Narrating Muslim Girlhood in the Pakistani Cityscape of Graphic Narratives

in Girlhood Studies
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  • 1 Purdue University sunnybeige@gmail.com

ABSTRACT

In this article I focus on the graphic narratives Gogi (1970–the present) by Nigar Nazar and Haroon Rashid’s Burka Avenger (2013–the present) in particular to examine the empowering portrayal of Muslim girlhood that these works offer in addition to advocating for the rights of Muslim girls. I emphasize that graphic narratives have become a powerful medium that represents the resistance of Muslim girlhood both in the context of local patriarchies and as a tool to challenge the stereotypical representation of Muslim identities globally. By focusing on the depiction of the girl protagonists in these graphic narratives, I analyze how these artists rework the western superhero trope to foreground the girls’ everyday heroism. Moreover, by situating the interaction of the girls with Pakistani cityscapes, I argue, in terms of De Certeau’s concept of tactics, that the protagonists navigate the Pakistani cities as familiar places rather than as othered spaces.

In the United States, representations of Muslim girlhood1 in comics such as Dust in X-Men Comics (1963–2014) and Kamala Khan in the Ms. Marvel (2014) series have offered Muslim girlhood much needed visibility. However, the representations of Muslimness and femininity in comics is sporadic and somewhat limited in nature. Dust, created in the post 9/11 era is a burka-clad Afghan girl who willfully dons the burka and uses her super powers to destroy her enemies. However, Dust still exists within a Western rescue narrative in which a white mutant, Wolverine, saves her (Dar 2008). In contrast to Dust, Kamala Khan is a fashionable 16-year-old Pakistani-American girl who combats crime, racism, and Islamophobia in Jersey City, New Jersey. Deploying her liminal position as a young Muslim girl, Khan defies both the patriarchal status quo of her own community and the hegemonic power of white masculinity (Khoja-Moolji and Niccolini 2015). However, the portrayal of Muslim girlhood in comics is not restricted to the United States, nor is it the sole creation of Marvel and DC comics. Graphic narratives like Gogi (1970–present) by Nigar Nazar and Burka Avenger (2013–present) by Haroon Rashid serve as an interesting counterpoint to the Western big budget productions. In my discussion of Gogi, I analyze the newly hosted website Gogi by Nigar Nazar as well as the book Going Gogi published in 2009. The Gogi narratives are fascinating because, unlike Western graphic novels, they do not exist in a cohesive volume. Instead, Gogi appears in several different media such as newspapers, printed books, television, and online resources to reach its desired audiences. In contrast to Gogi, Burka Avenger is an animated television show, of which many episodes are also available online at no charge. It is currently in its third season on the TV channel, Geo Taiz, but in this article, I will focus only on the first season.

I argue that Gogi and Burka Avenger are significant because they employ the format of what could be loosely termed a cartoon to portray Muslim girlhood,2 while simultaneously drawing attention to the medium of the cartoon itself. Reviled by conservative Muslims for its perceived use as caricature but considered a form of liberal expression in the West, the cartoon signifies a polarized sociopolitical reality.3 However, Gogi and Burka Avenger deviate from the binary us-versus-them way of thinking by transforming the cartoon into a graphic narrative that engages in a complex discussion of gender, adolescence, religion, and urban reality. Pramod K Nayar considers graphic narrative as a “descriptor and label that references the visual ‘graphic’ composition of the medium and the crafting of the story or ‘narrative”’ (2016: 5).

In my discussion of graphic narratives, I draw on David Lewis’s concept of “putting the hero back in the superhero” (2013: 34; see also Lewis 2014) to discuss the visibility that graphic narratives like Gogi and Burka Avenger offer Muslim girlhood. I argue that these narratives offer a layered verbal-visual aesthetic by synthesizing codes of realism with the artifice of the graphic medium, subsequently allowing their girl protagonists to oscillate between the tropes of heroism and superheroism. Joseph Campbell (1949) describes the (male) hero as an individual who represents the core values of his society, is first and foremost a winner, a successful warrior, and, second, refuses being defined by other persons. For Campbell, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men” (1949: 23). David Lewis (2013) argues that in contrast to Campbell’s hero, the American superhero ventures on an adventure, achieves victory, but remains unchanged and immortal in the process. Therefore, superheroes, especially in the American context, overcome death and restore order by shifting the society to its unchanged previous position. However, for Lewis the concept of heroism as opposed to superheroism gets complicated when we analyze this from the standpoint of a Muslim superhero. Lewis argues that Muslim superheroes in comics like The 99 actively try to change their communities, advocate for Islamic principles of self-sacrifice, and remain humbly human. As a result, they emerge as “misfits in the genre that mis-fits” (Lewis 2014:1).

