When a female journalist is reduced to tears for being hooted at, and having trash thrown at for covering a political rally, the appropriate response is to condemn the incident and distance oneself from it.
Ah, had it just been that simple!
Regrettably, many have a conflated defense of their political party with belittling women’s harassment. Following is a list of incorrect responses to the horror recently faced by Sana Mirza in the line of duty at the PTI rally.
1. “It was just a plastic bottle! Get over it!”
In this country, a woman has to get run over by precisely three metro buses, a Suzuki and a corn cart in roadrunner style, before it legally counts as ‘harassment’. Anything less is not worth our valuable time to even acknowledge as being 'wrong'.
You saw a water bottle. In reality, it was a series of water bottles, accompanied by hours of insults hurled at her, eventually adding up to a point where she could no longer maintain her composure.
2. “What was she doing there? If you can’t handle the pressure, don’t come to the rally!”
This comment is the disfigured grandchild of the old, noxious canard that if a woman can’t handle being groped at, at the workplace, she should quit her job instead of complaining about the harassment.
Getting whistled at on your way to the supermarket? Your fault. Golly, if you can’t handle a bit of harassment on your way to buying instant noodles for your kids, you should stay at home; preferably inside a reinforced bunker, fully withdrawn from public life, which is a guy thing anyway.
This is part of our long and cherished culture of tutoring women on how to gracefully tolerate harassment, instead of teaching the perpetrators to stop harassing women in the first place. The latter, ostensibly, is far too much of an inconvenience.
3. “It was just a drama to hurt PTI’s image!”
Busted! Yes, that’s all it was.
It was all part of Mirza’s evil scheme to get herself harassed by hooligans, after which she retreated to her lair upon the dark mountain and laughed maniacally. Getting hooted at is every working woman’s secret fantasy, didn’t you know?
Heck, as a doctor, I usually pay my patients to use my body for target practice while I work. Dodging flying junk, and feeling the raw ache of humiliation it invokes in me, keeps me active and alert while I’m trying to detect heart murmurs with my stethoscope. It’s oodles of fun.
We have become so reliant on lousy conspiracy theories that Shahbaz Sharif can no longer accidentally trip on his own shoe-lace without it being labeled “a political drama to gain sympathy”.
4. “If you want to work in this field, you have to be brave!”
Is this field, perchance, a minefield outside Fallujah?
In my honest opinion, having nothing to do with my political affiliation, Sana Mirza is brave. Following what was probably a good duration of harassment, she momentarily broke down under overwhelming pressure, as just about anyone would under that condition.
Harassment faced by female journalists: When the mirror lies
Then, she swiftly composed herself, wiped her eyes clean, and jumped right back to reporting as a professional journalist would.
5. “It happens all the time, so what’s the big deal?”
The big deal, is as follows:
It’s bad enough that the incident happened; it’s worse that you’re defending it out of some misguided notion of party loyalty. You have confused dedication to the PTI with being an apologist for women’s harassment.
Fellows, don’t do that. Don’t be the “pro-harassment” party. Admit that what happened was wrong; say it violates PTI’s principles; tell them that this isn’t representative of the way Insaafians handle dissenting voices.
Also read: 'We are OK with sexual harassment'
Harassment is not, has never been, a “PTI-problem” exclusively anyway. Misogyny transcends all political boundaries, even if one might argue it is distributed more generously on some sides than others.
The answer to the fact that harassment happens “all the time” is not to ignore it, but to condemn it “all the time” — wherever you find it.
There is no glory in letting the practice seep quietly, resistlessly and “drama-lessly” into our social fabric.