“Slut Shaming” Saeed Ajmal | karachikhatmal’s blog

Jul 2014

Editors’ note: If you haven’t heard the term “slut shaming” before, see here. 

A few years ago, @bhaichod told me her theory of how sports were soap operas for men. The intellectual and social stigma attached to soap operas, added to the fact that their audience has almost the same gender ratio but in reverse, meant that my sense of manhood felt this was an affront to my high-minded love for sports.

Over time, not only did I come around to accept this view as an integral aspect of ‘following a sport’ but I also came to realize how often traditional gender norms and expected behavior were subverted in the context of sports.

This was also a time that I had begun to develop my theory on how to represent cricket’s approach and treatment of batsmen versus bowlers. Before I begin, let me provide some disclaimers. As a Pakistani, the team I support has been blessed with a litany of superb bowlers, and thus I am biased towards them. Secondly, I was educated at university in the sort of courses that you realize all other people know just as well from having read them up themselves. At my university, they were (at the time at least) grouped under an umbrella-specialisation known as the Social Sciences. Consequently, the following views developed on a steady dose of half-baked (both me and the thoughts) critical theory and it’s like.

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Cricket is a game where a series of consecutive individual battles are taken as a whole to define a contest between two teams. Every moment in a game of cricket begins with one bowler bowling to one batsman, with each such encounter becoming part of the progression of both teams in the game itself. In an ideal world, the game’s essence is to strike a balance between bat and ball – one which may be contingent upon a host of factors, including the weather conditions, the playing rules, the nature of the pitch, the length of the boundaries, the day of the week, and a lot more.

Yet in the real world, the history of the game shows that batsmen continuously attempt to control it in a way to benefit them the most. The game’s captains, lawmakers, leading lights, writers and analysts are almost inevitably batsmen. A history of the laws of the game shows continuous changes to protect batsmen, and continuous attempts to declare bowling innovations as illegitimate and heretical. I have discussed this in greater detail here in an essay on the game.

After I had come to terms with @bhaichod’s sports-as-soaps theory, I realized, more than ever, that if we viewed cricket through the lens of gender politics, then it became extremely obvious that batsmen were men and bowlers were women. I also realized that this meant it could be possible to explain what men dismiss as threatening and shrill observations by feminists in a context they would be far more comfortable with – cricket. My first attempt at this process was with a short film called Context. You can read about what the absurd narrative means here.

A recent incident brought this idea to my mind again, and I began thinking of slut-shaming. Slut-shaming is an issue which gets extremely tricky, so let’s get a quick Wikipedia definition first.

Slut shaming (also hyphenated, as slut-shaming) is a concept in human sexuality. It is a neologism used to describe the act of making a person, especially a woman, feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or religious law. Some examples of circumstances where women are “slut-shamed” include: violating accepted dress codes by dressing in sexually provocative ways, requesting access to birth control, having premarital or casual sex, or being raped or sexually assaulted.

In other words, slut-shaming is when we decide that someone is acting in an unnatural, immoral, and deviant way. Examples include shaming someone for dressing inappropriately, amongst lots of other things.

I want us to stop at the discussion about dressing though. A cursory view of ET Sunday Snaps, or the FB/Twitter feed of any Pakistani female celebrity, gives us a great example of people constantly consuming photos they consider inappropriate and then also calling the women in the pictures ‘sluts’. The assumption made here, (and in all such cases anywhere in the world) is that if someone dresses in what we perceive to be an ‘immoral’ manner, then it is safe to conclude that they are also of poor moral character. In other words, we only have to see what someone is dressed like to make a conclusion about their character.

For a lot of men, this seems like a no-brainer. The basis for this belief stems from the pervasive view that ‘NO woman who wants to have (straight) sex will ever have a problem, since ALL men are always willing to have sex’. The last time I heard this argument was in a living room full of sharp accents and prestigious degrees, so despite its biological and social implausibility we take it as fact. Developing on this idea is the discourse that any woman who dresses in what we in Pakistan call a ‘bold’ or ‘revealing’ or ‘mod-ren’ manner is stating her desire to have sex, and thus at the very least, we can assume that she ‘wants it’ more than other, more appropriately-dressed, females.