Building on Lewis’s concept of the Muslim superhero, I argue that the everyday heroism of Gogi and Jiya reframes the superhero trope by focusing more on the ordinary experiences of Muslim girlhood instead of emphasizing values of exceptionalism. In Burka Avenger, Jiya represents herself as the school teacher during the day and Burka Avenger at night, while in Gogi comics, Gogi is a powerful social activist, trendsetter, and conscientious citizen. In having these characters refer, for example, to girl activists such as Malala Yousafzai, their creators blur the boundaries between fiction and reality. The nuanced self-representation and social activism of the girls gives them a superheroic quality, and their day-to-day heroism foregrounds Pakistani cityscapes as familiar places rather than dangerous, unfamiliar, and othered spaces. Furthermore, Gogi and Jiya engage with the city in slightly different ways. Jiya’s interaction with her city is more “panoramic” as she offers an overview of the city from the top, rendering the complexity of the city into a readable, stable function. In contrast to Jiya, Gogi prefers to walk in the city, thereby engaging with it in a more “ambulatory” (de Certeau 1984: 99) fashion. The girls’ varied engagement with the city relies on what de Certeau calls “tactics” that allow the girls to assess their environments and challenge those in power by “seizing the opportunity” (33) thereby creating new opportunities for themselves. For de Certeau, tactics are practices that are not contained within institutional or spatial borders. Therefore, subaltern groups such as workers, migrants, ethnic minorities, and women usually employ tactics to transform everyday life practices into different forms of resistance. The use of tactics by the girls in Gogi and Burka Avenger allow for the girls’ self-representation on their own terms in addition to providing them with heightened visibility.

School Teacher during the Day and Burka Avenger by Night

The creator of Burka Avenger (2013–present), Haroon Rashid, emphasizes Jiya’s struggle to create a hybrid self-representational space. As a superhero, Jiya dons a silken ninja-like burka different from the yards of bulky cloth that make up an actual burka. Further accentuating the power evident in Jiya’s appearance is a provocative hip-hop song that is also a part of Burka Avenger’s opening credits. The lyrics of the song ominously warn her adversaries to be careful.

A spirit so quick to deliver a beating
To the enemies of peace, love, logic, and reason…
The way it was, she’ll be taking it back
So tune in for the story of the lady in black (n.p.)

The lyrics of the song point to Jiya’s role as a social justice warrior who refuses to fight her adversaries with violence. Instead, she chooses peace, love, logic, and reason as viable tactics to overcome her enemies. These tactics are particularly significant because they not only subvert the platitudinous stereotype about the Muslim community, especially Muslim men, as irrational and barbaric, but also celebrate logic and reason as feminine (and feminist) qualities. Confident in her abilities yet relaxed in her demeanor, Jiya moves between the light and shadows as she anonymously fights the tyrannical authority of adult men, especially the clerics, whom she feels have hijacked her Muslim faith.

Jiya’s burka’ed persona, although pitched as a strategy of self-defense and anonymity, enters the broader discourse about veiling in Islam and its contentious position in feminist conversations. Sherry Rehman, a Pakistani lawyer, praised the concept of Jiya’s story but disapproved of the burka. For her, “Burka Avenger is good, but I don’t like the feudal stereotyping of the burqa” (quoted in Khazan 2013: n.p.). Rehman’s critique is grounded in the equation of female modesty with social respectability in a country like Pakistan. Feminist blogger and writer, Bina Shah, expressed her concern in arguing that the burka, perceived as a symbol of female oppression, was not an ideal outfit for a Muslim superheroine. For Shah, the “burka in the series represented an indoctrination of the worst kind. Pakistani girls and women need to know that their natural state of being should not be hidden away to make their presence in society acceptable, safe, or halal” (quoted in Mahr 2013: n.p.). The journalist Mahvesh Murad disagreed with Shah, stating that Jiya had turned the burka into something spunky and adventurous. Murad remarked, “When Jiya takes back the power of the burka, she’s taking back the power … of every woman” (quoted in Khazan 2013: n.p.). The show’s creative team compared Jiya’s burka to Superman’s cape, arguing that if Superman’s cape was never a cause of concern, Jiya’s burka should also not evoke discomfort (quoted in Usmani 2013: n.p.).

I suggest, however, that Jiya wrests her self-narrative from the debate about the veil by describing her burka as a matter of individual choice. When Jiya works at the school, she chooses not to wear the burka, which is suggestive of her pluralistic professional persona as a teacher.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Jiya and Burka Avenger in a Burka Avenger Poster (2012)

Citation: Girlhood Studies 10, 3; 10.3167/ghs.2017.100308

However, when Jiya dons the burka, she also wears makeup and nail varnish, two grooming details that are conspicuously absent from her ordinary persona. Jiya’s glamorization of her burka’ed alter ego emphasizes her bodily autonomy; she rejects the modesty expected from a burka-clad girl in both appearance and action. She also rejects the male gaze by choosing to cover and reveal herself only on her own terms.

