Hello, dear (male) reader.
I have a question for you. Do you think of yourself as a ‘good guy’? Without the quotation marks? Somebody who respects women, believes in women’s rights, and is appalled by sexual violence? Yes? If so, then this letter is for you. Yes, you. I have so much to say to you. And yet, you don’t seem to have much to say back.
A couple of months ago, I started noticing a pattern. Whenever news broke of the latest sexual abuse, the women around me were shocked. Outraged. Terrified. And from the men? Radio silence.
In September, the horrific motorway rape took place. Once again, the women I know came out in droves. Shocked. Horrified. Furious. Fearful. A wave of heartbreak shared amongst female comrades. A mutual sense of solidarity and support. And from the men (with very few exceptions)? Radio silence.
A couple of half-hearted calls to ‘hang the rapist’. A lazy ‘like’ or two on social media. For the most part, you carried on posting about your daily activities — at the gym, watching football games, going on late-night drives, hanging out at dhabas with the ‘bros’. Flaunting the kind of freedom, ease, and privilege that Pakistani women can only dream of. Were you doing everything under the sun except showing up to a protest or advocating for women’s safety?
We live in a constant state of fear and trauma. And yet, the lack of support from men is shocking. I’m not even talking about the men who openly abuse and attack women and who have no remorse for their actions. I’m talking about men like you.
Comment sections on social media (e.g. for newspapers like Dawn, Facebook groups like Halaat Updates, and even just regular Twitter/Instagram/Facebook interactions) can contain the most horrible things said to women.
Harassment, abuse, unsolicited sexual messages and even downright threats of violence. In August, Pakistan’s female journalists launched a campaign called #AttacksWontSilenceUs in light of the numerous vulgar messages, harassment, and rape/death threats that they regularly receive on social media.
Are you contributing by speaking up?
When you see something unjust around you, do you say something? Stand up? Speak out? Make it clear to fellow men that this behaviour is not okay and will not be tolerated? Do you check on the women in your life? Ask them how they're doing? Help them feel seen, heard and understood?
Make no mistake about it: what you allow will continue. A man harassing a woman will likely NOT back off if the woman tells him to stop, but WILL back off if a fellow man intervenes.
Are you checking on the women in your life?
Do you ask if there are concrete ways that you can make their lives easier? If there is any way you can help? With the fear, the grief, the restricted mobility? Do you help with transport? With finding them a reliable handyman if they need odd jobs done around the house but are too scared of letting an unknown man enter it? Do you use your wide network in helping them find resources? Funding their start-ups?
It’s no secret that women, whether personally or professionally, are often not taken as seriously as men — even when they’re experts in a particular field.
Do you give credibility to women’s voices?
How many of the opinions that you follow on social media come from women? How many of the real-life role models that you look up to are women? Scroll through the list of people you follow, the things you share and repost. Can you name 5 of your favourite female political analysts?
How about female artists like Isma Gul Hasan? Activists like Nighat Dad? Writers like Aisha Hamid? Athletes like Maria Toorpakai Wazir? Community trailblazers like Kanwal Ahmed? Entrepreneurs like Khalida Brohi?
Start by noticing how male-centric your list of role models is and then diversify it. Value women’s insight. Share women’s content. Support female-owned businesses. Amplify women’s voices and promote their platforms. Remember, the unequal treatment of women often starts at home and extends into the public sphere.
Do you actively participate in putting an end to the wrongful treatment of women in your community?
During P.E. class in the school grounds, do you notice who takes up most of the space. Most of the time, male students are encouraged to run around freely and play sports like cricket and football, while female students are confined to a tiny area to play a ‘dainty’ sport like badminton, or left alone to do nothing at all.
If you see a disparity (which you probably will), speak up. Boys and girls deserve equal opportunities at school, and this includes the opportunity to develop their athletic skills.
At the workplace:
Do you notice who takes up most of the space in conversations? Who is promoted and given control of important projects? Who is uncomfortable in the presence of some ‘overly friendly’ colleagues? Studies have found that men interrupt women 33% more often than they interrupt other men.
If you see a disparity (which you probably will), speak up. Advocate for workplace anti-harassment training. Draw attention to the pay gap between men and women who are equally talented and doing equal amounts of work but are compensated differently. In the case of imbalanced team meetings, politely yield the conversation back to an interrupted female colleague and remind your disruptive male peers to wait their turn.
In your family:
Do you notice how the men in your family treat the women? Pay special attention to how women often go silent when ‘the man of the house’ is angry? Take a look at your everyday life. Do you stay silent when they loudly praise sons and husbands for doing a single chore around the house (washing the dishes/ changing a diaper)?
Globally, about 30% of women who have been in a relationship have experienced intimate partner violence. The number is likely much higher considering the shame attached with reporting.
In your community:
Do you advocate if women are pressured to get married at a much earlier age than men? When they are expected to abandon their education? Repress their dreams and career goals? Obey every whim and fancy of their in-laws? Labelled as ‘bad’, ‘characterless’ and ‘out’ if they don’t comply?
If you see a disparity (which you probably will), speak up. For example, if your family expects a large dowry from their bahu, make it clear that this is unacceptable (and also illegal!). Remind yourself and those around you that men who do their share of household work are not ‘helping’ women. This kind of language implies that household work is solely a woman’s responsibility to begin with.
