The Female Political Imperative – Remembering Bhutto

In the late 1970s, Dr. Edward Said founded postcolonialism with the simple idea that Western discourse on the East is predicated upon false and embellished images. True to his word, when probed about Arabo-Islamic culture, Americans conjure a simultaneously romantic and offensive catalogue: Al-Qaeda sponsored terrorism, dangerous ownership of nuclear arms, the racially ambiguous Princess Jasmine, stick-and-stone militias, and rugs of the airborne variety. And yet this supposedly uncouth collective has still managed to elect and sustain female figureheads long before America could even shudder at the notion of putting Hillary Clinton in office.

Benazir Bhutto

Typically thought of as a breeding ground for spineless, mindless women, the South Asian subcontinent has produced female leaders who have reached the top of their respective governments. Women like Khaleda Zia, Indira Gandhi, and Benazir Bhutto have inspired the archetypal demure South Asian housewife to voice her opinion and believe that yes, she is every bit as competent as her husband (and in some cases more so). Indeed, groups like the Gulabi Gang are proof that there are self-aware women. Though their method of inflicting bodily harm on men who have beaten or abandoned their wives is, admittedly, slightly unorthodox, they do host a plethora of less violent and more beneficial programs: pink taxis for women (and driven by women), English language classes, and self-defense lessons. Likewise, many of the leaders in power during the forming of such groups have left mixed legacies behind, but a unified sentiment resonates loudly: certain Muslim states have put women at their political forefronts before their seemingly progressive frienemy, the United States, could even let one win a primary.

The United States appears to have more concern with a candidate’s image than their policies. The pundits spend more time speculating about race, religion, and sex than the actual matters at hand. Previously, we’ve dealt with such pressing issues as having the first Catholic president, the first Mormon president, the first two-armed president; today, nobody can look past Barack Obama’s eloquence or blackness to determine his viability as a competitive candidate; nobody can look past Hillary Clinton’s husband or sex to figure out whether or not she’s capable of actually holding office. America’s unjustified predilection towards gossip and scandal alongside its lip-service towards puritanical morality makes its politics uniquely susceptible to such issues.

But let’s look at Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto was a woman of great academic breeding (both Harvard and Oxford educated) and came from a distinctly political family. While in office, she miraculously managed to both be married and raise a child, and this woman won favor with her people. Her pursuit for the democratic system in Pakistan has also earned her international praise, many dubbing her a martyr in the name of political freedom. And for women, she will forever remain a symbol of power and potential.

For the hypocritical United States, perhaps the first female president will be Hillary Clinton. Or maybe not. Perhaps the first black president will be Barack Obama. Or maybe not. Of course we could be even more daring and elect a Mormon, but rest assured in this great nation of freedom, it’s better to at least have a religion than to have none. (Though the day we have a black, atheist, lesbian presidential candidate, the GOP will heart-attack in unison.) South Asians need to play Americans at their own game—the image game. Instead of reifying idiotic notions of Islamic extremism and Aladdin, we ought to portray the positive. We ought to be able to say that some largely antagonized Muslim states put a marginalized group into office long before Mrs. Clinton incited clamor. The point is not that South Asian nations have progressed; they are, naturally, still progressing. And I would be doing a disservice to women if I said that there aren’t still basic changes that must be made to the South Asian gender dynamic, but at the very least it’s a little disconcerting to see Americans so critical of a demographic who has, in some way, progressed past the point of making sex a deal-breaking issue for a candidate. It is our obligation, then, as South Asians, as Muslims, as women , to show Americans that while they were humming “A Whole New World,” we were busy making one.

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

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1 comment

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