Jiya’s trendy persona as a school teacher denies the austere conservatism and piety often expected from girls clad in burkas. She transforms the burka into a glamorous body suit and performs extraordinarily athletic actions such as flying, running, and kickboxing. Her performance is further complicated by her rejection of the hypersexualization that is mostly imposed on Western female superheroes like “big breasts and unrealistically accentuated bodies” (Rosenberg 2013:76), as well as the de-sexualization forcibly imposed on Muslim girls. Jiya’s bodily autonomy, therefore, situates her burka as more than a tool of oppression since it advocates respect towards the varied sartorial choices of young girls.

Jiya’s dual self-narration also reconceptualizes the trope of superheroism, juxtaposing the politically loaded burka with the Western pop cultural phenomenon of the avenger. Published in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Avengers is a “story of the Norse god Thor and his team of superheroes who fight to protect the planet Earth” (Darowski 2014: 93). Rooted in a Western epistemological framework, The Avengers celebrates white male power with its accompanying ideals of technological advancement, its investment in modern warfare, and its frequent desire for world domination (Dittmer 2013; Lawrence 2009). In his depiction of Jiya, Rashid imagines this trope of white male power by replacing the figure of the bulky, masculine Avenger with that of an ordinary, petite Muslim girl who is more diplomatic than vengeful in her approach towards her enemies. By uprooting both the burka and the avenger from their particular cultural schemas, Jiya subverts the cultural essentialism associated with both terms, thereby creating opportunities for renegotiation and hybrid self-representation.

Jiya foregrounds her hybrid self-identity as a tactic to undermine the patriarchal status quo. Dressed modestly in a shalwar kameez, Jiya refuses to follow prescribed ideals of beauty and, instead, inscribes her self-worth through abstract qualities such as kindness, congeniality, and patience. However, her kindness and congeniality, which are often perceived as feminine virtues, do not impede her from protecting her community from the nefarious plots of her adversaries. She also succeeds in winning the admiration of both her male and female students such as Ashu and Moli. These students look up to Jiya as a suitable role model, ask her questions, and share their educational concerns with her. Jiya protects the young boy Moli from communal estrangement because Moli and his family are perceived as looking different from the other inhabitants of Halwa Pur. By emphasizing the virtues of communal tolerance and cooperation, Jiya asserts herself as the leader of her community, thereby becoming a suitable role model for young girls and boys. In this way, she reinforces the overriding theme of female leadership in the series.

By celebrating Jiya’s role as both a superhero and teacher, Burka Avenger implicitly honors the pursuit of leadership roles and professional careers by young women, especially in a country like Pakistan where women constitute only 25 percent of the labor force (The World Bank 2014). The focus on Jiya’s ordinary job also sets her apart from the female characters in graphic narratives like Superman (1933) and Wonder Woman (1941) in which the day jobs of the “superheroes are a form of camouflage or a mundane aspect of the plot” (Yeffeth 2015: 93). Jiya takes her ordinary job seriously since it allows her to educate people about the social justice issues that she later fights for as the Burka Avenger. By constructing a healthy discourse around social and environmental issues, Rashid has Jiya highlight the role of both theory and praxis in her social activism. Her teaching along with her abilities as a superhero blur the fluid boundaries that exist between heroism and superheroism in addition to celebrating the struggle of both ordinary and exceptional girls.

Mirroring Malala’s Story

Jiya’s fight against patriarchy is particularly evident in the first episode of Burka Avenger, in which the fanatic Baba Bandook (whose name means an old man with a gun) along with his accomplice, the evil politician Wadero Pajero, lock the school. Jiya fights these men and rebukes them for oppressing young girls and boys. Jiya’s struggle is particularly relevant to the Pakistani context where more than 3 million girls are out of school (UNESCO 2013). Jiya’s fight against Baba Bandook and his cronies directly alludes to the story of Malala Yousafzai, Pakistan’s renowned girl activist who was shot by the Taliban for protesting the ban on female education in the Swat Valley. The shooting of Malala generated a fierce debate on the status of women and girls in Pakistan that transformed her into a controversial figure. Lambasted by the conservative Pakistani Muslims, celebrated by the religiously moderate, and co-opted by the West in the name of female emancipation, Malala has emerged as an appropriate symbol for the rights of Muslim girls. What Malala engendered were “affects of pain, shock, pity, compassion, and hatred” (Khoja-Moolji 2015: 539) making her an evasive figure even in relation to the convenient victim/savior narrative of the West. Despite the controversy surrounding Malala, Jiya implicitly celebrates Malala’s struggle. Her subtle allusion to Malala’s story brings together graphic fiction and reality, enabling Jiya to highlight the unique challenges faced by Muslim girls in an effective manner for her implied audiences.