Similarly, fathers who take care of their child for a couple of hours while the mother goes out, are not ‘babysitting’ or ‘doing their wife a favour’. It’s not ‘babysitting’ if it’s your own child. It’s called parenting. It’s called fatherhood. Normalise it. Don't idolise it.
Have you made sure you understand consent?
And I mean REALLY understand consent? Made sure your friends understand it too? Know that only an enthusiastic yes means yes? Silence does not mean yes? Hesitation does not mean yes? An exhausted, coerced yes does not mean yes? ‘I don’t know’ does not mean yes — AND you don't take it as a challenge to turn it into a yes?
Being in a relationship does not automatically mean consent. Past consent does not automatically guarantee future consent. If somebody is unsure, do not plead with them to change their mind. Do not wear them down with constant begging. Do not put them in a difficult position by emotionally manipulating them (e.g. by saying things like ‘you would do this if you really loved me’). No more ‘haseena maan jaye gi’. No more ‘yeh uss ka style hoyein ga, honton pe na dil mein haan hoyein ga’.
In 2017, it was found that 93% of Pakistani women had faced some form of sexual violation. Meanwhile, the conviction rate of rape in Pakistan is under 3%. This means that well over 90% of rapists walk free — and this is just for the reported cases.
When a woman tells you she’s been sexually violated (harassed, coerced, abused, assaulted) do you think she’s lying?
Exaggerating? Especially if the man accused is your friend — or even you yourself? Do you secretly think it was her own fault? That it’s a woman’s job to ‘protect’ herself instead of a man’s job to control himself?
Contrary to (misguided) popular belief, women do not gain anything from revealing their traumatic experiences. In fact, they actually risk severe victim-blaming, disbelief, humiliation and abuse. Kate Manne, a philosopher who teaches at Cornell University, defines ‘himpathy’ as ‘the excessive or inappropriate sympathy extended to a male agent or wrongdoer over his female victim’.
A study done amongst college students in the U.S. found that only 8-10% of them reported their rape to the police. This meant that at the very least, 90% of rapes went unreported. Among the 10% that were reported, only 5% were found to be false. What do these statistics mean? That if you decided to believe the victim in 1000 cases of rape, you would be right in 995 of those cases. Those are staggering odds. Pick your side wisely.
When the men you know treat women badly, do you make excuses for them?
When your friend's partner is upset because he verbally abused her, do you say ‘yes what he did was wrong but he’s just been going through a hard time’? Or ‘yes he messed up but he just didn’t know any better’? Or ‘yes he really hurt you but I promise he’s actually a really nice guy’? Or even 'what did you do to provoke him?’
All of these statements are dismissive of the pain of women. Know that nothing justifies abuse.
If you’ve had a difficult childhood/experienced trauma in the past, do you take the abuse out on the women in your life?
Do you keep hurting women due to your own unresolved issues (which you make no effort to heal), while expecting them to simultaneously bear the mistreatment and also ‘fix’ you? Do you acknowledge your issues and seek therapy and support? Do you feel your feelings and cry when you need to?
Experiencing trauma does not give you a free pass to take the abuse out on someone else. We are not responsible for what happened to us, but we are responsible for making sure we don’t pass our pain on to others. Replace toxic masculinity with kind, supportive, wholesome masculinity. The whole world benefits from emotionally healthy men (yes, including you!).
When you mess up (say or do something sexist or abusive), do you ACTUALLY do anything to improve your behaviour?
Did you harass a woman in the past and are now disgusted by what you did? In addition to sincerely apologising to her (IF appropriate, and UNLESS she wants you to stay away from her), try creating a domino effect by teaching your younger male cousins and nephews about consent and respect? Ensure that they don’t grow up causing the same harm you did?
Show your repentance by giving good back into the world.
If a woman doesn’t accept your ‘apology’ and is still hurt by what you did, do you get mad at her?
Do you call her unreasonable? Crazy? Hormonal? Or do you tell her you understand if she's not ready to forgive you? Do you ask what you can do to make up for what you did?
Recognise that women do not owe you forgiveness. It is inconsiderate and unjust to pressure a woman into forgiving a man who has hurt her, especially under the guise of ‘being the bigger person’. Forgiveness cannot be coerced.
If you’re raising your eyebrows at this piece and muttering that ‘feminists have gone too far’, please self-reflect and notice: how are you reacting when women (like me) call you out? Are you acknowledging our pain?
Do not invalidate it by getting angry back at us. Do not get defensive. Do not yell, call us names, or tell us we’re crazy. Do not dismiss our anger, tell us to calm down, or command us to ‘fix our tone’. Most of all, do not ignore us and go about your day like nothing ever happened.
Why, you ask? Do you know how it feels to never be safe in this society and to realize that even the ‘good’ men around you don’t find your cause worth fighting for? Do you know what it’s like to be made to feel worthless? That your right to feel safe and happy is worth less than a ‘good’ man’s reluctance to confront those of his own gender?
It's easy to say you support women, much harder to live up to it. While patriarchy is enforced, conditioned, and learned, it can also be deconstructed, dismantled, and unlearned. Start with yourself. We’ve been waiting long enough.
An exhausted Pakistani woman