From the archives

The Pakistani male: Mama's boy?

Updated May 02, 2017 10:35am

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Sheema Kermani | White Star
Sheema Kermani | White Star

This is not an ode to a Pakistani male. Nor an elegy. Nor even an apology. It is a statement of fact (hopefully). A fact called the Pakistani male ...

The Pakistani male is the perfect gentleman ... opens door and pulls up chairs ... a devoted son and a loyal husband ... invests wisely and well ... marvellously supportive ... very affectionate, very protective etc, etc, etc.

True or false?

The Pakistani male is the laziest thing going ... gets a kick out of pushing, pinching a woman ... is unpredictable ... suffers from an inferiority complex ... can't remain sober after a couple of drinks ... 'hi's' and 'honeys' every angrez woman ... is a pompous ass ... hypocrite ... jealous of the working woman ... mama's boy ... needs to grow away from his mother's apron strings, out of the 'Me Tarzan, You Jane' syndrome. In short, needs to grow up.

True or false?

Here, six women, from a sociologist to a sweepress, speak against (at the risk of being called 'frustrated old [women]') and for (at the risk of being called doormats) — the Pakistani male.

Sheema Kermani

"A man of 35-40 who's had a rollicking time wants to get married to a young virgin ... This desire to possess a pure, untouched woman — it smacks of ugly conservatism," says Sheema Kermani, an artist by hobby.

Kermani. They want a pretty dumb female who has not had any access to the open world, to ideas, to books — in short, someone who cannot raise issues and stir controversies. The Pakistani male is insecure; he feels he just cannot cater to a woman who is going to be able to respond as well as a person of his own standing.

I disagree with this concept of a male being the sole bread-earner. lt creates this whole vicious circle of man being the head of the family and the woman being subservient. Very often the woman is bringing in as much income as the man, yet the Pakistani male continues to lord it over her.

Why should a man feel hurt if I ask him to make a cup of tea for me and my friends? After all, I would do the same for his friends.

Rehana Hakim. It hurts his ego, maybe?

Kermani. If you're being simple, honest and frank, you're hurting their egos. God, why make so much of a man's ego? Women have their egos too. They have as much pride. Besides, if you have the inner confidence and inner strength, you don't suffer from ego problems.

As personalities, I find our males very weak people. Very characterless. If the mother wants to make them into something, they'll become that. If the wife wants to make them into something else, they'll get made into that. There's no strength of character. They generally get pushed into situations.

Hakim. But they are generally very devoted to the family ...

Photo by White Star
Photo by White Star

Kermani. Yes, the Pakistani male feels strongly responsible for his family — at least economically, unlike in the West, where they can walk out without qualms.

But a devoted man need not necessarily be a loyal husband. Lots of men have relationships outside of marriage. Very often the woman can't do anything about it, since she doesn't want to be a divorced woman.

On the other hand, if the wife cheats on the man, there is physical violence and the threat of divorce. I am amazed at the number of educated middle­ class Pakistani men who beat up their wives. The macho myth is destructive.

Hakim. Probably they make better friends than husbands.

Kermani. Between themselves, they are good friends, but with women, they can't get away from their own personal hang-ups of male-female relationships. It's a superficial kind of relationship. Besides, I find most of our men have this tendency to discuss their relationships with women, even if the woman be their wife, with others.

Actually, their main topic of conversation is women — where they met her, what she was wearing, how she looked etc, etc.

Hakim. Are they socially and politically as aware — as they are of women?

Kermani. More than the women in our soci­ety, and this political awareness has come about during the last eight years. But it is restricted to reading newspapers.

Hakim. How do they compare with males the world over?

Kermani. Oh, males abroad are just as bad, just as exploitative. But women in Europe and America have carried out movements to change their views. And those men who've been affected by these movements are much nicer people, more sympathetic, more tole­rant. But Pakistani men don't feel the need to change, since there's been no such movement here. Even those who've been exposed to such ideas couldn't care less.

Hakim. But surely there must be something to recommend the Pakistani male — they still open doors, offer seats, pull up chairs for women?

Kermani. I couldn't care less if men are opening doors and pulling chairs, when they are depriving me of everything else. I want to be treated as a human being, accepted as an individual.

Fehmida Riaz

"The Pakistani male is possessive in inverse proportion to his own spoils. The more unfaithful he is to his wife, the more possessive he is about her."

This from Fehmida Riaz, little known as the editor of a monthly magazine, Awaz, and best remembered as the "shocking poetess" of Badan Dareeda.

