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What makes a Pakistani male “manly”?

Being a man isn’t just about masculinity

Published: September 17, 2016

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly. PHOTO: RANGIZZZ/SHUTTERSTOCK

“But that’s how we guys are.”

Is a common response when a woman asks a man about a few traits and attitudes that are seen as manly and macho.

While walking on a street near you, in a mall, or even when couples enter weddings – a familiar scenario ensues. The husband can be seen walking a few steps ahead of the wife for sure, and the wife trudging behind him, adjusting her ensemble, trying to catch up.

For Pakistani males, Def Leppard’s classic Two Steps Behind You is too mushy I’m sure. It is seen as some mark of masculinity to walk at least two steps ahead, if not four.

In our society, or maybe that is how it is all over the world, a few things are seen as ‘guy things.’

For example, the obscene joke sharing. It seems that there is an unsaid rule that in order to classify as a man, you absolutely must share lame and cheap jokes, and video clips and photographs of women in awkward or objectionable poses. Whatever one shares amongst friends is the personal business of each individual. But what is worrisome is how this is seen as a sign of masculinity. Such stereotypes are so etched in our social fabric that we are conditioned to think this is what makes a guy a ‘man.’

Ever seen prime time dramas on Pakistani television channels? They all seem to imply that it is some signature symptom of manliness for men to have affairs, cheat on the wife, and have physical needs, while a good, demure woman is stereotyped as a prudish character who is always shy and playing hard to get.

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly.

It is the men who are supposed to drive the car even if the wife or sister is the better driver or even if the poor husband or brother is exhausted after a long day at work. It is encouraging, actually, when one meets a man who is man enough to say “I don’t enjoy driving” if he doesn’t. But mostly they are unable to voice it, just like it is not easy for a woman to say she does not enjoy cooking.

Women themselves are participants in the act of perpetuating these stereotypes.

They feel sympathy for their sons or brothers if they help the wife with carrying the baby,change the baby’s diapers, or God forbids take paternal leave. Helping in the kitchen is something real men, of course, don’t do.

This conventionalising is not always in favour of men, and is not always healthy. Consider the economic arena.

In this age of inflation and consumerism, one salary is often not enough to support a family. With more and more women joining the work force in Pakistan, both can spend on the collective household. But gender stereotyping ends up pushing both males and females in pigeonholes of rigidly defined roles. The man ends up not helping the woman in the kitchen and housework even if she is also an earning member of the family. Similarly, even if he does end up lending a hand at home, many working women confess to feeling a pinch inside when they have to spend on their families. The feeling is best described as being made to do something they are not supposed to be doing.

Man-kind has not really progressed that much, has it, when the marks of manliness are not values like strength, courage and honesty, but instead driving a sports car, riding a massive motorbike in boots, or smoking a cigarette in public.

There are some inherent traits and tilts that are natural to both the genders. Some of these are natural. But others are not. They are just by-products of being exposed to certain socio-cultural habits of a nation.

For those who are the strongest of men, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to push their boundaries and challenge these norms by walking behind the wife or speaking softly and let the woman in your life have the last word. Being a man takes more than that.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

Are Pakistan’s “still unmarried” women the leftovers?

Published: April 15, 2016

A painting by Cynthia Angeles titled Grief

The best ones get taken first. The ones that are second choice get taken next. Those who are still not taken are considered ‘left overs’ – something must be lacking. No we are not talking about the kurtas on sale at a pret store, nor the shoes on the rack of an international shoe store. We are talking about women. Talented, smart, intelligent Pakistani women, each uniquely beautiful, irrespective of whether she is poised to be a home maker or a working woman. It is shameful that this is how society perceives them if they are still unmarried.

Being engaged or ‘in a relationship’ buys one a little time before the pressure begins to build up. But this is not just about the pressure on single women in Pakistan to get married. This is more about the blows to their self-esteem when the world seems like a market place (excuse the crass but apt analogy), and if no suitor has expressed a desire to marry you, you are a lesser being – the unwanted woman.

I got married young, so I never faced the unwanted stigma. But even then, one question used to spring up in conversations; shaadi se pehle kitnay rishtay aaye the? (How many proposalsdid you get before you got married?). Your worth, somehow, is associated with how many men wanted to make you their life partner, or how many mothers saw potential in you.

Sadly not much has changed; intelligent, enterprising and highly educated Pakistani women find themselves in a lurch. The late 20s, early 30s women who spent a lot of time in education, once done with their studies, find themselves in a tricky spot, especially if they studied abroad, and now have too much self-worth to allow themselves to be showcased. It is a shock to them that years later, social attitudes in Pakistan are still the same. Many of them go back abroad as the constant judgment that comes with being single is too much to take.

Every action has a reaction. The culture of measuring a woman by the number of proposalsshe receives has ignited a strong reaction within women; one that makes them sick to the idea of marriage. The trend is not a healthy effect, and we may call it a side-effect of women gaining too much independence, but decades of harming women’s self-esteem is the real cause.

A collective sentiment that may not be pronounced as yet, but is slowly and steadily growing among Pakistan’s urban and financially independent women are ‘why marry at all if one has to go through so much scrutiny, humiliation and even rejection?’

Which raises other valid questions like: Why should it be the woman who serves the tea trolley when the potential suitors and their families come to see her? Why should she face the rejection; and on what basis?

Asian cultures across the continent are jarringly similar. A recent advertisement in China aimed at empowering women has gone viral. It talks about how young single Chinese women are literally called the leftovers.

Pakistan may not have a specific word for it, but this is what is implied. And in the rishta (proposal) market, the most valuable currency is, of course, the physical aspect.

