Pakistan's Misogynistic Lord Of The Flies

As our society evolves, there is a lot we have to unlearn, especially when it comes to gender-based stereotyping, tendencies of violence—encouraged by impunity—and access to rights that empower them to be equal citizens of Pakistan

Pakistan's Misogynistic Lord Of The Flies

Misogyny has been mainstreamed in our deeply patriarchal society. Dare I say, for its primary agent in our country, men, it has become second nature. But it gets amplified when celebrities and influencers reinforce the loop of gendered stereotypes through under-educated utterances and actions in their vain quests for views, following and ratings with deadly, real-world consequences for women at large.

Our society promotes certain stereotypes to the level that they can be termed as gendered racism. Such behaviour not only strips women of their constitutional rights as equal citizens but can result in violence as well. The Pakistan Demographic and Health Survey 2017-18 states that 28% of women in Pakistan start enduring physical violence as early as 15 years of age. Upon marriage, women may endure spousal violence, including 26% emotional, 23% physical and 5% sexual violence. The shock of enduring such violence and limited avenues means 56% of women neither tell anyone nor seek help for what they are experiencing. Another 42% justify their husband's beatings.

So pervasive is this culture of misogyny and attacking women that it transcends the barrier between the real and the virtual worlds. In its latest Cyber Harassment Helpline Report 2023, the Digital Rights Foundation said that in 2023, women were the highest reported victims of online harassment, constituting 58.5% of complainants. Technology-Facilitated Gender Based Violence (TFGBV)  is increasing and has evolved over the years, with rising complaints of privacy violations from women, whether through the use of photo editing or generative artificial intelligence software to manipulate images to produce non-consensual intimate images (NCII) to abuse/ harass and even blackmail women in digital spaces.

Where it intertwines in our daily lives is when women hear one of the worst sentences: "A woman is the biggest enemy of a woman". The attitude which breeds such statements quickly descends to another offensive statement: "Women are not, and cannot be, equal to men". The slide down this slippery slope quickly spirals into certain expectations from women on how to dress, speak, act and live their lives, that is, be demure, stay at home, not voice opinions and preferably not be part of a productive workforce. Such expectations are made popular through our media and entertainment industry, which label women dressing up in certain ways to working women as "bad women".

Unfortunately, in our society, misogyny or being misogynistic is not limited to men; women have also been equally conditioned to internalise misogynistic stereotypes to the level where they either agree, laugh it off or become a party to bashing women.

The worst among them are members of Pakistan's infotainment industry, the media houses producing and representing news and entertainment. From television anchors to actors, all contribute to the prevalence of misogyny and commodification of women.

Actors, both men and women, play to the socio-religious gallery, adopting the persona of someone they are not. In their quest to grow their influence and social media followings and remain relevant, they end up making certain statements or gaffes—some unintentional and others not so unintentional. Since their understanding of gender-related issues is weak, they tend to trap themselves through silly statements, or as I prefer to call them, "foot-in-mouth moments."

Such "foot-in-mouth moments" deliver the ratings, views and publicity. And as far as they are concerned, all publicity is good publicity- isn't it? Let me remind you of a few of such moments: 

What makes a 'good wife'?

Shehroz Sabzwari and his wife talked about their concept of what makes a 'good wife', equating it to that of a nanny who follows her husband, picking after him, and who should be aware of the sleeping, eating and clothing habits of her husband.

Mera Jism, Meri Marzi Wali Aunteyan

Faisal Qureshi, a veteran actor, television show host and vlogger, continues to take unsolicited digs at women. His most recent dig was about the blessings of having restaurants in Ramazan because he was dissatisfied with his wife's less-than-perfect cooking skills and how torturous it was to endure them. In a vlog titled "Mera Jism Meri Marzi Wali Aunteyan", he continues his tirade to say how lucky are those wives who are good at cooking. His wife simply laughs in the vlog.

Advice to women to keep husbands loyal

News anchor and Instagram relationship advisor Syed Ali Haider (Syed.ali.haider5) advised in one of his reels that wives should demonstrate motherly affection towards their husbands so that they stay loyal to them.

