The misogyny triangle

Junaid Jamshed's words invoke cultural and structural violence against women that manifests itself physically

The misogyny triangle
Last week, the social stratosphere was abuzz with Junaid Jamshed’s (JJ) candid rant, causing the dreaded B-word to be lobbed at the former pop star, causing an emotional public apology, and exile. The liberal left called for his head on a spike under the same laws that it so vehemently opposes. The religious right, specifically Deobandi, categorical in their support of the law and judicious prosecution of all that (are perceived to) break it, came out in force, urging the public to forgive the hapless singer. Everyone reversed their positions on the subject, and in the chaos, no one really won. It may be argued that like most things, we will forget that this ever happened with the next big tragedy looming around the corner (which happened to be the killing of the PTI worker in Faisalabad on Monday, December 8), but the fact of the matter is that it has generated a healthy debate about blasphemy laws in the country.

The irony and ensuing debate of this tragic and paradoxical turn of events notwithstanding, the blasphemy clamor did manage to largely subdue a deeper and more problematic issue that emerged from JJ’s ill-advised tirade: misogyny in its purest, most honest, most unadulterated form. The problem with JJ’s statement is not the content alone, it is what lurks beneath the surface, the hidden cultural and structural violence that women are subjected to every day.
Nearly half of our rural female population believes their spouse is well within their rights to physically inflict harm

One of the most undisputed theorists of peace studies, Johan Galtung professes a triangle of conflict, where three distinct points reinforce each other to create oppression. Direct violence is visible, immediate and can be measured with statistics and data. Cultural violence is traditions, contextual religious/cultural systems and social norms that reinforce the idea that women are beneath men, property to be used and traded as needed, and have no business in the decision-making process of a man’s world. Structural violence is when these cultural elements coalesce and out of the amalgamation formal rule sets emerge that reinforce and institutionalize male chauvinistic, misogynistic ideas. Cultural and structural violence is largely invisible, manifesting in intangible ways. These three forms of violence perpetually reinforce one another, resulting in oppression for a particular segment of society.

Galtung’s Triangle of Conflict can be applied to the Pakistani context, and the treatment of women. According to a 2008 Human Rights Commission of Pakistan report, nearly 80% of wives in rural Punjab feared violence from their husbands. A household survey by Rutgers WPF Pakistan in 2011 revealed 84% of women has suffered some sort of domestic violence. In the same year, Pakistan was ranked as the third most dangerous country for women after Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Perhaps most shockingly, 43% of women surveyed in the 2012-2013 Demographic and Health Survey believed that their husband is justified in beating her, if she argues with him, neglects the children, refuses sex, goes out with permission, neglects in-laws or accidently burns food. Let that sink in for a moment. We are at a point in our social devolution where nearly half of our rural female population believes their spouse is well within their rights to physically inflict harm.

These gender disparities are an alarming indicator of the deeply embedded triangle of conflict in Pakistani society, and the male privilege afforded by patriarchal systems, feudal traditions, and religious dogma. JJ’s words invoke and perpetuate the idea that women are not worthy, that they are fickle, prone to unnecessary drama, and their nature invokes problems in the otherwise perfect world of men. They reinforce the cultural and structural violence, that physically manifests itself, self-perpetuating, self-devouring. What most would ask you to disregard as stultiloquence, a meaningless sermonization, is actually deeply inculcated invective, a harangue that has been so deeply sown into the social fabric of Pakistani society that JJ’s words seem like natural discourse.

It is anything but natural. Exile, harassment, fear for JJ’s life aside, he has opened a one-way door that cannot be closed now, and the resulting conversation should be conducted with respect, listened to intently, and used to pursue informed decision-making in the corridors of power.

The author is a journalist and a development professional, and holds a master’s degree in strategic communications from Ithaca College, NY, USA.

Email: zeeshan[dot]salahuddin[at]

Twitter: @zeesalahuddin