- Some things never change
Someone should apologise. I’ll go first.
A few weeks ago, I posted a personal story on my Facebook page about a female classmate who was verbally harassed by our school boys. The crux of the story wasn’t harassment itself, but how dozens of boys banded together in a twisted display of “bhaichara” (brotherhood) to cover up the harassment when the administration started investigating the matter.
The story went viral, and for a while, even I had to pull back from the keyboard and think about what I’d penned. I knew that this isn’t my story to tell. It’s the victim’s story, and she should be the one telling it at the time of her own choosing, if she chooses to tell it at all. I ultimately decided not to delete the anonymised story, because it needs to be told from the perspective of the offending party; which I believe is necessary to help expose the mechanics of sexual harassment.
After the unconscionable incident, the school boys had agreed that nobody should have to be suspended or expelled for a bit of verbal “teasing”. I sincerely apologise for my minor, but indefensible, role in the grand design.
Men respond to allegations of sexual harassment against women in two ways: they either gaslight the victim, or assert that the victim somehow deserved it
Feminists often use the term ‘gaslighting’ for such behaviour by men. ‘Gaslighting’ refers to the offending party pretending that the offense did not occur, insinuating that the victim is simply “crazy” or “delusional” for saying something’s wrong. The term apparently comes from an old movie in which a man deliberately dims the gaslight while performing an illegal act. When the wife correctly notices the dimmed lights, the husband denies the change and tries to convince his wife that she’s simply imagining the change in the intensity of light.
Men respond to allegations of sexual harassment against women in two ways: they either gaslight the victim, or assert that the victim somehow deserved it. This results in a secondary wave of harassment, and is the main reason why most victims of sexual harassment choose to remain silent and not ‘make a scene’. This is contrary to the myth that there’s an epidemic of cunning women claiming harassment for personal gains.
Men pretend to be shocked when they hear about a woman having been sexually harassed. Yes brother, we all know you were born yesterday, and don’t know how guys talk about “bachian” the moment our female classmates and colleagues walk out of the room. It is entirely believable that you’ve been living under a rock, and aren’t aware of how men see women as sexual objects, casually discussing their anatomical proportions. Men find it utterly unimaginable that in our holiest of societies, women are often reduced to their body parts and harassed without mercy.
Consider Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi’s case. Judging by the level of evidence being demanded by the male jury of the internet, one might think Ali Zafar is due to be hanged tomorrow after fajr. This is not a murder trial. It’s multiple women, not just Meesha Shafi, sharing their experiences on social media, of being allegedly harassed by Ali Zafar.
I don’t claim to know the full detail of what occurred, but I do know that the wave of secondary harassment we’re witnessing against Meesha Shafi is infuriatingly familiar to what our female classmate faced many years ago. Everyone knows that it happened, or likely happened. Everyone’s pretending that Meesha is either a delusional woman maligning an honest family man, or a cunning vixen misreporting harassment as part of a publicity stunt.
If there’s sympathy to be gained from this, that sympathy is almost entirely for Ali Zafar. After all, Ali bhai doesn’t want cheap publicity. He only wants a 100 crore rupees – the amount for which he sued Meesha Shafi.
Outside a small liberal community that reluctantly supports Meesha, the internet is awash with all kinds of heinous accusations against her. Many demand to know how a woman celebrity who dresses and acts non-conservatively at times, can even claim to having been sexually harassed. It’s amusing and harrowing in equal parts that the kind of men who demand Meesha to provide evidence of harassment, are the ones with no regard for a woman’s consent; those who believe that a woman says ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with her dress, not with her mouth.
How is Meesha Shafi’s alleged promiscuity evidence of her untrustworthiness in a case about sexual harassment; while Ali Zafar’s renowned flirtatiousness and lust for “Channo” not an indication of his tendency to harass a woman? It comes down to our national culture in which a man is a “stud” and a woman is a “slut” for doing the exact same thing.
A patriot may object to my decision of dragging ‘Pakistan’ into this discussion. It takes a village to generate a culture of abuse, either through direct offense or a deafening silence that enables it.
Meesha Shafi and Ali Zafar are just two people; no different from millions of Pakistani women gawked, catcalled, groped, and casually objectified by millions of men. It is the response of the general public that is as infuriating as it is predictable. It is that response that tells us where we are as a nation, in terms of how we see women.