Let me womansplain the Aurat March to you

Some unsolicited advice to men: smile, you’ll look prettier that way.
Updated 16 Jun, 2020 07:18am

Parliamentarian Aamir Liaqat is worried.

Thousands of women took to the streets across Pakistan and he wants to know why. What is their agenda? Who is funding them? He beseeches the prime minister to immediately abandon governing a country to get to the bottom of this clandestine protest (that took place in broad daylight).

“Prime Minister Imran Khan,” he breathlessly says in a tweeted video message, “I request you to investigate!”

He can be forgiven for finally cracking. After all, he bears a heavy burden, carrying the weight of knowing what women go through better than women.

Like a lot of men, he has been struggling to grapple with the Aurat March that marked International Women’s Day on March 8.

He has my sympathies, of course. It is difficult to know where to place your feet when you find that the backs that you have been walking on are now standing up.

Aurat March Lahore on Friday, March 8, 2019. All photos by Ema Anis, copyright Amnesty International.
Aurat March Lahore on Friday, March 8, 2019. All photos by Ema Anis, copyright Amnesty International.

Over the weekend, women have been told what feminism is and what it is not. They have been derided for not focusing on the 'important issues' when they chant slogans against honour killings, rape, sexual harassment and violence. They were called vulgar for calling for access to menstrual hygiene products.

One man wrote an impassioned plea on Instagram, comparing the Aurat March participants to Al Qaeda militants. He laments that he “as a man feels isolated and marginalised.”

Gentlemen, welcome to our world.

The placard has always been political, but for many Pakistani men (and unfortunately, some women), it is now personal.

As we’ve learnt, a woman’s wit is offensive. She can be the subject of many sexist jokes, but if she cracks one, your masculinity does as well.

She can tell you that she won’t warm your bed if you don’t warm your food, but what really gets you hot and bothered is that she, a woman, could laugh at your expense.

But here’s what many have failed to see. Comedy is supposed to be tragedy plus time and for many women, their lives have never been anything but a series of tragedies.

Every wise crack, every sassy one-liner, every catchy slogan masked years and years of invisible pain that women have suffered.

One placard said, “Mujhe kya maaloom tumhara mozaa kahan hai?” (How should I know where your sock is?). It was born of the expectation of women, that men take for granted, about keeping abreast of all domestic matters, down to the location of an errant sock.

This often comes at the expense of her own dreams while men go out and pursue theirs. It alluded to the invisible and uncompensated labour of millions of women in their homes. It highlighted the inherent privilege that men are accorded at birth to have women serve their every need.

That we can laugh about it speaks to the strength of women, and the fact that many men could not, to their weakness.

Another dared to declare “Divorced and happy!” A photo of three extraordinary women was posted online and was immediately made the symbol of a new-found social crisis of 'glamourising divorce'.

One London-bred British-Pakistani woman clutched her pearls in dismay for being too “old-fashioned” to conceive that a life after divorce could be one of relief. Her faux self-deprecation betrayed her shock at seeing divorced women thrive when society expects them to hang in shame on the margins for the rest of their lives.

Let me tell you something: don’t worry yourself. Pakistan’s divorce rates may alarm you, but I’m sure your disapproval of divorce will help tighten the snares that keep women in abusive marriages. Thank you for doing your part to perpetuate unhappy marriages.

Another placard glibly stated, “Cynthia karey tau shaabaash, mein karun tau badmaash.” The worst experience of a white woman, anywhere in the world, is still likely better than most experiences that a woman of colour will have. Nowhere is this better exemplified than Cynthia D. Ritchie’s tryst with Pakistan.

She has declared Pakistan safe for women. She rides bicycles in Peshawar. She bites back if anyone tells her that she is able to say and do such things because of white privilege. And yet, when brown women attempt the same, their rallies are cancelled, they are called 'sluts' and if Pakistan really is safe for women, then why do Sabeen Mahmud, Qandeel Baloch and Perween Rehman lie in graves?

What seems to have outraged the male collective the most is the shattering of a fantasy world where women enjoy being subjected to unsolicited pictures of male genitals.

It has hit them hard. It has confused them. And now, they are angry and trying to speak to us in a language that they think we’ll understand.

They tell us this is not feminism but fail to explain how. They tell us it’s about sex, and as 'respectful' women, how dare we speak of it.

Nobody seems to say anything to the sender, but the unwilling recipient is apparently the problem. Either she likes it (which, to them, makes her a 'slut') or she doesn’t (which offends them). So as usual, women cannot win.