The Activist in Polka Dots

The creator of Gogi comics (1970–the present) offers a girl activist quite different from Jiya. Unlike Jiya, Gogi is not a superhero; her wit and intelligence situate her as an astute observer of Pakistani society. In her depiction of Gogi, Nazar offers her readers a realistic view of life as Gogi struggles to improve the existence of Pakistani men, women, and children. For her admirers, Gogi is the eternal girl, endearing to both children and adults. Gogi is painfully aware of the structural and social inequalities of her world yet she navigates these inequalities with optimism and laughter. With her friendly face, inviting demeanor, and brightly colored clothes, Gogi presents herself as a more confrontational and progressive Muslim girl who often tries to outsmart her peers with her great sense of humor. She is the girl-next-door who enjoys chatting with her girlfriends, shopping, wearing make-up, and occasionally skipping class. However, her desire to challenge the status quo that marginalizes people is what makes her extraordinary.

In Going Gogi (2009), we see Gogi working in a village and talking about the hard (often invisible) labor performed by the village women. Gogi emphasizes the lack of opportunities that the rural Pakistani women and girls experience in comparison to their urban peers. In a brightly colored panel, Nazar shows both Gogi and the village women who are working in the blinding sunshine and heat.

In the Pakistani context, this panel functions as a reminder of the stark urban/rural divide in this society. The composition of the panel resonates with Pramod K. Nayar’s remark that the cultural markers in graphic narratives should not be regarded as “merely aesthetic or apolitical” (2016: 80). His comment is particularly relevant to this panel because on the surface the panel offers a romantic vision of rural life but a closer look reveals the exhaustion on the faces of the village women forced to carry large pitchers of water. In contrast to the village women, Gogi looks relaxed with a stack of books on her head, imitating their actions, yet starkly removed from the everyday reality of these women. The apparently innocuous but highly telling contrast is a frank acknowledgment of Gogi’s class privilege that further emphasizes the fact that the urban dwellers often ignore the harsh reality of rural Pakistan.

Figure 2
Figure 2

Gogi in the village from the Going Gogi book (2009)

Citation: Girlhood Studies 10, 3; 10.3167/ghs.2017.100308

Gogi’s presence here, therefore, highlights the needs to bridge the economic divide between the urban and rural areas. Gogi’s appearance in the panel and her concern for the women becomes a plea for an intersectional feminism that advocates for female empowerment regardless of age given the discrepancies in class, geographical location, and economic status.

Mediating Feminist Reality

Gogi’s feminist leanings are evident in many of her comics. Gogi situates herself as a traditional girl, respectful of her cultural heritage, but also unafraid to criticize certain aspects of her culture. She audaciously (and regularly) voices her opinions on feminist issues that plague Pakistani society like honor killings, street harassment, and violence against women. Moreover, her proficiency in both Urdu and English allows her to address these matters more effectively for both English-and Urdu-speaking audiences. For example, a comic strip published for Women’s Day (and available on Nazar’s website) shows Gogi fervently working on her computer while she overhears a conversation between Butt Bahee and his friend. Butt Bahee, an unemployed idler, complains that the girls have become fiercer after the Women’s Day celebrations just as “their lipsticks have become a ferocious shade of red!” (2016: n.p.) Butt Bahee’s placement in the forefront of the panel symbolizes the Pakistani patriarchal order that considers even the red lipstick worn by girls as a threat to male power. Moreover, Butt Bahee’s comment is significant because Nazar portrays him as Gogi’s potential suitor and friend whom she later rejects. Right behind Butt Bahee we see an amused Gogi laughing at his fear of feminism. Gogi’s carefree body language and spatial positioning not only contrasts with the nervous demeanor of Butt Bahee, but also transforms the image into an overt celebration of women’s rights. Gogi’s defiant posture pushes against the desires and expectations of men like Butt Bahee, which, in turn, strengthens her position as a heroic young girl. Moreover, Butt Bahee’s coded reference to bright lipsticks and Gogi’s amused response draws attention to the argument that girls have the right to make their own choices regarding their appearance, bodies, and lifestyles without any fear. In this way, Gogi makes a powerful statement about feminism.

Navigating the Pakistani Cityscape

Gogi and Jiya are trailblazers because they audaciously advocate for female independence in a conservative society, all while situating themselves as individuals keen to fulfill their civic responsibilities. The personal and professional struggles of Gogi and Jiya as citizens and community leaders also offer them an insight into Pakistani cityscapes that they subsequently share with their audiences. Both Jiya and Gogi represent their respective cities as lively, familiar, and spectacular places worthy of exploration. Moreover, the girls intervene in the organization of their cities by visiting social spaces, an act generally considered taboo for young girls.