Riaz. I wouldn't have minded the male reaction had the females reacted differently ... one senior poetess even forbade someone to bring my book into her house because she thought it was obscene. But even the reaction of the female was that of a male-dominated society, where women have not spoken up before."

Hakim. Do you mean to say Pakistani males still regard women as chattel?

Riaz. Consciously, perhaps, they do not regard women as chattels. It is more subtle. The man-woman relationship in our society still suffers from feudal and tribal mores. A woman has been a sort of sexual satisfaction to the male and she fulfills some very basic needs in a very unimaginative, very repetitive way.

Fehmida Riaz | Photo courtesy: Dawn.com
Fehmida Riaz | Photo courtesy: Dawn.com

But still, our men have great warmth for the opposite sex and even fe­males from other countries will vouch for that.'

Hakim. And females from our country will vouch for their hypocrisy and their dual standards?

Riaz. But then our whole society is hypocritical.

Hakim. Which means, men aren't really to be blamed if they go around with one woman and marry another.

Riaz. Love in our society does not have that social sanction. It is still regarded as one of those little adventures before you marry to equal or better your situation. Marri­age is a social consideration and hence social considerations, triumph.

I am not offering any excuses for the Pakistani male. But the situation in our society is not due to the insensitivity of males — but our whole social structure. You cannot tear away the male characteristics from what our society is.

Hakim. And this characteristic of Pakistani male to stare at any female on the street — can you tear him away from that?

Riaz. The man in the street normally does not come from the same class as a well-dressed woman. He has this class animosity. In the back of his mind, he feels the well-dressed wo­man is out to provoke him, so he retaliates by passing dirty remarks. He hardly uses the same language and gestures when talking to a woman of the same class.

I remember, once I was going in a rickshaw and had to get off at a certain place in Lyari because I didn't know the way. I was mortally afraid of being attacked by the males who stared and jeered at me. And while I stood there trying to grope my way out of the situation, two women dressed in tatters passed by. They didn't even look at them.

Hakim. To turn to some other male characteristics — are they gossips?

Riaz. Oh yes, oh yes. They thrive on gossip. They are in touch with the latest scandals. We women hardly have the time for that.

Hakim. Egoists?

Riaz. You have the most insignificant conversation with a man and it can be the subject of a very fantastic and animated discussion for months on end in their circle. That way, they are much more boisterous than their counterparts in the western world.

Hakim. Well-read good conversationalists?

Riaz. Not as well-read as their counterparts in the West, but that's because there are multiple censors — moral censors, political censors. There is little of consequence to read.They are not good conversationalists generally — but maybe they are somewhat more sensitive, more sincere and a little emotional as compared to their Western counterparts. Besides, an average Pakistani is more socially and politically aware than an Indian or Englishman. That's because of the peculiar circumstances they've passed through. They've thrown away two military dictators and have proved their mettle time and again."

Hakim. Sense of humour?

Riaz. Pakistani men generally have a very remarkable tradition of rustic humour, but naturally in the cities, that humour has been very suppressed — ­there's little to be amused about. In any case, their sense of humour is much more than that of the average Pakistani female.

Farida Shaheed

"Pakistani men have terribly fragile egos, easily damaged by any comments from the female quarter."

This comment to prick those "fragile egos" comes from a female quarter — Farida Shaheed, a sociologist with a Masters degree from Leeds, specialising in rural development problems and development.

Farida Shaheed. On the other hand, they don't seem to pay very much attention to her ego other than in a very superficial manner. To them, her ego is limited to her beauty and her capacity to entertain, whereas a man's ego entails his work level, his intelligence, his athletic prowess etc, etc, etc.

Farida Shaheed | White Star
Farida Shaheed | White Star

Men in this country are more relaxed in the company of males. With women, they feel obliged to talk about the latest fashion. When confronted with a working or highly qualified woman, they don't know how to hold an intelligent conversation. They shy away from it or they just make the usual chit chat with a lot of jokes thrown in. They steer clear of serious conversation."

Rehana Hakim. Which means they get put off by intelligent women?

Shaheed. Some do. That is if they acknowledge the fact. What does she know about politics, education, world affairs — that is the general attitude.

Hakim. But are they well-read?

Shaheed. At the university level, some are extremely well-read. But those one meets on a social level are not as well-read as one is led to believe.

Pakistani men have this very ambivalent attitude towards women in the sense that I can get things done much faster than a man can, in the official channel — say get a visa or a P-form — than if I were to send a peon.

