I am woman, hear me roar

March 19, 2014

Bipolar Manifesto

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nabiha Meher @ 11:42 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve been active in bipolar forums and we are too often let down by those who are meant to provide us support and care. We’ve also wondered if our suicidal thoughts are related to our caregivers and often, they are. Here is some advice for support providers and caregivers.

Realise that people don’t kill themselves simply because they were programmed to. Understand that when someone is ready to kill themselves, it is because they feel they have no other option left. They often feel abandoned or alienated or simply tired of being vilified because they make easy targets. People deflect on us too much and it’s easy to repeat cycles of abuse with us.

Also realise that if a family member is mentally unwell, then the chances of others having psychological issues is very high. Bipolar disorder is often genetic and if one family member has been diagnosed with it, the chances of most other family members lying somewhere on the bipolar spectrum is high. Nothing is worse for us than declaring us THE PROBLEM without finding out if you may have a problem.

This should also make you realise that it’s easy to deflect on us instead of looking inward. It is easy to demand only one person makes changes without making changes in your life as well. It is easy to see a problem in others and live in denial of the issues you may have. You are not perfect and you have no right to demand perfection from someone who is already struggling unless you can show them how. Rest assured you won’t be able to because you are human.

Bear in mind that having a genetic history of bipolar disorder does not necessarily translate into eventually getting it. The genetics rely on triggers and families are often the biggest trigger. If you left your child alone with someone who raped or molested them, you created a trigger, not the genes.

Do not hold onto one issue and grudge us for it forever. We make mistakes and are often the first to acknowledge them because we’re taught to do so in therapy. If we are made to feel bad about mistakes in the past that were rectified, then take responsibility for vilifying us. Do not focus on the only the negatives simply because it’s easy to do so. Appreciate the positives repeatedly. Let go of something that may have happened in the past if the behaviour has never repeated itself. If you don’t do so, you will will become a negative reinforcer who will impede progress greatly. You will become an impediment to the path towards healing. You may kill off the motivation to get better.

Understand how you may be repeating cycles of abuse with us. Understand that we are as human as you. You lash out at us, we lash out at someone else if we can’t say anything to you, they complain and you immediately only hold us accountable. This isn’t acceptable to us. We are well aware when you are creating cycles of abuse and to grudge us alone without taking any accountability to yourself isn’t fair. Understand that being treated unfairly can make us unwell. We have as much of a right to dignity as anyone else, diagnosis or not.

If you drink alcohol, think about the many hurtful things you may have said to us while drunk. If you don’t remember them, don’t dismiss us as liars if we express we were hurt by them. Do not make us your targets when you’re drunk. If you are unable to control your abuse and drink, then do not grudge us for wanting to stay away from you.

If you apologise, mean it. Don’t give us an empty apology. Don’t ever apologise and then repeat your mistake. Empty apologies make us feel worse, as if we are not worthy of being apologised to after being wounded.

Make an effort to treat us as equal humans who are as worthy of love, respect and dignity as any others. Do not give us special treatment by being too stern, too enabling, too mean or too negative. We are as human as anyone else. We respond to compassion and kindness more than force just like anyone else. We also need to develop insight and understanding. Healing isn’t possible without it. Do not impede this process; aid it instead.

Do not expect us to do this alone and without support. To do so would display your ignorance towards our condition. Read about it. Go to therapy but don’t ever call our doctors without our consent unless we are suicidal. Do not call our doctors and ask for confidential information. Do not call our doctors and ask for an appointment without getting our consent. Some of us struggle to find good doctors and therapists. It takes a while to build trust. If we feel the trust could possibly be breached, we may stop wanting to go to that particular therapist or doctor. Make sure we are comfortable with it first. Those of us who trust you will not hesitate but if you’ve made too many empty promises or violated our trust too many times, do not grudge us for wanting to protect ourselves. If we hesitate, do not taunt or vilify us for it. Allow us to think it through and respect our decision. Find your own therapist. If we can do it, why can’t you?

Do not judge us for our choice in medication or wanting to manage without them. Some may not want to risk an early death because of liver failure due to taking medications long term. They may want to learn to cope without medications. Do not bully them into taking them unless they want to.

