“Customary laws differ considerably among the different regions and ethnicities of Pakistan. …..Everywhere, however, the basic unit is the same, just as it is in Pakistani rural and to a lesser extent urban societies: the ‘patriarchal’ extended family: ‘patriarchal’, though as innumerable Pakistani and Indian daughters-in-law are bitterly aware, behind the patriarchal façade, the grey eminence, the greatest tyrant and the most ruthless enforcer of custom in these families is quite often the senior female.”
Lieven, Anatol. Pakistan: A Hard Country.
I do not agree with Lieven, as there is no patriarchal ‘façade’ here. It exists, and is real, but he makes a valid point about the enforcers of custom being the senior females in any household. Women who have been prosecuted under tyrannical patriarchy and have lived with misogyny their whole lives, learn to imbibe and internalise it to the extent that they themselves become tyrants in their household, long after the patriarch is gone. They maintain the order of patriarchy as they know no other world where women can exist. Should a woman projecting the same narrative be pitied, shielded and not be censured at all? What is the alternative of not calling out such women?
We know of many mothers who shame their sons for not being ‘honourable’ when their daughters engage in free will. We know of many mother in laws, who make their daughter in law’s life hell simply for their existence in their sons life, as they have gone through a similar pattern of abuse. Such older women, having never challenged the status quo, never fought for their own rights and the rights of their daughters and daughters in law, have achieved an exalted status within patriarchy that they are proud of. They reap the rewards of upholding cherished misogynistic customs. They do not deserve brownie points, validation, praise or pity for maintaining the status quo. In fact, it would be dangerous to not speak out against that narrative, which coming out from a woman’s mouth is just as toxic as coming out from a man’s mouth, because if that narrative is not challenged or questioned, it would become an acceptable stance where many women who live day to day with the same ideals enforced in their psyche, would turn their heads down and continue accepting that as the norm.
Women have fought to create safe online spaces for themselves where they can post, question ideas, seek help (mostly anonymously), and learn from new points of view. The ideas in these platforms could be revolutionary for them and help them understand the injustice of their daily lives. If a narrative that has been enforced on them since childhood is then questioned and debated, it might make an impact on their mind and rouse them to think, stand up and revolt. There is no courage, no glory, in keeping the blinders on and cribbing in hushed voices about the evil patriarchs, but never doing anything about it. But what they can change is themselves and thereby change the narrative for their daughters and hopefully their sons. Alternatively, in every culture, there are unethical opportunists, who use the existing system to their own benefit while being hypocrites at the same time. These opportunists, are not victims of the system, they play the system, for their own selfish agendas while leaving behind a chain of damage and not caring two cents about it.
Moreover, the smug misogynists who watch silently from the side-lines are not going to change, because it doesn’t suit them to do so. You can critique and call them out till the cows come home, but would they even lend an ear to beings they consider far inferior to themselves and their intellectual superiority? Mostly they won’t even bother getting into a debate, they will give you a few vile abuses and move on to their comfort zones.
Abuse, and the propagation of it, by either a man or a woman is just as reprehensible and worth being condemned. If we are quick to call out misogyny, we should condemn internalised misogyny as well which is really a shield to it. We need to smash the shield to get at what’s behind it. A man could be a smart puppeteer by not speaking up himself, and letting a woman do his dirty job, but how can we pin him down for not doing or saying anything? How can we exempt an adult of their abusive opinions and actions? Provocation and expectation by someone else, and hundred other social factors could tempt us to commit a crime, but at the end of the day, the person who commits a crime must be held accountable for it.
If women face injustice, women must unite, stand up against it and change their mindsets. There is power in numbers. Unified voices make a difference. Patriarchy isn’t going to give women their rights on a silver platter at a few disjointed voices calling them out, unless women stand tall together, support one another as a coherent group and fight for them. If women are never questioned or censured for their dogmatic, regressive views, thereby imposing on them the urgent need to re-evaluate, think and change, and instead are ignored and pitied for the abuse they propagate, things will go back to square one and the cycle of abuse will continue unhindered. A culture of change needs to be set in motion now. That will only happen, if those deeply affected by it -women, change themselves and fight. Even if we aren’t as ‘privileged’, ‘empowered’ or ‘enlightened’ as we perceive ourselves to be, we can still bring about change. A single voice matters. A single act of defiance matters.