For most of my life I was mute. I didn’t think much about things that didn’t concern me directly. It was a selfish and happy state of being. News depicting the worsening state of the world didn’t interest me because it was grim. I didn’t have much of a voice or an opinion. I did what I was told to do. I faced moderate discrimination and harassment as a girl child and a young Pakistani woman, but I was expected to internalise it and not speak about it. The expectation wasn’t vocal, but it was very loud. Something that isn’t voiced or acknowledged becomes a greater problem because it’s repressed or suppressed and comes out in the form anxiety, depression or even suicidal tendencies. Luckily for me, if I came across a few bad men, I was surrounded by a lot of good men as well who shielded, respected and loved me.
So, why as a privileged Pakistani woman, am I raising my voice, making posts condemning violence against women? What’s my problem? But you see, even though I didn’t face the severest form of abuse, I saw it happen around me, very close to home. I knew of and in some occasions was witness to domestic abuse, sexual abuse and assault happen to my family and friends. But the concept of doing something about it, speaking out, seeking justice was an unheard of thing. So I lent a shoulder, cried with them and moved on with my life. On very rare occasions, I took a stand and stood up to a bully, but when I did, it made a massive difference to tip the scales in the favour of the oppressed. Does one voice matter? Does a single act or word of support and kindness make a splash in the big pool of injustice. Yes, it does.
Parvin Shakir expresses it well:
Zulm sehna bhi tou zaalim ki himayat therha,
Khamoshi bhi tou hui pusht panahi ki tarha.
I don’t have much of a ‘following’ so I know what I say isn’t going to reach many people. So why speak at all? Because, if I don’t, I would be going to my grave marching like an ant lifting a morsel over its head. My concerns would be self-centred and petty. Maybe, just maybe, I can change someone’s toxic viewpoint and support some oppressed soul who has almost lost hope. Now, a person who has a massive following, a large audience watching their actions and words has a bigger social responsibility to act in an ethical and moral fashion, because they influence many people. In a recent interview Sadaf Kanwal, a privileged Pakistani model and dancer, who enjoys the absolute benefits of free will and choice, propagated the exact opposite for other women, while not following her own dogmatic views. Can we afford to be hypocritical in a country which has seen a recent spike in femicide, where a man killed a woman for serving him cold food? It’s not only irresponsible but dangerous.
Now, when such issues are voiced it’s an uncomfortable read for men. I get that. You don’t want to be painted ‘villains’ by women of your country. But one thing needs to be understood, that we aren’t talking about the good guys. You can keep the superman cape on and flex your biceps with abandon. No need to get threatened. When women make such posts in support of their gender, they are not addressing the men in their lives who have loved, supported and respected them. I am blessed to have known and met many good, decent men as my family and friends. The rage in these posts are directed at the killers, rapists, beaters, bullies and harassers. Unless you are one of them, you can sit back and relax. The post is not for you. Just as you like to take up the cause of the Kashmiris and Palestinians, and call out the oppression, violence and injustices they’re facing, we women, are concerned with the very real, close to home threat upon our person and want to raise our voices against the oppression happening to our gender because unfortunately we all know of a victim and her story. Standing up against cruelty, in any form and anywhere, is still known as bravery. In fact, starting from your own home is considered the better practice. Islam encourages you to speak up against the oppressor, without being biased about it.
But some Pakistani men fluctuate between a state of denial and aggression to crush this outspokenness they’re somehow threatened by.
Their counter arguments that have come to my notice are below with my responses. Again why am I bothering? Hegel advises us to listen to ideas you dislike as there might be ‘some sliver of sense and reason’ contained within ‘otherwise frightening or foreign phenomena’. Hence such contradictory ideas need to be heard, dissected and thought through. For the same reason, it is also imperative that privileged men listen, think and then choose to imbibe if they agree.
- Comparative analysis: You start quoting stats on how in A, B or C countries crimes of sexual and domestic violence are way more than in Pakistan. Sure, that could very well be true, although Pakistan ranks as the sixth most dangerous country for women. I’ve lived in the UK- violence against women, toxic masculinity, patriarchy, discrimination and racism all exist here. But shouldn’t our concern be to keep our own house in order? To fix our country, and let A, B and C country fix their own issues? What would this comparative analysis do for us, make us feel good about ourselves, lull us into thinking things aren’t that bad? Do you also realise in Pakistan how many such crimes go unreported due to the honour code of victims’ families and the culture of shaming and silencing. If those were added, how would the stats look? Would the legal system, which is already hostile, corrupt and tipped in favour of the powerful, be able to cope with it?
- Whataboutism: Under a post discussing violence against women, you talk about how men also suffer gravely and how their depression and suicide issues outnumber women. This is called whataboutism. Men’s mental health is a grave issue in its own right and absolutely needs addressing. Maybe if we took mental health seriously in Pakistan, and there were free facilities provided by the government to such men, these crimes of aggression could see a massive reduction. Women can only benefit if men around them are mentally sound, so it’s in our favour that men seek help, they open up about the struggles they face, they embrace being vulnerable, not feel as if the burden of the entire house rests on their shoulders and they cannot ever show emotional weakness. The culture of toxic masculinity needs to be crushed from childhood, by parents and in schools which would only ease the pressure on men. However, when someone talks about their problem, you do not come up with a counter problem to gaslight that person. If this issue concerns men, they need to talk about it in a separate post, campaign for it and own up to it, but do not bring it up in a post already discussing another problem.
- Silencing: You talk about why each sexual crime is made into a hashtag and why such hashtags aren’t created for men’s suffering by the media. You have access to media at the touch of a button and normally mainstream media is controlled by men, so please by all means, create your own hashtags, and women will support you because as I said above women can only benefit if we have mentally sound men around us. When a hashtag is created, media attention is directed to that crime, by asking why media attention is given to a single crime is akin to silencing the victim or her family. They have every right to speak up and ask for justice. It doesn’t matter if it’s an individual or a group of victims. An individual victim doesn’t become any less worthy of being heard than a mass of victims.
- Shaming: Another popular stance is to evaluate a victim’s life choices and pass judgment of why she was more likely to be the victim of that crime. Unfortunately, we cannot make assumptions of why bad things happen to good or bad people, or if they did X, Y, or Z then it wouldn’t have happened because we can’t be sure. Some bad people go through their whole lives without being touched by crime and some good people get prosecuted due to no fault of their own. This bystander’s view is insensitive and demeaning.
- Denial: You believe, with a frightening sense of self assurance that women in your lives are safe, happy, treated like queens, and they haven’t suffered at least some form of inequality, injustice, abuse or mistreatment. But do you see how unfair and tunnel visioned this stance is? A man cannot speak for a women’s sense of safety and happiness, you need to ask the women of your family that question and if you get an honest reply you would then get a sense of reality. Keeping your head buried in the sand like an ostrich is the easy way out. The first step to change is acknowledging a problem exists. Opening your eyes, looking around, and doing something about it, will only help you and the women you care about.
I’ll just leave with these lines by Ghalib:
Manzil milegi bhataq kar hi Sahi
Gumrah tou woh hain jo,
Ghar se nikle hi nahi.