Similarly, do not judge us if we do take medications or pontificate about which ones to take or not. Do not tell us how to feel about the medications we take. We get to decide. You cannot understand the side effects our bodies are enduring. Sometimes the side effects are distressing and horrific such as temporary blindness, perpetual nausea, drowsiness etc. Don’t tell us what to eat, how much to sleep etc. We get to decide because we have to learn to cope. Do not give us your non expert advice and leave that to the doctors.

Do not tell us to explore alternative therapies if we don’t want to. Also, do not impose your coping mechanisms or views on us. Some may take comfort in religion and prayer, some may not. Do not keep telling us prayer will solve our problems. It may comfort us, but it can’t eliminate a disability that has no cure.

Do not obsessively monitor our medications or make judgements on them. Medications are awful, with many side effects. Allow us to choose which ones suit us. Do not tell us which side effects are bearable and which ones we should or shouldn’t endure. We need to learn how to take them ourselves, how to manage on our own just like any other human adults. By monitoring or wanting control, you are creating a dependency which also have negative long term repercussions. One day you won’t be around and we’ll have to cope on our own.

Always remember dependency on medications alone is detrimental to our well being. Never forget that the amount of medications we need to take is necessarily related to stress levels. The more stress we have around us, the more medications we need. This is why most of us can only work part time and many of us may need breaks from work. We value our sleep more than others because sleeping well helps us immensely.

Because some of us can’t work full time or work consistently, do not judge us for not making a lot of money. Many of us have already decided that peace of mind is worth more than wealth. If there’s any group that knows money cannot buy happiness, it is us. It can help pay bills etc, but it can’t bring anyone peace of mind. When we’re commodified and told we’re not worth much financially repeatedly, we may end up connecting it to self worth. We value the self esteem it often takes us years to build. Don’t kill it.

Create a relationship of trust which must be mutual. Your bipolar loved one must feel and believe they can trust you blindly. To ensure this, make sure you don’t make promises you can’t keep, don’t create expectations you know you can’t live up to, and don’t betray our trust. If you do, don’t grudge us for not being able to trust you. It’s only natural.

If you have a negative behaviour such as a nasty tone or are loud, and then tell us off for the same behaviour, then realise you are responsible for the resentment we may feel. It feels hurtful and hypocritical. People who live in a loud house are loud. Soft spoken parents have soft spoken children. We all model behaviour based on our loved ones. If you want to see a change, change it in yourself as well.

Do not provoke or bait us when we’re down simply because taking advantage of our vulnerability is not only downright evil, it has severe long term repercussions. Instead of wanting to reach out when upset, we will end up actively avoiding you if we fear you will not provide support. Don’t ever forget we’re very high risk for suicide and sometimes the slightest trigger may create ideation. If we can’t trust you to treat us with compassion, we will not be able to reach out to you. We will feel hopeless and abandoned. Suffering in silence is as suffocating for us as any other person.

If you’ve helped us during a suicide attempt, always remember your reaction impacts if we’ll reach out to you again or not. If you mocked us or ask us the wrong questions such as why, then realise we would rather allow the attempt to succeed instead of asking for help for fear that being kept alive will mean being subjected to the same behaviour. Too many of us have contemplated suicide because we feel we failed you, let you down, made you miserable. Instead of wanting to live for you, we yearned to die for you to end your pain.

Understand this and apply it because if you don’t, one day, you may find someone you love hanging by their fan or wake up to find a corpse in their bed. You will have no one else to blame but yourself, you will have blood on your hands.

September 18, 2013

A perfect victim

Filed under: Feminism,Pakistan — Nabiha Meher @ 6:14 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

On 13th September, a 5 year old girl was discovered outside Ganga Ram hospital in Lahore. She had been raped and dumped on the street, a victim of a callous man who probably felt he could get away with what he did.

And sadly, he is right. Most men who rape or commit sexualised violence in Pakistan do so with complete impunity. The only difference here is that this little girl is the perfect victim worthy of our pity.

When a child is raped, societal outrage is far greater than when an adult is raped. Children are innocent and we, as adults, realise we have a responsibility to our children collectively. We realise they are worthy of pity if wrong and we acknowledge that sexual crimes against children are criminal. As I write this, the police are actively looking for this rapist, who, if caught, will certainly face the collective wrath of society as he rightfully should. The chances of him being declared guilty are high, certainly much higher than when an adult woman is raped.

