Qandeel Baloch's Death Proves Misogyny Is Still Lethal
"I believe I am a modern day feminist," Pakistani internet celebrity Qandeel Baloch wrote the day before her death, according to the Huffington Post. "I believe in equality. I need not to choose what type of women should be. I don’t think there is any need to label ourselves just for sake of society. I am just a women with free thoughts free mindset and I LOVE THE WAY I AM."
On July 15th, Baloch was murdered by her brother, who confessed to killing her because she didn’t "stay home and follow traditions." To be sure, Baloch was by no means a stereotypical paragon of "traditional" femininity. That she knew this, and was even proud of this, was evident from messages such as her aforementioned statement about feminism and the way she promoted herself on social media. In fact, this quality is arguably why she became a star: She didn't intend to be a saint, but simply herself. Baloch defied long-held religious and cultural norms that suppressed the concept of a self-possessed woman, confident in her sexuality.
Honor killings are a longstanding, global phenomenon, and one still prevalent in Pakistan. According to an April 2016 BBC report, nearly 1,100 women were killed in Pakistan the previous year by relatives who believed they had "dishonoured their families." The cultural institution of women's "honor" is deeply rooted in the inhibition of their sexual freedom. "Honorable" women must be modest. Their beauty and bodies are not theirs, but rather objectified as gifts for their husbands to enjoy — and women must therefore remain pure and docile until marriage.
Qandeel Baloch was an afront to this institution. Her social media presence threatened the foundation of female oppression in Pakistan. For example, she took suggestive photos with Muslim clerics, highlighting the idea that the very men who vilified her in public wanted her when their guard was down, thus exposing hypocrisy. As calls for the removal of her social media presence (and even calls for her death) increased, so did her popularity — thus exposing the hold she had over her audience, young and old alike.
Viewed through a Western lens, Qandeel’s social media presence fits well among well-established, quintessential pop-culture provocateurs like Cardi B or Kim Kardashian. These women have built careers on their bluntness and sexuality — they unapologetically represent their own unique brands. But in Pakistan, a country not exactly known for a progressive record on women’s rights, Qandeel Baloch was a polarizing, relatively solitary voice.
If we reduce her death to its barest essence, Qandeel Baloch was killed for being herself. She was killed for doing and saying what she wanted — an act that goes against what is expected of Pakistani women, as well as women in countries all over the world, to varying degrees. The fact that this woman was killed by her own brother only highlights the power misogyny can have on a society and its individual members when it becomes normalized and ingrained. Qandeel Baloch’s death needs to serve as a warning and a call to action for all activists. She did not deserve to die for being loudly and proudly herself — and women and other marginalized groups the world over don’t deserve to, either.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Gender-based violence, Misogyny, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexism, Gender bias, Sexualized violence, Discrimination