Good Convos and #GreenIt Campaign Launch w/Amb. Martin Kobler in Islamabad

It all began with a tweet by Ambassador Martin Kobler, the charming German Ambassador to Pakistan, inviting other active Pakistani twitter followers to a #tweetup. A friend shared the tweet asking where all the women were and that’s when I decided to get in touch – all the while thinking this would be a #TwitterLive session. Turns out it was an invite to take part in the first-ever Twitter party at the Embassy.

Fast forward a few weeks later, and here we are! This was a truly special gathering. The launch of the #GreenIt campaign focuses on encouraging sustainable living throughout the country, from planting and harvesting organic food to saving water while carrying out daily chores.

It was an honor to meet with so many caring, motivated individuals, all of whom are so passionate about their respective causes, be it environmental awareness, equal access to education and jobs for women or greater accessibility for limited mobility individuals.

Don’t Call Us Girls

The best way to discuss a phenomenon is to start with a little memory recall.

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  • What Cyndi Lauper song refers to people having fun?
  • The mid-’80’s hit ‘ Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ .
  • What is the name of the highly popular yet highly controversial T.V. show by Lena Dunham?
  • Girls on HBO.

See a pattern there?

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Cyndi Lauper twirling in the music video

Dig Deeper:  When Lauper sings ‘Oh girls, they wanna have fun’ she is referring to a community that she belongs to and is thumbing her nose in the face of the stodgy patriarchy. She is referring to her friends and herself as ‘girls’ but it is evident she is talking about young women who want to ‘walk in the sun’ and refuse to be shut down/shut away or diminished in any other way by conventions and societal mores.

Time for those who are NOT women to stop calling women ‘girls’. This type of language is problematic and should be avoided at all costs. Using ‘girls’ instead of women reinforces traditional sex roles and erases their adulthood as a consequence. 

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By calling grown adults ‘girls’, you are essentially robbing them of their personhood. Their agency and their impact, their careers, their decisions, their feelings  as adults are all trivialised by the consistent labelling and use of such language.

Treating someone like a child is infantalization, and  it can be applied in several different ways, and often for different reasons. A solid example would have to be the way Lucy, the main character in the I Love Lucky t.v. show, is often talked down to and even spanked by her husband, Ricky, for laughs.

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Ponytails in Popular Culture: Depicting Women as Girls

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Popular culture does not miss an opportunity to depict women as inexperienced and naive. This peculiar social pressure on women to appear youthful extends to even makeup trends, where eyeliner is applied to mimic the larger eyeballs of young children.

Women are told, repeatedly, that they must act submissive, and uncertain to appear desirable. Men maintain their status and power in this flawed projection of gendered traits; being womanly, however, is equated to childhood and complete vulnerability. 

Overwhelmingly, the attempt is to show women without power or maturity.  Observe photo shoots in leading fashion magazines and the postures and expressions render the models pictured as powerless yet sexually available .

Women in ads are made to pose in ways that resemble children – with blank stares, knees bent, and hands place in or around the mouth. Men, however, are shown standing up straight and tall, completely in control – much like an adult.

The Bratz Phenomenon

Rampant Sexualization of Young Girls

We have, not one, but two disturbing phenomenon at work here. The  infantilisation of women is accompanied by the trend of sexualizing young girls for commercial purposes. Advertisers increasingly market clothes, makeup, t.v. shows and even toys that promote the sexualization of girls (meaning actual children). Let’s not forget the extremely disturbing beauty pageants industry catering exclusively to little girls.

In the article titled “Behind the Cultural Imperative for Women to be Sexy and Cute,” Wade explains that:

“The sexualization of girls and the infantilization of adult women are two sides of the same coin. They both tell us that we should find youth, inexperience, and naivete sexy in women, but not in men. This reinforces a power and status difference between men and women, where vulnerability, weakness, and dependency and their opposites are gendered traits: desirable in one sex but not the other.”

There you have it! Portraying women as childlike and pushing sexualized fashion and music on girlhood- are part of the same disturbing societal problem. 

