I speak from a South Asian perspective – briefly so. The idea of “saving” a woman’s “honor” is not a man’s job. It is highly complicated in the sense that when a woman is sexually assaulted or harrassed, she is seen as a lesser being because her “honor” has been “stolen.” The attacker against said honor is often a man. The guardian of that honor is, erroneously so, a man again. Therefore he has to “save” her and “protect” the “sanctity” of her reputation from that criminal not because he believes that women deserve equal rights and access to the same privilege he has, but because the honor of the woman – an object under him – has been violated. The running emotion behind it is often misguided in that instead of making it her issue, he makes it his own. He finds himself less masculine if his sister, wife, mother or daughter is assaulted. He blames himself. She becomes a fragile, easily-broken, easily-tainted object. The concept of “Ghairat” that continues to thrive in the minds of men in our society is also endorsed by many women. To believe that it is only men perpetuating this mindset, is overly simplified and flawed. I do encourage men and women to protect each other but also to view each other as equal human beings, that an assault on a woman’s body is not supposed to undermine a male relative’s honor but that it is inherently the attacker’s fault, the shame should be thrown upon him. When a man is assaulted, his ‘honor’ isn’t fretted over upon by a woman. His issue is his alone, his body belongs to him. But when a woman is assaulted, the related man believes he has been insulted. Her body becomes a battlefield. Another problem that arises is that instead of holding the male attacker responsible for the crime, the woman is instantly hidden from public view. The belief is that by hiding her, the problem goes away. But it doesn’t; it grows stronger, angrier and more dangerous for the woman. Silence implies complicity in this case.
Many people forget during feminist discourse on patriarchy that while patriarchy oppresses women, it also defines hyper-masculine, rigid requisites for men. “He must not cry, he must not express emotion, he must be strong every single day of his life.” Men should not define their masculinity by narrow concepts of “honor” but by supporting the idea that their masculinity is defined by the noble drive to hold women’s status and respect equal to that of men.
A real man is the one who respects the individual space and voice of a woman. A real man does not define honor for a woman. That her issue is hers alone and that the help and protection offered is not out of upholding his sense of ‘ghairat’ or honor but because it is her right to be safe from assaults. It is her right to be treated with respect.
In the light of what has been discussed after I posted my open letter to Maya Khan which was later on published on Express Tribune’s blog, I’ve decided to clear several things out for the first and last time before someone misunderstands me for supporting sex trafficking and prostitution in family parks.
I don’t support occupying family spots for these acts. I don’t encourage anyone to strip naked on a wooden bench while kids play on the seesaw. I really don’t endorse the idea of soliciting people for paid sex in such vicinities. I’m not here, as several argued, to incinerate the very fabric of ‘Islamic’ social and moral conduct. Some people accused me of being in favor of letting young males and females engage in “questionable” acts due to which they get hurt sexually, physically and emotionally. One even told me to “leave the country” and “go back to USA” where “this shit happens on a daily basis.” Implying that this “shit” is perfectly contained and controlled in the land of pure Pakistani perfection. Delusional people are most entertaining.
Some people also alleged that I am trying to be “hip” and “in” by conforming to the modern idea of PDA, socializing and modern relationships. They tell me that I am oblivious of what happens to young people when they are not told to avoid sneaking out, lying to guardians or parents, etc. They inform me that what Maya Khan and her kind did, was simply “interview” young couples in parks. Conflating “interviewing” with “harassing” is a dangerous misunderstanding. I could “interview” you too. It won’t be pleasant.
So here’s what I’ve proposed to all those who misconstrue me needlessly on two major fronts among others:
- Concerned about indecency in public places? Use the right medium to educate
Closet Maya Khans sit comfortably in their privilege as they preach those under them. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Her act was not just a moral policing one, but also a classist lashing against those with less a chance to meet in the places she goes to. We all know what happens in opulent, endowed settings. There is no difference between the “illegal” act happening in a poor man’s household and that taking place in a rich man’s mansion. It is very easy to attack and admonish the weaker party. You can use religion, morality or simple concern as an excuse. I don’t deny the reality that unsettling things do occur in parks and the idea to address those happenings is valid. But there are ways to go about these problems. Creating social and religious stigma around them is the least preferable thing to do. Someone with a little decent knowledge of ethics – media and otherwise – would know. Stigmatizing public places not only deviates the majority from the real issue but also limits accessibility to them. You are not helping by locking the venue up.
- “Girls get hurt when they don’t tell their parents about their lives!”
They actually do, you’re right. However please help me wrap my head around the approach consisting of publicly naming and shaming a young person in order to make them aware of their actions. How does shoving a camera into a young girl’s face rectify her dishonesty? If we all are so worried about our young women, why hasn’t any one of us ever considered talking to them in their classrooms, in their school halls, in their colleges? Why hasn’t anyone of us bothered writing about it? Some of you seem so horrified behind your screens about the looming danger waiting to claw at our girls yet you offer no pragmatic solution to solve this problem. If Maya Khan and her troupe wanted to help girls from getting harmed, why didn’t she turn the camera off, implored the girl to listen and offered her well-intended advice in privacy? A group of panting men and women holding cameras after a young couple doesn’t change anything. You were not assigned by the government, constitution or God to ram “naseehat” down someone’s throat. Worried about young girls’ safety? Guide them without shaming them. Disgusted by indecency tainting the family park? Report to authorities firmly and promptly. Public vigilantism is not the right way to go about it.
It may sound tangential but many of you want to help women from getting hurt. That’s wonderful. I realize that many of our parents and well wishers do not have access to internet or open media sources to learn more in terms of going about discussing sexual safety, rights, etc. This is where you become useful and spread the word without becoming a moral preacher like the woman aforementioned. Tell young women how to fight against sexual harassment, educate young girls about sex because it is one of their primary rights, empower them through education, conduct classes, seminars and conferences open for everyone and talk about it in Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, English, whatever.
Get to it or