There are many reasons why he’ll be seen as guilty by most and many are reductive without a proper understanding why rape occurs. We, as a society, believe rape is about sex and not power despite evidence to the contrary daily. Rape in our culture is largely about honour. Mukhtaran Mai, who despite her brave fight, was the victim of a sexualised honour crime which had nothing to do with sexual lust. Mai’s rapists were let off despite the collective outrage, despite the evidence and despite the fact that she had excellent legal counsel.

When a female child, whose body hasn’t experienced any pubertal changes, is raped, we instantly see the victim differently and automatically say she’s innocent. But that’s not the case with females whose bodies have matured. Once a female looks womanly enough to seduce, we blame the victim. Was she really innocent? What was she wearing? Did she have makeup on? If so, didn’t she realise she was tempting men? Why was she out alone? Why wasn’t she with her father, brother or husband? Did she not know that she was asking for it by daring to enter male territory alone?

So while child rapists and paedophiles are seen as evil, rapists of adult women are often seen as the innocent victims of women’s feminine wiles. They are seen as men who were left with no option but to ravage a woman and she is the one who is held responsible for it. This then translates into the victim not being believed by the police who hesitate to register FIRs and then by the courts.

In a patriarchal country, the existence of patriarchal attitudes in court is no surprise. Judges, too blame the victims. Judgements include speculations asking why the victim didn’t scream, completely neglecting the fact that many freeze when they are in danger. Judgements also state that there wasn’t enough physical injury so if a woman is raped, but not left beaten, she is often accused of framing a man for rape.

We also assign degrees of blame on victims not just based on their age, but based on sexual experience. A non virgin who has been raped is often called a “woman of easy virtue” and her rapist is seen as the victim of a seductress.

While I sincerely hope this case opens the floodgates of outrage and leads to a demand that we need to reform our rape laws, we must not leave out the many victims other than female children. This includes boys, transgendered individuals, men, sex workers, and all women, including wives. We don’t recognise marital rape. Wives are property of their husbands who need to submit to them sexually and if they don’t, we feel no pity if force is applied. Our conversation has hopefully begun and this time, we must make it more inclusive than it has been in the past.

Written for The Express Tribune

July 25, 2013

If you must…

Filed under: Feminism,Rants — Nabiha Meher @ 10:44 pm

My brother got married this December, and because I had lost a lot of weight (side effect of a medication I take), many people assumed I did so to “catch” a husband. This was my standard response: no, I don’t want to catch a husband. Just an STD. It’s easier to get rid of.

Yet despite giving out such a response, many persisted on asking me about marriage and men. Eventually I decided to dole out what is apparently considered an “impossible” list of things I would potentially want in a spouse. Women, as we know, are expected to settle and I’m simply being difficult for asking for this. So here I am putting this down mostly because I’m sick of repeating this over and over again to aunties who constantly keep asking me about marriage. I’m not closed to the idea, but I’m not that open to it either. I would never marry simply because it’s expected. Despite not being a fan of romance, I hold romantic notions of what I would want: unconditional love, trust and respect. Apparently it’s too much to ask for.

So if you must find me a man, find me one who is proud to call himself a feminist, one who understands that I may look like a female by gender, but don’t particularly perform the part.

Find me a man who believes I’m beautiful no matter what and not just when I’m dressed as a womanly woman. Find me a man who can accept that I won’t shave for weeks on end or thread for months. Find a man who, in other words, has no phobia of body hair.

Find me a man who doesn’t subscribe to gender essentialist roles, who doesn’t care about how well I can cook, and who can love a woman who doesn’t enjoy nurturing anything other than her cat.

Find me a man who doesn’t want biological children, one who would never ask me to endure pregnancy and childbirth simply because he wants to pass his genes on. Find me a man who could love any child, not just one who he shares DNA with. Find me a man who wishes to adopt girls.

Find me a man who enjoys argumentation, who can debate me for hours on end without resorting to petty remarks or silly attacks. Find me a man who would never, ever throw a gendered slur at me out of anger. It just shouldn’t exist in his consciousness.

