Welcome to the theocratic military democracy of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

We have mullahs in our parliaments, in our armies, in our courts and on our TVs. We have an Islamic Ideology Council that can rule out DNA as primary evidence in rape cases in the 21st century, because 1400 years ago people could only prove a claim if there had been witnesses. Politicians, self-styled educationists, send back textbooks and reject curricula that do not include enough Islam. Censors trawl the Internet, looking for blasphemous material or content that endangers [Islamic] public morality, and ban entire websites but militant Islamists keep operating social media with impunity…possibly still doing less damage than the non-militant Islamists’ pages that prepare the public conscience to accept the former’s ideology. Blasphemy is a crime that leads to a death sentence even if no conclusive proof has been presented, even if your crime is to speak out against legislation susceptible to such rampant misuse that it essentially becomes a state-sanctioned assassination program–because questioning blasphemy laws is blasphemy itself–and vigilante ‘executioners’ that carry out the sentence are lauded as heroes. No law can be made unless a man well-versed in scripture, but not Philosophy or Political/Social Science or humanity, deems it appropriate for a Muslim nation and all existing laws may be challenged on the basis of his understanding. Women cannot get married on their own through the courts without submitting to a virginity test, and domestic violence bills cannot be passed till it is ascertained they do not conflict with Islam–because a human being’s right to not be violated is secondary to a husband’s God-given right to discipline his wife. Memorizing the Quran gets you 20 extra points in a highly competitive, ‘merit-based’ education system and there’s one teacher whose subject cannot legally be skipped at any grade level–but it’s not the one who teaches you how to read, write or do long division. (Because the most important skill for an engineer is the ability to pray his or her constructions don’t fall apart.) Islamic banking is big business and shampoos “specially formulated for hijabis’ hair” show up on department store shelves. Religion is everywhere and there is only one true religion Islam as preached by the last prophet Muhammad–and if you cannot repeat these words verbatim, you are not a Muslim and you probably won’t be anything much longer because it is generally, albeit unofficially, believed the blood of a non-believer is fifty percent more water than human. And not even holy Ab-e-Zam-Zam water.

Yaqeenan hamaaray tamaam masail ki bunyaad Islam se doori hai aur Shariat ki roshni isska hal.*

*“Undoubtedly the root cause of all our problems is deviation from Islam and enlightenment through Shariah its solution.”

Note on the title: It comes from the license plate of a fancy car I saw in a middle-class neighborhood–the owner had paid extra to state the car came from Punjab in “Al-Bakistan” which is the Arabized pronunciation of “Pakistan” in a language that has fewer alphabet than both Urdu and English (the official languages of Pakistan) and no sound for “P”, thus rendering the name invalid yet somehow legal. A status symbol amongst the Arab-infatuated Pakistani Muslims, a country name that can ‘exist’ only in the Middle East.

Stop Using Stereotypes To Sell STEM to Girls

We all get it, we desperately need more girls involved in STEM at increasingly younger ages. As they age, we need to keep them engaged there. We do a great disservice to them when we raise them solely on a diet of vapid princesses, beauty queens and sexualized fashionistas.

But when we use princess culture, pinkification, and beauty norms to sell STEM toys to girls and fool ourselves that we are amazing and progressive and raising an incredible generation of female engineers we continue to sell our girls short. It is the equivalent of covering broccoli in melted processed cheese and thinking we’ve very served a healthy meal.

Girls do not need the Pink Princess Hook to get them interested in building or engineering. They need to be handed building materials and the message, “Hey! You are a person with a brain and two hands. Go build, it is great fun!” Kids are naturally curious which makes them natural experimenters which makes them natural builders and creators. All of that comes organically. NO WHERE is the princess complex hardwired.

Stop believing the hype, “Well, if it gets girls building that is all I care about.” No. Just no. Have more faith in girls that they don’t need products dripping in the pink syrup and exhausted princess stories. Be brave enough to tell new, more daring stories. If you go there, the girls will come. They don’t need pink bread crumbs leading the way. Have the strength of your convictions.

I know it is a common belief at some very popular manufacturers of girls toys right now to use the princess hook as any means necessary to get girls building. I know the marketing around some of these companies has the Internet swooning and in love. I’m just not buying it.  I know that to publicly deviate from this thinking may leave me unpopular. But that doesn’t make me wrong.

You cannot create a toy meant to break down stereotypes when you start off with the ideal that “we know all girls love princesses”. That is a stereotype. Not all girls love princesses. Many girls are limited to and even force fed princesses. Many families stay far away from the princess industry. Don’t confuse these two ideas.

Suffer Little Children

I just started reading a novel about an overweight gay middleschooler whose nipples begin talking to him one day. It’s a story about a pubescent/newly adolescent boy coming to terms with himself, which should place it in the same category as other novels about the pubescent set though it’s listed as “speculative fiction” because I guess there’s no such thing as “queer children’s literature” (but perhaps that’s a rant for another day.)

What it got me thinking about was, we’re quick to note that by the time they reach young adulthood a lot of queer people are riddled with “complexes” and whatnot. This is true; there’s nothing quite like being of a marginalized, reviled minority to mess you up. Many young LGBTIQA children suffer bullying and isolation, and the double-bind of learning early on that not only is sex a taboo topic but their particular sexuality is even more so. They learn to cover up their tracks, hide as much as possible about themselves from those closest to them, who may often genuinely love them otherwise. A crash course in fear, self-loathing and duplicity does not a well-adjusted adult make. It also makes them more vulnerable to predators and robs them of the sense of community that should be our inheritance as human beings. In my experience, it often takes years for queer children to find a queer-friendly group and subsequently develop a feeling of social camaraderie and belonging.

But what if instead of waiting to pick up the pieces once these children reach adulthood, we could help them out of their isolation right now? What if we could somehow provide for them a queer-friendly and child-safe space within which they could grow and develop their sense of self without having to shoulder the immense burden of growing up radically and intrinsically different from many of their peers–alone? This goes for other children too of course: children with disabilities, children from ethnic and religious minorities, children with atypical minds or bodies, children from underprivileged backgrounds, and even female children. But whereas I find there ARE other people raising their voice for those children, often receiving public and political support at the least, there is nobody speaking out for these children. Children who cannot even find their own stories sorted onto the shelves of the children’s section in bookstores and libraries, their narratives safely kept out of reach of the little hands that need to hear them the most.

How would we go about this?