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Toxic Masculinity Reinforced By State & Society Results In Violence Against Women And Transgender Persons

Rape is a crime of violence, not of sexual desire. This elementary insight seems to have escaped, even the ‘cosmopolitan’ prime minister, Imran Khan. Awkward advances might be motivated by desire, or rampant consumption of pornography; but not rape. There can be many views on why gender based violence, including sexual violence, against women and children is perpetrated. Having undertaken a large multi-year study on gender and violence and recently completed an academic manuscript on violence against transgender people in Rawalpindi-Islamabad, I can offer a few insights that might be useful in thinking about how to address the problem.

While rape by strangers against a woman, on a highway is rightly the sum of all fears for a society–the calls for castration and public hangings are quite worrying as well. Rape, as an act of violence emerges from a culture of violence. Sexual violence, like terrorism is not done by freaks, but by ordinary people raised in a violent society. In a society where the state perpetrates violence arbitrarily; promotes it in the name of nationalism and religion; glorifies it as patriotic; threatens it routinely; and uses it as the main instrument of governance, violence become the currency of social discourse. A violently inclined state cannot expect its violence to exist in glorious isolation from the violence of others. The state’s violent ethos create the conditions for all sorts of violence to metastasize. State is accordingly quite instrumental in perpetrating toxic and violent masculinities as instruments of state craft and geopolitics. The victims of those violent masculinities are not just women’s bodies, but also of children and remarkably and most chronically—transgender bodies.

During our research we found that rape, random violence, and harassment were so routine for the transgender population of Rawalpindi/Islamabad that they didn’t even bother reporting or complaining about it. Almost all of the working class transgender people worked as sex workers or as dancers in private functions. Undertaking late night dance performances involved the reality of severe beatings and sometimes gang rape by drunk revellers.

When the function ended one night the drunk revellers started raping ‘shemales’. They didn’t even spare the helpers who were with us. They even raped our guru. When it turned morning, we extricated ourselves and ran away. [Guru] filed a report in the police. Everyone knew their house, everyone knew them . . . The [police] and the rapists wanted to do a sulah nama [truce]. My guru said, what about the way you have ripped us all apart and open—you will have to pay. Eventually they paid Rs, 2 million. The police also took a lot of money (Shabnam 11/07/2017).

Others frequently reported demanding of sexual favours by the police, in addition to random violence by others, as one said, violent encounter? There isn’t a single one, there are one after the other events. Like this one time, these people abducted me from the street, shaved my head and thew me on the road (Khushboo 13/03/2017)

Police catches us and takes us away. They force themselves upon us, do what they please. They beat us and touch us [sexually]. Is that not rape and dishonouring us? (Kashi 15/02/2017).

The above violence barely registers on the local or national consciousness. The point is not to re-state the inanity that not just feminine, but all bodies are vulnerable and subjected to violence. But the it is to draw attention to the systemic nature of violence, especially sexual violence in Pakistani society.

I have argued in my academic manuscript, and argue here as well that the violence is underwritten by toxic masculinity, emergent from the politico-legal history through which gender binaries were consolidated and codified in law. Masculinity premised upon a violent logic of domination, conquest and penetration of a feminized human and non-human world one could think of as toxic. European colonial project was premised upon such masculinity.

The Europeans on arrival in India were shocked to see the status of transgender people in the Mughal court as politicians, generals, landowners and bureaucrats. But even more than that they were appalled at the political power that the Begums of the Mughal court held in state affairs. The whole premise of colonial power and British superiority upon the native Indians was the virile masculinity of the British, and the effeminate lesser masculinity of native. They knew how to oppress and demean feminine bodies to draw a contrast between their physical vigour and the feminine subservience. But the transgender body ‘represented a particular type of abomination in the European imagination, ‘failure of masculinity’. The British went on to declare the transgender as a criminal tribe, paving the way for full force of the coercive machinery of the state to harass and hound them.

Forced into a gender binary, where the norm could only be masculine or feminine, it is inevitable that the masculine self must set itself up as a direct opposite of feminine—there can be no spectrum in between. Hence the abuse of boys by their fathers as sissys, or being constantly asked to man up. And exhortations to girls to be proper and demure. But human condition doesn’t fit into that binary. Men have to violently and perpetually produce their manliness by emphasizing their distance from the less-masculine or feminine other. Violence is one way through which, that impossible and pathetic masculine self must always be produced. The violence, however, is imprinted upon other male bodies, definitely feminine bodies. But most of all the violence is imprinted upon transgender bodies, who represent a failure of masculinity in trans-women, or a breaching of the male citadel by the trans-men. Violence, alas, is foundational to how the He-men of Pakistan are perpetually produced.

What to do about this violence? Start with recognizing the prisons of toxic masculinity that Pakistani state and society has built and wants to reinforce. Violence against women and transgender is the deranged violence borne of desperation in a prison. Break down the prison.

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