Pop patriarchs

In a patriarchal world, there are many tools used to promote misogyny and pop culture is one of them. Mass media and pop culture influence us deeply in today’s world; very few can escape this influence for very few are active viewers/consumers of pop culture.

Most of us are passive viewers who take in mass messages that perpetuate the cults of masculinity and femininity, especially through TV shows and advertisements.

We define ourselves and our reality based on the images we are inundated with and those that are repeated more tend to leave a more lasting impression on our psyches.

Gender, itself, is performed and not innate. We perform our roles as female and males. We dress the part, act the part and behave the way we are expected to as men or women.

This is learned behaviour which starts from birth and is constantly reinforced on a daily basis. Advertisements, for example, reinforce the notion that women belong in the kitchen and are responsible for feeding their family a good (wholesome) meal.

The woman is the one in charge of maintaining traditional womanhood in these ads: she is the one who cleans the clothes and dishes, changes the nappies and looks after the kids. TV ads glorify this role and cultivate a passive acceptance of the female as belonging to the domestic sphere.

In many TV shows, women are portrayed as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Khirad from Humsafar was one such example. The same show had an example of the stereotypical ‘bad’ woman in the character of Sara.

The ‘good’ woman is one who dresses traditionally and looks very feminine often with long flowing hair that is kept covered; obeys her husband no matter how abusive he is; sacrifices herself and her happiness for man and family; and romanticises traditional womanhood.

She is portrayed as a role model – a woman to look up to and a woman to emulate.

The ‘bad’ woman, on the other hand, is often portrayed as a more modern and independent woman. She has shorter hair and doesn’t cover it. She dresses non-traditionally and works. She values her independence and doesn’t worship any husband and then she suffers for it in the end.

In other words, she is exactly what the patriarchy fears which is why she is often punished as a message for young female viewers. These TV shows teach them not to go against the grain, to conform and blindly accept the cult of femininity. The repercussions for disobeying this are grave. Sara, for example, commits suicide.

Pop culture teaches us how to be ideal women. It teaches us that being a traditional woman will be rewarded. It scorns upon those of us who challenge any notion of femininity.

It also reinforces gender dichotomies by perpetuating the cult of masculinity. Fashion and beauty cults also join in to regulate how we look through pop culture. Accepting them (these cults) leads to popular acceptance.

None of this is likely to change in a patriarchal world. The media is mostly owned by men or controlled by a patriarchal state. Even though we have women writing and acting out these roles, they continue to perpetuate patriarchal norms because women have historically been responsible for propagating this patriarchy.

Patriarchy is a system that necessarily relies on the oppressed to be in charge of their own oppression. Patriarchy has been called a perfect system because it turns woman against woman, teaching them how to hold themselves back.

In a patriarchal pop culture industry, the women who get to the top or the women who are rewarded are the ones who accept patriarchal norms without challenging them. And the cycle continues…

Published in The News.



Imagine you’re a person with an opinion who one day voices it online or in print. Now imagine waking up to an inbox full of threats, of details on how you should be raped and degraded sexually simply for having an opinion. This doesn’t just sound horrific, it actually is. And worse still, this is quite common.

Just about every woman who has ever expressed an opinion that goes against the grain will have faced this scenario. Just about all of us who write are subjected to vicious online assaults and when we choose to speak up, we’re accused of whining unnecessarily. The freedom to offend is a dear one and should be protected. The right to free speech demands it.

However, what this ignores are some ethical aspects of this issue. In a pervasive rape culture, trivialising violence against women has severe repercussions. ‘Rape culture’ allows for the degradation of women, which, in turn, manifests itself through the actual practice of violence against women. And the acceptability of this kind of rape culture in the media allows victim blaming to flourish, which prevents women from speaking up or seek justice.

Those who say rape culture doesn’t exist only need to take a look at statistics as well as the attitude within the police force, which is supposed to be protecting rape victims. We live in a culture where women hesitate to report any violence done to them because of the traditional view that a ‘good’ woman would not be raped and if she is, will never go public with the fact or speak up against it. In essence, their trauma is heightened.

Years ago, when I was an intern at an NGO that was conducting a training session with the heads of jails across Pakistan, I experienced just how prevalent such a culture was. One of them argued that if I was raped on the street, it would be my fault for I would be “asking for it” by wearing short sleeves and baring my arms.

These attitudes are common globally and are strengthened through pop culture. Rap songs are especially notorious for promoting misogyny. TV shows also strengthen stereotypes where the ‘bad woman’ is blamed for her suffering and the ‘good woman’ is one who endures abuse and embraces it. Misogyny in pop culture reduces women to mere objects worthy of violence.

Take the example of Honey Singh, a rapper whose lyrics have caused an uproar in India. A song attributed to him from 2006, which he denies writing, glorifies rape and romanticises male power over women. In the song, a man dreams of raping and beating a woman. Should we seriously turn a blind eye to this and pretend that he has no impact on young men and even women who may think violence against them is normal and acceptable?

Some say Honey Singh is being targeted in a world where rap culture finds misogyny acceptable. It is, after all, a product of the industry. Some argue that the fact that he didn’t write the lyrics means he shouldn’t be held accountable. But even if Honey Singh didn’t write these lyrics, the fact that he sang them seems like an endorsement of such violence. Unless we want to turn a blind eye to rape apologists, we need to start somewhere.

Perhaps it’s just Singh’s bad luck that his work has caused uproar but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start this desperately needed conversation now. In fact, let’s embrace this and continue talking in the hope that we can change the world by actively fighting against the forces that oppress us. And yes, that includes music, which humans connect with emotionally.

Published in The News.