Demonising women

Mehmal Sarfraz  We live in the 21st century but sometimes we behave in ways that would put even the Dark Ages to shame. Ever since the news of the Imran-Reham divorce surfaced in the media, what we have seen is misogyny and nothing but. Reham Khan is being vilified left, right and centre. What exactly is her fault in all this, one wonders. Why is it that the divorce is being pinned on her and her alone? Some of the reasons being given in the media are: she is ‘ambitious’, she is a ‘working woman’, she is a ‘divorcee’, she has ‘political aspirations’, she wants to be in the limelight, among other things. One wonders if a man would be attacked for being a divorcee, for being ambitious, for working, for wanting to be in the limelight. No, a man would not be attacked for all these and more. In her interview to The Sunday Times, Ms Khan rightly pointed out: “Both of us are divorced, but it seems [from the media] that I’m the only one. We’ve now both been divorced twice, but no one says that.”

Imran Khan and Reham Khan
In happier times: Imran Khan and Reham Khan pose for a photograph during their wedding ceremony at his house in Islamabad on January 8. Pic/AFP

Those who have read my views over the years would know I am no fan of Mr Imran Khan as a politician, but I have never commented on his personal life in public. For me, a person’s private life should remain private. I would not have commented on their divorce had it not been for the witch-hunt Ms Khan is facing post-divorce. As a woman, it appals me to see the kind of malicious rumours being spread about her. A divorce is an extremely private matter but when a political leader marries a journalist, it is bound to become news and when he divorces her, most people — especially in the media — do not respect their privacy. It may be unethical, but scandals sell, unfortunately.

A female anchorperson and a former colleague of Reham says that she is no great supporter of hers but at the same time she feels that some of the attacks on Reham have been cruel and misogynist. “It’s not about Reham, it’s about who we have become in our attitude towards successful women. Sadly, we are a country that has always vilified women in power positions, often by ridiculing them through sexual innuendos or portraying them as unethical, immoral, ‘ambitious’ women who should not have attracted attention by venturing into public life. There are many examples: Benazir Bhutto — one newspaper transposed her face on a naked model’s body and published it on the front page at a time when she was cobbling together the Alliance for Restoration of Democracy; Malala Yousafzai — when she stood up against the Taliban as a teenager; Fatima Jinnah — when she contested elections, etc. Either all the women who succeeded in Pakistan are witches, or we, as a nation, have only one way of looking at them: with disdain.”

We do not see news packages in the media about what our male politicians are wearing to parliament but we have seen countless such mocking news packages when it comes to female parliamentarians. Instead of focusing on the legislative work they are doing, our media obsesses over their make-up, their clothes, their jewellery, their handbags, their shoes and whatnot. It is shameful the way our media has behaved in a voyeuristic manner but it also shows that our audience, ie our society, has not behaved much differently. It is time to give Reham a break and respect her privacy.

The writer is a Pakistani journalist. Reach her at mehmal.s@gmail.com

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