'Husbands should be treated like babies and pampered so that he doesn't cheat. His Instagram is filled with other relationship advice, such as: "A mature woman is an investment, and an immature woman is a bill."

Need I say more?

Abusing a female lawmaker

Sobia Shahid, an MPA of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and now a member of the national assembly — was abused, slut shamed, threatened with rape after she waved a wristwatch on the inaugural day of the new Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly. Her actions were aimed at reminding Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) followers about their party's founder, Imran Khan, who was convicted of retaining expensive watches from the Toshakhana on the cheap through undervalued appraisals before selling them for a higher rate in the market. Not only was she physically abused on the floor of the house, she was hounded online as well. Most online comments justifying the threats ranged from: "She asked for it" to: "She made silly remarks/actions, hence paid for it".

Men can get away with most abuse, from verbal jousts to fist fights, but women are held to different standards.

It is okay for men to be aggressive in their political choices and expressions, but for women - no way, that is daring to take a few steps too far outside the "permitted boundaries". Such double standards are rooted in deep gender biases, which, at this point, may act subconsciously.

A woman finally spoke up; news anchor Maria Memon stepped forward and condemned the incident on Instagram, "female MPA acted like a silly goose, but does that mean ke aap rape threats Deena short kar dein? (that you start threatening them with rape?) Just ignore the bloody provocation."

But she went on to express, "Sobia ne theatrics kar ke nuisance value ban ki hae aurbuski party ne iss per aurat card khala hae" (Sobia's theatrics created a nuisance value, but now his party will play the 'woman card') - this, however, is internalised misogyny. She ultimately deleted her post after receiving backlash. 

'I wouldn't say I am a feminist'

Actor Sarwat Gilani in an interview, said: "I wouldn't say I am a feminist - I am an independent woman, but at the end of the day, I feel like I need somebody who will take care of me and who I can depend upon."

She added, "If we talk about feminism in Pakistan particularly, they think men have nothing to do with it. However, many men help take feminism forward because they support women, they back them, elevate and encourage their women to take a step forward."

Surely, the actor needs to do some homework to understand concepts such as women's empowerment and feminism.

Inciting hate towards women for ratings?

By now infamous, writer and playwright Khaliul Rehman Qamar is a top-rated misogynist in the entertainment industry. He leaves no opportunity to be disrespectful or incite hate towards women.

Women and flies

The latest episode comes from veteran actor Adnan Siddiqi of the "Mere Pass Tum Ho" fame.

Appearing on Nida Yasir's show, a fly started bothering the actor on stage. The harmless but mildly annoying activities of the fly prompted him to quip that women are like flies—if one goes after them, you can't catch them. But if you ignore them and stay still, they will voluntarily come towards you and sit/drop at you.

Of all the statements our Lord of the Flies could have made about the fly, he chose one — despite the pleadings from the apprehensive female host — that reflected the misogyny brewing in the actor. 

As our society evolves, there is a lot we have to unlearn, especially when it comes to gender-based stereotyping, tendencies of violence—encouraged by impunity—and access to rights that empower them to be equal citizens of Pakistan. Our infotainment industry is a major stakeholder in this transformation, being an influencer and a darling of the media industry at large.

The reason to point out all of the above is not to cat-call members of the infotainment industry but to suggest that these individuals of significant influence educate themselves about the plight of women in Pakistan. Despite accounting for around 50% of the population, they are denied the right to exist, be safe, be educated, have access to reproductive health, be an equal part of the workforce, and above all, not be physically or virtually abused and harassed. 

Gender-based violence is increasing every day. We are living in times where brothers kill their sisters — whether it is Qandeel Baloch, who wanted to live life on her terms, or Maria, who was raped and then killed by her father and brother. We are living in a time where the public discourse has been twisted on purpose to distract focus from women's rights and the abuse/ harassment they face even on women's day by focusing on linguistic sloganeering such as those of Aurat March. Digital or technology-facilitated gender-based violence is increasing by the day, and such irresponsible statements from celebrity influencers may get them views, but the damage they do to their credibility, how they impress upon the mindset of those who follow them and their negative impact on Pakistan's long, hard and far from over struggle for women's right.