Less privileged women in showbiz were regularly molested when I started out: Anoushey Ashraf

VJ-turned-actor recalls how stories of other women led her to become well-versed in resilience.


Asfa Sultan August 30, 2021

KARACHI:

The fine line between woke and verbose is often blurred in the social media frenzy of today but Anoushey Ashraf has been walking it for quite some time now.

The celebrity, who has been criticised for misjudging feminism in her early days, is now a staunch supporter of the female liberation movement and gender parity. Her views, which make headlines every now and then, are mostly spontaneous takes irrespective of how calculated they may seem. So perhaps there is a recipe to her successful approach that more actors and performers can learn from.

“I might know how to word myself a little better, I guess, especially since I’ve had a communication background,” Ashraf told The Express Tribune. “I’m an RJ, I’ve been a VJ and had some pleasant conversations with people ranging from a Maulana to Qandeel Baloch. So my aim has always been to understand instead of arguing.”

Anoushey’s Instagram is a hub for constructive criticism, meaningful dialogue and chewy jokes, for which she’s “eternally grateful.” But that doesn’t mean she’s always been as vocal and well-versed in resilience as she is today. Her mantra has always been to do your own digging instead of lashing out and digging your own grave. And she has shared with the world a myriad of sexual abuse stories via her Believe Women initiative and unveiled her own DMs to prove jealousy isn’t female, among other things.

Snapping back

When I started my career, we’d get fan mail and run into people on the streets. We didn’t know what becoming a target of trolls and victim of social media aggression felt like. So when I started getting hate I felt the need to step up,” asserted Anoushey.

The VJ, who started before the likes of Mahira Khan, Ayesha Omar and Atif Aslam became household names, acknowledges and thanks her ‘privilege’ for knowing how and when to take a stand. “We were also less vulnerable. However, women around us, who came from relatively less privileged households, were regularly molested, propositioned, given lesser money and odd jobs,” recalled the celebrity.

So eventually, Anoushey realised that the minute a person with privilege chooses to ignore certain problems – given they aren’t directly affected by them – he, she or they enable a system that allows these problems to prevail. “If you’re not affected by a problem, you’re part of the problem. And if you see oppression, have with yourself a space to condemn it, and you don’t, you’re in the wrong,” she assured.

But about her peers who are till this day adamant on presenting a ‘soft image’, despite facing a slew of criticism for it, Anoushey maintained, “Everybody comes from a different standpoint, a different upbringing. It is our moral duty to understand and evolve. But I didn’t understand what feminism was back in the day either,” she admitted, revealing, “I didn’t know until I saw Pakistani women come out with their stories of abuse and harassment. That’s when I thought, ‘ye tou meray sath bhi hua hai! Even I have been sexually harassed as a child.”

On ‘femicide’ and #MeToo

The celebrity acknowledges that the current situation is scary enough to make even the privileged women feel vulnerable, especially after the Noor Mukadam case. “There is a new story every day now. Even the Minaar e Pakistan video heightened my anxiety,” she recollected. “And social media shoves things down your throat, so when they were ripping her clothes off I felt like I was being touched and violated. You have to be a woman to understand what that feels like,” she remarked.

Anoushey believes we shouldn’t label each other as conservatives or liberals, especially in matters of sexual assault and refrain from asking what the victim was wearing. “People like to shame ‘liberal larkiyan’, but no liberal larki ever tells a woman in a burqa to take it off,” Anoushey assured.

While maintaining that women in the media are often used to such questions and slut-shaming, given the stereotypes attached to their occupation, she’s glad that at least with the digital #MeToo movement, no victim’s story can be shoved under the rug or downplayed. “I’m glad that now, nobody can turn a blind eye. If #MeToo had come into effect back when I joined, it would’ve been so easy to kill the conversation and the story. But now people know that if they don’t make noise, unki privilege bhi chin jaegi.”

Defining boundaries

However, aside from her opinions ruffling feathers, her personal life being discussed in the open is not something the celebrity is used to, or okay with. Opening up about the time her engagement ended, Anoushey said, “I didn’t talk about it so people couldn’t talk about it. Personal problems are not for public consumption. Syra [Yousuf] handled her marriage being discussed in the papers very gracefully, but believe me, I won’t. I know we have bigger problems than my personal problems.”

At the same time, women continue to share their personal struggles with Anoushey on her social media. “My inboxes get flooded with women sending me their stories now. And I tell them, just because our parents, mothers, grandmothers stayed in abusive marriages, doesn’t mean we should too. Not to mention, women are just more aware of their rights now, and men don’t know how to handle that. So they’re shouting. But we won’t let them overpower our voices anymore.”

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