Someone asked feminist icon Gloria Steinem what she would say to the concerns that the #MeToo is worrying men that women have too much power that they are now abusing. Her response was the proverbial middle finger — which is befitting. For the longest time no one believed women when they were abused or were victims of unwanted sexual advances. Now with #MeToo and particularly another website led by Mona Eltahawy, there is a realisation that women from the Muslim world carry a voice too. Women are now not just believed but they also have got the power to dismantle the power equation.
This has made men uncomfortable and frankly they should be because they have been beneficiaries of a system that has devalued women’s voices. Hollywood’s launching of the #TimesUp movement that calls out sexism in Hollywood has been largely successful in women taking centre stage. What we saw in this year’s Golden Globe awards was a few good men wearing the #TimesUp pin showing solidarity and giving women the limelight they deserve. It is indeed time for them to wear the pin in silence and mute themselves.
The Pakistani Lux Style awards are now reemerging with a feminist theme, a localised version of #MeToo called #MaiBhi. The event will have special performances and speeches of women in the Pakistani entertainment industry with stories to tell of abuse and survival. A positive impact of such a move is that women who are silenced elsewhere, villages and small towns, will have the inspiration to speak up. Designers, artists and actresses have come out and spoken about the abuse they faced. This lets women across Pakistan understand that owning the label of a survivor is important, but so is embracing the label of a victim.
The shame is not of these celebrities who have been abused, the shame is of the perpetrators’. When we successfully establish this, we will begin to change the tide. My biggest concern when the Zainab rape and murder case happened was that the backlash demanded that girls are protected from men’s monstrous lust. This perpetuates rape culture further. Several of our talk shows, the morning talk shows particularly, took on a misogynist tone, asking parents to protect girls more, asking people to turn towards a more religious outlook, asking girls to be sexualised by cloaking them — all except the important message that this violence happens because there is no equality of sexes, there is segregation, there is discrimination and because of patriarchy.
What remains to be seen at the awards is if the messaging is nuanced enough to turn away from victim blaming and demands that women have their power back. What also remains to be seen is if the fashion and entertainment industry owns up to the issues that are intrinsic to it — body shaming, the perpetuation of archaic gender roles and the reinforcement of the beauty myth, that women have to be beautiful to be desirable. Above all, they need to take on the issue of colourism. The notion that fair-skinned women are better in value than bronze-skinned ones. These are all problems that this industry has done next to nothing to fix. So it remains to be seen if women, in addition to calling out the abuses of men, also understand that they need to stop twirling around to what is a male-defined culture of what it means to be a worthy woman.
This is a huge opportunity that the women of this industry can redefine once and for all, enter 2018 with the momentum of their #MeToo sisters world over.
It starts with dictating to the corporates. Commercialism is blind to the perils of women. It will reinforce patriarchy, it will make the women in advertisements cook and clean and obsess about homemaking. Pakistan’s corporates are sinister and have pushed back the women’s movement by mass advertising the traditional roles of women. The awards therefore can be a turning point in handing the agenda setting to feminist women themselves.
#MaiBhi needs to grow. Kudos to these women’s efforts and here’s to more truth telling, to making more men uncomfortable, Gloria Steinem style.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 12th, 2018.