Do people query you regarding your age? If you are a woman, are you scrutinized by your beauty, your presentably, your demeanor, or are you judged by the content and grit of the work that you do? Having both is like ‘god-sent’ for the individual and the world, you think so, right? We are witnessing some of these beauty and age governed diplomacy in the international political scenario in the present times. The catalyst being media .
As always, I have tried to keep my readings and interpretation of International politics to a bare minimum on Iris, because of certain personal biases that I feel should not come as a bias for my readers. However, couldn’t resist this commentary on the sudden proliferation of media reports prior to Pakistan’s first woman Foreign Minister for State Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar’s diplomatic mission to India.
Let me invite you to read through these lines quoted in NDTV India for today’s online newspaper. The title of the article goes as ‘The Hina Factor in India-Pakistan Talks’. Initially I thought it is an article on Raj Kapoor’s movie Heena somehow mis-spelt :). Soon, I realized that the Indian media is going gung-ho over the beauty of the woman Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Pakistan:
When 34-year-old Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s youngest and first woman Foreign Minister, holds talks with her Indian counterpart SM Krishna, 45 years her senior, the world will be watching to see how she handles her first major diplomatic outing and navigates the troubled waters of the India-Pakistan relationship. (NDTV)
What do we call this language of a National Daily? How can you call a diplomatic talk/mission as a ‘diplomatic outing’ in the first place? Is she a Minister of State or is she the Foreign Affairs Minister? What has Mr. Krishna’s being 45 years senior to Ms. Rabbani got to do with her talks on Indo-Pak peace process? Does your age or your sex govern your professional/diplomatic decisions/ relations?
If you read the entire article, you will get the feeling of wistfulness and poetic eloquence with concealed innuendos on her beauty and age rather than her CV as a diplomat. There seems to be hardly any explanation of what has been her capabilities or what will be the significance of her visit in either Indian or Pakistani context. I cannot but sympathize with Ms. Rabbani for the enormous amount of pressure she must be facing as a young emissary for a troubled diplomatic mission. The innuendos on her looks and beauty would not in an iota reduce any of that pressure.
Hina Rabbani’s visit makes me put a question into perspective: are women anything more than beautiful artifacts on the world’s diplomatic, political, or literary map? I had actually thought Indian media needs to grow up, until I read this piece of news on BBC about Ms. Rabbani, which I quote here:
She is educated and articulate. She is also a young and photogenic woman. International interlocutors and the global television audience may find her a welcome change from Pakistan’s infamous, invariably male old guard.But there are few in Pakistan who expect her to show the kind of resolve and charisma it would take to straighten out the folds and crumples of Pakistani foreign policy. (BBC) (my emphasis)
A ‘welcome change’ ? Is a Foreign Minister of a country a ‘welcome change’ because of her sex and looks? I had a smile when I read through this news report. Do we call it postmodern condition in media and journalism where everything is celebrated including your beauty and youth? Or do we call it a general drop in the standards of journalism and media languages? I am deliberately calling it a ‘drop’ because the thoughts of a media reflects the thoughts of the elite masses of a country and world.
I felt we are rather going backwards through time and process of liberation, than going forward. Was reminded of Chanakya neeti, where the ‘male’ political strategist of Chandragupta Maurya states: ‘The world’s greatest power is a woman’s beauty and youth.’
Curious regarding the way women diplomats have been addressed or treated by the media, I thought of looking up the swearing-in ceremony reports of Mrs. Gandhi in 1966 (if we are talking about looks she was no less in her good looks and her ‘photogenic’ capacities) and news reports on her multiple diplomatic visits as a comparison point in language . I was myself two decades away from existence in the world by the time Mrs. Gandhi was forming her cabinet as the first woman Prime Minister of India.
Google gave me a range of archival materials on Mrs. Gandhi’s visits. Here is the BBC report of 19th January 1966, the day of Mrs. Gandhi’s swearing-in ceremony:
She was chosen at the end of a bitter leadership battle with former finance minister Morarji Desai. Following her win, Mrs Gandhi pledged herself to serve the Congress Party and the country, and said she would “strive to create what my father used to call a climate of peace.”Crowds had gathered outside Parliament House while the election was held, and cheered Mrs Gandhi wildly as she went to the President’s House to report. She will not become prime minister until she submits her cabinet to the president. (BBC) (my emphasis)
Thankfully, for Mrs. Gandhi, BBC in 1966 was not referring her as a ‘photogenic’ woman or a pin-up girl. Sometimes I wonder, are we diluting the standards of media, journalism, and thereby the general psyche, by letting anything and everything pass as ‘Breaking News’. Hina Rabbani’s case is just one in the million such stories being flashed on media everyday. Are we not also destroying the talents that are latent in people by putting intense public glare on their looks — Sania Mirza or Monika Seles for example? Sania Mirza became more of a brand ambassador rather than a tennis player, Monika Seles suffered injury and her bright career went through a low phase. Princess Diana won both fame and infamy for her exceedingly good looks — a death which was as disturbed by paparazzi as was her life.
Women in various professions are just like any other species that the universe has created, and a little mercy and space would be important. I do not say that there is any harm in admiring the beauty or charm of a lady — Cleopatra was not only a beauty to reckon with, she was an exceedingly brilliant diplomat of Egypt as well. However, it is of course undesirable to relate a lady’s beauty and charm as the passport to her professional success as is being done in Ms. Rabbani’s case. As a diplomat coming as a peace emissary to India, any woman would deserve and warrant a little more respect in media coverage than is being granted to her at present.