You can’t have your cake and eat it too, unless you are a certain television evangelist with a penchant for second marriages conducted in public. If you are, say, a Panther, then you can leave your wife with whom you have two teenaged children and marry someone half your age without telling them. Wanting to leave a marriage is no great shakes, people do it all the time. But there’s a way to do it, a civilised way where you can try and minimise the pain and confusion your actions will no doubt have. Sometimes even panthers can be weasels it seems. You can also add insult to injury by pulling your media strings to appear on morning shows, carefully colour-coordinated with your new wife, the host of the show and the background flowers of the set and innocently put up your hands and wonder what on earth everyone is fussing about. I’m still the guardian of the house, you can say, as the host of the show widens her eyes and implies your first wife is a hypocrite for being religious but having a problem with your second marriage. You too, pantherously, can tweet about how you just got married, it’s not like you robbed anyone.

Situations like these always astound me, at least. In Urdu there is a phrase that translates roughly to being a thief and bullying everyone on top of it—so not only have you stolen someone’s things, you’ve slapped them around a bit too. It wasn’t enough to go behind your family’s back and make a circus of your private affairs, you had to go on national television and mock the mother of your children, and then wonder why they’re so upset. One can’t help but wonder how bloody-minded patriarchies can allow people to be, that men can do what they like—trample on whoever they please, and those women and children aren’t even allowed to voice their anger? Kids don’t just get onto Twitter, you can say, implying someone has been influencing them. But of course they can, teenagers do a lot of things their parents have no control over, and teenagers are not little children. They have opinions, and they are people. Gone are the days where you didn’t engage with children because you thought they weren’t capable of a rational conversation beyond what class they are in and their favourite subject.

On one level this is so repetitively common one is downright bored with it. On another it’s an excellent opportunity to unpack social attitudes towards family and relationships. As a whole, we generally value family and family values. We live in joint family systems so old relatives can be looked after properly. We help put nephews through college, we dance at weddings, we stick up for cousins and we keep the family secrets. Family means looking after each other and protection. But where do these “family values” go when men feel restless? Women are expected to compromise, to put up, to stay quiet, to do sabar. Where are those admonishments when it comes to men who remarry? Where is their sabar, likened to godliness all the time? Where is the loyalty, who has your back? We whip out religion like a weapon, but how strange that religion so conveniently makes things easier for men to find loopholes to accommodate their desires—but not for women. If it sounds strange and wrong, that’s because it is. Panther might say that he’s “allowed” to remarry, but glosses over the part about treating your wives with equal respect and giving them equal financial and emotional support. If and only if you can do that, then you may marry again. It isn’t religiously acceptable to break anyone’s heart either and yet there we are, trumpeting about four wives and hoors in heaven for men and compromise and kindness for women when their husbands cheat, abandon them, remarry and then shame them for being angry about it. You can’t be a family man and make your family unhappy simultaneously. You can’t be a religious scholar and indulge in mean, wholly avoidable pettiness. Anyone should, at the very least, have the courage to take responsibility for their actions, and try and make the best of a bad situation. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, and neither should you be allowed to.

 

The writer is a feminist based

in Lahore.

 m.malikhussain@gmail.com