In Pakistan, 'Internalized Misogyny' Isn't That Internal After All

In Pakistan, 'Internalized Misogyny' Isn't That Internal After All
Step aside Bechdel Test, I'm proposing another test, specifically for Pakistani dramas. Let's call it the 'misogynistic women test''s a working title, I promise. To pass the test, a drama serial needs to have a plot that doesn't revolve around two women competing for the affections of a violently mediocre man. Seems simple enough, but even a cursory glance at the shows being peddled to us will reveal that a vast majority of them all seem to follow that theme. A woman wedded, a woman scorned and a man enjoying undeserved attention from two women who could honestly do so much better.


Of course, the natural by-product of this competition between the femmes is them both hating each other with a passion unparalleled. The 'Other Woman' —it's easy to spot her, she's always the one wearing Western attire for some reason— finds ways to discredit the Legitimate Woman and casts all sorts of crazy aspersions on her. And of course it's not just the Other woman, it's also her mother, and the guy's mother, and their sisters, or their aunts. A whole slew of women, and perhaps one token Nice Guy Father, who is Weak and Feeble against the horrible tyrannical rule of the women in his household. And then everyone says, aurat hee aurat ki dushman hoti hai. 

As is the case with most things, it's easy to blame internalized misogyny on women. It's the simplest solution, and the connection isn't hard to miss. And of course, it's always fun to blame women for their own misfortunes, and never the men, never society and definitely never the patriarchal set up of the world. If given the choice to watch a woman take down a man versus a woman, majority will always choose the latter. We've commodified the pleasure of watching women suffer in a way that absolves us of our own guilt.

Someone sent me this post by Diva Magazine on Instagram recently, about a woman who had vlogged about her husband's second wife moving into their house. As per the caption of the post, the video managed to garner 4M views.

"Take an educational video, a music video, even a video with important world news, it won't get almost four million views in eight months on YouTube, because our people love to watch videos about wives crying over their husband's doing second marriages," the caption read.

And it's not always about husbands and second wives. Sometimes, it's about the general female population. The trend 'I'm not like other girls' pokes fun at the wave of women who began to look down upon hobbies and interests mostly associated with feminine behaviour, such as wearing makeup, or liking the color pink, or listening to Taylor Swift. Saying 'I'm not like other girls' implies a degree of superiority over other women, which implies that being feminine is an act of inferiority, somehow. It is also intended to appeal to the opposite gender, as it denounces things men typically make fun of women for, thereby signalling to the men that this right here is an example of the ideal woman, a woman who's 'not like other girls'.

Internalized misogyny is never okay, and like the patriarchy, it too needs to be dismantled. But in order to effectively dismantle it in a way that renders it unable to come back to life in a more threatening form, we need to understand the factors behind its very existence. Women have been reliant on men for their physical, emotional and financial security from time immemorial. Owing to the prevalence of gender roles, the caretaker role of men has meant that they have been considered to be responsible for the protection and security of the women in their charge. What this has meant for women over the years, is a need to learn to secure their place by not rocking the boat too much, and by appeasing the man in their life.

When there is perceived threat to that security, it traditionally made the woman anxious, causing her to lash out at the source of the threat. The clearest example of this would be the stereotypical saas-bahu rift that TV dramas love to return to again and again. It seems petty on the surface, it seems like a case of a woman hating on another woman simply out of jealousy. But in reality, it's more insecurity than jealousy. Up until the arrival of the daughter-in-law, the most important woman in her son's life had been herself. And because most women are financially dependent on the males in their life, the fear of being financially cut off makes them insecure.

So once again, the patriarchy makes everyone miserable, most of all the women. This isn't to absolve women entirely of their own agency and act like they have no say in any of this: the expectation of course is for the ability to recognize and discard mere insecurity as nothing but that. However, the reality is that often times, breaking generational cycles of trauma, suffering and dependency is easier said than done. The only way out of this is to empower women even more, so they never feel threatened or dependent on anyone. More power to women!

Khadija Muzaffar is the culture editor at The Friday Times. Previously a Fulbright scholar at NYU, she enjoys writing about society, culture, music and food. She tweets at @khadijamuzaffar, but is far more interesting on Instagram.