But in a work situation there is definitely this attitude of condescension and patronising. Behind your back, the director will go and check if the letter you have written is okay. By definition, Pakistani women are emotional, inefficient and confused in their thought process and work process and men are not. Even the West educated males who are supposed to be open-minded feel the same way and it permeates in their jokes which I find highly irritating. That condescension takes the form of hostility when women are in top positions, giving out orders.

There was this male typist who came to know that he had to do some typing for somebody in a basically male consultancy firm. I'll never forget the way he looked at me when he realised that I, a woman, junior in age, was that someone. He leaned against the wall, crossed his arms and started twirling his moustache macho style a la Chaudhary Hashmat.

How does one even deal with such a man? Either you get angry with him, ask him to stand still and behave himself — which I couldn't, since I was most amused seeing him in a quandary — or you ignore him, which I did and proceeded to tell him what typing to do. I didn't engage in any other type of conversation.

In this institute I was working for previously, if the director told the typist something, he wouldn't mind but if a woman did, he was highly offended. Working under a woman was bad enough and on top of it, if a woman ticked them off ... ooh.

Hakim. How does the Pakistani compare with the male abroad?

Shaheed. I remember, in Geneva, three of us — me, my friend and a male were doing a research in Sociology. When we got round to doing the interviews for the research, we realised he was not as intelligent as we had always thought him to be, any interview he did was a total disaster and we had to write it off. He asked us for the interviews we had done.

Anyway we completed the research, handed it in, passed out and left. Two years later, I heard from another friend that our thesis was accepted and the whole credlt had gone to this male, simply because it was assumed that we females couldn't have done it on our own.

Male attitudes are the same everywhere but they are more striking, more stark naked here. I take more exception to the Pakistani male because I am a Pakistani and have to meet this situation daily.

Hakim. Is he a different species abroad?

Shaheed. Very much so. Pakistani men feel that non-Pakistani women are easy prey. I remember this government official from Leeds for a course, who kept calling every girl 'baby and 'honey' and kept knocking at their doors at night and asking them to cook his meals.

I remember this Pakistani guy who had too many drinks and who in the presence of his fiancee — a foreigner — proceeded to tell me that his engagement with the foreigner was just for amusement. Mind you, he made sure my brother was not mud. Another guy who was going around with a Mexican girl, brought his Pakistani wife back when on a home trip, dumped her in the middle of nowhere, and promptly got back to his girlfriend.

The Pakistan male tends to see women in different compartments — as mothers, wives, daughters, or the women in the streets. And the women in the street is open game for anyone that comes along. There is a lot of pushing and pinching. In that sense, Pakistani men are the most highly frustrated males I've ever come across.

Marjorie Hussain

"A boy born into a Pakistani family is told immediately that he is a king — mera lal, mera chunda, mera raja. With all that love from his sisters and mothers and aunts, he grows up feeling he is important — and he is important."

Marjorie Hussain knows what she's talking about — the Pakistani male. She's married to one and has spent nearly 20 years in Pakistan. She's worked with the PIA Arts Academy, the PTDC and an advertising agency. Currently, she is working on a book on costumes and customs of Pakistan .

Marjorie Hussain | White Star
Marjorie Hussain | White Star

Marjorie Hussain. As well as getting all this love from his womenfolk, he also gives a lot. Generally, the Pakistani male is very protective, very helpful and very kind. 20 years ... and I never cease to be touched. If a woman walks into a post office, where lots of people are clamouring for stamps, they immediately make way for her. Same thing at the cinema house. Even if there is a big milling queue, she will get her tickets first.

Rehana Hakim. And yet at home they behave like lords?

Hussain. But if they are working hard in the office, they naturally want their homes and themselves to be looked after. There are great demands on the Pakistani male. He's responsible for a certain unit working, going and growing and God help it if anything were to happen to him. Probably a lot of men would like to sit and knit and sew and cook but they can't.

Hakim. What of those who can?

Hussain. I know quite a few men who are excellent cooks . Actually the percen­tage of women who work is very low. Naturally the percentage of husbands who help in the house is lower.

Hakim. Isn't that because they never stick around the house?

Hussain. Why should they? They marry at a young age . They are responsible for their families. After that, they can't go off adventuring into the world. What's the harm if they have a little fun sometimes? They must have some outlet.

Hakim. But they grudge the Pakistani woman her fun? In that sense they are the most conservative lot?

Hussain. Possibly not. They conform to the norms of the society they live in and expect the womenfolk to do the same.

