If we are to begin, Umnia, we must begin at the beginning. You begin by making the claim that there are biological or sex differences between males and females. Congratulations, Umnia, you have become the first human mind to realize that men and women have different bodies, sex organs, hormonal changes et cetera. Well, you and the other 7+ billion people that inhabit the earth. There is virtually nobody who will refute this claim. But it does beg the question should these differences translate to an unequal treatment of women? Feminism answers with a loud and reverberating ‘No’.  In fact, some feminists, like Difference Feminists, have emphasized the differences between men and women and argued that “identicality or sameness are not necessary in order for men and women, and masculine and feminine values, to be treated equally.” But your beginnings expose a much greater problem, they tell me you conflate biological sex, gender, gender-identity, and gender-performance – of course, you’ll have to sift through a few tomes yourself to better understand these complex intersectional concepts, that help us to make sense of the awesomeness of the human condition. Yes, Umnia, I’m sorry to tell you life is complex, and so are the issues of gender. And I understand that humanity’s search for omniscience invariably leads to oversimplification of the complex, but you must also understand that your broad-strokes and hasty generalizations (and we’ll come to these in a minute) about feminism and gender, serve only to be a loose collection of reductive, ill-informed and, if I may say, incontrovertibly damaging, nonsense. And I’m trying to put it lightly. Alas, you shall no doubt realise, I’m struggling.

Umnia, even a cursory reading of the history of the Sapienspecies will inform you of the brute fact that women have suffered hundreds upon hundreds of years of oppression, which multiplied exponentially with the formation of the State, and crystallized during Industrialization, when gender-roles became more fixed and stringent. Like Cronus did his children, Patriarchy has swallowed whole, the potentialities of generations of the female sex. This has been true since Man invented ‘civilization’ and continues to be true even today. So when you ask feminists “Did you know that a bulky chunk of Third World Boys live their lives enveloped in slave labour and under appallingly inhuman conditions but all anyone ever hears about is the much smaller percentage of girls toiling in sweat shops?”, I respond by saying: please, check your statistics (and with it your internalized misogyny, maybe?).  Because women make up 85 to 90 per cent of sweatshop workers. Where some employers force them to take birth control and routine pregnancy tests to avoid supporting maternity leave or providing appropriate health benefits. The International Labour Organisation tells us that of the 21 million people that victims of forced labour – 11.4 million women and girls and 9.5 million men and boys. And that 4.5 million of these women and girls are victims of forced sexual exploitation. But, Umnia, if you want to highlight child-poverty and child-labour in relation to males, rest assured feminism will not obstruct your path. These goals are not mutually exclusive.  But in the spirit of the Socratic method of questioning you try to invoke, let me ask you this: Did you know, for example, that child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights that limits girls’ opportunities for education and development and exposes them to the risk of domestic violence and social isolation? Did you know that almost half of women aged 20 to 24 in Southern Asia and two fifths in sub-Saharan Africa are married before age 18? Are you aware that globally an estimated 781 million people aged 15 and over remain illiterate, and nearly two thirds of them are women? A proportion that has remained unchanged for two decades!  Now consider a case in which a girl is both illiterate and married off, do you know what happens? They increase their exposure to sexually transmitted infections, especially HIV, unwanted pregnancies, and the risk of unsafe abortion – they die.Or perhaps you realize that since patriarchy is inexorably related to power, aggression and force, it is no surprise that around two thirds of victims of intimate partner or familyrelatedhomicides are women. That more than 125 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to female genital mutilationacross countries in Africa and the Middle East. And you don’t have to take my word for it, just check out, for yourself, The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics 2015, a report from the United Nations.

But this isn’t really about statistics; the statistics, in all honesty, are Sylvia-Plath-depressing – depressingly depressing. This is about you, and people like you, of all gender variations, who incorrectly think that feminism places women on a special pedestal, and which simultaneously robs men of their ‘manhood’, making them inferior. When, in fact, it does exactly the opposite! For feminism simply argues for the removal of these very hierarchies and social divisions based on gender, gender performance and gender identity. It is a hope and an endeavor that seeks to equalize gender in the social arena; in the socio-politico-economic sphere. It doesn’t say that the gender-identity and designator ‘Man’ is inherently Bad, just that ‘Man’ is not inherently Good by virtue of being ‘Man.’ And in order to highlight these systems of oppression, domination, discrimination, hegemonic masculinity, gendered socialization and power inequality that perpetually produce and reproduce patriarchy, feminism has to focus on the population most-at-risk: women. And any good scholar of jurisprudence (following John Rawls) will tell you, Justice demands that society help the most-at-risk first. Therefore, at the heart of feminism, Umnia, there lies no statistics but principles; categorical moral imperatives, an answer to the question ‘what is right thing do do’?

Now, lets come to the term “Modern Feminism.” And to your hasty generalizations that I previously alluded to. Since you do not, at all, qualify the term “Modern Feminism” I am left wondering what is that you mean by the term? Do you mean ‘second-wave feminism’ which drew attention to domestic violence and marital rape issues, or do you mean ‘third-wave-feminism’ which has women riding on “wrecking balls” and taking ownership of their own sexualities? You generalize feminism to mean some sort of a monolithic über-ideology, which it most certainly is not; there are trends and movements and splinters and branches and disagreements. But a singular purpose: equality of opportunity and liberty (both in the negative sense and a positive sense).

If you go out looking, Umnia, you’ll find patriarchy do be everywhere; in the act of the brother who stabbed his 16-year old sister because he situated his ‘honour’ between her legs; its in the catcalls and general uncomfortableness women feel when they walk the streets of our fair (?) cities; its in the commodification of the female sexuality; in the shame and guilt society reminds them of everyday; in the relationships they are forced into, because the shame of leaving it will hang around their necks like millstones; its in the losing control of one’s own bodily autonomy. It rears it ugly head everywhere. And I mean everywhere.

My final, but perhaps most important, advice to you is this: before reaching any conclusion, even casual ones, check your premises, because  by casually concluding that there is a binary, dichotomous gender-identity you risk delegitimizing, and thus alienating those who do not fit neatly in the gender-binary you so crudely establish – the non-conformist, non-heteronormative, gender-queer, post-gender people like myself, who form nearly 10% of any given population at any given time; that’s 18 million Pakistanis roughly. Therefore, please, don’t hate. And never alienate. 

But I fear that my explanations might escape you, so, instead, I offer you a diet-plan to shed this load of misinformation; a Feminist-Cleanse, if you will, for the summer, to rejuvenate and revitalize you (perhaps even to awaken you from your somnambulism), since your previous writings, with titles such as “7 health problems related to leggings” and “7 unexpected health benefits of ghee” tell me you’re interested in “Fashion and Nutrition” (lets just call it that and keep it between you, me and the lamppost?). Here are “7 Feminist Works to Cure Sleepwalking in a Burning Room”:

1.  Gender Trouble, Judith Butler

2. The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir

3. Feminism is for Everybody, Bell Hooks

4. History of Sexuality, Michel Foucault

5.  There Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

6. The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

7. Women’s Liberation, (Tahrir al-Mar’a) by Qasim Amin

Author’s Note: This is written in response to Umnia Shahid’s article which appeared in the Express Tribune on 4th May 2016