A Woman Like Her
A Woman Like Her
Before reading this book i was vaguely aware of Quandeel Baloch, having heard about her death, an 'honour' killing for which her brother recently received a life sentence in prison, in the UK media. Tbh if this wasnt a Book Club pick i never would've chosen it and yet i enjoyed it.
The title and marketing give a misleading impression the book is mainly about Quandeel. Given her rural background and perfectly ordinariness prior to her decision to make herself into a sort of (not really) Pakistani Kardashian (that family comes from wealth and privilege far removed from Fouzia Azeem's- Quandeel's real name- life in Shah Sadar Din), there simply isn't much of a story to tell. By necessity some padding out would be required to fill such a book. However, what we get is far from filler, and makes a much more interesting read than the short life of a self-made, attention-seeking wannabe celebrity.
It's a sad story, one that made my blood boil in places at the injustices of life as a woman in such a patriarchal, religiously and culturally conservative society. In 2016 when Quandeel Baloch was murdered for daring to challenge traditional norms, there were an estimated 326 such killings, of which 312 were women, many committed by males close to them (husbands, fathers, brothers) and with family approval. Quandeel was killed for trying to make something of herself using the limited options available to a young, uneducated woman from a poor rural family in the Punjab, for wanting to live life on her own terms, for challenging a structure that gives men almost total power over women.
Had she been rich and from an influential family her story probably would have been very different. As it was, her lifestyle and courting of controversy to keep her name in headlines, revelations of her real name and where she came from, brought attention to her family and resulted in her death. Quandeel doesnt come across as particularly likeable or admirable, other than for the success she undeniably achieved in a brief career as social media 'celebrity'. She sent money home to her family, including giving the brother who killed her funds to set up in business, and despite the glossy image projected in the selfies and videos she posted on social media sites, Quandeel was far from living a luxury lifestyle. She certainly made the most of the attention she did receive, modelling jobs, photo shoots, PR events, etc. She was young and naive, used by others more mature, more savvy...males for the most part.
Quandeel wanted to be a star from childhood, and, for a short time, successfully reinvented herself and achieved her goal of stardom. There are many young women using Instagram, Youtube and other sites to promote an image and monetise their lives, with millions of followers. Quandeel, however, was doing this in a society structured to control every aspect of women's lives, she was not afraid to call attention to hypocrisy, and she was dangerously provocative. Her posts attracted the kind of hateful comments, threats of sexual violence and death, only too familiar to our female politicians and any woman who dares to express an opinion on social media.
The book is put together in a rather disjointed way, more like linked articles than a single account. Nonetheless, it held my interest in something i didnt set out wanting to know more about, and made me think about what it must be like to live in such a traditional society where women have little power over their lives.
There are worrying signs in our supposedly progressive Western societies of deepening misogyny and threats to womens' rights (access to contraception and abortion, for eg.), though on the whole women have achieved a high degree of equality. Yet Quandeel Baloch's story shows just how far we still have to go if rights and freedoms we take tor granted are to be shared by all women and girls. Well worth a read if you are concerned about the impact of social media and choices available to young women to live as they want to.
A disappointing read with some tremendous insight to life in Pakistan for both men and women against the explosive backdrop of the advent of social media and the negative and positive impact in country where religion dictates all aspects of life in a deeply controlling and male dominated way. Several interesting characters but largely this book simply frustrated me by jumping about incoherently and being quite opaque or confused about its overall purpose
I was intrigued by the premise of this book when the blurb was explained to me. It was a book I was really hoping to like but I just struggled. This was partly due to misconceptions about the style and content of the book. The style of writing at times included lovely rhetorical flourishes but in the main was hard to follow (especially the 'words' of Qandeel), which was further compounded by the chapters jumping in different directions following different characters with little to no explanation why.
There are the ingredients to an excellent book here. The rise of social media stars in a socially conservative country has the basis for an excellent plot. But none of it ever clicked.
I gave up trying to finish the book and it would not be something I'd recommend to others.
Having no interest whatsoever in social media made me think I might struggle reading this book, but felt it was worth the effort to read it to learn about life in Pakistan. I certainly did learn a lot about living in a culture very different from my own.
Although the book is about Qandeel Baloch I didn't really understand or get to know her.
The chapters in the book were quite separate with Qandeel being the link between them.
I found reading about Nighat Dad and Attiya Jeffrey very rewarding and what they achieved in very male dominated professions both in Pakistan and the West to be inspiring.
Qandeel Baloch grew up in rural Pakistan in a traditional Muslim family yet she became one of the country’s most notorious social media stars. She was loved by her fans but disparaged by her critics, so much so that she was murdered by her brother to save the family from dishonour. Sanam Maher (the author) has used Qandeel’s story as a background against which to set a book which investigates the impact of social media on a deeply religious society.
Somewhat to my surprise, I very much enjoyed this book and also found it quite informative. My reasons for expecting to find it a struggle were a) I had never heard of Qandeel Baloch and b) my interest in social media is severely limited, verging on the non-existent. As a result, I think the author did a remarkably good job of keeping my attention and there are various reasons for that. Firstly, I have been to Pakistan and have not only visited some of the places mentioned in the book, but also have some understanding of the cultural restraints which prevail. By pure coincidence further poignancy was added just as I was nearing the end of the book when I logged on to the BBC news website and noticed that Qandeel’s brother had been convicted of her murder earlier in the day and sentenced to life imprisonment. Given that I had never heard of Qandeel before I started reading the book, this double exposure seemed to be verging on the spooky. Secondly, in a sense Qandeel Baloch is not really the star of this book, in fact she is almost incidental to the main theme which is an investigation into the impact of social media in a culture where religious convictions are paramount, woman are treated as second-class citizens, family honour is of huge importance and society generally works in a very different way from our experience of the Western world. I think this made the book far more interesting than it would have been had the author tried to focus solely on the life and times of Qandeel who, when all’s said and done was, by her own admission, determined to find fame and notoriety in any way possible through the platform of social media. Clearly the fact that her life culminated in a very sensational murder, which apparently made headlines globally (although I missed out on it completely), was seen as a selling point for the book, but I do feel that marketing it in this way is not only missing the point, but is also undermining the research which has been conducted in the course of the investigation into much wider issues than Qandeel herself.
For me though, the book is not without its problems. There is very little real factual information about Qandeel and I did not find that the author succeeded in building up a particularly comprehensive picture of the woman herself. Also, from what I could glean about her, I did not particularly like her. The motivation for all of her actions seemed to be attention-seeking, which was not an endearing personality trait. This had the effect of making me quite impatient with her and also quite unsympathetic. As I have already said, thankfully the book is not solely about Qandeel (despite the marketing hype). Finally, I found the book a little “bitty”, successive chapters almost being separate essays in their own right.
Would I recommend the book? To be honest I am not sure. I found it a lot more interesting than I had expected but the content may not be of interest to many people. I think it’s “make your own mind up” time!