Allow me to situate myself as honestly as it is possible in my socio-political circumstances before I can problematise sex positive feminism, especially how its operationalisation in the apparent “third world” is understood.

I am a male, belonging to a relatively privileged section of a Lahori, Pakistani, and predominantly Muslim society, amongst other things. I carry with myself the baggage of belonging to a gender group that has oppressed and brutally marginalised the “others.” This historical subjugation of women, and other genders, in all its multi-faceted forms is a moral force in my head that I have to operate against and weigh my real-life, this-worldly decisions around. I’m also told by certain women, women that I respect from the core of my heart, that I ought not to speak for them or patronise their suffering because I can never completely and holistically experience it. I understand that and I empathise with that position, and I will still write about this, because I am on their side. The claims I am going to make will be of a speculative nature, and have a specific purpose. My purpose here is to create a more empathetic understanding of commonly held views about how the moral force of “sex positive feminism” operates actually in the West as well as my social setting and problematise the antagonisms that emerge within, and as a consequence of that binary. More specifically, I have problems with the “vulgar, amoral, soulless” conception of the institutions of love and family of the West, in the mind of the antagonised “Orient.”

On the other hand, the increasingly reductionist position that the Oriental woman in the traditional family structure is completely caged in “devotional, primitive and religious” moral frameworks and devoid of any agency, is highly wearisome for me, and the fact that it is often, held to be an accurate “objective” representation evokes moral outrage in me.

Sex positive feminism, for the purposes of this write up, is going to be understood as the dictum that “women are not free as long as they are not sexually free.” I adhere to many notions of sexual freedom being an essential part of liberating women (and other genders) from the circumstances that enslave them, and as a fundamental part of my own personal value system. However, keeping that in mind, the idea of sexual freedom, for me, in the way that it manifests itself, varies across different historical, socio-political and cultural circumstances and trying to find a universalistic method of operationalising sexual freedom is extremely troublesome – and can potentially be oppressive and authoritarian, especially if imposed from above.

It is in its imposition from above as a universalistic truth, essentially, where I believe the biggest problem lies. For instance, in the war against the Taliban in 2001, the American government ran advocacy campaigns through NGO networks, transnational advocacy groups and through the “epistemic” community that the war in Afghanistan was a means towards achieving the noble end of liberating Afghan women sexually – ridding them of the barbarism of the Talib fighter, unveiling their burqa and allowing them to be actually free for the “first time in their lives.” What went wrong in that pursuit was the reality that most Afghan women did not adhere to the hegemon’s idea of sexual liberation – some were just simply on the side of the Taliban and saw them as freedom fighters, others detested the West for all sorts of historical brutalities including injecting a warped and militant ideology of Islam into their cultural milieu, while others, whilst wanting sexual and economic freedom, amongst other things, were not keen on giving up their veil – no matter how primitive or parochial it was perceived to be. The Americans had cynically, whether intentionally or not, employed the subjugation of Afghani women as an instrumental device to suit their own hegemonic ends and justify the war. The logical underpinning of this example, of course, presumes that ideas and discourses matter – impact social action and can only be known sometimes in holistic ways – in how collective psyche, imperial designs and local indigenous frameworks come into contact with each other. By looking at how the marginalised, in this case, the Afghani woman, is oppressed, through imperial dictates, we can attempt to understand a complex social reality better – for some particular purposes. It would take a moral imbecile to actually believe in the fact that the traditional women cannot think for herself – think strategically – and have agency – in whatever limited forms the prevailing structural and material inequalities allow her to. Maybe that is where the Americans went wrong because they disillusioned almost half of the population and henceforth, failed to win the hearts and minds of the locals.

On the other hand, the antagonised Orient is constantly sold tales reeking of a hardened anti-Western agenda of the lack of any sincerity, love, devotion, or God in the Western imagination. Popular culture depictions of the Western family unit being highly instrumental – devoid of passion, of an increasingly openness towards “getting drunk and hooking up, orgies and open relationships” – of “couples moving in together but not going for marriage” create a myopic and hyper sexualised image of things in the West. The problem originates when these sectional views of a complex cultural reality get imbedded in the minds of the receiver as a unified, scientific depiction of the whole. The actual position might be different. Divorce rates might be higher in America because American women do not tolerate a cheating husband as much and because they get the freedom to choose when to opt out of marriage – and are enabled enough through political and economic institutions, formal and informal, to actually operationalise their dissent. On the other hand, the argument that Western love is disenchanted, reeks of typical third world rural nostalgia – an inability to realise that devotional and passionate love, can, and does exist, in more urban settings – it just manifests itself in different forms. One could also argue that it might be easier, generally speaking, in Western settings for a woman to choose to remove her veil – a decision that remains a dream for most women in traditional settings who were forced to wear it in the first place.

It seems like cross-cultural communication and empathy is a requirement of our times. But what’s problematic is the presence of deeply entrenched and interconnected historical antagonisms – of class, nationalism, patriarchy, power, economic disparities amongst other things, which need to be transcended. And that is only possible if we let ourselves move past our blinkered self-serving views of reality. And understanding that even if we cannot completely capture the full essence on something as complex as world culture, that should not create grounds for giving up on the field of social science entirely – or falling prey to stereotypical appropriations that are a hallmark of the “logic of capitalism” driven popular discourse in the technological fate of our times.