Recently Verna star Haroon Shahid deemed it all right to joke about “me too” movement on his Twitter account. In a Twitter tirade against Gul Bukhari for opposing Imran Khan, a user commented that he dreamt of thrashing her in his dreams. Retweeting that particular tweet, Haroon opined that if he were to hit Bukhari, it would become a matter of “me too”.
Although Haroon went on to apologise for what he said and labelled it as a “bad joke”, just the fact that people in this country dare to joke about a matter which affects millions of lives on a daily basis shows how ignorant they are. It reveals that people do not understand the gravity of the subject matter of the “me too” movement and how it has enabled many women to come up and share their stories and end years of exploitation. It shows that people like Haroon Shahid think that these movements hold no meaning and it is alright to just casually joke about such sensitive matters because it does not affect their lives at all.
It is the same mentality that nurtures insensitivity and callous behaviour that the movement against sexual harassment holds no meaning and women only come forward to get attention. It reinforces the fact that “normal behaviour” is now being termed as problematic. It goes to show how little attention people in privileged positions give to problems which do not affect their lives, and they do not want to make themselves aware of the debate/s that the society indulges in. One can only say that Haroon’s comments and lack of knowledge on the subject matter of “me too” movement shows the crisis of modern masculinity. It is nothing but insensitive, ignorant, and highly shameful that a person who garners such influence does not choose his words correctly and manages to label it as a bad joke without realising the message that he is sending across and the ideals that he is reinforcing.
This is exactly the embodiment of what is happening overall in Pakistan. Who would have ever thought that the “me too” movement would reach Pakistan? The trickle-down effect was immense. At least on online spaces, many women came forward and dared to share the incidents of harassment they underwent. The most important case is that of Patari’s CEO, Khalid Bajwa - who was exposed by multiple women online for misusing his authority and violating several women. However, this conversation was neither caught on by mainstream media nor the politicians, who have failed to recognise how social media has evolved and how much power it amasses. The only response that the movement has gotten so far is jest and sensationalism, rather than understanding that it is one issue which people want to talk about.
The famous case of Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi was able to create ripples in the society. Meesha’s revelation jolted people and pushed them to discuss harassment, but all that the media personalities did was reinforce misogynistic viewpoints that women in the industry should not be complaining of such a behaviour. What explains such a misogyny? The explanation lies in the fact that these people grew up believing the cliche that women in the entertainment industry have a loose character. Many even thought it to be funny that such discussions were taking place because men will be men.
Even during the entire political campaigns, all political parties despite claiming that they feel for the issues of the youth did not even try to touch the issue of harassment because they refuse to modernise themselves and look beyond traditional politics and understand the kind of connectivity social media provides rather than just a platform to run campaigns on.
The same goes for the legislature of the country that has not modernised at all and refuses to acknowledge the gravity of issues and how they have evolved over time. The Governor of Punjab dismissed Meesha Shafi’s appeal because under the Protection Against Harassment of Women at Workplace Act 2010, it requires for the individuals to be in a work contract for any action to be considered as harassment. The case itself has been making waves online, but the legislature failed to cope up with the complexities of sexual harassment. It not only grossly misunderstands harassment but prevents from giving a verdict which would help understand what harassment is and how cases will be dealt with knowing that proof often does not accompany such claims.
Can we hope for any positive change because of the growing voices against the sexual harassment issues? It is difficult to say anything with a conviction because the crisis in modern masculinity has engulfed many countries and popular cultures. Yet, the importance of the “me too” movement cannot be overlooked in a time where Niall Ferguson laments that girls no longer play with dolls. The campaign has proved to be instrumental in giving women a voice of their own in a world where patriarchy has its defendants like Harvey Mansfield, a professor of political science at Harvard, who does not encourage working women to undermine the protective role of men.
The writer is a member of staff.