In Burka Avenger, the desire to fully explore the city compels Jiya to navigate Halwa Pur in her various avatars. Halwa Pur, a semi-fictional Pakistani city, possesses the liveliness of an urban center and the serenity of a rural landscape. Halwa Pur (that literally means the land of sweets in Urdu) becomes a utopian and therefore idyllic space for children. Halwa Pur’s fictionality allows Rashid, through his characterization of Jiya, to construct a rich mythology about it. She introduces it to the audiences as “Mera Shehr” (my city), suggesting her strong affiliation with it. Besides expressing her love for Halwa Pur, Jiya reveals that she lost her parents in an accident in this city, thus linking it to her personal story. Despite this loss, she memorializes and celebrates this city.

The promotional images of Burka Avenger show Jiya hovering in the air in her black burka enjoying the skyline of Halwa Pur. Jiya’s hovering presence lends an element of fantasy to urban reality, giving these promotional images a timeless quality. Jiya’s vision of Halwa Pur resonates with what de Certeau calls the “panoramic view of the city” that allows us to observe “the city from the top, free from all its physical, mental, and political impurities” (1984: 110). Jiya’s panoramic view, with its vibrant colors and surreal skyline of minarets and domes, situates Halwa Pur as a stereotypically Middle Eastern town and is reminiscent of the cityscape in the Disney movie Aladdin. However, unlike Aladdin, which attempts to portray the exoticism of the unknown and othered space, Jiya offers a more habitable view of the city, allowing the viewers to connect with the geographical and social realities within which she exists. Jiya not only looks at her city while she is flying, but also views it while playing on the rooftop of her house. In this way, her personal familiarity with the city is accentuated.

On the roof top, Jiya also practices takht kabaddi, an imaginary form of martial arts, which allows her to fight her enemies with books and pens. Kabaddi refers to a tag team sport popular in India and Pakistan. Joseph S. Alter argues that Kabaddi is “rooted in Shakha, a Hindu theological school of thought that focuses on self-discipline, games, devotional songs, and prayers” (2007: 18). Although young girls play kabaddi as part of their physical education curriculum, the sport remains traditionally masculine. By practicing a sport usually played by men, Jiya transforms the rooftop into a liminal, feminist zone, and in this way, subverts the patriarchal power that regularly surveils her and the other girls. Moreover, takht in takht kabaddi means throne as well as wooden board. In the remote areas of Pakistan, school children to this day use these small wooden boards for writing and calligraphy. Therefore, the reference to takht in Jiya’s story implies her desire for both leadership and the dissemination of education.

While training on her rooftop, Jiya jumps from one roof to another thus demonstrating the interconnectedness of her cityscape. Her rooftop view also evokes the similarity that exists between Halwa Pur and the old walled city of Lahore with its intriguing architecture, close quarters, narrow alleys, and high roof tops suggestive of a well-knit community that enables social exchange between people, especially women, all year round. Jiya’s presence on the rooftop resonates with Ruby Lal’s point of view that the roofs provide a different, “not-quite-domestic” (2013: 169) space for South Asian girls. On rooftops, young girls find opportunities for adventure, experimentation, and physical transgression. According to Lal, rooftops often connect to other spaces, which make them ideal for friendships and romance. As a result, they offer new openings to young girls free from the intrusion of the adult world. Jiya’s presence on the rooftop provides her with the freedom to understand her city and to later navigate it better. Still, certain parts of the city are inaccessible to her, such as the forest across the bridge from her school.

The narrative describes the forest as home to shady individuals who engage in nefarious activities. Baba Bandook and his followers often kidnap, terrorize, and imprison the school children in the forest. Jiya rescues these children and tries to reclaim the forest as a safe space. However, the children are deeply afraid of the forest and consider it haunted. Jiya tries to assuage their fear by telling them “there are [no ghosts] in the forest only people” (Rashid 2013: n.p.). Her statement emphasizes that although she perceives her opponents as threatening, she does not want the school children to live in constant fear of them and desires to reclaim the forest as a habitable space. Jiya’s intervention in the forest often takes place with her wearing a burka. This makes the point that wearing the veil or the burka is sometimes necessary if young girls and women wish to break into taboo spaces in a conservative society.

Besides engaging with the difficulties of navigating cityscapes, Burka Avenger also engages with the harsh reality of terrorism. The series alludes to the precarity of life in a Pakistan city where terrorism has destroyed many lives, including those of school children. The show subtly hints at this frightening reality through Baba Bandook’s statement, “Akad Bakkd bombay bo bumb phattein gay pooray sau” (Fee-fi-fo-fum. There are going to be 100 bomb blasts) (Rashid 2013: n.p.). This statement signifies Baba Bandook’s desire to control Halwa Pur by evoking tyranny and fear, as well as altering the cityscape through violence.

