Walk like a man

Published: June 24, 2013
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The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore and studied law at Lincoln’s Inn and the London School of Economics. He tweets @AsadRahim

James Gandolfini was television’s least likely leading man and, partly because of it, its finest. Big, breathy, and balding, Gandolfini defied all casting rules as Tony Soprano, a crime boss at work and emotional cripple at home. And it was for the latter part that he changed the small screen for good. With an unbearable sadness in his eyes, Gandolfini lamented the fall of masculinity for six seasons of The Sopranos. “Whatever happened”, he would plead to his therapist, hating himself, “to the strong, silent type?”

Unlike those types, Tony Soprano was overcome with feelings of inadequacy. A baby boomer, who would never feel the purpose of wartime, a family business heir cheated out of his father’s self-made success, Tony felt that “I came in at the end … that the best is over”. The story was an original one — a monster in midlife crisis, seeking meaning in manhood. But yearn though he did for Old World values, much of Tony’s own manliness was a lie. Terrified of emasculation, he murdered, philandered and overate his way to pure misery.

As was expected from the role of a lifetime, it was punishing for the actor as well. James Gandolfini died from a heart attack last Wednesday at 51, leaving behind a depth to television programming never before thought possible. But the impact wasn’t just higher quality TV. For a man whose breakout film role, too, consisted of 10 minutes of savage violence, his work was itself an indictment of violence and the machismo that fed it. Gifted at playing unglamorous men with uglier souls, the cost was heavy: Gandolfini, prone to self-harming rage in real life, may have fallen into an abyss he created.

It makes one wonder whether we’re truly at peace either, operating in the culture we’ve created at home. Nearly 10 years and two novels ago, Mohsin Hamid wrote, “Ours is a society bombarded with machismo. We have a commando as our president. We read about warrior-martyrs in our schoolbooks. We pull wheelies on speeding motorcycles in heavy traffic for no apparent reason. We grow beards and buy guns and get into fights over imagined instances of disrespect.”

And that’s grazing the surface. Witness our Lollywood films exploding in blood and body parts, or all the locales we’ve stamped with martial goodness: Cavalry, Cantonment, Defence, Teen Talwar. We celebrate dead foreign invaders with our Napier Roads and Port Qasims. Even our gardens are named for serious men — Ayubia National and Jilani Park — though both generals were at least fond of natural beauty (and durable protégés).

Why expect anything else from what is, inarguably, a hard country? “We are tough”, Mr Hamid rationalised, “and we need to be. Ours is, after all, the most dangerous neighbourhood in the world”. But he went on to say, “A great deal of strength is required to be un-macho in our society. And strong, dedicated, un-machoness is essential. It opens up space for expression which might otherwise be bullied into silence”.

But before expression, the first casualty of a knuckle-dragging society is, well, its women. Yes, there is the argument that the more butch a society, the more extraordinary its ladies. We are home to the Muslim world’s first female prime minister, men with moustaches say and it was a Samina that scaled Mount Everest this past May. No doubt, these are encouraging outliers, but that is what they will stay. The problem is a cultural one, and it hits us where it hurts; the way we treat our women, how we exhibit girls’ illiteracy rates to the rest of the world year after shameless year, how we feel the female fraction in the workforce chimes with Pakistan the Nuclear Dynamo.

It’s the same problem in different places. India’s very real rape endemic is being combated with more machismo, like doctors prescribing a drug addict another shot of heroin. The idea is less studied sociology and more ‘80s Bollywood: “real men” don’t let women get hurt, or experience the “shame” that rape victims must feel by obligation. Campaigns in the Indian press (calmly lifted by their Pakistani brethren) beseech men to be men and protect women … as opposed to raping them. Celebrities like Farhan Akhtar pledge to make Delhi safer for ladies, and then ask “Are you man enough to join me?” As rebutted by Indian activist Kavita Krishnan, “patriarchal male protectors” aren’t the solution. But the point is an even simpler one: claims to manliness need not be wrestled away from the rapists. Had anyone stopped to notice, it was never being claimed by them in the first place. Of all the adjectives the media could have chosen to attack rape with, naamard was a poor first choice.

The late Qazi Hussain Ahmad, doubtless a “patriarchal male protector” for Ms Krishnan, spoke on the subject with a clean heart and the same conviction that turned countless teenagers into town criers yelling, “Zalimon, Qazi aa reha hai”. Phrasing Iqbal’s beautiful words on scent and prayer, Qazi sahib thought a woman’s person sacred and her role mumtaz, sublime. For Qazi Hussain, the Holy Quran held the rights of women and men as equal. To protect them was a trust. Qazi sahib arises strong opinions, but it was an explanation that tugged at the heartstrings. The Jamaat’s last gasp of air, he passed away last January, two months after a failed suicide attempt on his life. Allah bless his soul. The suicide bomber, meanwhile, was a woman.

