The many faces of anti-feminism in Pakistan

The many faces of anti-feminism in Pakistan

It's no secret that a LOT of people hate feminism in this country. To counter them, you have to know them.
Updated 25 May, 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: Particularly dangerous are those anti-feminists who twist religious ideals to justify the oppression or mistreatment of women.

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 unfair and dangerous. Any individual 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 labeling 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.


Jor hoka May 21, 2019 12:13pm
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?
Ali May 21, 2019 01:41pm
May I suggest something: Focus on grassroots first - Women in Pakistan need to be encouraged to work in every occupation available in Pakistani economy and should be pushed to get education. Once economic parity and independence is achieved, their respect will rise automatically (women should be respected regardless).
H May 21, 2019 01:56pm
Cleverly written! Lots to think about. Glad someone is looking at it sensibly and not in a binary us vs them militant fashion.
Dr. Rafiq Khan May 21, 2019 07:23pm
If you're keeping Pakistani women down then you're keeping half of Pakistan down and anyone working to keep even a nanometer of Pakistan down is an enemy of the state and must be eliminated on live tv.
Moth May 21, 2019 08:03pm
I have been living in the US over 20 years now and here are my views about this society where women and men equal in their rights and feeedom of expression. Feminism is all about the equality they way both gender want to live in the society such as equality in education, equality in mobility, equality at job market, equality within household, equality in politics and so on. That equality brings so many good things in the society which these narrow and closed minded “Evolutionary Egoist, FOMO Firebands, Blissfulls, Ignorants, and Faux Endenists” not understand. They have no idea where the civilization is heading. We should let 50% of the population be active and productive in the society.
Ibrahim May 21, 2019 08:48pm
Men use violence to keep women in line. Everyone in Pakistan knows that. Violence is in men's genetic code.
Omair May 21, 2019 09:01pm
Excellent article
Pranitha May 21, 2019 11:22pm
In a patriarchal society men said they will protect their women. Instead they took control over women's lives and some turned into abusers themselves from whom women need to be protected. Women are simply trying to take back the control over their own lives and are asking for rules to protect them.
Pranitha May 21, 2019 11:36pm
When I say I am a feminist I am not saying I hate my father, husband and son. I am saying I want to be able to imagine life not simply in my roles of daughter, wife and mother but as an independent individual too and experience it to my full potential just as men can. How can women do that if they are told your movements /actions are justified only if they are done in those 3 roles and outside that you do it at your own risk as you had no business going out.
d patel May 22, 2019 12:08am
Well presented the relatively revolutionary issues of "Feminism" and of the challenges it is facing in Pakistan . Please hang in there and better times are on the way. Already "feminist discourse and beliefs have grown organically and have adapted to changes in society.".
Zeeshan Ahmed May 22, 2019 12:34am
Feminism in Pakistan doesn't take into account the ground realities of the majority females that face social struggles specific to the culture in Pakistan; you cannot wish that away. And I'm sorry to say but the feminist movement in Pakistan is looking at reality through a Western lens. The focus should be on encouraging basic first steps of education and addressing factors like food security. Why not confront the chauvinistic attitudes with the only thing that can persuade, or at the very least, out such men in their place; Islam? If Islam encourages education and privileges for women that do not seem to exists in Pakistan, then the most effective combat tool for women should be to confront such men with these charter of rights.
Mumtaz Shah May 22, 2019 01:01am
Well written article, Maqbool Oria still lives in dark ages
Laila May 22, 2019 02:35am
They can call it by any name, they like. Feminism, humanism, westernism, deviation, dishonourable etc. But they can't silence this inate feeling of wanting basic human rights and equality. And they WILL call you names to break your spirit. Stay strong and keep fighting.
N abidai May 22, 2019 05:42am
The question should be asked ,are these men going to provide food ,shelters,and health care to all the women 52%. Do they wants this ,then why they giving their young daughters to wealthy families as personal salves,and to frigners as bride? The fathers and brothers are doing this because they can not provide for their daughters but they do not wants to educate them,or get good jobs not to leave home , however, they are more then willing to give their daughters for exchange for money ,with fate wrost then death! What Islam teaching got to do with this, kind of mind sets!
Asif Raza May 22, 2019 12:24pm
Feminism is unstoppable no matter what we do it will only grow they have conquered western world now its time to conquer 3rd world countries pakistan
Ashraf May 24, 2019 12:37am
Feminism originated as a movement challenging modernity for not achieving its stated objectives, particularly around equality. Now look at the abomination called feminism in Pakistan and like almost all imported ideas, its Philosophical roots are based in intellectual confusion and nothing else.
zebi May 24, 2019 11:51pm
جو عورت کی کبھی عزت تھی مسلمانوں کے دلوں میں بہت بن دھن کے ٹھوکر کھارہی ہے آج دردر کی چھپایا تھا کبھی چہرہ شریعت کے نقابوں سے وہ ہستی روٹھتی ہے اب حیاہ والے حجابوں سے
Sundas Naz May 24, 2019 11:56pm
Mostly people in this country are anti-feminist and these not include men but also women who think all precaution ,care and morals associate to them and a man has no responsibility. Placing women above men is a fantasy which is impossible to be real but in this country even women are unable to get respect. there are many men who still thinks women who are studying in universities and colleges are all sleeping with men. Women who are doing jobs or using social network sites, their families have no dignity.Even those men who are studying in universities do not allow their sisters to study because for them atmosphere is not good and they themselves hit on every girl in the university. There is so much hypocrisy in terms of rights of women. Pakistan needs hundreds of years even to give respect to women in true means. I am generally fed up with all those men who put every responsibility of social evils on women and do every bad deed.