Context of the Article: Portrayal of Women in Pakistani Media: Another Jab at Pakistani Liberal Thought by Freethinker

Shaheryar Ali

“The sex Industry sells clothes and the fashion Industry sells prostitution and pornography”

Beauty and Misogyny, Sheila Jeffreys

After reading a wonderful post by a friend and fellow blogger I am forced to write on the issues of Objectification of women, the developed of a hegemonizing and selectively politicized discourse on “emancipation of women” and its highly inaccurate linkage with commercial fashion Industry which has nothing to do with “women lib”. The only relationship it had with political and social movements of women liberation had been extremely hostile one. One often encounter’s mediocrity in disguise of advance intellect but the way “intellectually challenged” have been hegemonizing Pakistani intellectual scene is a real tragedy. This painful awareness disturbed me a lot after reading a lot of responses to Freethinker’s excellent post which objected to objectification of women by Fashion Industry and Corporate media in Pakistan and their ideological mimickers masquerading as anti-commercial “alternative media”. While freethinker was objecting to the “representational discourse and imagery”, trying to demonstrate the fakeness of hypereality [Jean Baudrillard] , one which has nothing to do with “reality” but rather is nothing but an image created, circulated , authenticated, idolized and incorporated into perceptual consciousness of humans by capitalist mass media , fashion industry and other such hegemonizing entities , the intellectually challenged media monkeys perceived it as an attack on personal choices , on liberalism and cultural pluralism etc etc. ”]Thesis[war of Pakistani Identity]The general ignorance which plagues English speaking Pakistani elite and its allied intellectual class is ironic in this sense, that their dogmatism is similar to those who it usually attack ie primitive Taliban. They are ignorant about the advance theoretical positions and philosophies which have emerged as “emancipatory critiques” of established knowledge ie Western Rationalism, Marxism/Stalinism, Logic and Analysis. Freethinker’s critique was not on the dress choice of a famous Pakistani model but rather on it being the “representative” of women. This was an attack on “Simulation”. The ground breaking critique on Mass Media and Visual Arts by French philosopher Jean Baudrillard revolves around three key concepts

1) Simulation

2) Simulacrum

3) Hyperreality.

In his philosophical cosmos a simulation is a process in which representation of things replace the “things being represented”. This is a very problematic notion because it causes “de-humanization”; the main concern of intellectuals like freethinkers. With the tremendous power that Visual media holds in late capitalism, this process of the representation becomes more important than the “real-thing”. Signs are thought of as representing reality, Signs than mask the reality, Signs than mask the “absence of reality”. With this we enter a simulacrum, a state where Signs have no relation with Reality what so ever. With Global mass media invasion, copies of copies are created and bombarded on Human Retina. No longer has the simulation reflected an original but simulation is reflecting a simulation. With the mass media and fashion Industry’s portrayals of women as beauty and sex objects, freethinker was calling for appearance of “real woman”. One which works in a cotton field goes to college, dances on a shrine, a typical lahori house wife wandering in bazaar, slightly over weight not much self conscious. The real woman which we never see on mass media or Fashion Empire which portrays a certain image of women based on male chauvinism.

”]Anti-thesis [War on women bodies]The second aspect of Freethinker’s critique was “problematization” of practice of “politicizing women’s bodies”. The ignorance about more advanced techniques of critical pedagogical dialogues led to further “misrepresentation” of Freethinker’s critique as favoring one side of the war being played on women bodies. To contextulize it let me give you an example. When General Musharaff sided with United States in War on Terror, state adopted a policy of “Enlightened Moderation”. Women’s bodies became the arena of war on terror. General Musharraff’s state sponsored the fashion industry of Pakistan and also the mass media which mushroomed in Pakistan. The commercial interests of media empires, fashion and cosmetic industries led to “objectification of women” on mass and visual media. The Ramp-show models were being represented in London and Paris as “other face” of Pakistan. [Just as the offending post against which Freethinker protested]. These simulations were being politicized as representative of a “secular progressive Jinnah’s Pakistan”. The result of this politicization of women bodies resulted in a barbaric attack on Women’s bodies from the Right Wing. “Burqa” emerged as a “resisting symbol” of Musharraff’s enlightened moderation. Whilst Mush’s were simulations existing only on media, Taliban threaded the “real women” on streets, with Acid. The ultimate anti-thesis of this politicization of simulations was Burqa clad suicidal militants of Red Mosque.