These are strange times we live in, but seeking the truth is for when you’re not busy surviving. And if being the strong, silent type is linked to survival, so be it — making peace with ourselves can come later. Dr Johnson once wrote, “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man”. But as with Jim Gandolfini punching himself in helplessness, there usually comes a toll with too much testosterone.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 25th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (22)

  • Optimist
    Jun 24, 2013 - 10:59PM

    I agree with you. But many won’t be able to fathom the fact that a supposed ‘liberal’ praised Qazi Hussain Ahmed. I am no religious or fan of Jamat, but I think Qazi Sb was a true gentleman and honest to whatever he believed in.
    .
    Still I am more worried about those who will criticise your opinion and it would be obvious from their comments that they have not read it… just jumped to comment section after finding a line or two that they could attack!

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  • Parvez
    Jun 24, 2013 - 11:49PM

    I some how just could not connect the dots to get a clear picture of what you were trying to say.
    Tony Soprano – James Gandolphini – Indian rape cases – Farhan Akthar – Qazi Hussain Ahmad – Dr. Johnson and then Gandolpini again……….all strung together to make a case which for some reason did not land on me with a thud.
    Now tomorrow some kind soul will make it all clear for me in two sentences.

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  • Gp65
    Jun 25, 2013 - 12:26AM

    India does not have a rape epidemic. A simple look at rape per thousand statistics worldwide will show you that India is nowhere near the top. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_statistics

    What has happened in India is that civil society and media are up in arms against rape. Thus any rape story gets far more coverage than it did in the past. Public pressure forced government to modify laws related to violence against women. Already conviction rate for rape in India at 30% is higher than US at 24% and way higher than Pakistan at 1% and with the change in laws this will go higher. But there is no ground for complacency. It is not enough to simply increase conviction rate of rapists. There is a need to ensure respectful reinstatement in social life for a rape victim and an overall change in mindset of society in its overall attitude not just towards rape but all forms of Ilene towards women. So we need Farhan Akhtar and many more to change the mindset of people where harassing a woman is no longer seen as something cool or even as something acceptable. Simultaneously shame needs to transfer to the rapist instead of the victim which was the case in the past. These are all good things as it is not just rapes that need to reduce but even day to harassment.

    If you think JI’s notions related to rape are worthy of respect – good luck. At least in India we do not require evidence of 4 good Muslim men in order to register a rape case and we hope to never have the type of leaders that you seem to be applauding.Recommend

  • saim
    Jun 25, 2013 - 2:16AM

    The Qazi part is loaded with irony. Especially the fact that the assassin was a woman. Readership usually misses out on the subtler points in this article

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  • hasan
    Jun 25, 2013 - 2:19AM

    you’re better when you only do one post a month.

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  • abc
    Jun 25, 2013 - 2:47AM

    @Author: When it comes to the place of woman in power politics, there is no parallel to Indian subcontinent. India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh are the only contiguous four countries in the world where we had woman Presidents and Prime Ministers. Even today Bangladesh has a woman Prime Minister and a woman leader of opposition. Even during the most conservative period in history we had a female sultan (Razia Sultan). Please note that Razia Sultan was chosen to be queen on merit over her brothers. We had many queens between Razia Sultan and present day Bangladeshi queens. Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi, Chand Bibi,, Ahilyabai Holker,Rani Rashmoni, Kittur Rani Chennamma..and many more. History of subcontinent is full of powerful women who contributed immensely in politics. Mughal queen Noor Jahan literally ruled Delhi. USA, Russia and China are yet to open score when it comes to a woman president.

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  • Razi
    Jun 25, 2013 - 4:21AM

    @Gp65

    Yet you hope to have leaders like Narendra Modi, and can go to any length to defend and applaud him. We hope to never have someone like him at the helm of our affairs.

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  • Saim Saeed
    Jun 25, 2013 - 5:41AM

    Rather brilliant.

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  • Np
    Jun 25, 2013 - 6:16AM

    @abc: True but all the 4 PM I our subcontinent were the widows/daughters of a former ruler. Not like the women leaders of Israel, Australia, Germany, UK.

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  • Water Bottle
    Jun 25, 2013 - 8:11AM

    @Razi:

    “Yet you hope to have leaders like Narendra Modi, and can go to any length to defend and applaud him. We hope to never have someone like him at the helm of our affairs. “

    Hz^ = 1025.

    Does that equation make any sense to you?

    Well, it should, because you are weak in simple logic.

    What has Narendra Modi got anything to do with Rapes in India?

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  • Lala Gee
    Jun 25, 2013 - 8:34AM

    @Gp65:

    “At least in India we do not require evidence of 4 good Muslim men in order to register a rape case”

    You need to realize that every story published in the newspapers is not always 100% correct. As I know, there is no such requirement to provide evidence of 4 good Muslim men in order to register a rape case under Pakistan Penal Code, which is essentially the same as Indian Penal Code. However, if the rape victim wishes to file a case under Sharia Law, which has extremely strict punishments, including death penalty, for this crime, and hence places more stringent requirements for evidence, only then 4 witnesses are required. It is important to note that this requirement of 4 witnesses in Sharia was put for cases in which a women is accused of adultery, and to protect her honor, the blaming party has to provide these witnesses.