Is there a solution? In fact, there is more than one way to correct these prevailing trends. We will explore those in the next few blogs.

For starters, let’s stop calling women ‘girls’.

-Mariam Shoaib 

Terracotta Hearts & a Plastic Eden: Lahore’s First-ever Biennale

Part ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ and part a deluge of contemporary artwork, Lahore’s first-ever Biennale was truly a one-of-a-kind experience. After reading and viewing on social media about the Karachi Biennale, I was quite curious to see what this mix of artists had to offer in Lahore and let me tell you – they did not disappoint!

 

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Library at Bagh-e-Jinnah

 

A friend and I were only able to make it on the very last day, so we covered the installations at Bagh-e-Jinnah ( also known as Lawrence Gardens) and the former Lahore Lit Fest stronghold, Al -Hamra Cultural Complex – both conveniently located on The Mall.

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Lover's Temple Ruins

 

Let it be noted, I risked my life to see Ali Kazim’s Lover’s Temple Ruins public art installation. How’s that for commitment to ‘The Arts”?!  It was upon seeing Kazim’s unusual take on ‘Lover’s Garden’ on Instagram that it was decided to make Lawrence Gardens the first stop.  The risking my life part? It’s coming. A very helpful Lahore Biennale volunteer pointed in the general direction of a tree-covered hill and said that more artwork lies up there. Padding along in my comfy slippers with a thick sole, it was a surprise to find a steep trail comprising of random slate slabs, crumbling red dirt and a few roots branching along the path. With much trepidation, but with an even stronger resolve and a patient fellow-hiker,  we made our way up the hill and eventually to Kazim’s artwork.  On a serious note, future Lahore Biennale events should be curated with accessibility in mind. It does not make sense that any patron of the arts miss out on experiencing an exhibit just because wheelchair ramps, side railings or proper steps are unavailable.  What kind of public art installation is exclusionary?

It strikes you – as if one has been suddenly transported to a remote excavation site. Signs of an older civilization all but gone for some stubborn terracotta hearts. It felt as if one is a giant peering down on a collapsing foundation- moments before all is lost to the ravages of time.

 

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Warda Shabbir’s work at the Lahore Biennale

 

 

A riot of colors enclosed in a life-size version of child’s diorama, Warda Shabbir’s installation instantly engages the viewer and transports them to her version of the Garden of Eden.  Aside from being quite ‘Instagrammable’, Shabbir’s skill at turning ordinary plastic plants and flowers into a breathtaking 3-D mural is noteworthy.

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A close-up of Warda Shabbir’s work at the Lahore Biennale

 

Noor Ali Chagani’s artwork depicts the impact of societal expectations on Pakistani men. I felt that Chagani’s ‘brick wall’ speaks of the hope that perhaps one day more men will feel comfortable sharing their softer sides.

 

I adored, ADORED, Salman Toor’s ARE YOU HERE? installation at the Al-Hamra Arts Center.

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Shezad Dawood’s Neutral Density

 

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Asma Jehangir’s Legacy: Speak in Turn, Rise in Unison!

It has been a trying few days after the loss of true feminist icon and fearless advocate for the unprotected, Asma Jehangir. I tried to capture my thoughts and feelings in poetic form. 

Asma Jehangir’s Legacy: Speak in Turn, Rise in Unison!

Shoulder to Shoulder,

hand in hand,

a name, a presence, a force

that continues to rankles men’s egos and upset their comfortable self-delusions

This time around, Time will not heal,

We will leave this gash exposed and untreated

like the state of women, the minorities, the children, the unprotected

across the land

to twirl one’s mustache and think “ab tho yeh bala tali’

there could be no bigger mistake,

jahaan aik thee, ab hain aik hazaar,

sirf aik hazaar awaazein nahi, par goonjey thi we azaan hai yeh

bohot ho gaya intezar, auratein, miskeen, bachoon ka – Insaaf ke liye!