Hakim. So much for the Pakistani men at home ... Pakistani men in offices ...

Hussain. Typists, peons, colleagues — they've all been very loyal, marvellously supportive . If they can accept me temperamentally as a boss, they can accept any woman.

Hakim. Pakistani men on the streets ...

Hussain. I've roamed around bazaars, gone to shops and I've found the greatest courtesy. Touchwood. If one is matter of fact, going to do a job, not sending out any provocative vibrations, I don't see why there should be any problems ... Maybe I've just been very lucky. Maybe they feel very differently about a group of tourists. Maybe they have an axe to grind.

Hakim. The Pakistani male is a different species abroad ...

Hussain. He has to be . He is in a different environment, just as for­eigners here have to be different.

Hakim. Different yes, but obnoxious?

Hussain. If he is, he soon gets his knuckles rapped. A man can go with any sort of impression about a woman but after he's had one or two rebuffs and he's intelligent, he'll soon come back to normal. Like they used to think the pavements of London were paved with gold. Well, they soon discovered they weren't.

Some Pakistani males like Zia Mohyeddin, Jamil Dehlavi and Ghani Chaudhary have done extremely well for themselves despite the great competition abroad. In that sense the Pakistani male has a lot of potential.

Hakim. How does he compare with the male abroad?

Hussain. Comparisons are odious ... but I'd say Pakistani men are less inhibited about showing their affection for children and female relatives in general.

Hakim. And mothers in particular?

Hussain. It's wonderful, this relationship between a mother and son. He's a 'mama's boy in the nicest possible sense of the term.

Shameem Akhtar

"I remember the atmosphere in the house as a kid. The best things always went to my brothers and the leftovers were thrown our way. When I grew up and took up a job, my friends thought I was very lucky to have such liberated brothers ... ."

Five o'clock and one of those 'libe­rated' brothers would be pacing up and down outside her office, wondering what was keeping his sister so long.

"I was lucky to be rid of them when I got married," laughs Shamim Akhtar, editor of Karachi's leading woman's weekly, Akhbar-e-Khwateen.

"I always told my mother I never wanted to marry a Pakistani. I felt he'd put me under lock and key and take away my freedom."

But she ended up marrying one — no, not the "typical Pakistani male" as she tells me.

And what's her definition of a "typical Pakistani male"?

A cousin who had once wanted to marry her met her recently in her office, saw her deal with male colleagues, attend to phone calls, settle office matters, go to the Press Club with a male colleague and join her husband for lunch there. In shocked tones, he told her "Had I married you, our marriage would never have worked."

Shameem Akhtar | White Star
Shameem Akhtar | White Star

Akhtar. Pakistani men generally give themselves a lot of liberties, but they are very conservative about their women folk," says Shamim.

While on the one hand, the Akhbar-e-Khwateen gets letters from females which say, 'my husband is involved with another woman', on the other hand they get letters which say, 'The man I was involved with has refused to marry me.'

But there is another type of letter which reads, 'my husband made me swear, on my wedding night, that I had not had affairs with other men.' Pakistani men want pure, chaste angels for wives. Never mind the lives they've led. Also, they prefer a wife who is dependent on them, rather than one who is independent economically."

Hakim. The independent career woman — is she accepted by her colleagues?

Akhtar. Oh, they are very helpful, so long as you are behind them. The minute they see you as competition, they don't treat you as an equal but as a rival. As for the the lower staff, they think ... women like her, I've left at home. I abuse them and kick them 10 times over — and here this women has the gall to order me around. I can understand their frustration and resentment too. We women have to handle them very tactfully, make them feel, 'You're the intelligent ones, but by force of circumstances we're in this position.'

Yaar, on second thoughts, they are not bad — Pakistani males. Actually it's we women who spoil them. Do you realise that as babies, they are like pawns on a chessboard with their mothers manipulating them. It's when they grow up that problems arise. We women end up being pawns on the male chessboard. If only the mothers manipulated them differently. "The Pakistani male just needs a bit of training — and he will behave better.

Rashida Channan

Rashida Channan, my sweepress, smiles coyly at the mention of the Pakistani male — chewing the dupatta between her teeth, Neelo and Mumtaz style.

I wonder if she's been seeing a lot of Pakistani movies with her husband lately.

Channan. Chie, chie. My aadmi doesn't take me for movies. He says it'll corrupt me.

Hakim. It doesn't corrupt him?

Channan. He's a man. Bibi, who's this Neelo Sheelo.

Hakim. She's an actress, why?''

