I recently came across some extremely uninformed and mind-bogglingly sexist comments passed on national television by an obviously misogynistic man by the name of Aftab Iqbal. His show, Khabarzar, aims to provide some sort of comedic entertainment and is watched by a good chunk of Pakistanis on average, which means that Iqbal unfortunately has the power to affect or influence a lot of people.
With media and television being so easily accessible these days, there is no doubt it is one of the biggest contributors in shaping people’s opinions. The fact that a majority of the content shown on TV is a catalyst in making or breaking trends, people who decide to take up that power need to possess a strong sense of responsibility and try their best to not normalise disrespect and instead challenge people to become better, more aware beings.
In his previous episode, Iqbal was seen making obnoxious comments equating women’s mental health issues with singlehood. He stated,
He also clarified that he believes marrying women off is the solution to not only their mental health problems, but also any other problems they face in general. He then targeted women who want careers, stating that building careers is not natural for women and is the reason for their suffering.
These comments are immensely problematic on so many levels. Firstly, given the state of mental health in Pakistan and the rise of suicide due to depression in Pakistan alone, and that too recently, it was simply uncalled for to make light of the mental health crisis facing us (which affects women more than men). Iqbal managed to reduce something as vitally serious and alarming as mental health into a mere joke. Where people who have lost loved ones to this crisis are finally taking a stand to acknowledge the realness of the issue in Pakistan and trying to remove the stigma surrounding it, this man dismisses the whole concept altogether.
Further, let’s also not forget that this man, living in the 21st century, is still reiterating the “marriage is the end goal for women” narrative. He manages to vilify single women, labelling them as ‘crazy’. He somehow makes it worse by adding in his detestable two cents of ageism and saying that the woman in question should be married already given that she is 31-years-old. He then reinforces the belief that a career and marriage together are incompatible for woman, which is why they should attend to their “natural” duties such as being devoted wives and taking care of the household.
The word “hysteria” was originally used in the belief that it depended on excessive reflex action of the nerves of the uterus and ovaries. It is not news that for centuries, and even now with the prime example of Iqbal, many people have always thought that it is indeed crazy for a woman to step out of her “natural” constituency and confines of the house to pursue a career – which has always been strictly considered a man’s realm.
In fact, Elaine Showalter in The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture explains precisely that observations of female patients made by male doctors in the early 1920s demonstrated that this “hysteria” was likely to be identified more in, “Independent and assertive women than ‘normal’ women exhibiting more than usual force and decision of character, of strong resolution, fearless of danger.”
The unconventional women – the rebels, the talk backers, the fighters, the over achievers, artists and writers, any woman not fitting into society’s restrictive description of a ‘real’ woman as per patriarchal structures and its ‘natural’ norms – have been seen and termed as crazy. Lucky for us women though, it was proven over and over again that hysterics were actually intellectual people with a strong will, greatest character and highest critical power. It was also revealed later that women in that specific time period were more likely to be classified as hysterics because they would rebel against repetitious domestic routines. It wasn’t until men came back psychologically damaged after the Great War that the English psychiatric practice really began to understand what the term hysteria really meant. Hence, female hysteria is no longer a recognised illness and hasn’t been one for quite some time.
Bringing all this back together to the absolute misinformation being spread by this man on TV, it is evident how misogynistic notions of the past are so deeply ingrained, especially in the minds of men, that calling women crazy is an easily accepted reality rather than simply accepting that they are more than just daughters, wives and mothers. Not that these roles and titles are any less celebratory, but the reality is that there are so many untapped bases out there that could benefit from a woman’s intellect, and they remain conveniently ignored.
Even though there has been a significant rise in the number of ‘woke’ women in Pakistan, the Aurat March being a prime example of this, there is no doubt that the majority of the country does not understand the necessity of building a safe, equal and inclusive environment for women. This is evident through how consistently Pakistan is ranked lowest on most global gender indexes, including the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. The ultimate reason behind why Pakistan remains terrible for women is because of the mindset possessed by people like Iqbal that is then propagated to other Pakistanis.
The most relevant example of what women can achieve is that of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has shown the world what it means to be a real leader. Guess what? She is also the first leader to give birth in office! Clearly her partner and her baby have not stopped her from inspiring countless people with her unwavering commitment to deliver the best for her job. Ardern is just one example; there are many other ‘sheroes’ out there like her who manage a career alongside their personal lives, making Iqbal’s comments not only thoughtless but also pointedly false.
It has been proven over and over again that women have made major breakthroughs in all fields possible, that they need more space, not more restrictions. Normalising Iqbal’s perspective on women is purely toxic and dangerous, especially in the already toxic Pakistani society. Unless such influencers are not sensitised towards such issues, they should be banned from appearing anywhere where their ill-informed beliefs can become viral.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article represent those of the author alone do not represent the views or opinions of ProperGaanda.