Find me a man who is a firm believer in non violence and universal human rights AND is willing to defend them at all costs.

Find me a man with a sense of humour who can laugh at himself, but would never make sexist jokes in order to demean me or my entire gender.

Find me a man who can support my causes, especially Pakistan Feminist Watch. Too many men, upon discovering it, start becoming petty. “Oh but why must you be a feminist when it’s possible to be a humanist” is not an acceptable answer. At all.

Find me a man who is willing to call me back after reading my blog.

Find me a man who isn’t a manly man, one who doesn’t subscribe to the cult of masculinity, one isn’t afraid to cry or be judged as not being man enough.

Find me a man who doesn’t feel the need to protect me, doesn’t get insecure about my male friends and doesn’t believe he is my guardian or protector. Find me a man who can respect me as an individual and not just as a woman.

Find me a man who is sensitive to mental health issues, one who can be the partner of a bipolar woman who is also a survivor with PTSD. And please make sure this man never tries to reduce me to my disability and is well aware that I generally have brilliant mental capacity.

Find me a man who accepts that my weight and health constantly fluctuate due to medication. Find me a man who accepts that there are days I won’t need much sleep and days where I’ll need much more than usual. Find me a man who doesn’t think this is an issue at all.

Find me a man who is willing to let me live in my own room. Find me a man who can respect my private space and privacy. Find me a man who doesn’t believe partners necessarily have to be with each other 24/7 or share their friends’ secrets between themselves.

Find me a man who will always be there for me when I need him and leave me alone when I tell him I need space.

Find me a man who isn’t scared of signing up for intense psychotherapy and exploring the very depths of his soul.

Find me a man who reads philosophy daily, who I can discuss ethics with for days on end. Find me a man who isn’t afraid of Buddhism and Kant. Find me a man with an ethical code which he lives by, but isn’t set in stone for he should be open to re-evaluating his views often.

Find me a man who can satisfy me sexually when I need him to and walk away when I tell him I’m not interested. Find me a man who knows that marital rape is real and understands that coercing one’s spouse through verbal means is also unacceptable.

Find me a man who vociferously opposes all forms of violence against women, not just physical. Find me a man who understands that emotional abuse and bullying can easily occur in relationships due to power dynamic. Find me a man who doesn’t want power over any woman.

Find me a man who isn’t afraid to change his mind and yet isn’t afraid to defend his well thought views.

Find me a man who is a staunch secularist, yet not a militant in any of his views. Find me a man with any religion as long as he doesn’t believe he has a right to preach it to me or inflict it upon anyone else. Find me a man who believes there must be a complete separation between the mosque and the state.

Find me a man who supports democracy and adamantly opposes dictatorships. Find me a man who is left leaning like me. Capitalists will not do.

Find me a man whose family can accept me without trying to change or “mould” me. Find me a man who doesn’t expect me to be a good daughter in law.

Find me a man who can hold his drink and never does hard drugs. A bit of THC now and then, however, is perfectly acceptable.

Find me a man who has no issues with my work schedules and understands that writers cannot conform to a 9 to 5 life. Find me a man who will support my work and respect my writing. He doesn’t necessarily have to agree with me. If he can provide me valuable feedback and perspective, I would probably respect him more.

Find me a man, who, like me, would never ever want to identify as an elite. Find me a man who works hard and understands the value for money. Show me no man who owns land or has inherited a business. I cannot possibly respect such a man.

So if you go looking for a man, find me no man from a well off or “respectable” family. Respectable families do not exist. Respectable families are those who are wealthy enough to suppress their crimes, just like much of my own.

Find me someone who sees me as an equal and not a subordinate. Find me a man who cares not for wifely duties, but wants a partnership with no gendered terms involved. Find me someone who can value me, deeply, for who I am, for what I want to achieve… Find me a man who takes pride in having a dominant, intelligent wife.

So if you must find me a man, step outside your comfort zone, your tiny bubble and your ethnicity. I care not for looks, religion, race or anything but integrity. Many within a certain class claim such men don’t exist. They do. They just aren’t visible to you.

Reblogged by The Friday Times where the comments are hilarious.

