Everyday sexism is much tougher to decipher. It’s difficult to call it out because it is cloaked under cultural subtext of humor, satire or plain smart-Alec talk. When women world over are trying to be nuanced about how to put an end to it, here in Pakistan, it is being institutionalized on the floor of our house. Blatant and for everyone’s viewing.
The sitting government’s parliamentarian addressed an opposition party (PTI)’s peer as a “tractor trolley” and said she should work on making her voice more feminine. Sadly, this uncalled for sexist attack on Shireen Mazari by was marked by not even a slap on the wrist by the speaker of the house.
Rather than evaluate the lame responses in its aftermath, let us talk about why this happened in the first place. It happened because when Khwaja Asif first insulted a woman of esteem it was forgiven as soon as it was forgotten. We have very large hearts as a society when it comes to offending women. We let it go instantly. Everything is palatable.
In 2002-2007 when Mr. Asif was in the opposition he insulted Ms. Mehnaz Rafiq of the treasury bench by calling her a “penguin” because she had a slight limp. Mr. Asif’s fascination with defining women’s bodies to animate or inanimate objects is better left to personal fetishes. It has no place in a parliament where there is sacredness about moral standards to protect the weak.
Even Benazir Bhutto in her hey days was not spared the sexist comments by none other than the overused prime time TV guest Sheikh Rashid who is known to have made inappropriate comments on the color of her clothes.
The problem is that women don’t go by the male code: You are as powerful as how much you can hurt me. Women reject the power derived from might, but this is not to be confused by the moral authority women can have over a schoolyard bully. Therefore, just because you can get away with a take down of a woman more often than not, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will each time.
Increasingly people want to see leaders with girth of character, not shoddy shot-fused temperaments. Khwaja Asif may be at the top of his political game now, but when he exists, he will be remembered for what names he called women.
He dared to go down the same path of putting women in a place he deems below him, all over again because when it happened before there was no outrage from women as women.
Even now, the unified voice across all party lines against this assault is missing.
By asking that all women should come out and side with Shirin Mazari I am not advocating female tribalism of any sort. We can disagree with her politics and also go to the extent of disapproving her actions but under no circumstances is it acceptable for any woman to take an attack on her country’s woman parliamentarian lying down.
With honor killing as rampant as it is, with the number of girl children being elbowed away from the education pie and with the astounding figures on our maternal mortality, women cannot expect any protections if the women representing them are being degraded publically – and the violators get away with it every time.
As a truly Pakistani gimmick, Khwaja Asif has come out with an apology today. The seriousness of it, or lack thereof is evident that the apology was very half-hearted and that too not to Shirin Mazari directly. She has rightfully rejected it. There is no such thing as un-stabbing, no such thing as un-insulting and no such thing as unlearning your place in the pecking order.
The food chain defining the VIP culture that Mr. Asif enjoys is a fast changing one. He’ll do well to go back to the shore and adjust his misogynist sails before setting off into the sunset.