By Zeina Toric-Azad
May 21, 2019
Almost eight thousand protesters attended Karachi’s second Aurat March, publications are highlighting violence against women and the elections in July of last year saw an increase of almost 4 million newly registered female voters.
But while these developments seem to promise progress, there has also been a steady increase in anti-feminist rhetoric in the country.
An anti-feminist or ‘patriarch’, as some like to be called, is a person that identifies as being in direct opposition to feminist narratives (and no, anti-feminist thought isn’t unique to the male gender). While anti-feminism may seem like a vast and unwieldy monster, perhaps the best way to tackle it is to identify the various faces it assumes and give them each a name.
1) The Evolution Egoists: These anti-feminists consider feminism to be a laughable denial of innate differences between men and women. They see it as an unnatural attempt to reprogram people against their own natural biology.
Patriarchal societies such as Pakistan like to promote a ‘wholesome’ ideal where a woman’s place is either in the kitchen or the nursery. The concept of a woman being an equal partner in a marriage or even an autonomous individual in her own right isn’t an easy pill for us to swallow.
Nature has indeed created differences between men and women.
There is, however, one question we must posit: Why continue then to promote superiority and control of one gender over the other? We may be different, but we belong to the same species! Feminism acknowledges gender differences while demanding an end to acid attacks, honour killing, physical and financial abuse, unequal division of labour and more.
2) The FOMO Firebrands: Anti-feminists who want to get in on the action and are feeling left out – they feel that in reality feminism, regardless of the rhetoric espousing equality, infringes on 'men’s rights'.
Commonly referred to as ‘Whatabouttery’ or the #NotAllMen debate, these social media justice warriors are particularly difficult to deal with as they are often armed with confusing data. Female members of Pakistani society, regardless of socioeconomic status, can often circumvent situations that men must trudge through, and this is often cited as one of the ‘many benefits’ women have in the country (for example women being encouraged to cut lines). Time and again the FOMO Firebrands will use the term ‘humanist’ to stand in opposition to feminist movements.
Of course, this group ignores the harsher realities of living as a woman in Pakistan, choosing to focus only on themselves. For example, the chances of being molested while standing in line in a public place in desi society are unfortunately high, and so women are encouraged to quickly be about their business and go. Until the threat of molestation isn’t dealt with and women still have to pay the price of the patriarchy, perhaps it is their right to enjoy what little security their sacrifices have brought? Similar to #AllLivesMatter - ‘humanism’ disregards how women have suffered at the hands of the patriarchy. Women deserve recognition and reparation.
3) The Blissfully Ignorant Lot: Some anti-feminists believe that the feminist movement has already achieved its aims and now, instead of letting the matter drop, seeks to place ‘women above men’: in the form of special dispensations, exemptions, funding, gender quotas, jobs etc.
Citing affirmative action (or ‘reservation’, ‘positive discrimination’ etc) as an example of how women are pushing for a matriarchy where they have a higher socio-economic status than that of men, many anti-feminists truly believe that the world has already achieved equality. And anything further is unfair overkill.
There's not much to say about these folks except... have you read a newspaper recently? With rampant rapes, sexual harassment incidents and the open slander and disrespect of women in public spaces... how has equality already been achieved, exactly?
4) The Safekeepers of Tradition: And then there are those anti-feminists that have argued that feminism has already resulted in 'negative changes' to society. That it has been detrimental to the traditional (read: patriarchal) values of the home.
These same traditionalists often oppose women working at all and in the past have even demanded that they not be allowed to vote by questioning their capabilities and mental prowess. In countries like Pakistan, it is not uncommon for people to say that the rising rate of divorce and the slow breakdown of other traditional, familial and religious values is a direct result of the attempt to #EndThePatriarchy. This doomsday scenario is popular amongst the traditionalists who oppose women’s rights.
What they like to disregard, however, is the real reason why a rise in feminism leads to divorce. In a country where a bill criminalising marital rape and assault is considered ‘controversial’ and an ‘unwelcome invasion of the state into the home’, is it any wonder that empowered women in Pakistan would choose to leave their husbands?
5) The Faux Edenists: Let us not forget those particularly dangerous anti-feminists who co-opt religions to argue that any change to a woman's roles is in direct opposition to the will of God.
After the Aurat March, a video of a religious cleric went viral where he asserted that if women wanted bodily autonomy, then men should also have the freedom to do what they like with their bodies as well and could ‘climb onto any woman’. Samaa TV reported that the Aurat March organisers and some participants alleged that they had received threatening messages particularly after the cleric’s video was released.
Attributing religion to patriarchal norms and culture in a country where you can be hanged till death for flimsy accusations of blasphemy is incredibly unfair and dangerous. The control that these people have over their followers is frightening and that they are perhaps promoting rape and violence against women exercising their legal right to protest should perhaps be scrutinized by government authorities.
6) The Victims of ‘FemiNazism’: And last, but certainly not the least, those anti-feminists who feel that they have been bullied by ‘feminazis’ online.
There are those that feel that feminists are unnecessarily aggressive and rude, and not willing to come to the table. Society has been labelling women who demand their rights thus throughout history. During the suffragette movement, legitimate publications would often insult female suffragists – saying that they were ‘women who ought to know better’. In fact, the very term ‘Suffragette’ was an insult: The addition of the adorable ‘ette’ has been incorrectly attributed to women as it was previously only used to refer to something wee or little (Kitchenette, cigarette etc).
However, female suffragists at the time embraced the insult, and ‘Suffragette’ became indicative of an energetic activist. Women wore the term with pride. Pakistan’s critics of feminism today also belittle the movement by saying that feminists are needlessly aggressive and aping ‘Western’ feminists in a bid to become ‘modern’. Perhaps we too ought to wear their insults with pride?
While anti-feminism is as old as feminism, it hasn’t had various ‘waves’ or much growth. Not much has changed in how anti-feminists seek to control and silence feminists. However, feminist discourse and beliefs have grown organically and have adapted to changes in society. Perhaps feminism will find a way to overcome this, the true manifestation of the patriarchy.