It’s the type of feminism that catches your eye and demands action.
In the wake of the controversial Aurat March, the expected masculine meltdown was in equal parts infuriating and hilarious. The basic anatomy of an angry conversation on this subject is as follows:
A woman does something fairly innocuous, say, sneezes at a rally. The man recoils and demands, ”What type of feminism is this?”. The woman considers the objection with a mix of irritation and confusion. She likely didn’t even consider what this simple action means to a larger feminist cause, and was simply exercising her freedom to sneeze. She is forced to assert that it’s her right to sneeze.
The man alleges that this is a Western conspiracy to get well-behaved Pakistani women to spread airborne viruses. After all, how does ‘sneezing’ equate with ‘freedom’? It’s petty and unimportant, he argues. And instead of sneezing and blowing nasal fluids at a rally, this woman should do something useful like fighting for girls’ education.
“Like Malala?” the woman asks. “Most certainly not her,” the man retorts. Malala is an agent of the West who betrayed the country by fleeing for her life, and now lives abroad. These women marchers should do something useful locally, like fighting for the rights of the downtrodden and the abused.
“Like Asma Jahangir?” the woman asks. The mard is absolutely livid at this point. “Calm down!” he screams at the woman. He accuses the sneezing female of spreading negativity– and germs– like Asma Jahangir, whom she clearly idolizes. What type of feminism is this, he demands to know, which is based on spreading such an embarrassingly negative image of Pakistan on the world stage?”
“Like Imran Khan’s dharna?” a woman might ask. At this point, she’s really pressing her heel down at the man’s crystalline ego. Imran Khan, after all, made a mockery of our nation by openly attacking our own Prime Minister. There could be RAW agents operating secretly in this country who couldn’t land a bigger blow to this country’s political order than the D-Chowk protest which paralyzed the capital city and helped destabilize the country’s elected government. Why was it acceptable for him to perpetrate such chaos for his cause by way of the dharna? Why is it unacceptable for women to lead a far more orderly and far less disruptive march to make their own problems heard? 50 percent of Pakistanis are, after all, Auratain.
It is, of course, supremely difficult to explain to an average man how these small freedoms– like being able to sit, stand, smoke, dress– are all part of the greater struggle against patriarchy. No society ever jumped directly from ‘empowered women’ to ‘honor killings’ without a whole range of everyday social problems in between; like telling a woman how to sit on a bike or subjecting her to a higher beauty standard. It’s not just the climate of patriarchy that needs to be resisted; it’s the daily weather of misogyny that they’re forced to fight through to get to the next day.
Fixing the ‘climate’ is about addressing major politico-legal problems, like girls’ lack of access to education and good healthcare, the prevalence of rape culture and the high incidence of honor killings, and so on. The fact that those ‘bigger’ problems exist, do not take away a woman’s right to complain about smaller, but definitely nettlesome, issues like men refusing to help with domestic work or policing women’s wardrobes.
It’s the kind of feminism that doesn’t perform politely on the sidelines; it holds the nation upside-down and shakes it until rights and liberties start to rain from its pockets
Smaller steps are the way to achieving larger goals, after all. ‘Women empowerment’ is a general direction in which we progress, and not a distinct target in itself. This direction involves attention to a large number of social hurdles. For her to be able to go to college, men have to learn to cook and re-heat their own food at home. For her to stay in college, we need to speak up about sexual harassment and the rape culture
While there are many men who agree that women empowerment is important, they are quick to scowl at the smaller steps we take in this direction. How does allowing women to “get naked” help them in their path to equality? How can women curse and smoke their way to empowerment? What does feminism have to do with the likes of Qandeel Baloch posting raunchy videos?
These questions can be answered with ease by studying virtually any movement for any marginalized group. Rosa Parks– a prominent black rights figure– is remembered for the seemingly simple act of sitting in the whites-only section of a public bus, ignoring the outrage it caused. How does sitting on a bus seat solve racism? Shouldn’t Parks have been fighting for bigger, more important goals like education and crime? In fact, she was doing precisely that. Her simple act of sitting in the whites-only section was directly in service of a larger goal of defying racial segregation; making a loud statement that white people can’t dictate people of color what they can or cannot do.
What type of feminism is Aurat March about? It’s about the sort of feminism that recognizes women’s unenviable position in society as not a natural accident, but a crime perpetrated by a more privileged class. It’s the kind of feminism that doesn’t perform politely on the sidelines; it holds the nation upside-down and shakes it until rights and liberties start to rain from its pockets.
I dare say, this is exactly the type of feminism we need.