The furor these days is quite rightly being caused by the ridiculously foolish, misguided marketing campaign of a certain eatery in Islamabad. I won’t go into too many details about the restaurant, because I am not interested in giving them any more publicity- because they don’t deserve any. But what needs to be discussed is what they did, and why it is indeed a big deal.

The restaurant serves sandwiches, and they are all named after famous men who have been involved in very public displays of violence towards women—primarily battery and sexual assault. They were probably trying to go the Copper Kettle route, and give their food quirky names that people remember. However, ‘Son of a Bun’ sounds positively childish when compared to a sandwich named for Bill Cosby, who is at the center of an awful rape allegation controversy—tens of women have been coming forward the past fifteen years to charge Bill Cosby with sexual assault. Cosby, at the height of his success, was one of America’s best-loved comedians and always seemed like an all-round nice guy, playing the disgruntled father on the sitcom The Cosby Show. And yet, there he was, molesting women on the side. Most people in Pakistan haven’t heard of Bill Cosby, so naming a sandwich after him doesn’t mean anything to them. However, the weird thing is that the audience the restaurant is targeting is the upper middle class one that presumably recognizes Cosby’s name, and should thereby get the ‘joke’. But where’s the joke in a famous actor who abused his power to assault young women for years? Who is laughing?
No surprises for guessing: lots of people, men and women. It doesn’t bother them. It isn’t uncomfortable for them to go to an eatery that has a sandwich called the Chris Brown. Even if you weren’t born when Bill Cosby was famous, most twenty-somethings know perfectly well who Chris Brown is—the singer who beat the pulp out of his girlfriend, the extremely famous and much more successful Rihanna. Everyone knows about that episode, has seen photos of her black eyes and bruises. Sean Penn, another sandwich, hit then-wife Madonna on the head with a baseball bat. But hey, what matters about a restaurant is the food! And if that food is named after a horrible, violent man whose ‘attentions’ could have put a woman in the hospital, then that’s no big deal at all!

After a lot of protest, the restaurant issued a reluctant, condescending excuse for an apology, saying they were going to rename their menu but keep their other main marketing schtick: the “make me a sandwich, woman”. Again, most people don’t know what that means, and the ones what are aware of the meme could only be pea-brains if they don’t understand the implication of it. The phrase “go make me a sandwich” is directed at a woman, and is supposed to cut her down to size. For example, you may be the head of Google, now go make me a sandwich. That basically the job of all women, no matter how intelligent, successful or overall excellent they may be, is to serve men. It is not a joke, however much anyone may go blue in the face saying otherwise. It is an insult, meant to put you in your place. And this is the cornerstone of this idiotic restaurant: if she won’t make you a sandwich, we will.

It could have been funny if the phrase lacked any kind of subtext. The Domino’s tagline, “Hungry kya? Dominos kha”, for example, has no sexist undertones. It straightforward: if you’re hungry, eat some pizza. McDonalds and its catchy little delivery telephone number song was great. IT could have revolved around reasons why your woman won’t make you a sandwich—you did something to annoy her, ergo no sandwich. But memes about how a sandwich is better than a woman, because sandwiches won’t talk back is disgusting and juvenile. It’s disrespectful and rude, and the most irksome part of all of this is that the owners of this restaurant, and many of its more vocal patrons, just don’t seem to understand why. They think this is all some kind of big fuss being made by a bunch of over-sensitive people, and that’s what troubles me the most.

A lot of time is spent in Pakistan doing haw hai at ‘the poors’ (sic) who are so backward that they do honour killings and marry their daughters to the Quran. Because we don’t do any of this because we are civilized and don’t behave like the paindoo people. Wrong door, wrong answer, into the dungeon with you—surprise! You’re as bad, because you are purportedly educated, English-speaking, internet using, sandwich buying people who should thereby know better, but instead have the exact same mindset as any other misogynist in this country—nay, world—who tells women ‘it’s not a big deal’ and to ‘have a sense of humour’. Can’t you take a joke? Isn’t it funny to tell women that they’re only good for cooking? Isn’t it so funny, men who rape? A guy punched his wife, ha ha! Let’s eat a sandwich that honours him! Men can come to blows in an instant if someone were to insult their womenfolk—that is what most curse words are predicated on, after all—and yet, for a nation so obsessed with women’s honour, we seem pretty casual about it when it suits us. People will wax lyrical about the importance of dupattas and how all women are our mothers and sisters, and in the same breath defend a restaurant that thinks violence towards women is a joke. And that’s because it’s two sides of the same, misogynist coin. It’s pretending to care for the safety of women by not letting them drive, when the real objective is to control women by restricting their mobility and access to the outside world. It’s not about respecting all women, just the ones upon whom your personal honour rests. All the other women don’t matter. We also don’t think it’s a big deal because we can’t relate to all the foreigners who do bad things. So here’s bringing it back home: would you eat a sandwich named after one of the men who raped Mukhtaran Mai?

READ MORE: Going not-so green