Stories 2012

Within Pakistan, there has been an interesting phenomenon of the “Twitterati”, the Twitter elites, the artists, the journalists, the designers, the political analysts, the bloggers, the activists. These are the famous Twitter personalities, famous enough that a Pakistani newspaper, the Express Tribune, compiled a list of top Twitter personalities to follow. While it is true that Express Tribune, or as its hipster employees call it, “ET” is still in the shadow of the more established and serious newspaper, Dawn, it is still popular with the youth due to its catchy headlines and colourful layouts, and smalltime newspaper or not, it is still a notable fact that the Twitterati got this kind of attention.

But with fame comes the inevitable trolling. And unfortunately, if you’re in Pakistan, and you committed the gross crime against humanity of being born a woman, you’re a prime target. Any female professional in Pakistan who is active on Twitter will find herself vilified and harassed online simply because she is a woman who works, and (as is the case with many professionals) supports women’s rights and is a feminist. What’s alarming is that this trolling is not at all harmless tomfoolery. It is dangerous, violent, and misogynist to boot.

I first saw this form of violence against women when popular blogger, Mehreen Kasana, was the victim of a disgusting practical joke. Her head was photoshopped on an image of a woman dressed  in a “sexy” French maid outfit. Imagine the horror of waking up to find such an image all over the internet, hoping your siblings, cousins, relatives, etc. don’t come across that picture. I don’t know who was behind all of this, but it’s a disgusting thing, picking on women who happen to have a loud voice and state their opinions clearly and firmly.

Similar antics involved the activist Sana Saleem, where fake accounts with obscene names masqueraded as her, tweeting vile things about her, and even worst, these accounts would keep cropping  up as soon as one was shut down. It is a testament to Sana’s courage and resilience, because there is only so many times you can tell yourself that this is meaningless. You will be affected when you see obscene tweets about yourself. And why did all this happen? Because Sana speaks for women’s rights? Because she writes about the persecution of religious minorities? Because she supports liberal, “Western” ideas despite wearing an “Islamic” hijab? Because she has the gall to actually be a student in a university instead of staying in the kitchen where her place is?

In light of more recent events, there is the vile attack on one of Twitter’s most outspoken feminists, Nabiha Meher Sheikh. Not only is she being viciously hounded by a vile man who made rape threats to her, but he also had editors of newspapers and prominent journalists supporting him. What’s absolutely ridiculous is that he has taken up the odd notion that Nabiha somehow slandered him, because other people, not Nabiha, but rather, other people stated that he had made a rape threat. How another person’s actions can be thus shifted to another person is beyond me, but this man’s misogyny and hate knows no bounds. To see the obsessive way he is constantly tweeting about Nabiha is enough to trigger even the calmest of feminists. His calumny knows no bounds. He even ridiculed her disability (Nabiha is bipolar, and refuses to be scared by societal norms and hide this fact) and stated that she should not be allowed to “plead insanity” in order to get away with her non-existent crimes against him! Others were quick to lend support in this atrocious claim, stating that if one has such a disability, they should be more careful of their words. And chances are, if he ever comes across this blog, he would attempt to sue this penniless student-blogger for the sake of his non-existent respect and no, that isn’t just a potshot, it’s the truth. Who would respect such a man, after all? Only fellow misogynists and rape apologists.

Another recent incident is that of Nighat Dad, rights activist and founder of Digital Rights Foundation. Her nightmare began with Malala Yousafzai’s shooting. After it was discovered that she had previously met Malala during her work, she started receiving threats on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and was labeled the evil NGO woman with a Western agenda. She quit going to work for a few days, and even stopped her son from going to school in fear. She considered giving up activism, citing the reason being that her child’s security is of the utmost importance. What’s worst is that she reached to few Pakistani organizations for help but received no response from them, she expected the advocates for digital security and women’s rights to come to her aid, as a woman in need and under cyber threats, but was ignored. Though Nighat pulled through the fear and depression, she remains embittered with the lack of support, and the feeling of complete alienation and loneliness through her ordeal.

None of this would have happened if either of these women were male. The term male privilege escapes most Pakistanis, but nowhere can it be truer than in societies like Pakistan. All three women have been constantly attacked, abused, and vilified simply because they are educated women, professionals, hard-working, feminists, and activists. This is their problem. They cannot just shut up and go make sandwiches. And this is why, after all, they deserve this ridiculous misogyny.

What is disappointing is that no one will view this as violence against women. No one will say that this is cyber harassment. No, if these women even dare to call this cyber harassment, they will be called attention-seekers, whiners, immature. Every time a woman is attacked, and she fights back, she is the one who is vilified. No one will see that someone made a rape threat to a woman, but instead, they will say, look at her foul language, look at how rudely she is speaking. Is one really supposed to cheek-kiss someone and smile sweetly when they’ve issued rape threats to them? No wait, I forgot. If someone makes a rape threat, you take it like the good little woman that you are.

At least Mehreen, Nighat, and Sana’s troubles did not last as long as Nabiha’s have. This YLH chap has been harassing her since June, slandering her, accusing her of lies. I’m reminded of the “this is what a feminist looks like” campaign when I think about this situation, because all four women are the absolute embodiment of a feminist; disgusted by patriarchal, misogynist attitudes, constantly under attack, but never backing down. If this blog gets published, all four of these women will be accused of having one of their friends write in their behalf, because no one wants to believe that such vile women with these Western concepts of women’s rights could possibly have any supporters that aren’t their friends and families at all, and they will once again face more cyber harassment. And I have the utmost faith that my heroes will take their opponents down with grace, eloquence, and dignity, and keep doing so, until one day, I’ll be brave enough to make my Twitter account public and no longer fear being attacked for my views.

Submitted by Farida Siddiqui.