The debate on the Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s twitter episode disfigures the issue at hand. With opinions and audiences being way out of track, all we hear is noise. The ongoing national trial of a private doctor is no different. With each side blasting their loudest horns and competing for space to be heard, there is little anyone is doing to transform attitudes and behaviours. All this outcry does is spike up sentiments. Sentiments, which will in time, find a way out in oppressive actions against women.
Breaking down the incident is very simple, if and only if it is not primed with a sexist talk. Person A seeks a service from an institution. Person B serves in that institution and addresses their concern. Post interaction, person B sought further acquaintanceship. Thanks to handheld devices and the Facebook magic, person B knows what you did last summer and says something about it.
Now, Facebook allows you to control sociability levels of your public profile ranging from being accessible to everyone on the internet to nobody seeing your profile. It creates information barriers to restrict people who can reach out to you. It even allows you to become invisible to a particular person. In short, the access to your profile is the combination of choices you make regarding your online presence.
Person B, due to his professional standing in this situation is responsible of a particular conduct. One governed by the rules of the institution he serves. He is answerable to the institution in case he breaches that conduct. This leaves the institution responsible to investigate whether or not person B crossed the line in this case.
In a digital world where our voices are amplified to the level of our social standing, holding a celebrity status makes people influential. Their words impact millions, stir up controversies, destabilise governments and ruin careers. A power that must always be accompanied with responsibility. The society at least has the right to expect that in return for all the love and admiration they have given.
In this case, our globally acknowledged filmmaker Sharmeen lashing out on twitter immediately became national news. Irresponsibility was taken to another level of effect as she stirred up a debate primed with words like harassment, female patient and boundaries.
Replacing the real issue with sexism had allowed her to win a personal battle, but at what cost? The boundaries that are being reinforced in the wake of this issue form the foundation of gender gap in this society. While she stands by her sister, who faced harassment by being sent a Facebook friend request, she promotes a highly reactive social belief that equates women to honour. Eventually that honour justifies crime in hundreds of cases all over the country.
Removing the sexist mask of this controversy unveils an individual case of misconduct. That too if told in a gender reverse narrative will make it sound comic. For the reality is that no one sees your female physician checking up with you online as a problem. Harassment, violence and gender crimes are an unfortunate reality of our society. Fighting against them requires citizens to act responsibly. Repainting an incident in the colours of women’s rights might have allowed Sharmeen to show how wrong a woman she is from the wrong family, but it disregarded pain and suffering of all women that are wronged daily. She dented the feminist cause. She is responsible for not acting responsibly.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 5th, 2017.