Islamabad, December 03, 2012: ‘She's begging to be raped.’ That's the response that many feminists in Pakistan get online from Pakistani men seeking to shut them up. This is a response from Pakistani men to women merely tweeting about issues related to sexualised violence.
My own 'mentions' tab on Twitter is generally flooded with unoriginal misogynist, heteronormative responses, ranging all the way from claims that I'm a feminist because I'm ‘too ugly to land a man’ to claims that I'm actually a ‘confused lesbian’, all the way to threats of ‘corrective rape’ because I choose to tweet -- just tweet -- about issues such as childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and other forms of sexualised violence. I've received vile, detailed messages from random strangers who decide to tell me my home address and then live out their rape fantasies online by telling me in graphic detail which parts of my body they would like to do things to.
This, however, is not the worst (vile though it undoubtedly is). Worse happens after I call them out and publicly name and shame them. What could possibly be worse than rape threats, you wonder? Answer: The appeasement of misogyny by people who should know better. Instead of condemning those responsible, feminists get blamed for ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’. They get slapped with all sorts of labels, starting with the tired old tripe about being man-haters to allegations about their mental health. And this isn't just from men. Even women become willing foot-soldiers of patriarchy by telling us to shut up, and in some particularly horrifying cases, to ‘stop trying to gain attention’ by making abuse public.
Now to the men in question: What on earth is wrong with you? Who taught you that harassing a woman within an inch of her life will make her want to jump into bed with you? The things that Pakistani feminists say online might not be palatable to you, but you have a clear choice: either rebut via discussion, or move on. You have no right to think that you can shut us up -- our online profiles are our private spaces where we're free to say what we want as long as we don't promote hatred or violence. Only idiots 'troll' and only cowards think they can counter logic and facts with sexualised violence (make no mistake: sexual harassment is a form of sexualised violence).
We need to remind ourselves that the rules of online engagement are no different from those offline. If you were to harass a woman on the street, she would be perfectly within her rights to tell you off (at least). If you harass us online, don't complain when we take screenshots of your comments and name and shame you. The non-implementation of relevant laws in Pakistan does not give you impunity. Taking action against those who take sexualised violence as a sport does not make one a man-hater; and people who use ‘lesbian’, ‘prostitute’, etc, as insults, need to get their heads examined.
At this point, we really need to stop and consider: If this is the level of sexualised violence that one gets for merely tweeting about these issues, one can imagine the danger faced by women who choose to take these issues up in the real battlegrounds -- offline. Sixty-four years of silent appeasement of rapists, closet-rapists and rape-apologists have only made the situation worse. If we don't even speak out now, when will we? Are you really going to wait for them to ‘come for you’? Because rest assured, they will, and soon.
While one understands the reluctance of people, who have found their comfort zones by relinquishing their agency to patriarchy, to rock the boat, their vehement opposition to and attempts at belittling those who choose to challenge the status quo is unforgivable. Choosing to define your self and sexuality as a subject of the heteronormative male gaze might be your ‘choice’, but forcing those who know better to do the same is not. An individual is free to make terrible choices and ruin their own life; they, however, have no right to force others to make the same awful choices. We deserve better -- we deserve our freedoms and happiness -- and we will fight for them, not just for ourselves, but also for the sake of the future of the country that we came to call our own by virtue of being born here. We are angry. Don't use our anger as an insult. We're angry because any sane person who is subjected to this level of misogyny would be. Instead of labelling us, you should take a long, hard look at yourself, and wonder at the mental health of people who actually think women ‘should take this in stride’.
This story is contributed by Urooj Zia for the Take Back The Tech Campaign and Bytes for All, Pakistan. Urooj Zia is an Associate Editor at Chashm ( http://www.chashm.net ), and manages WebCon, an Internet and social media consultancy ( http://webcon.chashm.net)