#MaiBhi could be Pakistan’s turning point

Someone asked feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, what she would say to the concerns that the #MeToo is worrying men that women have too much power that they are now abusing. The #MeToo campaign was launched to call out sexual misconduct in the US. Her response was the proverbial middle finger to all men with such concerns. Which is befitting. For the longest time, no one believed women when they were abused or were victims of unwanted sexual advance at workplaces and their homes. Now finally with #MeToo and particularly the #MosqueMeToo, led my Mona Elthanawy, there is a realization that women from the Muslim world carry a voice too. Women are now not just believed but they have got the power to dismantle the power equation.

This has made men uncomfortable and frankly, they should be because they have been beneficiaries of a system that has devalued women’s voices. Hollywood’s launching of the #TimesUp movement that calls out sexism in Hollywood has been largely successful in women taking center stage, asking for more powerful roles and demanding more women-centric storylines. What we saw in this year’s Golden Globe awards was a few good men wearing the #TimesUp pin showing solidarity and giving women the limelight they deserve. It is indeed time for them to wear the pin in silence and mute themselves.

The Pakistani Lux Style awards, known mostly for its glitz and glamour are now reemerging with a feminist theme, localized version of #MeToo called #MaiBhi. Led by fashion veteran Fareeeha Altaf the event will have special performances and speeches of women in the Pakistani entertainment industry with stories to tell of abuse and survival. A telling feature of the positive impact of such a move is that women who are silenced elsewhere, villages and small towns, will have the inspiration to speak up. Designers, artists, and actresses have come out and spoken about the abuse they faced, both as children and as adults by their religious teachers, cooks, cousins and bosses. This lets women across Pakistan understand that owning the label of a survivor is important, but so is embracing the label of a victim.

The shame is not these celebrities who have been abused, the shame is the perpetrators. When we successfully establish this, we will begin to change the tide. My biggest concern when the recent Zainab rape and murder case happened was that the backlash demanded that girls are protected from men’s monstrous lust. This perpetuates rape culture even more. Several of our talk shows, the morning talk shows particularly took on a very misogynist tones, asking parents to protect girls more, asking people to turn towards a more religious outlook, asking girls to be sexualized by cloaking them – all except the important message that this violence against women and girls happens because there is no equality of sexes, because there is segregation, because there is discrimination and because of patriarchy.

What remains to be seen at the Lux Style Awards is if the messaging is nuanced enough to turn away from victim blaming and demands that women have their power back. What also remains to be seen is if the fashion and entertainment industry owns up to the issues that are intrinsic to it – body shaming, the perpetuation of archaic gender roles and the reinforcement of the beauty myth, that women have to be beautiful to be desirable and that the standard is set here. Above all, they need to take on the issue of colorism. The notion that fair skinned Pakistani women are better in value than bronze skinned ones. These are all problems that this industry has done next to nothing to fix. Sadly. So it remains to be seen if women, in addition to calling out the abuses of men, also understand that they need to stop twirling around to what is a male-defined culture of what it means to be a worthy woman.

This is a huge opportunity that I feel the women of this industry can redefine once and for all, enter 2018 with the momentum of their #MeToo sisters world over.

It starts with dictating to the corporates. Commercialism is blind to the perils of women. It will reinforce the patriarchy of patriarchy sells, it will make the women in advertisements cook and clean and obsess about homemaking even when the responsibility for a good modern home rests on both men and women. Pakistan’s corporates are sinister and have pushed back the women’s movement by mass advertising the traditional roles of women. The Lux Style Awards, therefore, can be a turning point in handing the agenda-setting to feminist women themselves.

#MaiBhi needs to grow, not shrink. Kudos to these women’s efforts and here’s to more truth-telling. Here’s to making more men uncomfortable, Gloria Steinem style.





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