There is a lot to unpack about the male psyche here. Are they upset at the loss of this opportunity to titillate women with their phallus? Have they also internalised the shame surrounding sex like we have? Why are they all shrivelling up? Have we given them performance anxiety?

Men have a lot of opinions about how the Aurat March should have run. Their advice has been patronising, unhelpful and mostly just rude.

The placards were a mirror and instead of taking this moment as an opportunity to reflect, they have decided to beat their chest instead.

It seems to me that for them, the problem is women themselves.

Not their butchered bodies, not their acid-burnt faces, not their immobility, not their lack of representation, not the dearth of affordable housing, not the moral policing their choices and bodies are subjected to, not the denial of female education, not the constant threat of sexual harassment and assault, not the social structures that cut women’s potential in half, not the exploitation, not the objectification, not the fact that for many, women are still not human.

So, allow me to give men some unsolicited advice: smile, you’ll look prettier that way.

Were you at the Aurat March? Share your experience with us at prism@dawn.com


Author Image

Rimmel Mohydin is the South Asia Campaigner for Amnesty International. Previously, she was the Head of Communications at Justice Project Pakistan. She tweets @Rimmel_Mohydin.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (33) Closed

Mar 12, 2019 02:35pm
Men are becoming REALLY worried about not having any women left to obey their orders or cater to their whims or put up with their tyranny or fall prey to their manipulations. Poor men , don't feel sorry for them , they had it coming and they should be able to manage on their own.
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Nyla Ahsan
Mar 12, 2019 02:41pm
Brilliant! Yes I was at the Aurat March and listened to speeches... very moving speeches, by women who normally have no voice, no platform on which to air their grievances
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Mar 12, 2019 03:07pm
LOVE this article!!!
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Abdullah Wiqar
Mar 12, 2019 03:08pm
This article was based seemingly entirely on Twitter based experience of the aurat March and the fall out accompanying it. Interesting.
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Mar 12, 2019 04:09pm
Good article. Our women have been harassed and oppressed for far, far too long! Happy to see them come out and find a voice for themselves.
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Mar 12, 2019 05:04pm
@Abdullah Wiqar. Thank you for sharing your views. Why don't you fix the problem that you see and write an article on your actual experience with the aurat march?
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Mar 12, 2019 06:23pm
Well summarized. The March has generated quite a bit of discussions raising atleast awareness of the event for now. Hopefully it will slowly bring change in the society as well
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Senseless Bakht
Mar 12, 2019 06:53pm
Most of these protesters are from middle and up class .i dont see many poor background females in the pictures.how come they are not protesting for the rights of domestic workers. The domestic workers often abused by these rich aunties. They are crying for kitchen work. I dont think, they can hardly cook anyways. I understand the equality part. Every should get a fair treatment. What abt females working at farms.
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Mar 12, 2019 09:29pm
Please someone help them to portrayed a real women life where they cannot ask help for doing the work as in western societies. In my opinion factor of respect does not comes with the society, its something anyone teach to their family. Pakistan is one of the country where people respect their mother, Daughter and sister indulge them in some of those countries which you can count on your fingers. I think the women in Pakistan wants the same respect as in western culture,where they send their mother to the old house, no concern with their daughters and no worries about their sisters. Solute to the way they select to gain respect.
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Mar 13, 2019 12:29am
There should have been one more placard 'we'll not abuse our domestic servants anymore!'. Women love to work for male bosses as women bosses are so abusive!
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Mar 13, 2019 12:49am
@NASIIR, , how much respect there is for wife in paksitan???
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Mar 13, 2019 02:36am
@NASIIR, Lighten up. Of course we respect our mothers, sisters and daughters. Because that is how it should be. But what these women are asking for is for us men to respect someone else's mother, sister and daughter in the exact same manner. If we men don't stare at our sister, then we men should not stare at someone else's sister. If we men don't make derogatory comments towards our daughter, then we men should not make them towards someone else's daughter. If we men are respectful towards our mothers, then we men should be respectful towards someone else's mother. Etc. etc.
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Mar 13, 2019 02:53am
@NASIIR, If I understood you properly, I think you are saying that western countries don't respect their women? We respect our women but at the same time, our uneducated and even some civilized folks treat them badly, don't treat girls the same as their boys and provide them equal opportunities to live an accomplished life. In civilized world (that's a better word than western as we have advanced economies in Asia, China, Japan, Australia etc) women have equal rights. West might put their parents in old homes (not all of them) so that's their culture and every culture has good and bad things about it. And it's not about what others do, we need to do what's right!
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Mar 13, 2019 05:17am
nicely done... well written (from a guy)
