Does Pakistan's media encourage sexism?
Originally appeared here:
The recent controversy surrounding Junaid Jamshed has dominated social media over the weekend. The matter is between him and God; I am in no position to comment on the apology or the blasphemy issue at all. Maybe this incident will open a conversation about the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. However, I am surprised at the lack of a conversation around the casual sexist remarks passed by public personalities in the media in Pakistan.
Junaid Jamshed has previously suggested that men should not teach their wives how to drive. In response to the recent controversy, Aamir Liaquat responded in kind with comments about Junaid Jamshed’s mother. We live in a country where the most common abusive words involve a person’s mother and sister.
There are numerous instances of casual sexism in our media that we largely ignore, or accept. Shahid Afridi might as well have said that women belong in the kitchen when he was asked about the girls’ cricket trials in Peshawar. Our most famous stage show, Baqra Kistoon Par, opens with a joke about Umar Sharif tying the woman to the house instead of the cow. Shaikh Rasheed repeatedly ridicules Bilawal Bhutto for being feminine. Rana Sanaullah appeared on television defending the son of a MNA, accused of rape, by putting the blame on the girl for willingly being in a room with the man.
When Jasmeen Manzoor tweeted about being in a meeting with Zardari, Abid Sher Ali responded with a
“Are u alone :-)”
As public personalities, these people have the ability to influence opinions across the country. With our independent media still in its nascent stage, it is still to devise a code of ethics to govern itself by. People appearing on the media are unaware of the massive responsibility that comes from millions of people having access to your opinion.
We lack a media watchdog organisation that would hold the people failing to act in a responsible manner accountable for their words. Some people highlight certain instances on social media but the controversy boils over. None of the people involved are labelled misogynistic and none of these people have been made to apologise for their statements.
A lot of people brush the issue of sexism off by claiming there are more pertinent issues in Pakistan such as terrorism. However, they do not realise the snowball effect these statements could have. Our acceptance to sexism eventually leads to violence against women in Pakistan. There are close to a thousand reported honour killings in Pakistan ever year. To equate being feminine to being weak relegates women to an inferior place in society.
Is the marginalisation of half of our population not a serious enough issue?
It would be hard to blame it on any specific instance but these statements simply perpetuate the gender hegemony present in our society rather than educating people about the issue. Shahid Afridi is a hero to most Pakistanis, I wonder how a girl in Peshawar must feel knowing he does not approve of her playing cricket. It might even influence parents not to send their daughters to the trials. Even in instances without any physical violence, the price of the damaged dreams of a generation is surely too high.
The point is not to vilify individuals but public pressure in making people apologise for passing casual remarks on television or official sanctions might preclude other people from making similar statements. Right now, people are allowed to make statements on mass media platforms with complete impunity. There are no general hate speech laws in Pakistan, which is also partially why there is so much frivolous litigation abusing the blasphemy law.
The WEF’s 2014 Global Gender Gap Report rated Pakistan as the second worst country in the world, behind only Yemen. It may not be because our T20 captain is against cricket trials for girls, or a leading religious cleric feels women should not drive, or politicians and comedians persistently ridicule women but I am sure it didn’t help.
Even when the message is not so clear, these people should be cognizant of the different connotations of their statements before making them. Applying the law of torts neighbour principle for negligence, they must take reasonable care to avoid acts of omissions that could reasonably be foreseen to injure one’s neighbour. Anybody who has the ability to watch or read your statement is your neighbour in this scenario. At worst, you are culpable of being sexist and at best, you have been negligent and if your negligence leads to physical violence or emotional trauma, part of the responsibility for that lies with you.