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Final Paper on History of Ideas

Course Instructor: Ms. Kyla Pasha


Submitted by: Fakhra Hassan
Date: December 22nd, 2006

On Queerness and Stereotypes

Prejudice and Stereotypes:

There is a common temptation in human nature to stereotype people who are different
from the socially or morally constructed norms. Stereotyping is a consequence of
prejudice held by many people which has its roots in human history. The
distinguishing characteristic of a prejudice is that it relies on stereotypes
(oversimplified generalizations) about the group against which the prejudice is
directed.1 Generally speaking, a prejudiced attitude held by a dominant ethnic group
against a minority or a disadvantaged group within the same society results in
discrimination and stereotyping. However, prejudice or to put it in accurate terms, a
sense of prejudice exists in all types of groups regardless of their dominance and
ethnicity. The reason is very simple, it stems from our experiences.

We have seen discrimination against Jews, Muslims, Christians, blacks, slaves,


women, lesbians, gays, transgender people and nations. However, to understand the
stereotypes, the idea of minority is generally not a set condition for the other party to
build one. In order to see how prejudice is propagated and dealt with in the media, we
have chosen to stress on gender stereotyping, particularly in the context of
homosexual women or lesbians.

Homosexuality in America & Asia:

During the first half of the 20th century, attitudes towards homosexuality were
overwhelmingly negative. They were subjects to stereotype and prejudice. According
to some medical reports released in the US, they were considered to be subjects in the
clinical settings with a pathological disorder that needed cure. Gay men were viewed
as effeminate, lesbians were portrayed as mannish, and both were seen as being
obsessed with sex, with little self-control or morality. Homosexuals frequently were
thought to be potential child molesters. In the 1930s and during World War II (1939-
1945), homosexuals were targets of persecution in Nazi Germany.2

Owing to the works of American biologist Alfred Kinsey, who took to describing
homosexuals outside of clinical settings, we came to see homosexuals in all walks of
life, growing up in all kinds of families, and practising many different religions. His

1
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

2
Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
works eventually led to the elimination of homosexuality from the list of mental
illnesses by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973.

Coming to our own region of South Asia, the treatment towards homosexuality can be
found in some of the stereotypes described above if we consider the semi-urban or
rural areas. Examples of this are in Deepa Mehta’s movie ‘Fire’, in which two
domestic Indian women fall in love and become victims of persecution when the truth
becomes known. These women belong to the domestic sphere and their only job is to
serve the families of the men they are married to. In South Asia generally, lesbians
who do come out, are treated differently and sometimes encouraged to change their
sexual orientation. In many cases, it is considered to be a reaction to the established
social norms, and therefore treated as a phase that would take care of itself once the
woman or women are back in their “senses”. In our opinion, it is this treatment that
marginalizes such queer people within the community and forces them to live closeted
lives.

For this paper, we have chosen to analyze the video, lyrics and media coverage of the
Karachi-based singer Schaz’s song Jalan (Burning Desire). From our analysis, we
will see the emerging mechanics of stereotyping to develop our understanding of
queer women working outside the domestic sphere in Pakistan.

The Song:

When we read the lyrics to the song;

Jalay ki jalan bujha de koi


Hai jeevan kathin
Dua de koi
Bujhi ja rahi hai shama dard ki (5)
Hawa de koi

Darwazay yadon ke dheeray se khulnay lagay


Badal wo kaalay se aahista se chatnay lagay
A jaye jo mere khwabon mein woh kabhi
Haqeeqat meri weeranon mein bhataknay lagay (10)
Woh aye ga na
Kyun sada de koi

Duniya mujhay to bas ab fana si lagay


Bhaye jo shay mere dil ko gunah si lagay
Sajday kyun na karoon mein teri aas ko (15)
Yadon ki yeh zanjeeray khuda si lagay
Kab ho gi shafa
Kyun dawa de koi

The song begins with a picture of a normal reality that life is difficult and how we
need someone to pray for us in times of difficulty. However, as it progresses, there are
heavy mystical elements in the song that paints a picture of a solitary woman in
search of God and her identity or in search of her soul-mate.
In mysticism, this can be viewed as a quest towards attaining the ultimate spiritual
fulfilment through personal religious experiences. We have to remember that the
famous Sufi mystic, Bulleh Shah was refused by the mullahs to be buried after his
death in the community graveyard because of his unorthodox views.

