Gendered insults

Updated May 23, 2019

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IT is not uncommon for political rivals in the country to make unsavoury personal remarks about each other as a means of criticism.

In fact, it is a reality we witness ever so often on television or social media when party representatives hurl below-the-belt insults at one another.

This behaviour was once again demonstrated in the past week, this time by PML-N leader Talal Chaudhry, who used distasteful words to criticise Firdous Ashiq Awan, the prime minister’s special assistant on information.

In what appears to be a rather weak attempt at a pun on the PTI’s ‘tabdeeli’ mantra, Mr Chaudhry made a nasty remark about Ms Awan’s physical appearance.

The remarks are recorded in a short clip — that has gone viral online — in which the politician is speaking directly to the person holding the camera.

Hours later, after a social media backlash in which Twitter users demanded an apology, Mr Chaudhry tweeted saying that while his intention was not to degrade anyone, he “apologises” if his remarks were deemed inappropriate.

Contrary to what Mr Chaudhry may believe, ad hominem and gendered criticisms like his are often uttered with the intention to demean an opponent.

Not only are personal attacks highly inappropriate, they expose the speaker’s regressive outlook on how a woman or man ought to look or behave and belittle their professional capability.

While Mr Chaudhry implied that Ms Awan is not feminine, we have also seen politicians — including the prime minister — criticise rivals by suggesting they are too feminine.

Even the National Assembly halls have echoed with outrageously sexist, personal comments — like the time when PML-N’s Khawaja Asif made crude remarks about PTI’s Shireen Mazari, or when Sheikh Rashid resorted to unbecoming comments about Benazir Bhutto.

Similarly, our social and virtual spaces are often dominated by people who make derogatory and disrespectful jokes largely targeting women, with the hope to raise a few laughs, but without any realisation of how poorly the words reflect on their intellect.

This was witnessed just a few days ago when social media commentary surrounding Maryam Nawaz’s photos from the opposition’s iftar gathering revolved around wedding jokes.

If they want to serve as role models, our politicians must shun lazy, offensive humour when hitting out at each other.

There are many more valid and intelligent jokes that can be cracked to criticise an opponent. Making fun of a fellow politician’s physical appearance is unprofessional and unnecessary.

Published in Dawn, May 23rd, 2019