    “and we hope to never have the type of leaders that you seem to be applauding.”

    And your heroes like Narendra Modi, Bal Thackeray, Rana Paratab Singh, and Vinayak Savarkar are all saints of the highest order.

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  • abc
    Jun 25, 2013 - 9:12AM

    @Np: True, there were/ are daughters of former PMs etc. However, their father hardly played any role in getting them elected. Nehru died in 1964 and then Shastri followed as PM. Mrs Gandhi became PM in 1967 much after Nehru was gone. Same is true of Sheikh Haseena and Benazir Bhutto etc. There have been many other PMs and their sons and daughters did not make it to the top.

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  • Talat Haque
    Jun 25, 2013 - 10:15AM

    I like what you say! Walking the road to where one may be a “man” or a “woman” is hard!

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  • Amal
    Jun 25, 2013 - 11:21AM

    Thankyou

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  • Amal
    Jun 25, 2013 - 11:21AM

    Thankyou

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  • Murad
    Jun 25, 2013 - 12:18PM

    the writer has simply wasted time of the readers of this esteem newspaper. This article has no substance, it looks more like a casual tea chat thn anything else. Whats the mesage? whats the issue? whats the point? On a whole a very wayward , cohesion lacking, and direction-less article.Need a lot of hard work and writer would do good to remeber just attending Lincoln and studying law do not make it mandatory for his readers to be impressed.Hope this writer would do better next time. All the best.

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  • Milind
    Jun 25, 2013 - 1:20PM

    @Lala Gee – “You need to realize that every story published in the newspapers is not always 100% correct

    Point taken. Hope you understand that everything bad you hear about Modi or rapes in India (from Indian or Pakistani press ) is not 100% correct either.
    And BTW gp65 was alluding to that Shariah law that u guys wildly clamour for… when she made that statement abt 4 witnesses.

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  • Legend
    Jun 25, 2013 - 2:51PM

    Sublime piece of writing.

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  • Tauqir
    Jun 25, 2013 - 5:18PM

    I like this piece, it is t indulgent of the authors interests in tying it up, but writing quality is so powerful that it manages to do it. though must say ayub park and jilani park were after all made by them, guess they should have their names on it. good show.

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  • x
    Jun 26, 2013 - 12:15AM

    Another misconception so freely bandied about that now its commonly accepted. sigh.
    Four witnesses are for adultery to prevent allegations against women for wrongful conduct. For rape, 4 witnesses are not required.

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  • x
    Jun 26, 2013 - 12:26AM

    This pseudo liberal attitude reeks of seeking to be different for the sake for it. Men and women should be equal but they are different, in physical and emotional make up. While every man and woman is different, is an individual, there is no harm in asking men to be real men. From a super liberal, butch type male to a macho one, manliness is as much a way of life as femininity for women. (this is not an argument agaisnt education, careers, independence, self reliance, freedom and empowerment of women). but I think campaigning thats it’s manly to be courteous, respectful and decent towards women is a great initiative. Not just for the rape endemic as u term it, but even in relationships and gender roles, men should realize its not ok to treat their wives badly or like they own them after they’ve married them or in a relationship with them. Women, regardless of how independent they are or whether they choose to pursue careers or indpendence or look after home and kids or pursue a combination of the two deserve respect and consideration. I dont understand why liberals have a problem with this.
    Thank you.Recommend

  • RMK
    Jun 26, 2013 - 1:05AM

    I think the underlying theme of this subtle, perceptive article is that men too suffer from the soul crushing effects of patriarchy, and that everybody and everything is suffering from the sociopathic bloodlust and exploitative abuse that has come to define our entire civilisation. We encounter violence on our streets, our screens, behind closed doors.

    Men are being indoctrinated to LITERALLY get off on violence, to seek pleasure from inflicting pain.

    Being a “man” has come to mean stifling every impulse to empathise, to consider, to care about anyone or anything other than fulfilling the sadistic Capitalist ideology of compulsive gain no matter what the consequences or cost.

    It’s hurting our economies, our ecology, our psychology and it’s hurting humanity. It’s a tragedy that most men can’t even consider the possibility of their lives, or their souls having a higher function.

    Sometimes a problem is so insidious, so dissolved in the atmosphere we’re living in that it’s hard to notice something is terribly wrong, let alone identify what that is. Connecting seemingly disparate dots can be an effective mechanism for issuing a wake-up call when an issue is so systemic, and a certain sex’s basest desires are so enabled by it that we can’t even acknowledge there’s a problem.

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