She also gives an impression about the person she’s dreaming of (9-12) and how her
own truth in reality wanders. It’s possibly someone she loves or has loved and she
hopes for that person to come back into her life. In her faith, she sings, the person will
return without needing to call out for him/her. These thoughts are common amongst
people who have been victims of social-constructs that adhere to prejudice, which due
to their queer take on life have to face several emotional and psychological oppression
as well as socio-economic difficulties and acceptance just like Bulleh Shah did.

The attitude of prejudice can be summed up in the following words from Hans
Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling,

The ducklings did as they were bid, but the other duck stared, and said, "Look, here
comes another brood, as if there were not enough of us already! and what a queer
looking object one of them is; we don't want him here," and then one flew out and bit
him in the neck.

Schaz’s song talks about faith as well as doubt, as mentioned in 9, 10 and 11. It is also
interesting to note that she brings in the idea of the ‘end-of-the-world’ followed by her
preferences that seem like a sin. ‘Woh aye ga na’ (11) indicates she’s waiting for her
saviour who according to the language, is a man which leads us to question her
preferences in reality and also gives an ironic touch to line 11 if one listens to the
song again. She bounces back to her quest in the form of prayer and yearns for
salvation through her own individual spiritual experiences (15-18).

The Video:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S7wTlyc04A&feature=related

In the video, as expected from the vague nature of the lyrics, we meet Schaz in the
urban settings of the city of Karachi where she is wandering alone, looking for jobs
and not getting any. We see her picking up fights with employers who’ve been
refusing her jobs. We also see her picking up fist-fights with pimps on the streets who
in her vulnerability and loneliness try to buy her off or sexually harass her. She’s
dressed in a white shirt and black slacks and carries her briefcase around, and her car.

On the staircase of one of the office buildings where Schaz is returning from, she
meets the other character in the video, played by Iraj Manzoor – openly lesbian in real
life. She’s friendly and accommodating and offers her a smoke. Iraj is dressed in a
casual red-and white shirt and jeans. We see both of them driving around in Schaz’s
car, playing basketball, stealing food items from a grocery store, stealing video-tapes,
eating on benches and sitting cross-legged on the floor outside posh shopping centres
with shoes. In the entire course of the video, we see only these two characters in the
form of a minor protest that has come as a result of society’s neglect and acceptance
of queer relationships and their unconventional ways of life.
We don’t learn much about Iraj’s character as she just pops in when she is needed,
and by the end of the video, disappears from Schaz’s real-world and becomes a
memory that we see flashing and fainting when the scenes described above are
repeated.

We see the two characters in an unrealistic setting also where both Schaz and Iraj are
dressed in white in a white room, where they are watching TV together. Back in
reality, we see them looking at their reflections in the mirror, in their bedroom where
there are only mattresses. Their expressions speak of the concept of sin Schaz is
singing about.

Conclusion:

From the lyrics and the video we see a character looking for a unique kind of love and
friendship based on homosexuality, which is possibly why Schaz is looking for a
spiritual path to reconcile her faith with her sexuality which is not an acceptable norm
in this region yet.

A media review from The News International about the video states,

“The video, which boasts of girl power lacks in story. The concept looks like alter ego
and uber feminism but the execution leaves much to be desired. Both Schaz and Iraj
are running around in malls, having food and strolling away. Thelma and Louise this
ain't, but we suppose that in the land of the pure, two girls driving around in a car
wearing jeans qualifies as radicalism.”3

According to this review, the writer has used the idea of Western outfit and lifestyle
as a form of radicalism while completely ignoring to write about the deeper concept
of the song and the characters in terms of the Pakistani society and its problems.
There is a wide gap. This is the only review available in the local print media.

Media plays a crucial role in forming informed opinions. From the example above, it
is therefore our conclusion that homosexuality needs a more positive insight and
positive minded media persons who are well-informed about political, religious and
spiritual issues concerning queer people in Pakistan. There are stereotypes at all
levels, and so far, the only way to break them – that has surfaced in the media – is to
rebel like Schaz, which qualifies as good enough but leaves much to be desired.

3
Instep: The News International, http://www.jang.com.pk/thenews/aug2005-weekly/nos-14-08-
2005/instep.htm#3