A multitude of TV ads perpetuate the same sickening thought process: Be thinner if you want to marry, be fairer if you want to marry, use bleach creams, and have flowing dead straight hair, look and dress a certain way if you want to marry.

If a man in his 30s is unmarried, nobody will blame his paunch, thinning gray hairline or his height, weight or complexion. He will be given the benefit of doubt and excuses will be made FOR him – he was busy studying because he is so brilliant; he was busy building a career because he is so responsible; he was waiting for his sisters to get married because he is so noble.

But for a woman, it seems how her outward appearance is all that she is worth. She must be young enough to bear children and good looking enough to appease the man. Come to urban Pakistan and in addition to this, she should ideally also have a degree from a decent university – a degree which, in all probability, she may not ever use.

Marriage is a very important milestone in a person’s life. It is a promise of a long term partnership and a more well-rounded life, and is something most men and women aim for. It is a commitment that needs adjustment, it’s not a fairy tale, but is worth the trouble. Having said that, no one deserves to be made to feel inferior for not having been chosen by suitors.

Today’s single Pakistani women are not necessarily leftovers – many of them simply don’t want a man who is shallow enough to choose or reject them, only on the basis of how they look. They feel they are better off being without such a man. So spare a woman the pity when you see her happening, single and in her 30s. She doesn’t need it.

Taking the city by storm, one wheelie at a time

Karachi’s own female track racer motorcyclist

Published: October 24, 2015
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http://tribune.com.pk/story/978361/knocking-down-gender-roles-taking-the-city-by-storm-one-wheelie-at-a-time/
Mehwish Ekhlaque is one of the few female motorcyclists in the city who still hold a passion for hardcore biking and track racing. She used to ride the two-wheeler with her husband sitting behind until he died. Now, she takes care of her motorcycle on her own. PHOTOS: COURTESY MEHWISH EKHLAQUE

Mehwish Ekhlaque is one of the few female motorcyclists in the city who still hold a passion for hardcore biking and track racing. She used to ride the two-wheeler with her husband sitting behind until he died. Now, she takes care of her motorcycle on her own. PHOTOS: COURTESY MEHWISH EKHLAQUE

KARACHI: In a city where millions of male motorcyclists dominate the roads, with their wives perched behind them, it was refreshing to see Mehwish Ekhlaque riding the two-wheeler with her husband sitting behind.

The woman is one of the very few female motorcyclists in the city who still hold a passion for hardcore biking and track racing.

Miss hits convention out of the park

Three years ago, Ekhlaque lost her biggest support when her husband passed away. “When other women sat behind their husbands on motorcycles, he sat behind me, encouraging me to pursue my passion, telling me to wear the gear so that I look the part of a track motorcyclist,” she remembers fondly.

“When I bought my motorcycle and took it to a mechanic and asked him that I needed a star wheel, he said it was impossible,” she recalls. “So I did it myself with my uncle and then took it back to that mechanic to show him.”

Her Saturday evenings are exclusively for her motorcycle. “I make sure it is polished and looking good for the Sunday rides. I take care of its every little need on my own,” she points out. “If you give your motorcycle love and respect, it will love and respect you back.”

Egyptian female cyclists pedal for acceptance

In pursuance of her passion, Ekhlaque has not encountered any problems. “The men are helpful. They say ‘madam aap pehle kara lain’ [madam, you go first]. I enjoy the ‘ladies first’ attitude of Pakistani men,” she says. It took her time to get used to being a woman riding a motorcycle on Karachi’s crowded roads and alleys. “At signals, people have sometimes come and lifted my helmet to confirm if I am a woman,” she says with a smile. Sometimes she sees women asking their husbands to teach them also, once they see Ekhlaque gracefully gliding on the roads. “They take selfies with me.” In her experience, she faces no harassment as a female motorcyclist as long as she exudes confidence and does not look vulnerable.

When women perch on one side of the motorcycle as they usually do, Ekhlaque says it is difficult for the rider to balance. “If you are dressed modestly, why should sitting in the proper position on a motorcycle be a problem?”

Café racers

Recently, Ekhlaque became the only woman to have participated in Pakistan’s first-ever Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride (DGR) event in Karachi in September this year. The DGR is an international event that takes place in about 80 countries to increase awareness and raise funds for the treatment of prostate cancer.

On her motorcycle, 26-year-old girl glides through Karachi

The DGR was brought to Pakistan by Faisal Malik, the founder of café racer group  Throttle Shrottle, who aims to get Pakistani women to ride motorcycles, and that too for more than just commuting purposes. “I had to search for a female motorcyclist ready to hit the tracks, and reassure Mahwish’s family that she will be made to feel secure and respected in this group,” he points out.

The event received an overwhelming response in Pakistan with more than 250 bikers registered in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. To participate in the event, there are two requirements — participants must be dressed in formal attire, and be riding vintage or custom-modified motorcycles. Ekhlaque fulfilled both criteria.

For Malik, being a café racer is ‘an attitude’. “It helps the rider develop a certain kind of a personality,” he says, adding that the café racer is synonymous with being a rocker or a rebel. Malik’s group mates, mostly aged between 30 and 40 years, may not all fit the rocker image but they do ride custom-made or modified motorbikes, which the rider can create according to his or her own specifications.  The starting price can be as less as Rs100,000 and is thus affordable for most enthusiasts. “Harley Davidson is an off-the-shelf product while a café racer is something you yourself have put together — a fusion of sorts,” he says. “Like an artist’s painting.”

*Longer version of this story in available on tribune.com.pk

Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2015.