Asma Jehangir, courage and integrity personified, leaves up to Us

To Carry On,

To Be Strong,

To Be Fair.

 

– Mariam Shoaib

 

Women-Only: Out with the Bucket-list, In with the Action Plan

For those unfamiliar with the term, a bucket-list is essentially a list of experiences one wants to gain before ‘kicking the bucket’ or ‘meeting their Maker’. Hollywood is partially responsible for making ‘The Bucket-List” concept widely popular. It has been romanticized endlessly as the ultimate gift one character can give another; they are to help the other main character cross off all of the items, travel to remote destinations and partake in kooky adventures- all this mentioned on the bucket-list before they die.

Ever seen Mandy Moore’s ‘A Walk to Remember’ ?  One of Jamie’s wishes is to be in two places at the same time, so Landon makes it happen:

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It is easy to see the allure in choosing this concept for moviemakers as it makes for a straightforward plot line.  But here, on this blog, we are sticking to the real world.

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I say down with the bucket-list! Enough with adding bullet-points upon bullet-points to soothe the frustrated soul and the impatient mind  into believing that you will, indeed, take a big juicy bite out of Life- Someday.

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As a South Asian woman, especially as a Pakistani woman in today’s world, the lingering narrative is to ‘wait’ – wait until you are married to travel, wait for approval from a large, faceless ominous presence called “log” (a Desi-Urdu term for community) before choosing your major for graduate school, wait until the kids are older before going back to work (or to begin working in the first place!), wait for a better time for your partner before trying out a side hustle – just keep waiting.

If you are reading this, you are practically enrolled in the Catalyst Woman movement. I will let you in on a little secret-  us Catalyst Women, we do not wait for change to happen – we are the ones who make it happen!

Ease off the brakes and gently push down upon the accelerator when it comes to living your best life in 2018.  Replace the winding scroll of travel destinations, quirky hobbies and languages to learn with a point-by-point Action Plan.  Rather than dampen your dreams (and your spirit) by banishing them to a distant, undefined point in the future, try feeding the same list into a task management tool like Asana and start figuring out the logistics for attaining “Experience #1”.

 

Be realistic about what resources you have at hand – so that means taking a long, hard look at whether you have the basic requirements sorted – the savings, the passport,the right credentials- before embarking on “Experience #1”. Worst case scenario? You’ll find out  exactly what needs to be done before you can scale Mt. Kilimanjaro or enroll in vegan cooking classes.  Add that to your ‘to-do’ list and get cracking!

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If your dreams are founded upon undeniable aspirations, they deserve a chance to be actualized. No one will give you express permission to do so – not your boss, not your partner, not your pets- so you will need to be practical, focused and find motivation from within yourself about it all.

What is more logical and practical than an action plan?!

Book Review: An American Family by Khizr Khan

‘An American Family’ is literally one of the few Advanced Reader Copies or ARCs that I finished reading within days of receiving it via NetGalley.

I was curious to read the story of Khizr Khan. He is the Pakistani-American man who stood proudly at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 to take Donald Trump to task for his criticism of John McCain and Muslims during the U.S. Presidential Campaign.

Not only does Khizr describe his own struggle to achieve ‘the American Dream’, from sleeping on park benches to working multiple jobs, he also manages to become a voice of the 2nd or 3rd wave of original Pakistani men who had to leave the newly-minted nation to find work and stability in the Arabian Gulf countries and beyond. This entire generation or two, both men and women born in the early 1950’s to late 1960’s, all chased a better standard of life for their families and themselves, often by being exploited as skilled and unskilled labor in the Middle Eastern nations like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia.

I highly recommend this book for millennial Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans to read to understand life from the perspective of our parents, aunts, uncles and mentors.

 “I wasn’t leaving so much as I was going forward”

“The billionaire’s playground that Dubai would become was light years away, but it was obvious even then that the emirate was making a frantic leap forward.”

Read my book review on Goodreads.