Jiya persistently struggles to defeat Baba Bandook by highlighting the kindness, vibrancy, and optimism of Halwa Pur’s community. She establishes this city’s vitality by foregrounding the numerous festivals, events, and celebrations that take place in it. In the first episode, Jiya and her students celebrate their victory over Baba Bandook and Wadero Pajero by holding a musical show at the girls’ school. Baba Bandook, who, as mentioned earlier, wishes to shut down the school, is infuriated when he sees young boys and girls singing and dancing in the school playground. He considers music inherently evil and decadent, whereas Jiya believes that music can unite the people of Halwa Pur. The school concert, organized by Jiya, incorporates the figure of Haroon Rashid, Pakistan’s renowned pop singer and the creator of Burka Avenger, in animated form. Haroon’s entry into Jiya’s fictional world is, therefore, a judicious blending of fact and fiction as well as a clever example of metafictional awareness.

In comparison to Burka Avenger, the cityscape in Gogi Comics is much more realistic, allowing Gogi and her readers to immerse themselves in a Pakistani cityscape. Furthermore, Gogi, unlike Jiya, prefers to discover the city on foot. If Jiya’s relationship with the city is panoramic, Gogi’s connection with the Pakistani city is ambulatory. In her excursions, Gogi sees the city’s landmarks, while hearing snatches of conversation. Her intimate connection with the city transforms it into an amorphous, uncontrollable, and strange entity, generating what de Certeau calls the “rhetoric of walking” (1984: 93). Gogi’s movement through the city not only colors it with her individual perceptions, but also celebrates a teenage girl’s wanderlust and curiosity. Nazar depicts Gogi and her surroundings in vibrant hues of yellow, gold, red, and blue, symbolizing the diversity of life around her. In many of her drawings, Nazar portrays Gogi as a participant or a witness in a highly dramatic situation advocating for social justice while navigating a variety of urban settings ranging from schools to hospitals, from roads to parks, and from libraries to rallies.

Gogi’s urban interactions focus on creating an alternative temporality that physically and ideologically protects her position as a girl. In a 2015 comic available on her website, Nazar shows Gogi asking a Mullah questions about female education while standing right outside his house. The act of questioning the Mullah is daring by any standard, but Gogi engages in it fearlessly. When she questions the Mullah, he remarks that women’s education should enable them only to read the Quran. When Gogi probes him further, he says, “They should also read religious books.” When Gogi asks why he is opposed to formal female education he explains that women’s education should be limited because they are more intelligent than men! Gogi’s perplexed expressions and the sequential art emphasize both the irony and humor of the Mullah’s statement. The discussion with the Mullah becomes a kind of intellectual and gender trespass, allowing Gogi to challenge the Mullah’s authority on Islam, while advocating for her rights as a Muslim girl. By questioning the Mullah, Gogi also rejects the gendered expectation of feminine docility so often imposed on girls in the name of religion. Moreover, her conversation establishes the cityscape as a place of performance in which she demands both visibility and equal access.

To initiate change, Gogi focuses on the signs, slogans, speeches, banners, and posters that arrange and organize the city. She not only walks in the city but also intervenes in its organizational structure by observing, understanding, and occasionally criticizing the signs, engendering what de Certeau calls an “urban text” (1984: 110) that signifies the textual and kinesthetic connection that an individual has with a city. In Gogi’s case, the urban text allows her to focus on vehicles causing pollution, criticize slogans that promote discrimination, and protest against huge billboards that are destroying the natural beauty of her city. Her tactful engagement also allows Gogi to be a part of real cities in the form of a giant-sized puppet that tours schools, villages, and the conflict ridden tribal areas of Pakistan. She also exists as a mural in Pakistan’s largest children’s hospital, which further corroborates her engagement with the city. Gogi’s appearance in fictional and real cities transforms her into a distinct girl figure who advocates for the physical and social mobility of real girls in actual Pakistani cities.

Conclusion

Gogi and Burka Avenger offer a sophisticated understanding of Muslim girlhood for both local and foreign audiences. They not only critique the inherent otherness that haunts representation of Muslim girlhood in Western narratives, but they also address the age-and gender-based issues that Muslim girls experience. Gogi and Jiya share an emotional connection with the Pakistani cityscapes because they celebrate the unique cultural and social ethos of their respective cities, counteracting the political discourses that characterize their cities as inherently violent. Gogi and Jiya also employ tactics to break down the religiopatriarchal hegemonies of their cities. Inspiring other Muslim artists from Pakistan and around the world to share their girlhood stories, Gogi and Burka Avenger create awareness about a range of both local and transnational issues affecting Muslim girls in terms of their visibility, safety, and empowerment. Moreover, they present a nuanced picture of Muslim identities in a world plagued by Islamophobia, War on Terror, and the numerous militaristic conflicts that have left Muslim girls in highly precarious situations.