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Mar 13, 2019 06:06am
You need to march when you know you are week. I have not seen such marches in the developed countries where such ‘rights ‘ are just normal both the sexes are treated as equals. Well, mostly.
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Akil Akhtar
Mar 13, 2019 07:20am
Who are they protesting against...all men or Pakistan...can not understand. Are they protesting against the few criminals who committed crimes against women. Also some of their vulgar slogans do not do any good for their cause.
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Bakhtiar Wain
Mar 13, 2019 09:52am
Beautifully written; hits at the roots of male privilege which they are so amazingly oblivious about.
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Lord Ickenham
Mar 13, 2019 10:02am
I hope you guys know what 'Aurat' means in Arabic. If not, do find out. It would show you how patriarchy thinks
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Mar 13, 2019 10:40am
Women can only get the equality of opportunity and not the equality of outcome, which I my view would always remain tilted towards men in terms of making money.
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Lina Graham
Mar 13, 2019 11:12am
Congratulations to the organisers of Aurat March . Why was the foreign media not invited to it? I am starting to become proud to be a Pakistani with IK’s speech and now an aurat March- sadly I only heard about it on WhatsApp from my friends in Karachi . Overseas Pakistani
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Mar 13, 2019 02:21pm
Nice article.
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Mazahir abbas
Mar 13, 2019 04:14pm
do not need to be our smart...muslim socity we need to follow islam . in islam no were say any inequality for woman if all the protester think about why all the tragedies in those woman .offender do offence its crime so should be punished those criminal those hater remove from the society but rare base those tragedy men is everywhere guilty its impossible men and women equal but think about men 24 hour work for women if woman fulfill the her responsibility man fulfill his responsibly .blaming is not good men
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Mar 13, 2019 04:30pm
@NASIIR, both of my current maids have husbands who beat them and then left them penniless and with the children. Both maids inlawa are abusing them because this is how women are treated in Pakistan. Maybe not at your house but Every maid I have ever had from Pakistan to Filipines has same story. Maybe you respect women but far too many are not like you. Open your eyes and look around, dont you see the maids or the women begging in the streets? These women dont need your respect, or anybody elses. They need their bills paid. And since you are not doing it for them, move out of the way for them to do it themselves.
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Mar 13, 2019 04:37pm
I don't the understand the logic of stooping to a low level because men are doing it too. Why use men as benchmark when there are fundamental biological and physiological differences between men and women? Proposing equality of opportunities is a noble endeavor, but using the march as a male-bashing platform should not be acceptable. Even from a secular perspective, this regressive practice is not condoned.
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Mar 13, 2019 05:39pm
No one disagrees there are issues on men's side, but who is responsible for that? Are we educating our next generation for that? The problem is the way we are trying to address it is completely wrong. Islam has provided a complete code of conduct in this regard but no one wants to follow it, neither on the women side nor the men's side. Simply because it puts some restrictions (for good) on both sides which everyone wants to escape. We want to look like the West but even West isn't like the way #AuratMarch showed up. 99% of Western people don't address such issues this way. West teaches their men and women to: - Tolerate and be patient with each other, right from the first day! - Say that "I'll do it for you" not a stupid thing like "apna khana khud garam Karo" - Hold the doors for each other when walking through them - Do many many more good things that actually Islam tells us to do! Please, let's fix our educating system and address this problem going forward the right way!
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Mar 13, 2019 05:41pm
@Akil Akhtar, #AuratMarch showed us how NOT to fix a problem..
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Mar 13, 2019 06:12pm
@Saaheb, Lots of Women's Day parades happened all around the world and in developed countries as well.
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Mar 13, 2019 07:38pm
This march will hardly achieve for what this is for. Our society have already enough space for women thats y these femenists r out and chanting vulger slogens. The issue they rose r not that simple its much complex and involves deep socio economic dynamics. Finally i dont think any one from participant have themselves proper insight of this matter!!
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Tahir Chaudhry
Mar 13, 2019 07:52pm
Congratulations: Miss Rimmel Mohydin. enjoyed reading your article. Facts are very hard to swallow. Its time the women of Pakistan should be respected and given proper status in our ailing society.
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Mar 13, 2019 09:15pm
Good one
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Noor Qamar
Mar 14, 2019 06:40am
Love this article!
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Mar 14, 2019 07:24am
Loved your article very much. It is a pity that the intended audience are tone-deaf, and can rarely found to engage in empathetic reflection. All the power to the Aurat March!
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Mar 14, 2019 09:54am
Well articulated article, time has come for Pakistanis to wake up to the new millennium, it's already 19 years too late but like they says one can always hope for the best.
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