Every year women of Pakistan organise the aurat march on 8th March to show solidarity for women’s day and a call for equal voices. Women from all backgrounds and walks of life get together to push for change under the banner of Hum Auratein. This year women are threatened by various groups. According to BBC, in the face of violent threats and legal petitions, women across Pakistan are preparing to demand their rights in direct defiance of that belief.in the face of violent threats and legal petitions, women across Pakistan are preparing to demand their rights in direct defiance of that belief. Anukrti Upadhay takes a deep dive into why some men are so averse to this show of solidarity and oneness, why women are called shameless and just what can change women judging other women for speaking up and claiming their space and voice.
The man on the TV screen, who had spoken with such laborious courtesy, such pretentious politeness, suddenly exploded in rage. The transformation was so abrupt, the abuses he spewed so vile, his entire aspect so violent that even as a viewer, I felt my heart pound, my body clench in preparation for the flight-or-fight response to a threat. This wasn’t a movie or a Netflix feature. This was a clip of a television discussion about the Women’s March in Pakistan, the man a public figure, the woman a journalist.
We accept docilely or ignore silently when a man of God says that a menstruating woman who cooks food for her family will be reborn as a she-dog.
Before he exploded, the man had used the word ‘ghaliiz’ to describe women’s assertion of sovereignty over their own bodies and autonomy of choice. The word could be loosely translated as disgusting, despicable and dirty but none of these terms convey the utter contempt and repugnance the original conveys, nor the vileness and impurity it implies. All this hatred because women called their bodies their own, their right to choose whom to be intimate with, whom not, proclaimed their personhood and refuted being treated as mere chattels, puppets without volition. The woman at the receiving end of the verbal assault had admittedly interrupted his denigrating tirade and chanted the slogan ‘Mera jism, meri marzi’, ‘my body, my choice’.
That was enough for the man to lose all semblance of control. He screamed at the woman, who was dialling into the discussion from thousands of miles away, his anger and hatred palpable, called her ‘shameless’, said that her body was worthless and he wouldn’t spit on it, that she was imbecile, immoral, impure.What would he have done if the woman was in the studio? Worse, he is a director of TV soaps. How does he react if there a situation of conflict with women working with him?
Another man on the panel, a priest and interpreter of religious laws, supported the abuser asking the woman to quieten. Is that how he advised women who came to him for help and guidance, told them to shut up and be abused? But what angered me most was the woman moderator who instead of shutting down the abuser, exhorted the victim of abuse to not interrupt and wait for her turn. As if it was alright for the man to display such terrifying anger on national television but wrong for the woman to oppose it. I felt physically sick. My body buzzed with helplessness and anger and emotions I could not find words for.
After the initial shock, I of course realized my mistake in judging the woman moderator harshly. Generations of training in submission and internalization of male primacy does strange things to us. It makes us quietly accept, be non-committal or vague, remain silent and look away when our whole being should rouse in protest. We accept docilely or ignore silently when a man of God says that a menstruating woman who cooks food for her family will be reborn as a she-dog. We forward and re-forward patently regressive and misogynistic pronouncements of an ascetic dressed in designer clothes. When he says that his mother was not capable of understanding him and her only role was to provide the right ambience for him to discover his own wisdom, when he pronounces a woman’s place is at home and not at workplace, when he criticises women’s choices and exhorts them to not strive for equality, the lovely woman actor of yesteryears smiles and nods in acquiescence. When he uses mystic, frothy language, calls women ‘flowers’, endorses patriarchal notions of chastity and smoothly denies women agency, educated and well-heeled women look on with adoring eyes. Patriarchal frameworks, operating through societal norms, organized religions and conditioning make women acquiescent and complicit in their own oppression, even uphold it as ‘good and moral behaviour’. they also makes us set the bar high for fellow-women in every stressful, dangerous or conflict situations.
I realise that this is no epiphany on my part. There is nothing new in the analysis I went through to understand the woman moderator’s behavior and my reaction to it.Researches have been conducted and learned papers have been written about internalized patriarchy and enabling behavior. And yet, the understanding did not come organically to me. After the initial feeling of shock at the man’s inexcusable brutishness, I slipped immediately into censure of the woman moderator’s ineffectiveness in checking it. I had no knowledge of her situation or her struggles and I made no effort to wear her skin for a moment, did not make allowances for her shock. Instead of focusing my anger on the man, I condemned the woman who, at worst, could only be charged with not handling the situation strongly and decisively. I had to remind myself – she did not create the situation, the uncouth and churlish man did.
Patriarchal frameworks, operating through societal norms, organized religions and conditioning make women acquiescent and complicit in their own oppression
There have been numerous occasions when women relatives, colleagues, acquaintances, gym-buddies, neighbours, have expressed distrust of other women, judged each other harshly or blamed each other when the blame lay elsewhere. A woman acquaintance who was facing harassment from her male boss flatly refused the suggestion to move to a different team in the same department. ‘There are too many senior women in that team,’ she said, ‘at least with men I know where I stand, with women you can never be sure.’ A bright, young woman relative, fresh out of grad school and into her first job, told me once that she only socialised with men, ‘I don’t go with girl-groups. Too much stuff goes on there.’ A woman mutual on social media, considered liberal and emancipated, posted –‘A young woman went out late at night with a man from work, let him into her flat and then complained that he molested her. What was she thinking?’ Others chimed in with comments ranging from ‘girls are losing their sanskars, their moral values.’ to ‘this is how western world fell in the hell’s pit it is in now.’
What angered me most was the woman moderator who instead of shutting down the abuser, exhorted the victim of abuse to not interrupt and wait for her turn. As if it was alright for the man to display such terrifying anger on national television but wrong for the woman to oppose it.
Whether the lack of solidarity among women is evolutionary wiring to compete for resources or internalized patriarchy seeping through, my dismay at judging a woman instead of focusing on the real issue – the blatant display of extreme misogyny – is immense. I don’t usually indulge in resolution-making or believe in the tokenism of setting aside a single day for a cause of centuries, but this Women’s Day I pledge to trust, support and empathise with women in every way. We hold up more than our fair share of sky. We can surely hold each other up.
[Image credit: Dawn]