Even after six years of women explaining what the slogan ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ really means and the problems women face because of a lack of understanding of a basic concept like consent, men like Javed Sheikh still refuse to understand. They have buried their heads under the sand, pretending the problems faced by women don’t exist and reducing the slogan to a cheap gimmick.
Whenever ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ is discussed, it always ends up being a barometer for misogyny in Pakistani society. In a podcast with FHM Pakistan’s Adnan Faisal, the ‘legendary’ actor Javed Sheikh implied that he does not believe in consent.
The conversation about women started when the host asked the actor about his opinions on the Aurat March and the slogan, which translates to ‘my body, my choice’. The Quaid-i-Azam Zindabad actor began by saying that though he greatly respects women, women should remain like women. He did not clarify, however, how exactly women should “be like women”.
He stated that he is against the slogan. When the host tried to explain the context behind the slogan, Sheikh brushed it off, saying, “kehna bhi acha nai lagta [even saying isn’t good]“, like a typical misogynist man who is set on his opinion.
His words indicate that he thinks that the slogan is about men and the male gaze, when in reality, it isn’t about men at all. It is about all genders having the ability to have control over their own bodies — including refusing to be touched, stared at or harassed. It is about the every day struggles of women who have to think twice before stepping out of the house. It is about all genders who feel unsafe in public and private spaces due to a looming fear of being touched against their will and much more.
In the podcast, Sheikh went on to explain why he was against women saying the slogan, “This is an Islamic country, you are born in a Muslim family”. Before he could complete his statement, the host interjected to explain that the slogan is about consent. However, it failed to make any impact on the actor. “I disagree with this,” he said nonchalantly, sliding back in his chair.
“Aurat jitne covered hogi utni achi lagay gi, meray hisab say [The more covered a woman is, the beautiful she will look, according to me],” the actor said.
One would think that as the father of a daughter, Javed Sheikh would be more empathetic in understanding the need for women to have control over their bodies and have the power to refuse anybody who tries to force themselves onto them. On the contrary, he said he didn’t even feel that women should have this power. He failed to grasp the concept that no one should be able to have power over anyone else’s body but their own.
It seems like Sheikh lives in a bubble where the worst problems are the way women dress. He seems to be under the impression that having agency over your body means women in Pakistan will be running in the streets in their birthday suits. We think he needs some lessons on what women who live outside his bubble experience and how they often have to bear the consequences of a lack of understanding of the word ‘consent’.
His words and actions clearly show that he, like most bigoted Pakistani men, has failed to understand that the word jism is not sexual. Instead, the “slogan is fundamentally saying you don’t get to set the terms of my life, my body, my decisions, my agency, you don’t get to dictate,” as beautifully put by Mira Sethi.