Stop Laughing | Pakistan Today

Stop Laughing

Raising tomorrow’s sex offenders and victims is a choice

Domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment and assault on and outside college campuses aren’t laughing matters, and yet, somehow, that’s exactly what they’ve become

Justifying the way we raise our girls by reiterating men’s rights as per religion while calmly shoving a history of societal failure to avoid and eliminate the culture of rape and abuse under the rug, in a society that has been practically bred on the idea of the subjugated woman and the ideal, dominant male, is like telling me that Captain America, created as a response to World War II by two Jewish men, was secretly Nazi outfit Hydra’s biggest sleeper agent. Because the response to both should always be: Nope, nada, and does not compute.

There is an excellent public service message being aired in India regarding violence against women. I’m sure many have seen it: the story of a young boy growing up forced to stifle his emotions in times of both absolute heartbreak and amazing achievements because, as he is told over and over again: “Boys don’t cry.” The result is every woman’s nightmare: a strong, successful man who may not cry himself – but is willing to hurt others weaker and smaller than him, and to make them cry. As actress Madhuri Dixit remarks at the end: their entire lives we teach boys that “boys don’t cry”, but perhaps we’d all be better off if we taught them instead that boys don’t make other people cry. Or, perhaps, instead of teaching young men that “real men don’t cry”, we teach them instead “real men don’t pretend that vulgarity, threats and actions of sexual abuse and violence is what creates or increases their masculinity.”

“Be a man”

“Array mard ban, mard” is an order that both crushes the confidence of young people – men and women – who realise that their emotional, mental and yes, physical traits have been judged and deemed lacking, and then sets the tone for their behaviour and their roles in society for the rest of their lives.

Jon Haltiwanger wrote in Elite Daily in March 2015:

“Be a man.

Every single man in the world has heard these three words in some form or another…we hear these words when we don’t live up to prescribed notions of masculinity. After all, men are supposed to be tough. And by tough we mean stoic, invulnerable and violent when necessary. We’re (men are) not allowed to exhibit emotions. Crying is out of the question.

This mentality is doing more damage to humanity than most of us realise.”

He’s right — the idea that simply being born male is not enough to ensure one is seen and respected as a “man” in society is as jarring and damaging as the (increasingly) more vocally opposed custom of judging a hopeful bride’s homemaking abilities by her height, figure, hair or the colour of her skin. Neither makes sense. Both still persist.

A video shared in January 2014 titled “There’s something absolutely wrong with what we do to boys before they grow into men” argued on the same principles and went viral for a brief period of time.

As one of the people interviewed in that video said:

“Be a man” is something we’ve all heard at one time or another, even a few of the women reading this right now. Being a “man” in that sense means something completely different to me (and maybe you, too) than what that phrase implies. I can’t even begin to describe the toll that the concept of masculinity has taken on my life. And it’s felt everywhere. It’s time we make changes, starting from within ourselves.”

In the video, sociologist and educator Dr Michael Kimmel says:

“We’ve constructed an idea of masculinity in the United States that doesn’t give young boys a way to feel secure in their masculinity. So we make them go prove it all the time.”

Dr Kimmel’s words were with regards to the state of mind of young men in America, yes, but they hold true for any country in the world today. In fact, replace “in the United States” with “in Pakistan”, and one would be hard pressed to disagree.

“You’re such a girl”

“My coach said I ran like a girl, I said if he could run a little faster, he could too”. ― Mia Hamm

The idea that genitalia or one’s ability to verbally or physically abuse and exert dominance over another person is what is used as the marker to define ones strength and potential for success is simultaneously ludicrous and damning. It is ludicrous because if the history of medicine is to be believed, in terms of pure biology, women – who bear, birth and raise entire generations – would win the first part of said condition hands down. It is also damning, because it presents young men with the kind of exacting, unnatural and frankly demeaning physical standards to measure up to — implying that these standards are what will largely justify the acceptance of each as a “man” – despite his existing physical status. It lays the groundwork for generation after generation of young men who will grow up knowing that the majority of them will fail these tests of society and – unable to express their frustration or misery because of the same society’s standards – choose to gather these frustrations inwards. Until finally, they find someone weaker or smaller or just simply, momentarily vulnerable enough to take these out on. Or they’ll just “lose their cool” at the worst possible opportunity. And of course, then, either all hell will break lose, or men like them, and women raised by and alongside men like them will sweep it under the rug. Either way, what we get is generation after generation of frustrated, young men, unsuccessful in most if not all of their life’s pursuits, leaving behind the same message: You’re a guy, which means no matter how bad you were, you’ll probably get away with it — so you’d better. And if you were born a girl, well – tough luck.