April 29, 2013

I Need Feminism

When people think of feminism, they tend to think of feminists as theorists who choose to focus on gender based oppression. While many of us do see the patriarchy as a major source of our oppression, all feminist worth their salt acknowledge multiple oppressions. Intersectionality is a concept that helps us identify how people, especially women, are affected by multiple oppressions. For example, a Sunni Punjabi upper middle class woman has significantly more privilege and faces significantly less discrimination than a woman from a minority group. The minority woman faces systemic, as well as outright, discrimination as well as sexism on a regular basis. This concept cannot be ignored and has helped redefine feminist theory to become more inclusive.

Many of us feel that those of us who are aware of our privilege have a duty to help campaign for women’s issues. In a society as patriarchal as ours, we probably will not be able to achieve much unless all women, regardless of their class and privilege, unite to make their voices heard. This is certainly something our own history has taught us. This is because patriarchy cuts across class, religion, social status and ethnicity. There is no group in our country that can claim that their women are given the same rights as their men.

Diversity will strengthen us and resistance to shared patriarchal norms can help unite us. Recently, I was asked why I, a privileged and apparently “liberated” woman, even “needs” to be a feminist. I didn’t know where to begin.

I need feminism despite the fact that I benefit from the current set-up more so than other women due to my Sunni Punjabi upper middle class status because I do not wish to live in an unjust world, one where I am an oppressor for other women.

I need feminism because all women in my country cannot possibly ask for justice in the absence of gender sensitive laws. All women, across class, can be and are raped, beaten up and subjected to violence, physical and psychological. Our culture celebrates rape and violence against women. Many assume, erroneously, that there is more violence amongst the poor, but it is not limited to any one socio-economic group. Money, or upward class mobility, cannot, by itself, remove ingrained patriarchal norms. A shared consciousness is required.

A recent ‘I need feminism’ at LUMS, the most elite university in Pakistan, witnessed patriarchal backlash from the most educated and privileged citizens of our land. Their facebook page was incessantly trolled for days and some participants had to have their picture removed due to fear and threats. At another LUMS facebook page, a male student was given a rape threat simply for not conforming to the other students’ gender stereotypical expectations and appearing feminine. Education or lack thereof has nothing to do with feminism and feminists, despite their class, ethnicity or religion, face resistance from their own.

LUMS rape threat

I, a privileged citizen, have witnessed women within my own maternal family not being given a choice regarding marriage. It must happen, even at the cost of the woman’s education. I have witnessed women being denied their inheritance and even a child marriage within my own family. Upon speaking up, I have faced resistance and backlash. Unfortunately, I have seen too many women suffer to finally reach a state where this is no longer the case. Too many women necessarily have to go through something traumatic in order to experience an awakening and the emotional toll it takes is very high.

I need feminism because no matter how much wealth I accumulate, I will necessarily be defined as property of a father or husband, one who deserves to be paid less than men simply for being born female. I need feminism because I feel fear amongst strange men and know that for most women, home is also not a safe space.

I need feminism because patriarchy is a global system and it isn’t possible for me to escape it. As half of humanity, we women can be a force to be reckoned with if we unite. And this is precisely why we unite. Listen to stories of women from across the world and you’ll see a pattern emerge. Violence against women, rape, systemic discrimination, the glass ceiling etc exist everywhere. Virginia Woolf’s words remind me that “as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.”

NMS I need feminism

Written for The Vigilant

March 8, 2013

Update on Pakistan Feminist Watch

Filed under: Feminism — Nabiha Meher @ 8:27 pm
Tags: ,

Happy International Women’s Day! Head over to Pakistan Feminist Watch’s twitter account which is being run by a volunteer today.

I’m actually amazed by how well Pakistan Feminist Watch is doing, even though I tend to get slightly irked that it’s getting more hits than this old blog. Do visit to see our new posts. We’ve written about racist jokes and cultural appropriation recently, hoping it’ll enrich the discourse and lead to some self reflection. I blogged mostly images about men tweeting me, and how it becomes a constant cycle. Block one and another will emerge instantly. We’ve received our first guest blog and blogged our second today. People have also been submitting “I need feminism” and “Why I am Feminist” short pieces which we will be blogging on a regular basis.

