Misogyny in Pakistan is largely a bipartisan exercise. However, with Khawaja Asif’s recent tweet about Firdous Ashiq Awan joining the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and insinuating that she is a “newly acquired dumper,” he made the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz take the cake for misogyny. I won’t be surprised if secretly he’s gloating along with his haggard cronies, who undoubtedly make him feel like he’s 007. Except that toxic masculinity is loathsome and so 1970s.
As a 15-year professional, I once walked into an all-male meeting where many wanted to know what I cook best. The systematic effort that is made to strip any semblance of power from women, regardless of how much of it they have, is a lauded male sport here. The higher women go, the more men seem to have permission to attack them. Remind them that they belong indoors, safely away from public space because that is a male territory.
Awan and Shireen Mazari, who Asif called a “tractor trolley,” are not the exception, but the norm. He many years ago also called a woman MPA who limped slightly, a “penguin.” I wrote against it then. He’s done it again, and here is my second piece that only proves that shame is not a viable weapon against the patriarchy — perhaps only violence is.
Someone like Asif will only respect people who can hurt him. Sadly, when women parliamentarians, the 21 per cent of the whole lot, have fought way too many Asifs to be where they are. In the end, the joke is on him — and his immense male privilege, his class privilege, the comfort that comes from being part of a majority in a country that only salutes majoritarianism.
Not only is sexism adopted as a go-to strategy across party lines, by both men and women, it is largely a global phenomenon. We saw Hillary Clinton face its wrath in last year’s US elections. Some predict that is what cost her the presidency — she didn’t reject feminism, didn’t make her feminism palatable enough, acceptable enough, as if she were making crème brûlée and not rooting to be at the helm of the world’s biggest powerhouse.
Therefore, women in power, it isn’t surprising, adapt to the anti-woman culture by rejecting feminism. They say they aren’t like the men-haters and the bra-burners. They are just there to make a real difference to all people. They say they are pro-men. Blessed be the fruit. They say, acknowledging they are in politics, that at first they are good homemakers. Maryam Nawaz is slightly stung by this phenomenon.
But the fact remains that Maryam Nawazs are still shamed, still ridiculed and still undermined. The commentary is still going to be how they carried themselves, what they wore, how doe-eyed they looked and ultimately how unworthy.
You’ll never see men judged by such high standards of scrutiny. They could show up to a press conference with a questionable blotch on their suit and it’ll go unnoticed, may even get a bravo. After all bravado is maleness.
Asif’s comments against women politicians are violence itself. Unjustified violence, aimed to put women with power in their place, to de-legitimise them, to remind them of their worth, to unsettle them, to rattle them, to humiliate them publicly and to ridicule. Yet, none of it is going to change the fact that men like him are on their way out. The biggest victory for these women, who get scapegoated and shamed, is that they are paving ways for younger ones who will enter politics with the speed of disruptive technology. They are charting a path in time that thankfully leads to one direction.
One day he’ll wake up and he’ll realise it’s 2017. Nothing sadder than an old man whose James Bond fantasy smells strong coffee.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2017.