Recently an image of me riding a bicycle was re-circulated on social media. The image was appreciated by many for showing a different side of Pakistan. Others, however, expressed outrage and somehow managed to connect this picture to everything from colonialism to me somehow taking credit for women reclaiming public spaces. But had they bothered to ask me, they would have learned:
This image was originally taken in 2015 and is a still shot that was part of a film sequence. While this work was an effort to show a different side of Pakistan than what is generally portrayed in the media, this image was never intended to show how liberated Pakistan is or in any way take credit for the years of hard work put into promotion of women and their rights.
Some individuals — especially those identifying as ‘liberals’ — chose to focus on my skin colour. How can people who claim to be a voice for disadvantaged populations, who claim to stand for women’s and human rights, revert to such claims?
Those who are pro-Pakistan are being attacked by so-called proclaimers of free speech in an effort to, well, suppress our speech. Perhaps these ‘liberals’ should channel their energies into more productive ways of helping women, lending them a hand, as opposed to attacking a triple minority — a white, Christian female. If we’re going to play cards... the race card, the gender card, the religious card, let’s play!
Let’s review one such article promoted in the media the past week: “Recently, a photo of Cynthia Ritchie, an American documentary director/producer based in Pakistan, riding a cycle in Peshawar went viral, with captions appreciating representation of the country in a positive light. Pakistani feminists and cyclists have multiple issues with this portrayal by the white lady in question.”
Me: Why is a Pakistani woman who’s claimed to be mistreated because of her sex, creating an issue out of my skin colour?
“Pakistanis have a tendency to bend over backwards in their attempts to facilitate Westerners, an effort that lies somewhere between hospitality and a serious post-colonial inferiority complex.”
Me: May I suggest all those with any complexes, inferiority or otherwise, seek guidance in how to cope with these issues — instead of maligning another? After all, I’m sure you know what it’s like to be unfairly treated.
“Added to Cynthia’s privilege, the photo is performative to the extent of being cringeworthy. No pedestrian or bystander is in sight as she pedals with ease. The photo is in no way representative of the concerns and struggles of Pakistani women’s attempts to reclaim public space.”
Me: There weren’t any pedestrians or bystanders because this scene was set up for film work. If it seems “performative” that’s because it is. There was never any attempt to represent concerns and struggles of women to reclaim public spaces.
“To attack Cynthia for completely lacking self-awareness about her privileges would be unfair on my part and, instead, I choose to assume positive intent. Her experience deserves depiction but the attempt to turn it into how liberated women in Pakistan are left me scratching my head.”
Me: I appreciate your acknowledgement that attacking me would be “unfair;” I also appreciate your effort to “assume positive intent.” However, as owner of the original content, I never used this to claim how liberated women are in Pakistan.
No doubt Pakistan has much ground to cover in order to become a more progressive nation, and it’s imperative that true well-wishers of Pakistan stand together to create a community we all can be proud of. With all the negativity surrounding us today, we can choose to curse the darkness or light a candle. I choose the latter.
In the meantime, I will hope women on bikes continue to flourish.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 25th, 2018.
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