• 14 Dec - 20 Dec, 2019
  • Attiya Abbass
  • Spotlight

The social movement is still nascent in our society, are we ready to understand and accept it?

The Controversy

The session originally titled, “Feminism; The Other Perspective” ruffled a lot of feathers. No wild guesses here. Outrage ensued from all quarters; feminists debunked it to be a ‘manel’, progressive Twitter clans divulged in conversational threads. The mere audacity of a discourse – which is about women by default – unfolding without the inclusion of a single woman. To put all qualms to rest, the organisers took two women panelists on-board.

In hindsight, the sentiments, fury and indignation of those affronted by the title, made sense. In a society already rigged against women, equal representation on all platforms, particularly on this one was absolutely needed. On the other hand, it might have been interesting to see how an all-men panel would have divulged in progressive discussions about feminism. But, I’d admit just the thought of it sparks unease.

Chairperson of the Electronic Media & Aesthetic Committee at Arts Council and moderator of the now rebranded session, “Understanding Feminism”, Uzma Al-Karim greeted her audience with earnest apologies. She clarified how the discourse about feminism, albeit still nascent in the society, has its fair share of women advocates. And the committee only wished to see what “the other perspective,” the men had to say about it.

Islam and Feminism

Mehtab Akbar Rashidi, senior politician opened the session with religious references, reinforcing how the status of women in Islam was first fortified by the Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H)’s wife, Hazrat Khadija (A.S) who was the first confidant and believer of her husband, in the face of hostility. She points out how the movement by origin is a progeny from the West, yet centuries back Islam laid its edifice when women rendered their physical and emotional support to Muslim men fighting in battles. I, however, found her views to be conflicting when she surmised her discussion with a one-liner, “Feminism doesn’t interest me because my religion, has given me all the rights.”

“Masculinity; a supreme and differential deity”

Muaaz Ahsan, Director Programming at Geo News identified himself as a feminist, because, “if I am not one, who am I then? A misogynist?” He reflected how men view their masculinity as a supreme and differential deity, which inadvertently vests them with the power to supress the other gender entirely. Duraid Qureshi, CEO Hum Network spoke for a length of time but made only a handful of relevant pointers, speaking largely for his network. I wish he had voiced the perspectives as his own, not what his organisation aims to represent, because the dramas do enough talking. I also wish the platform wasn’t exploited as a mud-slinging opportunity. He asserts how the network has the largest female representation as opposed to other media houses and how they set the precedence of including a harassment clause in their policy. He also asserted how his dramas have always shown a progressively strong women, something which I disagree with and later made him a target of backlash.

The misogynist mass media

The highlight of the session was when Jibran Nasir was given the opportunity to speak. He began with the prerequisites – how gender bias takes root from our homes, when parents unconsciously and inherently first demarcate the boundaries based on sex. “To a boy his parents are his “enabler” and to a girl they are her “protector,” Jibran simplified. “Parents tell their son that he is ‘strong’ enough to go out late at night and deal with societal forces because he’s a man. To a daughter it is either verbally or by attitudes reinforced how she is too vulnerable for the outside world as soon as evening descends. Isn’t this the biggest gender bias of the lot?” His voice echoed a riot of emotions and his words had weight, which provokes a listener to really listen. Senior journalist Quatrina Hosein was another unstoppable force to reckon with on the panel. She spoke in a booming voice which rang with authority, acumen and rationale. “Why is it so that a role of a buri aurat in a drama is always played by a woman dressed in Western, who smokes, is vocal about her opinions? And it so happens very conveniently, that the woman in question meets with either death or suicide at the end? What are you trying to project?” she shoots the question. It is true that what is continually showed on celluloid forms a template of the sort – why does smoking, western apparel, wearing bold makeup and meeting the man’s gaze sets a template for women as a vamp? While the “good, parsa” woman in the drama is a polar extreme – a woman “modestly” dressed in Eastern, who shivers and gazes pensively at the floor in the presence of a man? Mass media has to be more conscious in how it is projecting women on the screens. Jibran also added to the thought, “A strong woman who is vocal about her opinion, who meets the male gaze in an argument is considered a potential threat, and hence is rebuffed as taiz or vile. Man is a status quo which balks when it is challenged.”

In the words of Mehtab A Rashidi, I conclude; “We have begun mentoring and empowering our women. But the real teaching is yet to be done – teaching men to not be threatened by an empowered woman.”