Notes
1

Borrowing from Daniel Varisco’s (2005) definition, I define Muslim as an individual who, implicitly or explicitly, associates herself with Islam. For the term girlhood, I borrow from Judith Butler who describes “girlhood as a set of identity statements that, at birth, enmesh us in the process of ‘being girls.’” Butler’s phrase, “being girled” (1993: 7) refers to the set of ideological perceptions, roles, and limitations imposed on girls from a very young age in every sociocultural framework. Therefore, the term Muslim girlhood emerges as a relatively underexplored category that demonstrates the need to construct a nuanced discourse about Muslim girls. By focusing on the representational practices of Muslim girls and their navigation of cityscapes, I create awareness about a range of transnational issues such as patriarchy, Islamophobia, and War on Terror, as well as local issues that concern female visibility, safety, and empowerment in local communities.

2

I use the term Muslim girlhood, instead of Pakistani girlhood, to describe girls like Gogi and Jiya because they exist within geographical, ethnic, racial, and social frameworks perceived as Muslim.

3

The genre of the cartoon has become particularly controversial, especially in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks of 2015.

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  • Nazar, Nigar. 2015. “Gogi Talking to a Mullah,” Gogi by Nigar Nazar. 11 December. http://www.gogistudios.com/comic/ (accessed 13 January 2017).

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    • Export Citation
  • Khazan, Olga. 2013. “The Burka Avenger.” The Atlantic. November. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/11/big-in-pakistan/309530/ (accessed 27 June 2017)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mahr, Krista. 2013. “Burka Avenger: Conservative Pakistan’s New Animated Liberal Superheroine.” TIME. 1 August. http://world.time.com/2013/08/01/burka–avenger–conservativepakistans–new–animated–liberal–superheroine/ (accessed 15 July 2016)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Khoja-Moolji, Shenila. 2015. “Reading Malala: (De)(Re)Territorialization of Muslim Collectivities.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 35 (3): 539556.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Khoja-Moolji, Shenila, and Alyssa D. Niccolini. 2015. “Comics as Public Pedagogy: Reading Muslim Masculinities through Muslim Femininities in Ms. Marvel.” Girlhood Studies 8 (3): 2339.

    • Crossref
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    • Export Citation
  • Lal, Ruby. 2013. Coming of Age in Nineteenth-Century India: The Girl-Child and the Art of Playfulness. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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    • Export Citation
  • Lawrence, John Shelton. 2009. “Foreword.” In Captain America and the Struggle of the Superhero: Critical Essays, ed. Robert G. Weiner, 18. Jefferson: McFarland.

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    • Export Citation
  • Lewis, A. David. 2013. “Save the Day.” In What Is a Superhero? ed. Robin S. Rosenberg and Peter MacFarland Coogan, 3142. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lewis, A. David. 2014. “The Muslim Superhero in Contemporary American Popular Culture.” http://www.academia.edu/5280870/The_Muslim_Superhero_in_Contemporary_American_Popular_Culture (accessed 27 June 2017)

    • Export Citation
  • Nayar, Pramod K. 2016. The Indian Graphic Novel: Nation, History, and Critique. New York: Routledge.

  • Nazar, Nigar. 2009. Going Gogi. Islamabad: Gogi Book Series.

  • Rosenberg, Robin S. 2013. Our Superheroes, Ourselves. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • The World Bank. 2014. “Labor Force Participation rate, Female (% of female population ages 15+) (modeled ILO estimate).” International Labour Organization. Key Indicators of the Labour Market Database http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.FE.ZS (accessed 8 August 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Usmani, Basim. 2013. “The Burka Avenger’s Creator Talks about the Pakistani Cartoon Haters.” VICE. 8 Aug. http://www.vice.com/read/the–burka–avengers–creator–talks–about–the–pakistani–cartoons–haters (accessed 8 August 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • UNESCO. 2013. “Girls’ Education—the Facts.” Education for All Monitoring Report. http://en.unesco.org/gem–report/sites/gem–report/files/girls–factsheet–en.pdf. (accessed 8 August 2016)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Varisco, Daniel. 2005. Islam Obscured: The Rhetoric of Anthropological Representation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Yeffeth, Glenn. 2015. The Man from Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman. Dallas: BenBella Books.