Finally, we also have a logo now thanks to the ever so lovely Eiynah. I absolutely love it.


February 21, 2013

Pakistan Feminist Watch

Filed under: Feminism — Nabiha Meher @ 12:02 am

We’ve launched! Do visit the blog please: http://pakistanfeministwatch.blogspot.com/

I’ve also written two posts: Sexist Jokes Aren’t Funny. Here’s Why and Rape Threats.

We’re also on twitter and have a facebook page. If you’d like to volunteer or join the movement, email the editors at pakfemwatch@gmail.com.

February 7, 2013

A woman is made

When Freud declared that women’s anatomy is our destiny, I doubt he could have predicted just how many times his claim would be debunked. Feminists have long argued that gender is performed and not innate. Throughout history, the majority of feminists have argued that our biology does not define us, nor does it make us naturally inferior to men. However, it has certainly been used as an excuse to suppress our sex.

Before contraception, our biology certainly limited us. Most women were unable to control the number of children they had and spent the majority of their lives as nursing mothers. As lactating mammals, women had no option but to be around their children at all times. Men, on the other hand, were free to go out, roam and hunt.

From Beauvoir’s famous declaration: “one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” to gender theorists today, much has been written about how we perform gender and how we are socialised to conform based on our biology. From the minute we’re born, gender expectations are placed on us and stereotyping begins.

Because it is mostly impossible to tell the difference between baby boys and girls, we dress them according to the gender we want them to be perceived as. Girls, assumed to be more delicate, are swathed in pink and feminine clothes. The toys they are provided encourage domesticity such as baby dolls and kitchen sets. Other sexualised dolls, like Barbies, serve another purpose: to perpetuate the beauty myth.

Toys are used to instil the cults of masculinity and femininity in children. Boys are given aggressive ‘manly’ toys such as guns and tanks. They are encouraged to be loud and violent. Their rowdy behaviour is justified and dismissed as ‘boys will be boys’. Loud, aggressive girls, on the other hand, are told to behave like ‘ladies’ or are declared tomboys, thus attributing the male gender to them, which implies the assumption that the realm of aggression solely belongs to the male.

Gender socialisation doesn’t begin and end in the home. We police each other to conform to gender throughout our lives, collectively, as a society. We judge parents who don’t teach their children to act normatively. We use language that reflects our biases: strong men are admirable, but strong women are often called aggressive. A man who cooks is a chef, but a woman who cooks is simply performing her duty as a woman.

Schools and teachers then further reinforce gender norms through various means such as encouraging children to segregate and bond with their own gender. Teachers discourage female students from traditionally male subjects like mathematics and the sciences.

We also often choose our careers based on what is considered appropriate for our gender and use terms to remind ourselves of what is traditionally a male or female career. For example, a female doctor is often referred to as a ‘lady doctor’ and male nurses are often called ‘male nurse’ instead of simply doctor and nurse.

Taking gender for granted, we assume it is a natural part of who we are. Those who conform may truly believe the essentialist view that sex and gender are the same, but when faced with those who don’t conform, especially physically, assumptions fall apart. In our culture, we have a third gender, the hijras who tow the fine line between men and women. Not quite men and not quite women, hijras confuse us and make us question if biology is indeed destiny.

The human obsession with gender reveals just how obsessed we, as a species, are with difference. At the end of the day, the only genetic difference between men and women is the one chromosome. Yet, based on that one tiny chromosome, we have decided to divide ourselves in two classes and women, unfortunately, have suffered for it.

Published in The News.

February 2, 2013

Introducing Pakistan Feminist Watch

I’ll be launching Pakistan Feminist Watch on 12th February, 2013 which is also women’s day in Pakistan. It is also the 30th anniversary of Women Action Forum’s epic rally in 1983.

Here is what Pakistan Feminist Watch is about and why many feminists feel it is necessary. Comments & feedback are welcome. However, as per my policy, I won’t be approving any hate speech or sexist & unsupportive comments. I will, instead, screen capture them and feature them with an analysis on Pakistan Feminist Watch.


At Pakistan Feminist Watch, we wish to expose how we are all, collectively, part of a problem. We all make casual sexist statements, sometimes without even realising why they are problematic. By doing so, we strengthen patriarchal norms and allow them to flourish.

