Not many are familiar with the fact that the word ‘hysteria’ is derived from the Latin ‘hystera’, which means uterus. The etymology of ‘hysteria’ is important because, for the longest time, the word was used almost exclusively to refer to the behaviour of women. Indeed, being ‘hysterical’ was treated as a medical condition well into the 20th Century, with it being believed that women who displayed any kind of ‘deviant’ behaviour – ranging from expressing their anger or crying to expressing sexual desire – were simply acting out impulses rooted in their biology. The obvious corollary to this blatantly sexist view of women was the idea that men represented the opposite, characterized by attributes such as rational thinking, calmness, and restraint.

The absurdity of these categorizations should have been apparently evident to anyone who had the opportunity to witness the contrasting television appearances of Ali Zafar and Meesha Shafi last week. Ever since Shafi accused Zafar of sexual harassment last year, kicking off a wider conversation about harassment and the #MeToo movement in Pakistan, the public discourse has been saturated with claims and counterclaims. For his part, Ali Zafar has repeatedly maintained his innocence, filing a suit for defamation against Meesha Shafi and constantly taking to the airwaves and social media to refute the allegations made against him. As part of this process, however, Zafar has taken to engaging in ever more erratic behaviour; cryptic tweets with mysterious hashtags have been accompanied by pictures of himself with Shafi from when they worked together, television appearances have been made with his wife and mother, and statements have been issued erroneously claiming that Shafi’s case for harassment was dismissed by the Lahore High Court. Most recently, Ali Zafar broke down on television, crying piteously while complaining about the toll the allegations have taken on his personal and professional life.

Zafar’s tears and tantrums can be compared with the calm and dignified approach Shafi has taken to this entire affair. As clarified by her legal team, Meesha Shafi was barred by the courts from speaking about the case in public. When she did finally appear for an interview on TV, Shafi did not scream or cry or appeal to the emotions of the viewing public. Instead, she simply laid out the facts of the case, explaining how the legal process was far from concluded, how she was not the only person to accuse Zafar of sexual misconduct, and how she was waiting to present evidence in support of her claims in court.

The contrast between Zafar and Shafi is reminiscent of the differences between US Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Ford when they appeared before a Senate Committee tasked with investigating Dr. Ford’s claim that she had been sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh when they were in college. While Kavanaugh ranted, raved, and cried about his career and his family, Dr. Ford was the picture of credibility, displaying considerable equanimity when confronted with some often hostile questioning.

The sad truth is that women who express emotion, no matter how justifiable, are easily labeled as ‘hysterical’ or ‘irrational’ while men engaging in the same behaviour tend to be met with sympathy and pity. The greatest irony at work here, of course, is that in both of the cases mentioned above, it is the victims of sexual harassment – the women – who have had to deal with vitriol directed against them while the men have gotten through relatively unscathed. Despite the compelling nature of Dr. Ford’s testimony, and the presence of other women making allegations against him, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court where he now enjoys a lifetime appointment. For all his tears, there is not much to suggest Ali Zafar has ‘suffered’ as a result of the accusations that have been made against him; he starred in and produced a movie that made a huge amount of money, he continues to perform at concerts, he endorses products, and so on. Perhaps more importantly, he enjoys the support of many of his industry peers and fans who are willing to believe every word he says.

On the other hand Meesha Shafi, arguably Pakistan’s most successful and well-known female rock star, has been accused of making allegations for ‘fame’ and personal benefit, as if doing so has somehow helped her career rather than subjecting her to an almost endless torrent of abuse and hate on social media and television. Like many of the other women who have been brave enough to go public with their allegations of harassment and assault at the hands of powerful men, Shafi has had to endure almost constant public condemnation and abuse. As is all too often the case, when choosing who to believe, most automatically and uncritically endorse famous men over those who call them out, willfully ignoring the fact that making accusations of this kind is usually results in the accusers having to bear tremendous personal and professional costs.

The more Ali Zafar speaks in his attempts to ‘defend’ himself, the more apparent it becomes that he is, if nothing else, a person possessing incredibly disagreeable views. If lying about court proceedings and using his female family members as props was not enough, Zafar has also suggested that Meesha Shafi is using her allegations to ‘be like Malala’ – implying that Malala’s own misfortunes were part of a fraudulent attempt to gain fame and fortune. Zafar has also taken to posting pictures of himself with Shafi from when they were co-workers, somehow suggesting that if a woman consents to being in a picture with him that somehow excuses all of his subsequent behaviour. Zafar’s conduct throughout has been bizarre and in the wake of the poise exhibited by Meesha Shafi in response, there should no longer be any doubt about who is the more credible party in this dispute.