In a passage from Rabisankar Bal’s Dozakhnama, Manto, on the male ego, says:
When it rears its head, it wants to destroy the very world. Do you know why? Because it’s a glass doll. Throw it on the floor and it’ll shatter. So it becomes furious at the slightest threat.
Do you know what the male ego is: I’m the last word, nothing can be greater.
Dozakhnama imagines conversations in hell between Manto and Ghalib, but Manto could have very well written this in real life.
Male privilege in his Pakistan of the 1940s and 50s is not far removed from the situation today. If anything, it has remained unchecked and permitted to flourish.
Now we live in communities ailing from the cancer of systemic misogyny. Qandeel Baloch’s horrific murder at the hands of her own brother casts light upon this malignant disease.
Her brother may have acted alone, but he was produced in, and emerges from, a system that turns a blind eye to his ‘honour’, but doesn’t fail to scrutinise the actions of his sister under an intrusive and repugnant microscope.
How can anyone justify his actions? Is it not more dishonourable to live with the guilt of murdering your own sister?
To call Baloch’s savage murder an ‘honour’ killing is despicable.
To suggest that Baloch deserved her death is a testament to the fragile male ego, still pining for justification after innocent blood has already been spilt.
We talk a lot about ‘culture’ in Pakistan. We strike down ambition in the name of ‘culture’.
We decide that wearing a certain item of dress, or not wearing a certain item of dress, is not our ‘culture’. Qandeel was apparently a ‘disgrace’ to this unnamed, unclassified, monolithic 'culture'.
In her phenomenal essay, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, Nigerian author Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie addresses the problem of society failing to extend equality to women in the name of 'culture'. She writes:
Culture does not make people. People make culture. If it is true that the full humanity of women is not our culture, then we can and must make it our culture.
Baloch called herself a modern-day feminist. In death, as in life, she remains a polarising figure. She was a woman who reclaimed her body from the male gaze and didn't allow others to police or regulate it.
Instead, she controlled the male gaze, rebelliously deciding to whom, and when, she would make herself virtually visible.
She very clearly defied what we understand and accept as appropriate gender performance. And regardless of how we come to recognise her legacy, Baloch was undoubtedly a dissident voice.
But Baloch was primed by the media like a lamb up for slaughter, lionised, loathed, named and shamed.
We should blame not only those who sought to profit from her notoriety, but also Pakistan's toxic male privilege that validates this kind of treatment.
We should blame not only Baloch's brother who acted as the medium through which this abhorrent privilege was conveyed to Qandeel as a lasting and fatal blow, but also the culture of misogyny that legitimises and protects men like him in Pakistan.
On college campuses in the US, we often discuss intersectionality, identity, race, ethnicity and privilege. "Check your privilege," has become a knee-jerk phrase during arguments, alluding to the fact that we all have advantages that aren't necessarily apparent to us when we comment on the experiences of others.
As a feminist, a male, a Pakistani, I am ashamed of the privilege that I am accorded because of an accident of birth.
Today, there is blood on all of our hands — both the men who condone killings in the name of honour, and those who have, thus far, remained silent on the issue.
In the wake of Baloch's murder, hollow condemnations are too little, too late.
And so, to the men who believe Qandeel Baloch ‘had it coming’, I say, check your privilege.
To the men who have condemned her murder but still think she wasn't necessarily the best 'role model', check your privilege.
To the people who think that ‘honour’ killings aren’t the same as cold-blooded murders, check your privilege.
Check your privilege. It's time that we all well and truly did.
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