Most of us encourage and empower those who make sexist statements on social media by following them on twitter and facebook, which validates social acceptance on line. We turn a blind eye when it comes to influential people, especially men in power. We protect our own. We don’t speak up when sexist jokes are mass circulated for fear of being labelled “humourless”. We shut down and say nothing knowing we’ll be the ones who will be told off for not having a sense of humour.

The world tells us that we are supposed to sit back and take it. We should find being stereotyped and degraded funny. Indeed, some of us are now immune and hardly blink an eye when faced with sexist jokes or memes.

No more. At Pakistan Feminist Watch, we wish to expose why sexist humour and everyday sexism is problematic. We hope to show just how rampant it is in the Pakistani context and we wish to debate how we can address this problem effectively. We realise that is common in a patriarchal world but the repercussions of ignoring this issues for the future of feminism are too bleak to ignore.

Why launch Pakistan Feminist Watch?

  • Because enough is enough.
  • Because we are tired of this game.
  • Because we do not wish to live in a world where one has to become immune to heinous rape threats for expressing an opinion.
  • Because our bodies are not the issue – our argument is.
  • Because women don’t have it easy in a patriarchal world.
  • Because “humour” that degrades half of humanity is unacceptable.
  • Because trolling is distressing and must end.
  • Because men need to become aware of their male privilege.
  • Because the internet is the dark side of the dark side of humanity.
  • Because social media should not be a battlefield.

Policy on naming and shaming

At Pakistan Feminist Watch, we do not wish to name and shame individuals because we want to show how we are all part of this problem collectively. Naming and shaming deflects on individuals and diverts attention away from the issue: that this culture is allowed to flourish on line due to our collective apathy and participation in it.

We cannot deny that we all contribute not just through our silence, but often inadvertently because patriarchy in ingrained in all of us. We perpetuate it without meaning to. We don’t even realise just how responsible we are.

Repeat Offenders

We will be keeping track of repeat offender and will take action against them. This policy is currently a work in progress and will be updated when it is finalised.

Submission details

Email any complaints, stories of abuse, accounts of being trolled and screen captures of everyday sexism to pakfemwatch@gmail.com. We also welcome essays and opinion pieces with a theoretical feminist analysis of on line misogyny.

If you would like to share a story of on line abuse, but cannot or do not want to write it yourself, we can assign someone who will write your account for you. If you wish to remain anonymous, your identity will be protected.

Pakistan Feminist Watch is a not for profit blog run by volunteers. Email us if you’d like to volunteer or join our movement at pakfemwatch@gmail.com

January 26, 2013

Pop patriarchs

Filed under: Feminism — Nabiha Meher @ 8:19 pm
Tags: , , ,

In a patriarchal world, there are many tools used to promote misogyny and pop culture is one of them. Mass media and pop culture influence us deeply in today’s world; very few can escape this influence for very few are active viewers/consumers of pop culture.

Most of us are passive viewers who take in mass messages that perpetuate the cults of masculinity and femininity, especially through TV shows and advertisements.

We define ourselves and our reality based on the images we are inundated with and those that are repeated more tend to leave a more lasting impression on our psyches.

Gender, itself, is performed and not innate. We perform our roles as female and males. We dress the part, act the part and behave the way we are expected to as men or women.

This is learned behaviour which starts from birth and is constantly reinforced on a daily basis. Advertisements, for example, reinforce the notion that women belong in the kitchen and are responsible for feeding their family a good (wholesome) meal.

The woman is the one in charge of maintaining traditional womanhood in these ads: she is the one who cleans the clothes and dishes, changes the nappies and looks after the kids. TV ads glorify this role and cultivate a passive acceptance of the female as belonging to the domestic sphere.

In many TV shows, women are portrayed as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Khirad from Humsafar was one such example. The same show had an example of the stereotypical ‘bad’ woman in the character of Sara.

The ‘good’ woman is one who dresses traditionally and looks very feminine often with long flowing hair that is kept covered; obeys her husband no matter how abusive he is; sacrifices herself and her happiness for man and family; and romanticises traditional womanhood.

She is portrayed as a role model – a woman to look up to and a woman to emulate.

