Veena Malik might not be the flag bearer for traditional feminism, but that does not take away from the fact that she is, in her own way, challenging the limits of the dominant religio-cultural discourse in Pakistan, which seeks to conflate superfluous notions of honour with the female self.
For all intents and purposes, Malik is part of an industry that objectifies women in the crudest, most misogynist manner. But that cannot be held against her in a society that actually encourages and rewards the objectification of women as long as it is on societys patriarchal terms, that is. Women who take up the burqa or headscarf, for instance, are felicitated. Covered up, their forms eradicated, they are reduced to mere objects that must be hidden from view, lest righteous men be led astray. Social or monetary price tags placed on virginity also serve to reduce women to nothing more than goods that must be unpackaged only by the first owner.
Copious amounts of outrage, on the other hand, are poured over women such as Veena Malik and Mathira for allegedly declaring war on our culture. Our culture values modesty, the ghaeret brigade claims; it requires women to remain within bounds. In reality, however, those crying vulgarity are merely peddling their own parochial, patriarchal worldview in the guise of tehzeeb; for the culture that they describe and try to impose upon the population-at-large not ours at all.
The culture of the subcontinent, of which Pakistan is still a part, comes from the Indus Valley civilisation a matriarchal society that worshipped the Shiva Linga and the Mother Goddess. That culture was high on art, music and dance, and enshrined female sexuality eternally in bronze statues, one of which, the dancing girl of Moen-jo-daro, was unearthed in 1926. In his book, The Indus Civilization: A Contemporary Perspective, anthropologist Gregory Possehl, quotes one of the Moen-jo-Daro excavators, John Marshalls description of the statue as a vivid impression of a young girl; her hand on her hip in a half-impudent posture, and legs slightly forward as she beats time to the music with her legs and feet. Possehl then adds to this description: We may not be certain that she was a dancer, but she was good at what she did and she knew it. Archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler further eulogised the statues raw feminity: A girl perfectly for the moment perfectly confident of herself and the world. Theres nothing like her, I think, in the world.
After watching Malik stand her ground against a misogynist television host and a sleazy cleric, meanwhile, my partner also decided to profess his undying love for her. And for once, instead of shaking my head at him for being fickle, I actually agreed with him; because the words that academics have used to describe to the 4,500-year-old Harappan statue also apply to women such as Veena and Mathira. Like the dancing girl of Moen-jo-Daro, not only are these women comfortable with their own sexuality, they also choose to flaunt it, thus conveying the message that their bodies belong to no one but them; that they are the sole custodians of their morality and sexuality. As such, their contribution to feminism is in them thumbing their noses at false traditionalism and hypocrisy. Their message is clear: politicking might be your business, but not over my body. Religion is a personal matter, and imaan should be stronger than something that can be made to flounder at the sight of a leg. On a related note, the ghaeret brigade needs take a look at the catalogue of actual reasons why Pakistan budnaam hua women who assert the right to bare arms or shoulders, for instance, are not part of that list.