Pakistan's Post-Feminist Dilemma

Below is an excerpt from the excellent article by Rafia Zakaria in Dawn, criticizing the proponents of 'post-feminism' in Pakistan and explaining how ideologies derived out of a Western context are being applied within Pakistan to justify various social limitations on women. Very importantly, the article also hints at how limitations can now be rationalized by women, who are educated enough to be independent-minded but not independent enough to forego the inherently anti-feminist prescriptions of society and religion, as free choices. This is not to make a sweeping generalization that no free choice exists at all for women in Pakistan when it comes to these issues; women in Pakistan are a heterogeneous group, from the born-and-bred in Western lifestyle to the conservative and traditional minded living in almost complete segregation. It is this very heterogeneous element that complicates matters, because in the very midst of oppression, tools of oppression cannot be hailed as tools of liberation without significantly undermining the efforts of feminists to counter the misogynistic traditions. Conscious choices of adults regarding their own lives must be respected and defended if necessary, but why on earth do we have to approve, promote and encourage women to make choices to adopt anti-feminist attires and lifestyles?


"In Pakistan, post-feminists belong predominantly to two groups each affording their own indigenous flavour to its prescriptions. The first are the men and women of the religious right. For them, the return of some western women to traditional roles is ample proof that feminism or the quest for equality was misguided in the first place; women and men are different and their inherent abilities require the former to be child-bearers and homemakers and the latter breadwinners.

The post-feminist elevation of `choice` allows them to further insist that even overtly oppressive acts, the wearing of the niqab, the acceptance of polygamy and the wilful avoidance of the public sphere are in fact `choices` and in being so brave acts of liberation deserving of commendation.

New members of this group include elite urban women whose midlife religious awakenings have delivered a newfound infatuation with male dominance, its attendant intricacies presenting a project more substantial than redecorating the living room.

The second category consists of young women who try to digest as choices what they know to be constraints. These include young Pakistani mothers with degrees in medicine and marketing — women who worked until and even after they were married but find it nearly impossible to do so after starting a family.

Sitting with their toddlers inside stuffy apartments, hard-won realms of privacy from meddling in-laws, they are condemned to becoming the mother-in-law-hating, child-development-obsessed women they scoffed at a few years ago.In these dismal times, it helps to imagine that they have `chosen` their situation and could just as easily return to a professional career even if they know that such a plan, which would require reliable childcare, a cooperative husband and understanding employers, is but a fantasy. The arguments of suburban New Jersey cannot so easily be transported to Karachi.

The clash of feminisms occurs thus when post-feminist critiques originating in the West are unthinkingly transported to contexts where empowerment is but a dream, where public spaces do not belong to women and where any few shreds of freedom are largely a function of wealth.

In western countries, the vigilance and political activism of several generations of women has created a social environment where true choices can be made and traditional roles rediscovered.

In Pakistan, where history, politics and society are almost exclusively constructed by men, post-feminism conveniently allows for the perpetuation of restrictions on women`s self-realisation under its intellectual umbrella."


Komal said…
This seems like an interesting article, but I'm a bit wary of how the issue is framed in terms of 'choices', as if what women need is merely more choices. It sounds too much like liberal feminism :S.
Umair said…
I have a rather unusual comment on this serious issue.

In Harry Potter series of novels, House Elf is a creature who are basically slaves of wealthy Wizards and Witches. Dobby, an elf, aspires to be a free elf and he eventually succeeds in it. But, when he tries to convince other Elfs to struggle for their freedom, a great majority of them resists the idea on the basis that they dont know how to be free. they have been trained to serve their masters. they dont know how they will earn their living once they will be free. so, they "choose" to remain slaves for the rest of their lives.

I think the same phenomenon is plaguing this whole post-feminism scenario where the oppressor "wants" to remain oppressed.
Komal said…
Also, Western societies are not post-feminist. They're still patriarchal.
Awais Aftab said…
@ Komal

Also, Western societies are not post-feminist. They're still patriarchal.

The writer thinks it's in post-feminist era because she hasn't read your writings on feminism yet ;)
Komal said…
Lol. I'm hardly the first one to say it! This is quite an accepted position among most feminists in the West.