The death of Qandeel Baloch has brought with it an outpour of mixed emotions: rage, grief, apologism.
So much has already been said about the woman who put a mirror to our hypocrisy; now, her brutal death demands that we look at our reflections closely.
The questions we need to be asking are:
- Who controls a woman’s body?
- Who defines how an individual can or cannot act in a personal capacity?
- Is it fair to only blame men for the present status quo?
- As women, can we look inward and call out our own complicity?
Qandeel was no stranger to calling other women out.
In one of her interviews, she candidly said: “Fine, the wardrobe is cheap. Fine, I don’t know how to dance. But look at my confidence.”
Sadly, her ‘confidence’ was precisely the problem for so many. These are not markers of a ‘respectable’ woman in Pakistan. Women who deserve respect in our country are those who conform to a socially set 'standard'. These may include doctors, professors and business executives. Not models, actors and sex workers. And, definitely not Qandeel Baloch.
Whether or not we admit it, women are complicit in sustaining this narrative. We often find it difficult to celebrate each other’s success. Instead of praise, we respond with suspicion:
How did she get her success? Or worse: Who gave her this success?
Needless to say, we don’t do that to men. This is why, as a woman, I am calling on my sisters here. Not because men are by any means blameless but rather because changes for women should be driven by women.
A battle on two fronts
Perhaps it is unfair to call on women to behave better than we are treated.
Don’t we have a right to rage, considering that we deal with misogyny and sexism on a daily basis? Men still scare us, stare us down, slap us at their whim.
Strangers look down our shirts every time we speak; colleagues casually dismiss our complaints and pin everything on unreliable ‘female moods’; bosses behind desks treat women as their personal entertainment.
Isn’t this what women need to be fighting against — calling out men, not each other? But I will do it anyway.
While patriarchy arms men, it also co-opts women in the process. The task of empowering ourselves then, becomes a battle on two fronts.
We know that our society thrives on judgement of everyone but ourselves.
Women, as much as anyone, internalise this patriarchal value, and in the absence of men controlling and surveilling our every move, we often start policing each other.
Explore: Why women moral police women
Who has a bigger problem with women’s bodies these days? It’s a toss-up.
Men generally consider them in binaries — either covered or uncovered, eroticised or demure, strutting in public or bound in private. But women have a problem with women’s bodies too; we love to hate each other for them.
Women are far more likely to criticise other women for what they wear or don’t, how much sex they have or don’t and for using their ‘looks’ to get ahead as if those looks were somehow inherently shameful and ought to be downplayed.
Perhaps that is why some of Qandeel’s greatest detractors were women.
Many women who were raised to feel guilty about their own bodies could not stomach what she represented: breasts, hips, pouty lips… and all out in the open. Most importantly, we could not stomach that fact that Qandeel was refusing to live by patriarchal rules — and getting away with it.
And so, we resorted to judgment. Many of us — myself included — felt we needed to separate ourselves from her.
Those kind of women, we said (when we gossiped about her), or, that girl. The fact is that while many women have risen to speak up for Baloch in death, we did not support her in life.
In between glorifying and demeaning her, we all missed the essential point: our opinion of her choices was never something she coveted. If anything, she openly derided both our judgement and our approval.
If we are to take something away from Qandeel Baloch's life, it is that our choices do not need validation.
When it comes to men, women have started telling them how we feel about our own lives and bodies, instead of being told by them.
Among women, we need a similar shift; we need to stop telling each other how to police our lives, our bodies and our choices.
Perhaps one thing we can do to honour Qandeel’s memory is to celebrate women who break barriers and who do not care what society thinks of them. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard,
“But what did you expect would happen to her? This is Pakistan.”
That mentality is part of the problem. We need to expect more of Pakistan — and especially of each other, as women.
This then, is a call to all women to ensure that Qandeel is not remembered as another ‘honour victim’. Wanting better treatment for ourselves also requires treating each other better.
It is time to pause the judgement and scrutiny; to stop masking our insecurities with superficial declarations of support; and to stop micromanaging each other’s opinions, politics and wardrobes.
Instead, we need to stand together against a system that perpetually sidelines all of us. Until we can do that, the first line of defence for feminism will always be against itself.