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Shahid Afridi: The face of sexism?

Shahid Afridi © Getty Images
Shahid Afridi’s comments will soon be forgotten, largely because cricket trumps sexism in Pakistan’s patriarchal collective thought process © Getty Images

By Eissa Saeed

In the land of the pure, apparently, one cannot be a man and a feminist at the same time. The two seem to be mutually exclusive. Usually, this disconnect is attributed to the misconception that feminists are man-hating, rabid women out for social revenge; however, in Pakistan, the culprit is menial passivity because that’s just how it is here.

In a recent resurgence of a four-month-old interview, Shahid Afridi took it upon himself to remind Pakistani women that their skills are most useful in the kitchen. His response to a simple fluff question about a women’s cricket team in Peshawar has outraged many, while others have come to his defence citing his entitlement to his opinion.

One doesn’t have to be an ardent follower of cricket, or identify that Afridi has been the star of various ad campaigns (ranging from sodas to fairness creams), to know that he is undoubtedly a cultural icon and that his comments are insolently misogynistic.

If he is in the market for another endorsement deal, he may as well be the face of sexism.

Before launching into a discussion of why feminism is vital to Pakistan’s progression, I must recommend the TEDx Talk by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — recently nominated for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction with the likes of Jhumpa Lahiri, Donna Tartt and Fatima Bhutto.

If you can’t access the video or just don’t have the time, here’s a brief overview of the highlights.

Ms Adichie makes very strong arguments about how girls are taught to aspire to marriage and encouraged to vie for the attention of boys instead of jobs, yet they are discouraged from seeing themselves as sexual beings.

Sound familiar? Hold on.

She goes further to say that certain societies teach girls shame which results in them becoming women who silence themselves because of their inherent guilt.

What Afridi is propagating with his ‘opinion’ is that a society that undermines its female population, limits their capabilities, and instead highlights the achievements of men, is ideal. Everyone is absolutely entitled to his or her opinion (there is no doubting that civil liberty), but when one is a public figure — an excruciatingly popular one that — one should never underestimate the value of political correctness.

Some have been asking why Afridi is being demonised as a woman-hating chauvinist. It’s because, judging by his comments, he is one and that’s just not okay. Others have argued that it isn’t uncommon for a Pakistani man to hold such an opinion, so why is Afridi being singled out.

It’s because not all men are sporting idols who little boys look up to and try to emulate, not that that should be used as an excuse.

It’s a whole other discussion why celebrities have an unwarranted social responsibility because they serve as role models whether they like it or not. That’s not to say that they aren’t allowed to hold unpopular opinions but when those opinions have no moral basis, it’s best that they refrain  from making public statements expressing them. The fact remains that in a world where the likes of Beyoncé and Condoleezza Rice are encouraging girls to take on leadership roles, it is not kosher to be sexist – just as it is not kosher to be racist or a homophobe.

It’s likely that Afridi will survive this debacle. He’s a relentless force on the cricket pitch and an incredible sportsman. Come the T20 World Cup this weekend and his comments will be long forgotten, largely because cricket trumps sexism in Pakistan’s patriarchal collective thought process.

However, this can also be a pivotal learning curve if used to instigate a conversation about female empowerment in the country; a conversation that goes beyond the Malala Yousafzais and the Mukhtaran Bibis and introduces the importance of gender equality across the board.

As for Afridi, it’s probably in his best interest to hire a publicist and avoid future gaffes like this one.

(Eissa Saeed is a communications professional living in Islamabad. He is an adamant supporter of giant panda conservation and sometimes finds it difficult to spell “occasionally” correctly. He tweets @senoreissa. The above article is reproduced with permission from http://tribune.com.pk/ where it was first published)

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