More than a thousand women being killed last year. People going berserk over a striptease by a social media sensation. An Oscar award winner being ostracized. A Nobel Prize winner being disowned. A girl laying bleeding in a street in Karachi while her brother is busy with her phone. What do these few mentioned happenings and lots others like these have in common? One thing: Honor. A word that has been made so evil that it has become banal, or to say banally evil. But what is wrong with this word? The word that attracts so much consternation – or if you are a conservative, a sense of pride.

When analyzed from near, honor is the very corner-stone of the patriarchal system. From the onset of civilization – or more apt to say at the beginning of agrarian age – the concept of possession and ownership was introduced to humans for the first time. The collectivist existence of hunter-gatherer was replaced by individualism. This called for ultimate conflict. With coming into being of cities, conflicts became inevitable and they were always resolved by the amount of physical strength. Research in anthropology has shown that the earliest societies were matriarchal societies and aboriginal societies – even those present now in places like Papua New Guinea are somewhat matriarchal. But the complex societies where conflicts had to be solved through physical strength, women receded to the background. Wars and bloodshed defined the rest of human epoch till now and still war is the major theme of human existence today. In this routine of bestiality where physical power and strength was the arbiter of things those having less physical strength had to become property of the powerful. And this very fact became the defining characteristic of patriarchy. And honor accompanied this; anyone infringing upon your property is directly challenging you and is taking something away from you.

Of course this concept was wrong and is fatally wrong today. The above lines seek to trace the origin of honor in human societies. But the concepts of patriarchy were further entrenched by religion. By the religion, which was also a product of patriarchal societies and thinking.  Religion blessed the evil of honor and other horrors of patriarchy, such as concept of ownership, with a divine seal. Honor then became a double-edged sword. Societies which emancipated themselves from religion, at one point or another also challenged the notions of honor as defined by patriarchy. But the societies where religion thrived, honor engulfed many other aspects into its sphere and further ossified the ownership of women by men.

Coming to Pakistan, the religion-ordained-patriarchy is going strong. In all its bestial manifestations the honor is thrown every now and then to reassert ownership of women and ownership of their bodies by men. If looked at critically, the judgmental pronouncements about women and how women take ownership of their bodies are informed by religious values of virtue and religious teachings. ‘A woman’s head should be covered by dupatta’, ‘wearing jeans is immodesty’, ‘showing any part of the skin (some say even face) is obscenity’ are all judgments formed and delivered from teachings of a more fundamentalist or conservative interpretation of Islam. These judgmental values are enforced through the culture of patriarchy and the enforcer is honor.

Perhaps the damaging – other than assuming ownership of another human in this concept of honor – is extradition or externalization of self-worth. How can one allow the society to determine his worth or allow himself to be affected by the thinking of society as to his worth by what some female member of his family does or how she expresses herself? It becomes a battle of fragile egos: “I own the females in my family and my standing in society will be affected by their nonconformist attitude” is what summarizes the whole idiotic concept of honor. All forces and ideologies of medievalism have made the body of women the battleground. Each of those mediaeval and anarchic ideologies tries to control the women’s right over her bodies. The lexicon of patriarchy gives birth to a narrative where the ghastly act of enslavement and possession of women is normalized. 

The difference in physical strength may have been arbiter of things in ages long ago but today is age of ideas and mind. In this age of intellect, the intellectual power determines and should determine the standing of a person in a society. Laws all over the world have accepted women to be as equal citizens as men, underlining that both have same power and rights in eyes of law and state. The deconstruction of the narrative of honor as something that gives men power over women and allow them to associate their worth with bodies of women and their expression, has to be done. That begins by admitting that intellectual power, more than the physical strength, is the guider of social status in this age. And where men don’t agree to this changed paradigm, state should come into play. State was meant as an institution to accommodate for those having lesser strength and make them safe from the arbitrary use of power. The state should be made to take up its most basic function and be inserted into the disparity of physical power. By the combination of social and political and legal forces and narrative, the honor concept of patriarchy can be reduced to just a pigmy as opposed to the giant that it is now and can soon be made an archaic concept as it really is.