By Ameena Mohyuddin Zia
The contemporary Pakistani woman has arrived in the political space. She has dared to step outside of Benazir Bhutto’s somber shalwar kameez and white chiffon duppata. Who is she? Where did she come from? How did she get here?
She is the Hina Pervaiz Butt; the Maryam Nawaz; the Sharmeela Farooqi, and Hina Rabbani Khar. She has navigated her entrance into the patriarchal universe with creative gowns, eyeliners, bold colors, and yes, purses and shoes. Such accouterments have entered bureaucracy! What is she thinking? Or clearly, she is not thinking. I have to admit, she looks beautiful with poise; elegant with confidence; and graceful with femininity. Yes, I did say femininity. A part of me smiled inside.
Now that she has arrived, how should we nicely compartmentalize this contemporary Pakistani woman politician as she navigates through the masculine space of bureaucracy? Do we place her with US Presidential Candidate Hillary R. Clinton’s much-talked-about pant suits and her dominating personality with other women politicians of the upper echelons of society (like Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, and Angela Merkel)? What about the fashion savvy first ladies of the world who werevere for their effortless fashion forward attires (Lady Diana, Queen Noor, and Michelle Obama)? Oh, we just adore them for promoting the values of their husband’s power and platform.
What would Cynthia Enloe say? She would argue that it is, in fact, these diplomatic wives who are the true promoters of diplomatic dialogue and friendship as they host impeccable tea-gatherings and host fabulous dinner-parties in order to further the nationalist efforts in the international community.
Again, what about the contemporary Pakistani politician? She doesn’t fit into these two categories!
But, oh yes. She is a combination of both.
The au fait of third wave feminism has ingrained in her the idea that everything is, in fact possible. She can simultaneously enjoy being traditional and outgoing; self conscious and independent; romantic and ambitious; hardworking and vulnerable; and creative and smart. Perhaps it is alright to agree to disagree and there is a certain beauty in the miss-matched sequence that binds her consciousness.
As a young girl,her mother(having sacrificed little pleasures of life because of perils of joint family systems, radical Islamicalization of women’s laws, constant dependency on a male, and living in the shadows in society) taught her that she can be anyone she wishes and do anything she sets her mind to. Her socially constrained mother pushed her to own her thoughts, her emotions, and her ideas…while simultaneously sharing the romance of Elizabeth Bennet, Anarkali, and Heer. She imagined a world of justice and equality as she was encouraged to find herself; her truths; her wants; and to explore the possibilities of creating her own space…and that anything and everything is within her grasps.
On her way to chase the glass ceiling, she is taught that it is necessary to foster her own individual talents and if perhaps she don’t like something, than simply change it.
She quickly understands to own her own journey; to live her own story; and to learn to fend for herself without emotional reliance on a fiancé or a husband. And therefore, she now has certain ideals and expectations from the men in her society; however fabricated in her own subconscious.
She, now, finds refuge in books and thick rimmed glasses.
She, now, is the product of her mother’s feminist generation.
She, now, realizes she wants it all – the education, the career (of making policy), organic home-cooked meals on the dinner table, and the representation of sheer elegance.
She, now, understand that it is, indeed, possible at the expense of absolutely nothing.
She takes her direction from the grandmothers, mothers, daughters, and sisters; from the Fatima Jinnahs of her time; from the Mukhtar Mais of her time; from the Malala Yousefzais of her time; and from the Asma Jahangirs of her time.
She is starting to pave a path for herself and for other women. She is comfortable in her femininity and in her roles outside traditional gender constructs. She is the new feminist of her time as she proudly succeeds in a man’s world of politics by deconstructing social paranoia.
Ameena Mohyuddin Zia is a PhD Candidate in Political Economy & Gender Studies at the University of Missouri St. Louis and an Adjunct Lecturer at CUNY’s York College. Her work examines social constructs through both research and visual documentations. She also works as a strategic consultant for public-private partnerships in NYC.