Pakistan, they say, is having its #metoo moment. I think Pakistan is only having a shadow #metoo moment. A real #metoo moment is a solidarity moment with a woman who comes forward with a harassment or abuse claim. A real #metoo moment is one where the first thing people do is believe the woman because no woman ever benefited from going public with such a claim. Eventually, post publicity, patriarchy swallows her like an amoeba. A real #meoo movement is about getting the onus on the powerful man to prove that there was another reason for the accuser to lie about the harassment. The legal term is rebuttable presumption. #Metoo is about getting the digital realm to turn around the power structure – shame the aggressor, empower the victim.
Meesha Shafi has claimed that Ali Zafar sexually and physically harassed her. That she has faced trauma. Both pop music starts brilliant in their own right have now entered media frenzy. Her, by stepping into the disruption of the male order and celebrity worship and him by retorting back that he is a father, husband and son and that she is lying. She’s a mother, daughter and wife too, what good is that’s defense from his lawyers.
Social media in Pakistan reminds me of lynching scene in blasphemy cases. Women, the trolls feel have crossed a line that is divinely defined. Two trolls online attacked me for defending Meesha’s claim and believing her right away. The first troll said I am being pro west. He said that our values demand silence from women. The second one posted a picture of Meesha with Ali Zafar and other male colleagues in the industry as proof that she has lost all claims to cry foul. Perhaps alluding to the physical proximity to the men in the pictures.
Men and women are equal because science trumps everything pseudoscientific in law. And the law defines that harassment like the one Meesha claims is punishable. There is nothing western about equality of all genders. There is nothing western in the right to non-discrimination. These are fundamental rights, scripture or not. Also if Meesha chooses to be friends with men, it doesn’t take away her right to cry out when her bodily integrity is harmed.
What frightens a lot of heterosexual men about the #metoo movement is that they don’t understand what is legitimate courtship and when it becomes unlawful. They don’t understand where the line is drawn. It is drawn at consent. Our literature and films and songs sanction and romanticize, no means yes. That women are hesitant and that is a virtue because they are sexually pure. Therefore when women turn around and say no firmly, they need to be outdone through borderline aggressive pursuit. They don’t know what they want or what they are missing. All this is anti women’s agency. It is a master native relationship and terribly oppressive. The only party getting a power thrill is the men. The women are only getting mortally afraid.
Meesha refuses to sign under this uber capitalist ideology of – you are fair game for harassment if you are in the entertainment and art industry. She came forward despite the slut shaming, victim blaming and the utter disappointment that her fans would have in her for not conforming to their standards. Pop singers reinforce the binary of gender – women weak, men forceful and that women fulfill needs and men need.
She’d be so much better off to them if she sang of this rather than rant against it – let a boy be a boy, they say.
Feminists can’t have it both ways they say. Society allows them access and fame and even identity, but they can’t also have justice. That’s taking it too far. They say maybe the traditionalists were right: indoors was best for women. The worst however are the woke feminist men – claiming they respect women’s claim to equal rights but privately say you can’t say no half way to a man. That women should get real.
So it then boils down to how you dress and what you invite to yourself as a woman. This is just another aspect of rape culture.
Many men still think of a woman sits in their car she wants them in a romantic way. They assume. Women in their cars, in their public space, on TV, in academic institutions and even entertainment are only saying: ask us and we will let you know. They are saying we may contemplate legitimate courtship, but when we say no, just accept it. Just back the hell off. They say our sexuality is not transferable. It is our domain.
This is why 1/4 women in Pakistan are victims of violence. It is much easier to whip them into line than to understand that they are individuals. Or even have a conversation about it. Muting women therefore is convenient.
Meesha Shafi unmuted herself, cranked up the volume and ran a media concert out of her pain. Hum along or plug your ears. This is now there in History.
Other women have come forward to endorse her claim, as this was the initial intention of #metoo. Kudos to them. But more kudos to the first mover as a woman in Pakistan for bringing forth a sexual harassment claim online against a privileged man.
Ali Zafar will probably bring a defamation claim against her in the courts. These laws must be altered to accommodate the sexual abuse they cloak.
Either way – #metoo needs to be removed from the shadows and into the light. Pakistani women deserve that. They deserve an end to what Meesha called an “end to the culture of silence.”
Photo credit: Mango Baaz