Trying to dissect this problem by explaining that women have the right to dress as they please without being labeled as sluts creates issues. Most people feel that dressing ‘inappropriately’ can’t be viewed in any way other than as provocative, and defending it is an example of amoral liberalism. The major point, that using someone’s dressing to judge their morality is wrong, is lost in this battle. People tend to look at only the woman and her dress, and ignore their reactions and prejudices.

Ahmer_2A few weeks ago during a game in the English county championship, a picture of Pakistani spinner Saeed Ajmal, was shared on social media. The image showed Ajmal, who had been wildly successful in his stint in England, about to bowl a delivery. In the moment that the picture was taken, Ajmal’s arm bent at a very crooked angle.

At this point, it is important to explain the concept of ‘chucking’ to the uninitiated. In simple terms, ever since over-arm bowling was allowed more than a century ago, bowlers were legislated to bowl with a straight-arm. If it was felt that the arm was bent while bowling, the umpire would call a no-ball, i.e. declare that delivery as illegal. The turning point in this story came in the mid-90s, when Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan appeared on the scene. Murali bowled like a street-magician, his arms exploding in weird directions each time he bowled. The Australian umpire Darrel Hair called a no-ball against his action while his team was playing in Australia. Murali’s combative captain, the legendary Arjuna Ranatunga, felt that Hair was picking on his player and ordered a walk-off in protest. It was a huge sacrilege for cricket’s community of hide-bound traditionalists, but it also exposed the latent prejudice and racism that many of the smaller teams felt in possibly the most colonially-linked sport in the world. You can read on the issue in greater detail here.

The eventual outcome of the Murali debate was that scientists were brought in, and they discovered that the bowler had biological quirks in his anatomy that prevented his arm from straightening. Moreover, tests showed that *all* bowlers bent their arms while bowling. Eventually, there was a decision to allow 15 degrees of flex for any bowler. Anyone deemed of chucking in this day and age is sent in to be checked by biomechanic experts who then provide the final verdict.

The issue of ‘chucking’ represents cricket’s prejudice against bowlers quite vividly. Despite having legal mechanisms for it, it is still seen by many as a deviancy or heresy. The fact that spin bowlers who have quirky elbows and bowling styles have used this change in law to develop the ‘doosra’ (a variation for finger-spinners) has also attracted a lot of ire. It is claimed that the laws were changed to accommodate the cheaters, and that those who exploit this apparent loophole are lesser bowlers.

Late last year, the hyperventilating Indian cricket media reported that the team’s star spinner Ravichandaran Ashwin had made a decision to bowl in a long-sleeved shirt. An article on Cricinfo covering the issue wrote “Offspinners’ actions, especially while bowling the doosra, have been under constant scrutiny, and it has become a common practice over the last few years for bowlers to bowl with long sleeves that cover their elbows.” When he was asked about it, Ashwin said “I don’t know, you can tend to get a lot of advantage doing all these things. So why should I lag behind in the advantage when somebody else is getting a competitive advantage?

The implication here, and elsewhere in the cricket world, was that serial chuckers were wearing long-sleeved shirt to prevent attention being drawn to how bent their elbows were when bowling – in other words, to hide the fact that they were cheating.

A later article on Cricinfo on Ashwin said the following “These bowlers’ (those who wear long sleeves) actions are mostly legal in the eye of the law, but they also know that their actions don’t look pretty when in half sleeves. The straightening of the elbow, although permissible by the ICC at most times, is accentuated to the naked eye when not covered by their shirts. Bowlers have been reported for suspect actions in recent times – Shane Shillingford and Marlon Samuels being the latest – all wear full sleeves… These are all legal until they are sent to Perth for examination. It is open to argument whether the game is richer or poorer for it. Cricket moves on as it has shown with the influx of long sleeves, but it also celebrates the Ashwins of the world a little more; while winning matters more than anything else, the perception – to be seen to be fair – also matters. Ashwin is the only one left to those who like their offspinners in half sleeves.” (emphasis mine)

What is truly hilarious is that innovations in batting (the male preserve in our analogy) are never treated with such suspicion or aversion. When Kevin Pietersen invented the ‘switch-hit’ a few years ago, it was immediately sanctioned by the authorities despite upending basic conventions of the rules of engagement. Batsmen have also long been hoodwinking the ICC’s rules on bats by having access to massive bats made of materials which keep them light enough to stay within the guidelines. Rather than control these variations, the authorities encourage them when it comes to batting.

