Sauntering through the security point of a certain upscale mall in Islamabad, passing the sign that listed the 25 categories of desirables, waving several forms of ID all attesting to our majority and in my case pensionable age — there we were. Home and dry.
The previous week had seen something of a storm in the Twitterverse because said retail wonderland had chosen to limit entry and charge a fee redeemable against a purchase with the intention of excluding what all and sundry called ‘The Pindi Boys’. A clutch of somewhat sheepish security guards said no, we were not required to pay an entrance fee and on we went to a rather fine meal taken on a terrace overlooking the less-than-impressive nightlights of the Capital.
At this point, allow me to make myself perfectly clear — I entirely support the management of the mall in their endeavour to maintain an environment that was conducive to good order and the making of money. I do not support the way they went about it, which was clumsy, ham-fisted and pretty much guaranteed to make all concerned look foolish — which it duly did. They got a roasting in the media and had to back down, probably to start all over again. But the management of the mall had a point, and after over 20 years of living and working in Pakistan I can see it with crystal clarity.
I have lost count of the times I have seen young men — and not so young — behaving badly in public and particularly behaving badly with women. The growth of the middle class and the rise in disposable incomes has driven the rise in shopping outlets, cinema multiplexes and other purely recreational resources. And every one of them is a magnet for men behaving badly. Women often frequent these places, many single, and they have money to spend. More and more women are working and want to enjoy the fruits of their labours. What they do not want is the steady downpour of whistles, catcalls, pinches, unwanted brushes-against and non-stop ogling that make shopping something of a nightmare for so many.
A discussion around the subject on my Facebook page produced some interesting responses, most of them uniformly depressing. It also revealed that a number of places already restricted entry, and I have been turned away as a single male twice from cinemas in Karachi and once from the park at Seaview — ‘families only’ being the rule. Furthermore, entry for single males or groups of males has been restricted for several years, the reason being that both individually or collectively the average male cannot be trusted to comport himself in a manner that does not cause offence to women.
Several of the women taking part in the FB discussion were of the view that the reason why men behaved in this way was that they were taught to, and it was their mothers that did the teaching. Simply, men are not brought up to respect women and many women are brought up to be subservient and accepting of whatever gets thrown at them. There are of course exceptions, there always are, and they are admirable. But probably a minority.
Fighting back did not seem especially productive as an option either, as there were several accounts of resistance to harassment that were met with even greater violence. The Little Princes so doted on by spherical begums don their alter-egos once outside the front door and inside the nearest opportunity to hiss ‘prostitute’ at the closest woman. To stand in a pay queue and insert their knee between the legs of the woman in front. (This in the largest bookshop in the country in Islamabad… it is not limited to high-end retail.) One respondent listed eight separate places where she had experienced harassment — including in a hospital whilst in a wheelchair — and several expressed feelings of inner rage at the futility of struggling against the prevailing tide of male chauvinism and misogyny.
So go ahead all you shopping malls, charge what you like and if it keeps the beastly boys at arm’s length then you have my support — but it does nothing to solve the problem does it? (Polite) suggestions welcomed…
Published in The Express Tribune, July 16th, 2015.
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