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

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Update on Pakistan Feminist Watch

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.

pakfemwatchlogo

Pakistan Feminist Watch

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.

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.

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.

About:

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

Pop patriarchs

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.

Misogyny

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.