Filmography

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Contributor Notes

Tehmina Pirzada is a Fulbright scholar at Purdue University whose research is on depictions of Muslim girlhood in Pakistani and Iranian literary and cinematic narratives. She has a forthcoming publication in Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture on the South Asian epic, Tilism-e-Hoshruba. E-mail: sunnybeige@gmail.com

Girlhood Studies

An Interdisciplinary Journal

  • Alter, Joseph S. 2007. “Physical Education, Sport and the Intersection and Articulation of ‘Modernities’: The Hanuman Vyayam Prasarak Mandal.” In The Politics of Sport in South Asia, ed. Subhas Ranjan Chakraborty, Shantanu Chakrabarti and Kingshuk Chatterjee, 823. New York: Routledge.

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  • Butler, Judith. 1993. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex.’ New York: Routledge.

  • Campbell, Joseph. [1949] 2016. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Novato: New World Library.

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  • de Certeau, Michel. [1984] 2011. “Walking in the City.” In The Practice of Everyday Life, ed. de Certeau, Michel, Trans. Steven Rendall, 99111. Berkeley: University of California Press.

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  • Dittmer, Jason. 2013. Captain America and the Nationalist Superhero: Metaphors, Narratives, and Geopolitics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

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  • Darowski, Joseph J. 2014. “The Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and America’s Post-Cold War.” In The Ages of the Avengers: Essays on the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes in Changing Times, ed Joseph J Darowski, 92102. Jefferson: McFarland.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nazar, Nigar. 2016. “Gogi celebrating Women’s Day.” Gogi by Nigar Nazar, 8 March. http://www.gogistudios.com/comic/ (accessed 8 August 2016)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Nazar, Nigar. 2015. “Gogi Talking to a Mullah,” Gogi by Nigar Nazar. 11 December. http://www.gogistudios.com/comic/ (accessed 13 January 2017).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Khazan, Olga. 2013. “The Burka Avenger.” The Atlantic. November. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/11/big-in-pakistan/309530/ (accessed 27 June 2017)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mahr, Krista. 2013. “Burka Avenger: Conservative Pakistan’s New Animated Liberal Superheroine.” TIME. 1 August. http://world.time.com/2013/08/01/burka–avenger–conservativepakistans–new–animated–liberal–superheroine/ (accessed 15 July 2016)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Khoja-Moolji, Shenila. 2015. “Reading Malala: (De)(Re)Territorialization of Muslim Collectivities.” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 35 (3): 539556.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Khoja-Moolji, Shenila, and Alyssa D. Niccolini. 2015. “Comics as Public Pedagogy: Reading Muslim Masculinities through Muslim Femininities in Ms. Marvel.” Girlhood Studies 8 (3): 2339.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lal, Ruby. 2013. Coming of Age in Nineteenth-Century India: The Girl-Child and the Art of Playfulness. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawrence, John Shelton. 2009. “Foreword.” In Captain America and the Struggle of the Superhero: Critical Essays, ed. Robert G. Weiner, 18. Jefferson: McFarland.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lewis, A. David. 2013. “Save the Day.” In What Is a Superhero? ed. Robin S. Rosenberg and Peter MacFarland Coogan, 3142. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lewis, A. David. 2014. “The Muslim Superhero in Contemporary American Popular Culture.” http://www.academia.edu/5280870/The_Muslim_Superhero_in_Contemporary_American_Popular_Culture (accessed 27 June 2017)

    • Export Citation
  • Nayar, Pramod K. 2016. The Indian Graphic Novel: Nation, History, and Critique. New York: Routledge.

  • Nazar, Nigar. 2009. Going Gogi. Islamabad: Gogi Book Series.

  • Rosenberg, Robin S. 2013. Our Superheroes, Ourselves. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • The World Bank. 2014. “Labor Force Participation rate, Female (% of female population ages 15+) (modeled ILO estimate).” International Labour Organization. Key Indicators of the Labour Market Database http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.CACT.FE.ZS (accessed 8 August 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Usmani, Basim. 2013. “The Burka Avenger’s Creator Talks about the Pakistani Cartoon Haters.” VICE. 8 Aug. http://www.vice.com/read/the–burka–avengers–creator–talks–about–the–pakistani–cartoons–haters (accessed 8 August 2016).

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • UNESCO. 2013. “Girls’ Education—the Facts.” Education for All Monitoring Report. http://en.unesco.org/gem–report/sites/gem–report/files/girls–factsheet–en.pdf. (accessed 8 August 2016)

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Varisco, Daniel. 2005. Islam Obscured: The Rhetoric of Anthropological Representation. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

  • Yeffeth, Glenn. 2015. The Man from Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman. Dallas: BenBella Books.

  • Clements Ron, and John Musker. 1992. Aladdin. USA.

  • Moulton, William, and Harry G. Peter. 1941. Wonder Woman. USA.

  • Nazar, Nigar. 1970–the present. Gogi. Pakistan.

  • Rashid, Haroon. 2013–the present. Burka Avenger. Pakistan.

  • Siegel, Jerry, and Joe Shuster. 1933. Superman. USA.

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