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So let’s return now to that picture of Saeed Ajmal. The minute it was posted, prominent ex and current players tweeted their shock and horror. Most of these tweets were quite sarcastic, as those commenting were aware that the game’s authorities had sanctioned Ajmal, and as such they would be challenging them. Yet that didn’t hold back everyone.

The captain of the English T20 side Stuart Broad had this to say “Bowlers can bowl very differently in a lab while being tested compared to needing wickets in the middle.” For those who don’t know, Broad is the son of a former English player and high-ranking ICC official, and has been known to toe the establishment line. To see him speak out against the authorities (the lab he refers to are those run by the ICC to conduct tests on bowling actions) was both surprising and unprecedented. Or perhaps just unprecedented – the response to the sleeves and the picture of Ajmal both made it abundantly clear what the subtext was: such bowlers were cheaters in spirit, if not under the eyes of the law.

Hassan Cheema, a Pakistani writer, dissected the chucking ‘debate’ in the aftermath of the Ajmal-affair quite well here, but the most important sentence was this: “the 15-degree rule applies to the flex, or the straightening, of the elbow while bowling, rather than to just the bend in the elbow. The pointlessness of using a single still photograph as evidence is apparent immediately.

In other words, the bowler’s 15 degrees is the limit his elbow is allowed to bend from point A to B, and NOT the maximum deviation of the elbow allowed from a straight line. Consequently, in order to measure the bend or flex, one must have at least two pictures to compare. Using a single image immediately showcases a misunderstanding of the law.

(There are those like the insightful writer Russel Degnan who have argued that the issue is the incorrect definition of what ‘chucking’ is. This scientific paper suggests an alternative and more stringent definition than the one currently used. You can read a detailed discussion on the matter here.)

Of course, those well-versed with the history of cricket will recall similar cries made against bowling in the past. In the 1970s, when the West Indies team began using intimidatory bowling as a tactic (they would make the ball bounce halfway down the pitch, which meant it arrived at the batsman’s throat or head). Despite rapid advances in sporting equipment to prevent injuries from such bowling, the laws of cricket were changed to limit this tactic. Similarly, throughout the 90s tabloids like the Sun used headlines like “PAKI CHEATS” after Pakistani bowlers used reverse swing to destroy English sides. ‘Reverse swing’ another poorly understood skill was however elevated to an art form after English sides eventually learned to bowl it themselves. In fact, the only reason both ‘chucking’ and ‘reverse swing’ eventually came to be accepted was through scientific research, which showed that the conventional logic regarding both cases was incorrect and unscientific.

And yet, Ajmal was declared a cheat and a deviant based on a logic which immediately showcased that those commenting on the issue (and who played top-level cricket) were completely unaware of the laws, and thus viewed bowlers like Ajmal as cheaters who were fooling the game. In essence, this is cricket’s example of slutshaming.

Using an image of someone’s dressing and declaring them as a deviant without any knowledge of the context is an almost exact definition of one facet of slutshaming. It is assumed that Ajmal only dresses the way he does because he is a cheater, and his clothes are proof of the fact. One making such an accusation does not have to even know what they are talking about, and yet their view are accepted and endorsed by the majority. What is important to note here is that the self-serving logic used to condemn the victim (that chuckers have bent elbows or that deep cleavages means wanting to get fucked) is completely incorrect and misunderstands basic facts.

‘Chucking’ is a false claim, since no one out there doesn’t chuck, and there are many others whose bodies naturally involved flexing that appears like chucking to the naked eye. Similarly, claiming that women want sex less than men, or that dress up with the intention to attract sexual advances, misunderstands both sexuality as well as morality.

And so this is the issue we must now try and understand with regards to slut-shaming in general. Rather than immediately enforcing our own arbitrary and misunderstood ideas of sexuality on someone based simply on one image wearing a certain dress, we have to step out and be self-aware of our own contexts. Next time you want to call a woman a slut based on what she’s wearing, remember that you’re letting the Ajmal haters win.

karachikhatmal is the Brian Lara of his generation. He’s a genius but his team usually loses. He’s also a freelance journalist, who writes on cricket, music and film.

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10 Responses to “Slut Shaming” Saeed Ajmal | karachikhatmal’s blog

  1. Andrea on Jul 2016 at 7:41 AM

    The slut shaming thing is big one !
    I’m a proud slut and I love to write about it, such as on my blog :
    https://myhiddendirtysexlife.wordpress.com/

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