The ‘bad’ woman, on the other hand, is often portrayed as a more modern and independent woman. She has shorter hair and doesn’t cover it. She dresses non-traditionally and works. She values her independence and doesn’t worship any husband and then she suffers for it in the end.

In other words, she is exactly what the patriarchy fears which is why she is often punished as a message for young female viewers. These TV shows teach them not to go against the grain, to conform and blindly accept the cult of femininity. The repercussions for disobeying this are grave. Sara, for example, commits suicide.

Pop culture teaches us how to be ideal women. It teaches us that being a traditional woman will be rewarded. It scorns upon those of us who challenge any notion of femininity.

It also reinforces gender dichotomies by perpetuating the cult of masculinity. Fashion and beauty cults also join in to regulate how we look through pop culture. Accepting them (these cults) leads to popular acceptance.

None of this is likely to change in a patriarchal world. The media is mostly owned by men or controlled by a patriarchal state. Even though we have women writing and acting out these roles, they continue to perpetuate patriarchal norms because women have historically been responsible for propagating this patriarchy.

Patriarchy is a system that necessarily relies on the oppressed to be in charge of their own oppression. Patriarchy has been called a perfect system because it turns woman against woman, teaching them how to hold themselves back.

In a patriarchal pop culture industry, the women who get to the top or the women who are rewarded are the ones who accept patriarchal norms without challenging them. And the cycle continues…

Published in The News.


Imagine you’re a person with an opinion who one day voices it online or in print. Now imagine waking up to an inbox full of threats, of details on how you should be raped and degraded sexually simply for having an opinion. This doesn’t just sound horrific, it actually is. And worse still, this is quite common.

Just about every woman who has ever expressed an opinion that goes against the grain will have faced this scenario. Just about all of us who write are subjected to vicious online assaults and when we choose to speak up, we’re accused of whining unnecessarily. The freedom to offend is a dear one and should be protected. The right to free speech demands it.

However, what this ignores are some ethical aspects of this issue. In a pervasive rape culture, trivialising violence against women has severe repercussions. ‘Rape culture’ allows for the degradation of women, which, in turn, manifests itself through the actual practice of violence against women. And the acceptability of this kind of rape culture in the media allows victim blaming to flourish, which prevents women from speaking up or seek justice.

Those who say rape culture doesn’t exist only need to take a look at statistics as well as the attitude within the police force, which is supposed to be protecting rape victims. We live in a culture where women hesitate to report any violence done to them because of the traditional view that a ‘good’ woman would not be raped and if she is, will never go public with the fact or speak up against it. In essence, their trauma is heightened.

Years ago, when I was an intern at an NGO that was conducting a training session with the heads of jails across Pakistan, I experienced just how prevalent such a culture was. One of them argued that if I was raped on the street, it would be my fault for I would be “asking for it” by wearing short sleeves and baring my arms.

These attitudes are common globally and are strengthened through pop culture. Rap songs are especially notorious for promoting misogyny. TV shows also strengthen stereotypes where the ‘bad woman’ is blamed for her suffering and the ‘good woman’ is one who endures abuse and embraces it. Misogyny in pop culture reduces women to mere objects worthy of violence.

Take the example of Honey Singh, a rapper whose lyrics have caused an uproar in India. A song attributed to him from 2006, which he denies writing, glorifies rape and romanticises male power over women. In the song, a man dreams of raping and beating a woman. Should we seriously turn a blind eye to this and pretend that he has no impact on young men and even women who may think violence against them is normal and acceptable?

Some say Honey Singh is being targeted in a world where rap culture finds misogyny acceptable. It is, after all, a product of the industry. Some argue that the fact that he didn’t write the lyrics means he shouldn’t be held accountable. But even if Honey Singh didn’t write these lyrics, the fact that he sang them seems like an endorsement of such violence. Unless we want to turn a blind eye to rape apologists, we need to start somewhere.

Perhaps it’s just Singh’s bad luck that his work has caused uproar but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start this desperately needed conversation now. In fact, let’s embrace this and continue talking in the hope that we can change the world by actively fighting against the forces that oppress us. And yes, that includes music, which humans connect with emotionally.

Published in The News.

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