Channan. I've often heard him call out her name in his sleep ... Is she very beautiful?

Hakim. Why don't you ask him?

Channan. Na, baba . I'm scared of his temper. He'll beat me black and blue.

Hakim. Try, he might take you to see her.

Channan. Bibi, where do I leave my kids?

Hakim. Why must you produce so many?

Channan. My husband likes them ... you know, sometimes I feel like a kid producing machine.

Hakim. But they are his responsibility too?

Channan. Yes, but when he comes home tired from work, he doesn't like all that shor.

Hakim. But you are working too?

Channan. But I'm a woman.

Hakim. So you spoil him?

Channan. Oh, but sometimes when I am away at work and he has a holiday, he cooks nice food for me.

Hakim. And when you are at home?

Channan. He doesn't get up, even for a glass of water.

Hakim. Does his mother work?

Channan. Oh, no, she's like a maharani. He never makes her work.

Hakim. Does he ever praise you?

Channan. Oh, there are such good-looking kurian in town. Where does he have the time to look at me? He calls me a dhoban.

Hakim. Give me a picture. I'll print it in my magazine.

Channan. Tauba, tauba. He'll kill me if he sees it. He'll say bahut awara ho gayee hai. As it is, he doesn't like me working. I can't live without my aadmi.

The only Pakistani male Rashida Channan knows is her aadmi.

Khurshid Mirza

"Yes, they are gossips all right," says TV's Akka Bua and filmdom's Renuka Devi, Begum Khurshid Mirza, about the Pakistani male.

Mirza. In my days, scandal-mongering and gossiping was a woman's domain. But now Pakistani men are imbibing a lot of feminine traits, just as our women are imbibing a lot of masculine traits.

They've become pretty conscious of their appearances, for one. 20, 30 years back, only women looked in the mirror. Now our men are no less vain. You'll find them carrying small combs, colognes, the latest shining lotions. They wear distinctive perfumes, something considered extremely feminine once. They have their hair permed and curled in a way that is not so noticeable. And their hands are well-manicured. I suppose as women are growing more and more independent and getting the right to choose, men feel they now have to be cox­ combs to attract girls.

Hakim. What do they need penned hair and distinctive colognes for? Don't they know the art of flirting?

Mirza. I don't think they know how to flirt. Flirting can be very pleasant and very aboveboard, not immoral.

Hakim. Probably our intelligent, educated women put them off?

Mirza. A very intelligent woman will certainly not put a man off. At my age and level of understanding, I can draw out a half-baked callow youth because I will not intimidate him by talking of things above his head like some girls do. Just because they are M.A.'s etc, they like to show off. Why not give a man that little importance? After all, she has to be wooed and loved and won, no matter how intelligent she is.

The cover from the February 1981 issue of the Herald
The cover from the February 1981 issue of the Herald

Hakim. But often the woman who is wooed is not the woman he wants to win?

Mirza. It's our own fault for bringing up a man with the notion that it's okay for him to have his flings and sew his wild oats before he settles down, while a woman needs to be protected. I find they've become very mate­rialistic too. Just the other day, a friend of mine was buying some carved wood furniture for her daughter, when she distinctly heard one man tell the other, 'We'll have to look for a girl who can bring that furniture in her jahez.

Since childhood a mother drums it into her son's head that she'll get him a wife who'll bring lots of jahez. Naturally he expects it.

Hakim. Which makes him mama's boy?

Mirza. No, not all the time. The Pakistani male is very clever, that way. He's perfectly capable of telling the mother, 'Oh, well, I'm no longer a child, I'm going out with my friends! But when it comes to taking responsibility, he'll step back and say 'The responsibility is mama's'.

Hakim. Would you call him spineless, then?

Mirza. Spineless? No. Selfish? Yes. The Pakistani male wants to be waited on hand and foot. Hardly five per cent realise how much work women do and try to cheer them up or help in the kitchen or look after the kids. The rest just lord it over their women.

Or television tends to present idolized versions of the Pakistani male — the good father, the good son, the good husband — which is not true ...

Hakim. And as for the Pakistani woman?

Mirza. I remember this play which shows a woman flirting with other men, in the absence of her husband. The play was not allowed to go on the air because it hurt male susceptibility — ''How dare she ..."

Our men seem to think that they are such great guys that their women need not look at other men. If they don't look, it's not because they find other men unattractive, but because they want to preserve the peace at home.


This was originally published in the Herald's February 1981 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.


The writer is the Editor of Newsline and was a staffer at the Herald.