There is an unspoken burden carried by women of the Pakistani society - both in Pakistan and abroad, among all socioeconomic classes, including the most educated and wealthy.

Adorn it, if you may, with the heaviest embroidery in the region, the most delicate of fabrics, created by hours of impoverished labour, you cannot cloak its backbreaking weight or design out its true ugliness. — A weight that protrudes in the most unfortunate moments, tearing and ripping our confidence to the sounds of amused laughter of victory and vengeance, as the mirror we hold up to ourselves shatters. — The shards cutting into our fleshy feet, every step in life taken with the utmost of caution.

While, historically, men have struggled with the physical burdens of providing for the family, and the realities of formal institutions, there is an invisible and informal economy, societal hierarchy, and familial peace that is our [women’s] place to manage. The moment we ‘fail’, all eyes are on us.

We are raised with the expectation that familial harmony lies at our feet so our sole lens through which we define ourselves becomes the extent to which we are able to make others around us happy. This myopic view is the anti-thesis of self-care, clear goal definition, and self-actualisation. We are chastised for anything that falls outside of our narrow given part.

Our role is to keep the family secure and safe - from misjudgment, from dishonour, from class differences, and anything that might be looked down upon.

Hence, how do women assess their worth? Do I have a good family life - secure, joyful, healthy? And the corollaries of that are around; did I marry well and into a good family?; Do I have a respectable ‘enough’ livelihood, intellectual hobby, or well-mannered orientation?; Am I sufficiently attractive - all second too though, our ability to keep home and hearth?.

Many of us desire just that. Conditioning or not, we take great pride and find joy in our ability to nurture, care, and cultivate an environment of love and growth - family gatherings, fulfilling meals, activities, a tidy home, well-mannered children, happy and satisfied husbands. We have spent all of our lives dreaming of this.

So, what happens when the ‘preconditions’ upon which this vision is built fails? You are not pretty enough for your philandering husband. You cannot fill financial gaps if he doesn’t make a comfortable living or you don’t come from wealth. Your mother-in-law is not vested in harmony. You don’t have entirely healthy children. You are unwell. Or, you simply happen to have entered into an arrangement that demands a perfect balance of the impossible from you. You are called deficient for circumstances outside of your control.

This is where I see many women flounder. I see them go through a catharsis, in which they are picking up pieces of themselves that they should’ve owned all along. This includes a healthy regard and orientation toward their appearance. A recognition that their health is just as important as their family’s health - and their family depends on this. The idea that economic independence isn’t a luxury but a right and necessity albeit earned, depending on circumstance.

We are all doing our best and those who will not appreciate, support, and respect that about us are undeserving of our attention. I see them having to face the stark realities of their very real ambitions and sexual desires that can often not be met given their current relationship with their husbands.

And when faced with these very real consequences and choices, there’s the numbing drudgery and monotony of domestic life that they glorify or sedate themselves with - to reduce the cognitive dissonance - until years pass. They crave to be useful, essential, and integral to this very home. Dreams that are so commonly acceptable for men to have, deferred.

And when men, misogynistic men, aim to deliver the greatest pain to a woman, or manipulatively lower her most in the eyes of others, what do they attack? They attack her place in the home, as that is how she defines herself. If they wish to take it further, the usual character assassination is employed that has become so common in our society - top to bottom. These attacks may be more private among the well-educated, and the assassination targeted toward informing her circle or family.

Misogyny is oddly fashionable when delivered in the palatable slut-shaming form or when used as a way to reveal female incompetence that is usually, simply a byproduct of them giving in to pander a man’s ego and thus being more submissive and less decisive in their job or familial responsibilities - lest there be hell to pay.

The reason that they are attacking her may very well be a power play - the worse she feels, the more she tries to be valued, the more one quashes her selfhood, the weaker and more pliable she becomes. Repeat. The more vibrant and unconventional of a woman, the more pressure there should be applied.

If she breaks, it isn’t a bad ending because that simply proves to the world that she was never apt to begin with, as originally ‘believed’ to be true. A bit too wild.

They say that awareness is the first step in any journey. There’s a growing consciousness among women across the globe of empowerment and its ties to self-image. The movements in which women are helping strengthen and elevate other women help.

The recent attack on Khadija Siddiqui, by her ex-boyfriend - she was stabbed 23 times on busy Davis Road, in Karachi - and her using her voice to speak out against such vengeance is a step in the right direction. We need more of that.

We often see girls growing up in homes of loving or doting fathers and mothers, or families; and then, the South Asian coming of age happens, in which this very boundless love is filled with the whispers and chatters of what a good woman looks like. To maintain and receive that same attention, we must cling to the traditional dogma and just hope we have the arbitrary luck of being born into a more forgiving version of it.

Conversely, we witness boys’ adolescence entailing a growing realization of their power over women and in society. We see them clamour for control. They have their own very real different struggle, of course.

The upcoming political election and related commentary indicate just how incredibly important and embedded this concept of a good and bad woman is in our culture and society.

It seems to be a very black and white distinction that doesn’t take a whole lot of evidence to the soil. And the more we let men define what is a good woman and our reputation, the more power and loopholes they have to sully it, the more they sully it, the weaker we are among all in the community - the less empowered we are to act, the more abuse they exert.

The only way to break the cycle is for women to stand up and support other women, or be a voice and express it - just like Khadija and Meesha Shafi. We have worn a muzzle far too long only to be called too loud when on the rare occasions we scream in genuine pain, as they tighten the noose. The truth is we should have cried for help earlier, but can only do so without judgment from one another. Killing ‘log kya kahenghe’ starts with us.