“How dare you offer me your seat, am I weaker than you?!” the woman exclaimed, furiously, at the stranger who dared to be chivalrous.
The above is just one example of the type of ideology the term feminism entails that has always kept me at bay. Growing up, the image I had of feminism was that of an angry mob of women running around naked, fighting for their right to grow out their body hair – thus negating the sexist dogma that hair removal is a must for women.
“Stick sanitary pads on walls to lessen the taboos regarding menses; wear less, show more to depict emportment; get enraged at a man for opening the door; dance in culturally preserved spaces to prove a point and get angry some more just because we are women”
The above contributes to the highly confusing portrayal of feminism that I have seen around myself in Pakistan; when asked if I classify myself as one, I tend to bolt in the opposite direction. The Pakistani version of feminism had for the most part, seemed like a social construct to me.
However, before we reach any conclusion lets delve into the history of the term.
The term itself was coined in the 19th century, which resulted in laws that provided equality for women at the workplace, educational and health care systems and homes. The entire movement is oft broken down into three waves. Having political equality was the first wave in the 19th century. Legal and professional equality in the 1960’s was the second wave. The most controversial amongst women themselves is the third wave which pushes for social equality in current times. Putting a fixed value on social inequality is where the contradiction arises.
Feminism today is becoming more about overturning centuries worth of cultural norms which, in the minds of our fellow female protagonists is served to disadvantage women. My definition of what social injustice is may vary with yours, depending on factors like, brought up, religion, culture, cast and so on.
So how do you calculate something that differs for each individual?
The feminist dilemma in Pakistan
Those of us who believe that Pakistan constitutes of Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi find it easy to float in our very own privileged bubble. The eye-opening 2017 provisional results claim that: 132 million of 208 million people reside not in these cities but the rural areas. My question to all of you is, how many of those people do you think have heard of the term feminism? Us ranting about feminism is helping no one.
While writing this I asked the domestic help some questions regarding women in their hometown and the answers I received were as expected yet still alarming. Physical abuse, lack of freedom, no money for basic needs like shelter and education, are the issues most women in Pakistan are currently facing. Presently there are well known personalities and NGO’s fighting for these women’s rights. However, the number trying to address the majority of concerns these women face is still microscopic.
In contrast, the representation of feminism I have witnessed usually equates to rants on social media platforms from females belonging to the privileged class of our society.
“I never got the feeling at my workspace that I am treated differently just because I am a woman. I get shit done so no one has a reason to treat me any less.” Sana A.
This was the reply I got when I asked about Sana A.’s thoughts on the preferential treatment of the male gender at the workplace. She further explained, mostly the women who hide behind a label such as feminism are the ones who tend to complain more and perform less. This however does not mean there isn’t any social injustice towards women in our society; it just means we have bigger problems regarding gender inequality than “us nay muje larki kesay samaj lia?”
Never judge a book by its cover
If you, like many others got your first taste of feminism through social media, it is highly probable that your experience was just a fraction of what this term actually entails. Feminism isn’t a battle of the sexes but merely a fight for equality for all genders which should be inclusive of celebrating physical and emotional differences in respect to one another. It should not aim to establish a hierarchy based on gender, rather aimed towards giving equal opportunity to all the sexes, merely not just one.
The conundrum arises when one realizes that presently, we are concentrating more on achieving the third wave while the majority of Pakistani women haven’t even experienced going the first and second one. Our main concern, seems to be social inequality. Rather than combating political or professional injustice. Our middle and upper classes have blindly adapted to the feminist views of the West not taking into consideration that we should set our own parameters culturally. The women who actually need to understand feminism are too oppressed to even know what it means.
Listening Versus Understanding
“The fact that you would class yourself as an “actual” feminist is a problem, who are you to say what feminism is or isn’t, we all have the freedom to be whatever we want.” Hassan K.
The perspective of this point is somewhat understandable but still confusing. In my opinion, it is unjust to classify myself as a feminist without fully understanding what it means. What is the purpose of having labels if one doesn’t know what it truly represents. If such was the case, terms like feminists, socialists, communists would seize to exist. Moreover the books written, theories explored Research journals- would all go to waste.
Due to the mutilated version of feminism I encountered, I happily classed myself as an anti-feminist. The lack of curiosity and patience to actually read up on it, further fueled my misconception.
Equality for all sexes
“Hum phele aurat hein phir insaan!”
Feminism is equality for all sexes and in a country like ours it is much needed to liberate the oppressed by a society that still believes in patriarchy. Why is it so hard for the privileged to celebrate gender differences? Lighting fire to a firecracker will only result in it blowing up. I believe in the inherent equality (and differences) between all the sexes and will not consider myself to be an embodiment of the Pakistani version of feminism that I see around myself.