The war which was hyperreal [where reality is replaced by simulacrum] resulted in worse crimes against real women who never were being represented. Why hyperreality is dangerous, the whole violent debate in Musharraff era revolved around “obscenity of fashion shows”, “western cultural invasion” in name of “emancipation of women”. All NGO’s and modernists kept debating this useless notion , war against “co-marathon” in Lahore . All this was in name of “women rights”. Despite the marathons, and establishment of a vibrant fashion industry the “plight of real woman” is same. No serious debate took place on domestic and sexual slavery of women in Pakistan, All anti women laws remain, no debate on reproductive and abortion right, this despite the war in name of “women rights”. This is hyperreality. 8 years nation was polarized on women emancipation, liberalism, secularism and nothing has changed on ground. Because every thing was fictitious a simulacrum of mass media. The real women is paying the price now her safety is under threat.

Iqbal Hussein's paiting

Iqbal Hussein's paiting

The politicization of women bodies is one of the most important causes of mass crimes against women. Dr Robina Saigol has done an excellent study on how Pakistani Nation State politicizes women’s bodies and its consequences. Its is called Militarization, Nation and Gender : Women’s bodies as Arenas of Violent conflicts. Just as a critique on media portrayals of women was considered an attack on Pakistan Patriotism, a patriotism which revolves around either converting women into a “Barbie doll” of a “burqa clad sub human”. The inherent insecurity of Pakistani nationalists lead them to slogan mongering like Long Live Barbie Doll without realizing the amount of exploitation which goes on in such Industries.

Why we are so concerned about how women are portrayed on media for commercial interests, because overwhelming evidence exists on the harmful effects it causes on “real women”.

“Extensive research has demonstrated the negative results of female beautifulobjectification in the media. Depression, appearance anxiety, body shame, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders are only a few among the growing list of repercussions (Fredrickson & Noll, 1997). In addition to the objectification of women, the media commits another assault on the dignity of women. This assault is the dismemberment of women, and it has not received the attention it deserves (Kilbourne, 2002). Kilbourne (2002) pointed out that advertising is a 100 billion dollar a year industry. Each day we are exposed to more than 2000 ads. Advertising can be one of the most powerful sources of education in our society. Many women feel pressured to conform to the beauty standards of our culture and are willing to go to great lengths to manipulate and change their faces and bodies. Kilbourne suggests that women are conditioned to view their faces as masks and their bodies as objects. Through the mass media, women discover that their bodies and faces are in need of alteration, augmentation, and disguise. In addition, women are taught to internalize an observer’s perspective of their own bodies. This phenomenon is called objectification (Fredrickson & Noll, 1997). Advertisements are loaded with objectified women, and only recently have the effects of objectification been explored. However, the effects of the dismemberment of women in advertising have been neglected. Dismemberment advertisements highlight one part of a woman’s body while ignoring all the other parts of her body. Dismemberment ads portray women with missing appendages or substitute appendages. Of course the ads are only symbolic of dismemberment, but the symbolic imagery creates nearly the same effect.” The Objectification and Dismemberment of Women in Media , Kacey D Greening.

47503ca290403_1130b1use1What was truly condemnable that the images which were posted in retaliation of Freethinker’s criticism included what have been called “dismemberment of women”. The images highlight one part of women’s body neglect others, like in this case face and breasts. One should note that one never comes across image of male model showing just his crotch! With these images bombarding the mass media, it alters the reality and consciousness. This results in viewing women just as pleasure objects and toys; this is the first step in converting women into prostitute. Pleasure and sex which can be bought apart from woman’s soul: conditioning men into thinking of women as objects and pressurizing women to “conform” to sex-beauty protocols this de-humanizing continues. It is not about what dress some one is wearing, its hyperreality and politicization of women’s bodies which we are objecting. I am concluding this article by giving position of a radical feminist to add another perspective to the issue

“Yet fashion is still misogynist. It commodifies women, encourages them to believe that they must endure pain in order to be sexually appealing. Designers advertise clothes by picturing them on clear-skinned, breastless cadavers, in so-called “women’s magazines”; these magazines run articles that discuss how fashion can help you — an averagely fat, slightly be-zitted woman — come close to this standard of beauty. Fashion invites every woman to make the old trade of sex for money and happiness.”

Anti-Fashion: Patriarchy necessitates prostitution necessitates fashion, Chase Olivarius McAllister

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