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

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.