Earlier this month a powerful tropical cyclone hit the Philippines and Taiwan before moving on to China. There, in the Fujian province of China it killed eighteen people leaving eleven others missing, and caused damage worth billions of dollars. After the typhoon had blazed its trail of destruction a television journalist in Xiamen city was filmed interviewing volunteers involved in recovery efforts. She was wearing sunglasses and holding an umbrella over her head. The image went viral on social media, and the journalist was suspended from her job. The reason was adverse public reaction to her appearance during the interview. Comments included: 1: The journalist’s accessories and appearance were unprofessional and not how journalists are supposed to look in China. 2: The interviewer, with her sunglasses and umbrella presented too disrespectful and stark a contrast to the volunteers she was interviewing, who were dressed any old how for physical work.
The incident presents some interesting points. One that rankles is that journalists appear to have been typecast in China. We are familiar with this when it comes to gender roles in Pakistan where women are also typecast within restricted roles within restricted boundaries. They are permitted certain restricted behavior and a restricted response within a restricted range of situations. This includes the expectation that women must be ‘married off’ and supported and that women will of a necessity weep and suffer from ill health, and be victimised by their husbands, in-laws and society. Rarely, in Pakistani society, are strong women acceptable. Vigorous women who possess a mind of their own are beset with controversy and accusations. If they are in the public eye these accusations may include being Indian, Israeli or American ‘agents’. It is only men with wildly controversial views who are accused of anything, whereas for a woman the accusations start as soon as she says ‘no’.
There is really no one way a journalist must dress other than decently, and appropriate to the terrain if outdoors. But to take it further, in a way that ties up with the point below, he or she should also dress appropriate to the people in the midst of whom he/she stands. It would be inappropriate to dress in expensive clothes and accessories for example when interviewing people living in an impoverished settlement.
And that is the angle which is interesting in the context of Pakistan, the apparent expectation in China that a person or a class of persons should not appear so obviously above another, in this case the journalist who by means of her accessories and dress was perceived as ‘speaking down’ to the volunteers she was interviewing. They were probably grubby with work, and dressed in a rough and ready fashion. What a contrast to Pakistan where the appearance of being ‘above’ someone else commands respect, and where the ability to do so is striven for more than anything else. This is an angle from which this incident should be discussed in Pakistan where every man on every rung of an imaginary ladder feels obliged to display his muscle to the man on the rung below, starting from menial domestics to the topmost position in the land. It is what is symbolised by those overdressed begums, the armed guards at gates, the armoured cars and ambulances following VIPs in those elaborate cavalcades, by every individual who skips a queue based on his or her acquaintance with some official.
The example of that journalist may be somewhat extreme and she may have served as little more than a scapegoat in the case, but the fact remains that Imperialist China was followed by Mao’s policies where such inequalities were frowned upon although they did exist in other ways. China may now have become much more capitalist but as with our colonial hangovers the Chinese obviously still possess certain values that remain a pale red. Without being red oneself the ostentation and false values of society in Pakistan are enough to drive one to the verge of a very light pink. I wouldn’t agree with that journalist being suspended but I do appreciate a society that feels she should have dressed ‘down’ on this occasion surrounded by disaster. As I wish more people would condemn the palatial homes of our ruling class which are grossly inappropriate when the living conditions of the people they are ruling over are taken into consideration. Because that is precisely the point: they are not taken into consideration, not to mention that fact that there really ought to be no ruling class to start with, just leaders. But that is just too much to expect, isn’t it?
There is another question worth asking: why is it that a few years of communism left such a mark where years of egalitarianism in Islamic teachings failed? It isn’t the ideology so it must be the way it is presented. I’m not sure of the reason myself, so what do you the think?