Every single man in the world has heard these three words in some form or another…we hear these words when we don’t live up to prescribed notions of masculinity. After all, men are supposed to be tough

“Boys will be boys”

The Stanford Rape and its ensuing trial may have taken place far away from Pakistan, but it’s still an example of both the importance we as a species put in male privilege and of, surprisingly enough, the effects of what different kinds of parenting can do to the men who are raised under them.

It is proof that for every Brock, raping an unconscious girl behind a dumpster, there are men like the two Swede students who stopped him, tackled him when he tried to escape and helped the girl get medical attention. For every parent like his, who asked the world to stop harassing their son for getting “20 minutes of action”, or, closer to home: those who stood back as their teenage son killed his sister and placed her body on display, there are the men and women who raised and continue to raise this world’s Abdul Sattar Edhis, Carl-Fredrik Arndts and Peter Jonssons – men we can perhaps be proud of, with humanitarian qualities we are inspired to emulate, instead of the countless young men who spend their time falling over each other as they celebrate finding an open window through which they can fulfil their voyeuristic desires.

Or, as Dr Judy Chu would put it: “posturing, based on how the other boys are posturing.”

While I’m on the topic, let me be very clear: if having male genitals doesn’t excuse your behaviour, neither does the lack of it. After watching Marvi Sirmed’s encounter with Hafiz Hamdullah on TV One’s Nadia Mirza show, I got into a discussion on – among other things – the concept of male privilege. We were equally appalled at Hafiz Hamdullah’s behaviour, and by the end, we could agree that Sirmed’s response had been provoked, but during our discussion, my fellow debator – who’d only a week ago heard my tirade on the Stanford Rape Case’s judging – posed the following question:

“A girl throws acid on a boy after he rejects her proposal. What should her punishment be?”

My initial response was almost one of incredulity – a girl attack a man? In Pakistan? Please – until I realised that by thinking that, I was no better than the people I had been raging against only moments ago. To dismiss a woman’s actions or words because of her gender would be as bad as justifying or excusing a man’s because of his.

Stop laughing

Domestic violence, rape and sexual harassment and assault on and outside college campuses aren’t laughing matters, and yet, somehow, that’s exactly what they’ve become.

If I had a rupee for the number of times I’ve heard or read male classmates laugh and announce they’d successfully “fraped” a friend’s Facebook account or “raped” his/her social media feed, I’d be a very rich woman. And if I had another rupee for the number of times I’ve witnessed or have been one of the girls who laughed along back then, cringing on the inside but thinking “what else can we do?” I’d be even richer. And no less disgusted with myself. The word rape is not merely a noun used to sum up “a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration perpetrated against a person without that person’s consent”. It is a word that refers to the desecration of a person’s body and their God given right to deny the use of it. It is a verb – an action, and it doesn’t just make the victim a social pariah – in a culture like Pakistan’s, it is fatal. Lack of education and lack of access to therapy means women have killed themselves, or have been killed by family members to avoid “disgrace” to the family name. And men, too, have been hounded by memories from their childhoods of overly friendly “Batmen” or “chowkidaars” entrusted with their protection – care takers who abused both this trust and the children in their care – male and female alike. Treating rape as a joke isn’t a sign of desensitisation – it’s a symptom of the diseased “values” and norms we as a society present for emulation. Because laughing at and dismissing words and actions like “rape” doesn’t make them any less real, or the rapists any less guilty.

This article was written for this week’s DNA’s cover story. But it was largely inspired by the efforts of an incredibly brave, awe inspiring group of students from Lahore University of Management Sciences, who chose to use one of their owns’ student council election campaign in the recent academic year to highlight the issue of sexual harassment on college campuses – specifically their own. Students, girls and boys, of every size, shape and colour braved their peers’ laughter and stood in front of a camera on campus, reminding the viewer that sexual offenders – like criminals, low lifes and terrorists — do not discriminate. “It could be someone you know”, they said. “Stop laughing.”

Because, no. Boys will not be boys. Today’s cat callers, spouse beaters, voyeurs, rapists and sexual abusers are, for a large part, what they were raised to be. And tomorrow, just like the girls we raise, boys will be only one thing: exactly what we –– as their primary care-givers and a society as a whole – will make of them.

Noor RK

The writer is former Sr Sub-editor, Op-ed, Pakistan Today. She is an independent journalist, currently a part of the South Asia Hub at Climate Tracker (