Pakistani Twitter is on fire, and what a glorious blaze of light it is indeed. Girls are coming out of the shadows to finally name their harassers, and it should come as no surprise that there are so many of both parties. Most recently the CEO of music company Patari had to leave the company in the wake of damning screenshots; Twitter user @lanaschild has compiled a list of sleazeballs who have been stalking, harassing and according to some, even grooming young girls online. Grooming refers to the practice of older men manipulating young girls and/or boys in order to exploit them in unpleasant ways, ranging from sending racy photos to outright prostitution rings, as happened a few years ago in the UK.

Harassment is a complicated process to explain to someone else. The Me Too movement has opened avenues for many conversations, the most important one of which is how to explain to halfwits why women don’t speak up about harassment the very instant it happens. Maybe when men are harassed they bawl it out to the heavens above immediately, but most women are socialised to be ‘nice’: don’t fuss, don’t make a nuisance, be polite. More often than not, that means be quiet about things that make you uncomfortable, be it potential employers asking you when you plan to marry, aunties telling you to lose a little weight or creepy colleagues telling you your feet turn them on. Women who ‘fuss’ are labeled difficult, weird and other more unsavoury words; ‘difficult’ women face more impediments to success. Also, women are harassed so often since they are adolescents that they have developed freakishly advanced Ignore Skills—if you threw a fit every time someone touched you inappropriately or stared too long you’d be an exhausted wreck. When horrible, skin-crawling things happen one’s first impulse is usually to make it go away as fast as possible. And finally, when you do speak up, people immediately begin their idiotic haw-hai-why-didn’t-you-say-so-before spiel and one is back to tiring, scary square one only now along with your harasser, scores of strangers on the internet have joined in your harassment.

Except now the power of the internet—the freedom of anonymity, that strange space where one can directly interact with others but also be removed from real-life action—has meant that for every sleazeball sending unsolicited photos of their genitals, there is a recipient that can screenshot it and expose you to the entire world, to the chorus of applause. It is a glorious day indeed when one can send a pervert running for cover, begging you not to show ‘those’ photos to his wife, his mother, his children, his boss. It’s so amusing how appeals to family spring up at times like these, as if the onus of caring what happens to a lech’s family is the victim’s problem. Why on earth should the stranger to whom you suggested filthy things care about your wife and old mother? That’s right, she shouldn’t—that’s your job.  It’s your job to think of your children before you do things that you know are wrong and disgusting. It’s your job to think of your wife and your friends and your professional future before you ask young women to send suggestive photos to you in the middle of the night. Your account wasn’t hacked—at least have the decency to admit you made a mistake and apologise, and promise to do better. But no, that would mean actually acknowledging your fallibility, and that impossible idea that you are actually responsible for your actions, even when your punishment is staring you in the face.

One can’t say one has any sympathy. It’s fascinating how men, particularly in the internet age, think they are so invincible that nothing can touch them, even screenshots of their messages. Nothing you put on the internet stays hidden. You can never truly get rid of embarrassing photos, adolescent email addresses and silly blog posts, let alone dirty messages and sleazy propositions. What makes anyone think they can pretend what happens online stays online? That the internet world doesn’t exist for ‘real’, so one can be an unbridled moron with nary a care for repercussions? From the evidence, that is exactly what men like Adil Awan and Khalid Bajwa and scores more seem to think: that the rules of common decency and appropriate behavior don’t apply to them. Or maybe they are just sad, insecure men who think the only way to get someone to like them is by acting like some pathetic, warped version of Johnny Bravo—who, famously, also had no friends in spite of his muscles. Bravo, brave girls coming forward, and bravo to all the people supporting them. It’s high time we held people accountable for their actions so that maybe the next time someone has the impulse to send photos of their nethers to someone, they’ll think twice, and hopefully desist.

 

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

m.malikhussain@gmail.com