“Chay” It Again: A Look at the Latest Issue of Chay Magazine

The latest issue of Chay magazine has come out and MMW is on it.

Image via chaymagazine.org

Image via chaymagazine.org

For those of you who are not familiar with Chay, it is a Pakistan based magazine dealing with issues of sexuality. MMW has covered it twice already, once before the first issue, and then again when the first issue came out.

Topics in Chay’s second issue include the issue of compartmentalizing gender (No Middle Ground by Haroon Shuaib), covering an Indian human rights organization designed to help transgender people (…and the flame shines bright by  Ponni Arasu), the continuum of gender in which most people do not neatly fit into male or female (The Gender Spectrum by Maryam Arif), queer activism (The Art of Naming by Akhil Katyal) and sexual assault (Innocence by Marina Ahmad).

In his article, Shuaib notes that

…a departure from the recognized stereotype of a full-time homemaker into a career-pursuing individual is in itself challenging; anything beyond that such as a conscience decision to stay single at a marriageable age is incomprehensible for society.

Though I absolutely believe the second assertion, the first one did not feel as relevant in today’s Pakistan. So many women are working that even if individual families do not approve of women working, societal attitudes have indeed changed. A working woman is socially acceptable. Additionally, working-class women have been working for ages, albeit in labour-intensive and low-paying jobs. Shuaib additionally adds that

[a]ny alternative trend, be it something as simple as a colour choice or something as crucial as a career path, is curbed with full vigour.

Now, I do not live in Pakistan, but from what I remember of my visits to the country, colour choice was not, at all, restricted by gender. Men and women appeared to be wearing all and every colour, so this assertion of Shuaib’s really confused me. Perhaps I was missing something. And although there are indeed certain traditional male careers that women may be discouraged from pursuing (for example, careers with the police or army), Pakistani women are seen in what we in the West may label as traditional male careers on a regular basis. Although Shuaib should have further explained these assertions as they did not resonate with the Pakistan I know, his argument that defying gender roles made people uncomfortable was well-noted and important to confront.

Arif’s article explained how gender was a social construct. Being a social psychologist myself, this was old news to me, as it probably would be for anyone who studies gender to any extent. However, after reading this article, my assumption was that this may be a new concept to many Pakistanis who have not studied gender. In fact, this would be a new concept to many Canadians as well. That is why this is an important message whether in Pakistan or Canada (or anywhere). By understanding that gender is a social construct and that gender norms are set by culture and not by genes, gender norms that have worked to oppress women can be challenged, questioned, and transformed. As Arif states,

Religion, tradition, cultural norms and moral values often times work against the free growth and expression of a variety of human tendencies. Even the more liberal societies impose restrictions on who we can and cannot be. It is interesting to see how different cultures set the standard for acceptable behaviour, and exactly how much deviance is allowed.

Ahmad’s piece on losing her innocence when she was sexually assaulted by a stranger in street – a man who felt her up – was an expressive and personal piece which I know would resonate with many female readers (as well as some male ones). And this article also highlights a rampant problem on Pakistani streets. On a busy Pakistani street, a woman’s/girl’s body is often treated as public property. Although this article may be preaching to the choir, it is important to speak of such instances to enable girls and women to speak about their experiences and lighten the burden off their shoulders. If only Chay’s audience was wider, reaching the average Pakistani girl and woman. Ahmad describes,

And as I wash, I cry. I cry for myself and my lost innocence. I cry for the fact that those who conform suffer, and those who do not conform also suffer. I cry because against this, there is no saviour. I cry for all those females out there who have been abused like me, and worse than me. And I cry, for all that I have lost, and for all that those other women have lost.

In addition to these articles there were two articles from India, the first highlighting a human rights organization made up of and for transgender people, who provide a variety of services for this marginalized segment of society. The second Indian piece reflected on queer activism.

Chay, as usual, highlights issues which many other media sources do not highlight. They continue to question the ways in which sexuality is expressed and engaged with in the sub-continent. However, this issue, as interesting as the articles were, left me wanting something more. As necessary as their converage of non-heterosexualities is a few more articles on the “average” Pakistani woman (who is most likely a straight, married woman) will be nice to see in the future. Additionally, the main criticism of this magazine remains their limited audience and lack of access to the average Pakistani, though I recognize this may be outside of their control. Nonethless, Chay’s work is important and issues presented in the magazine are necessary to bring to people’s attention.

  • s.c.

    Ditto about the class thing. There have been women of lower castes who have been working as cleaners, weavers, cooks, maids, nannies, seamstresses etc for a long time. Entire castes revolve around it, there’s a caste that’s responsible for making pots and pans, another for baskets, another for sewing and so on. It’s just the division of labour in that culture. The middle or upper class ideal of “feminine” never has and still does not apply to the majority of society (heavily working or below working class).

    Also, the articles in this magazine really reminded me of Louise Brown’s book “the Dancing Girls of Lahore”. It really takes you into the nitty gritty of sex work in Pakistan and how people with different sexualities live (on the margins) in Pakistan. I’d say the same is true for India (Louise actually says this too, she has studied sex work in South and Southeast Asia for a while). Also eye opening are the transnational links between areas like Dubai (which is where many of these Pakistani and Indian sex workers end up) and red light districts in Calcutta, Delhi, Lahore etc. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. Also look for some of her academic articles on the subject, just do a google scholar search.


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