Dr. S. Zulfiqar Gilani |
The brutalisation and murder of Zainab focussed attention on some deep and serious problems of our society. There has been a flurry of talk, but the focus has largely been on external issues like poor governance, absence of the rule of law, and the compromised criminal justice system, especially the police. Although external issues are important, and need to be addressed; we also need to recognise the socio-psychological milieu that breeds such horrors.
Zainab’s case has highlighted child sexual abuse of both boys and girls, which, although widespread and abhorrent, is just one manifestation of a more fundamental problem: Other manifestations include gang rape, acid-burning, wife-beating, killing in the name of so-called honour, harassment etc.
Although misogyny is discernible all across the globe, in Pakistan misogynous attitudes are widespread and deep. Alarmingly, these attitudes are considered normal, and the natural order.
The underlying problem is the deeply-rooted, tradition-based, and widespread misogyny in our society. Misogyny is a cultural attitude of hatred for women just because they are women. It results in sexist prejudice, and is an important basis for the oppression of females in male-dominated societies like ours. Misogyny is manifested in many different ways; from jokes to pornography to violence to the self-contempt women may be taught to feel toward their own bodies. Misogyny is gender-neutral and both men and women can have misogynous attitudes.
In our cultural milieu, male and female roles are defined in a manner that results in women being seen as the source of all evil; and machismo as glorious. A woman is primarily defined by her biology (usually as a sex object), and secondarily referred to in terms of her relationships: daughter, sister, wife, mother, and so on. Men describe their relationships with women mostly with sexual connotations, many times in terms of conquest and subjugation.
The only woman who escapes this treatment is the woman as mother, which may explain the strong desire of the Pakistani female to become a mother, because that elevates her psychosocially.Although of great significance, we will not dwell on the history, traditions, and institutional structures that perpetuate misogyny, and focus only on its psychosocial underpinnings. The prevalent misogyny is a result of the manner in which a male child is raised. (Female child-rearing practices are a separate topic).
He has to discard feminine emotionality and become ‘a man’. This is an unconscious process, but discernible in the average Pakistani male’s proud proclamations about his total lack of need for, and independence from, females; and the trashing of femininity.
In the typical Pakistani family, the father, or any other adult male, is emotionally an absent figure, and the early years of the child are spent primarily with women. The average male child in Pakistan has a privileged position during his growing years. He can do no wrong, and due to his biology, is superior to the female. And the boy’s elevated position is maintained primarily by the mother and other females involved in childcare.
He is also being told what it means to be a man, which is to be like his (emotionally absent) father. So for the boy, the role model does not have emotional reality, but is an idealised image of the father, which is powerful and superior. Through processes of Identification and projective identification with the idealised father, the boy then develops an idealised self-image.
The boy gains power by identifying with the (powerful) father. In projective identification the boy sees certain (desirable) qualities in the father, which are in fact products of his own fantasies, but projected onto the father; and with which he then identifies. The father, without awareness, accepts the projected definition, and plays the part. Thus, idealisations keep gaining strength and are mutually sustained.
Misogyny is manifested in many different ways; from jokes to pornography to violence to the self-contempt women may be taught to feel toward their own bodies. Misogyny is gender-neutral and both men and women can have misogynous attitudes.
The strong pull towards idealised maleness is further strengthened by the unconscious need to break away from the emotional grip of the mother. The bedrock of emotional development of all children is the mother. For the girl-child there is no disjunction, because there is continuity in her emotional growth.
Read more: What became of Zainab?
The male child on the other hand has to become psychologically and emotionally a different (idealised male) being: He has to discard feminine emotionality and become ‘a man’. This is an unconscious process, but discernible in the average Pakistani male’s proud proclamations about his total lack of need for, and independence from, females; and the trashing of femininity.
Although misogyny is discernible all across the globe, in Pakistan misogynous attitudes are widespread and deep. Alarmingly, these attitudes are considered normal, and the natural order. Given such a cultural context, cases like that of Zainab, and countless other forms of oppression of women across all sections of society are not surprising.
Dr. S. Zulfiqar Gilani is a Clinical Psychologist and Educationist, based in Islamabad. He is the former Vice Chancellor of the University of Peshawar; Rector Foundation University, Islamabad; Director Centre for Higher Education Transformation, Islamabad; and recipient of the prestigious Fulbright New Century Scholars award. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.