriarchy?

You don’t need the feminist label to be empathetic toward the very real, very serious problems of gender disparity in the society you live in now, Mrs Khan.

It seems by saying what you did, you are trying very hard to steer away from that label. But in your efforts, you end up sounding more like the infamous royal Marie Antoinette, as a friend of mine aptly puts it, than the role model you wish to become.

Not only did you ask your less fortunate peers to “go eat cake,” you lost out on a powerful opportunity to stand out among a host of privileged, politically prominent women who have equally failed to show the empathy and drive to help their fellow women rise above the limitations imposed upon them by an oppressive culture.


Related:

- 70pc women victim of domestic violence in Peshawar
- 3,153 cases of violence against women in six months in Punjab