 

Book Review: Generations by Flavia Bondi

Flavia’s simply-drawn characters leave room for the momentous topics being discussed in her graphic novel ‘Generations’. She skilfully tackles familial estrangement, conservative attitudes towards homosexuality, and even the main protagonist’s quarter-life crisis – all while enveloping the reader into the folds of Matteo’s family.

Read this for one reason, if nothing else: the remixing of the classic analogy of the apple & the tree.

Let’s raise a glass for the ultimate teacher…

Experience.

Challenges, failures, and successes – all culminate into experiences that shape our decisions.

These experiences are extremely potent; to the extent that they can color our perspective on a number of important things.

Some experiences can alter our moral fibre; others can reinforce the preliminary truths that have been ingrained in us since childhood.

Experience is the yardstick with which professional  acumen and financial worth is measured out in the workplace.

Experience adds an extra swagger in one’s walk after nailing ten three-pointers in a row on the basketball court.

That satisfied smack of the lips after applying lipstick flawlessly while driving – that’s experience, all right.

It wakes you in the middle of the night, as autumnal breeze makes the windows creak and groan with increasing frequency.  All those pre-Halloween movie marathons, they count as experience, be it fictional and borrowed.

Experience saves us from heartbreak.  You can spot the red flags from a mile away.

Why pause before every turn? Even on a deserted intersection? Previous experiences, more accurately described as close calls, demand you leave space for crazed drivers breaking stoplights.  Experience saves your hard-earned money from ending up in the mechanic’s wallet.

This week social media will be flooded with poems and platitudes, all praising the traditional wielder of wisdom and clarity – a teacher.

You know better than to subscribe to that trend.

After all,  you have the Experience.

The devil has the best lines.

 Big Hair, even Bigger Dreams:  Wisdom from the G.L.O.W. 

Be Ok with Being Unlikeable.

Being okay with being unlikeable is a rude awakening for many in this selfie-driven / likes-driven world. We can not imagine being ignored, discounted or misunderstood by the public at-large.

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Ruth, our heroine in magenta tights, does not suffer from this delusion. Her life as a struggling actress in L.A. does not allow her to ever, ever forget that she is unlikeable.

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Ruth gets rough treatment on almost every casting call she goes for;  mostly for being original, authentic, and adamant on achieving her dream to become a Hollywood star. While she refuses to give up, that constant negative feedback has turned her into a worrier.

Accept Your Lot in Life.

In episode 2 her director Sam drives the truth home – to find your place in the sun – try not giving a f*ck.

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As the roles for the upcoming wrestling match are being assigned, Ruth is disappointed to hear that she is not playing Liberty Belle, a patriotic Southern Belle, in the fight. Instead, Sam has pegged her as the adversary in the ring, who will lose in the end.

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She needs to embrace the role that is being offered, to accept responsibility for some of the shitty things she has done as well as the inevitability of everything else that remains a confusing mess, like her broken friendship and the *always* overdue rent.

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Ruth is made to see the role as the villain for the big break she was striving for. It is not until she embraces this fact and pursues her character, albeit with a wonky Russian accent,  that Ruth’s talent is recognized.

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Plus, like Sam says, the devil has the best lines.

Haven’t seen G.L.O.W. yet? I highly recommend this show as it consists of smart writing, unpredictable characters, a diverse cast and kick-ass female leads who keep you at the edge of  your seat. 

“a pleasant task to do”

Upon resuming activity on the blog, I thought it best to start the party with this poem (part-wish/part-realization).

This is My Life

by William Stanley Braithwaite

To feed my soul with beauty till I die; 

To give my hands a pleasant task to do;

To keep my heart forever filled anew

With dreams and wonders which the days supply; 

To love all conscious living, and thereby

Respect the brute who renders up its due, 

And know the world as planned is good and true–

And thus- because there chanced to be an I! 

This is my life since things are as they are;

One half akin to flowers and the grass;

The rest a law unto a changeless star. 

And I believe when I shall come to pass 

Within the Door His hand shall hold ajar

I’ll leave no echoing whisper of Alas!