To mark the international Women’s Day, many people in Pakistan participated in the Aurat March—walks in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad held simultaneously on the eighth of the month to celebrate the global movement for equality, and to show solidarity for women from all walks of life. It was a wonderful experience to walk the roads of one’s city with allies of all kinds—different class, different politics, different clothes, but all united under one banner: that women need, and deserve, more. The best part of the Women’s Marches, last year and this, are the posters. From irreverent and funny to serious and thoughtful, the posters are a mixed bag. Some of my favourites from this year include “No Gender Roles, Only Paratha Rolls” from clever Habib University students in Karachi and the famous, smash-hit, controversial-as-heck “apna khana khud garam karo”, also from the Karachi march. One little sentence has struck such a deep nerve across the land that one is not sure whether to applaud or bang one’s head against the wall.

Simply put, the slogan says “warm up your own food”. To many, this elicited a wry roll of the eyes in recognition of a truth nationally recognized: that men don’t do a damn thing for themselves in many households. They don’t get their own water, they don’t pick up the clothes they leave lying on the floor and they certainly do not warm up their own food (let’s not even talk about cooking it). They are, essentially, man-babies who have to be waited on hand and foot because they are Men who go out into the world and work, ergo all other human activities are irrelevant and unmanly to the core. Nothing screams Masculine like someone who doesn’t know how to work the microwave! Many women across the country laughed, and then sighed. Women in this country have died because of this, so they weren’t laughing for long.

Predictably, what followed seemed to be only obvious. A great heaving legion of people on the internet threw up their little baby fists and screamed a loud, enraged shriek. What on earth! They howled. What kind of madness is this orange piece of chart-paper, this scurrilous incitement to anarchy, this suggestion that someone, presumably male, warm up their own food? Many women also tutted, wagging their internet heads. I love warming up my man’s food, they said, how silly to suggest otherwise. It’s not a big deal, just warm it up. If it’s not a big deal, why can’t your brother do it for himself then? It’s only a small thing for a woman, but for a man it is somehow a gargantuan task of Augean-stable proportions, otherwise why would there be so many angry people saying we will not warm up our food? There must be some deeper reason, surely, for people screaming bloody murder about putting some haleem in a frying pan and turning on the stove for eight minutes.

The simple reason, of course, is Society and Gender Roles. Men in this country have beaten and in some cases killed their womenfolk because dinner wasn’t hot, it wasn’t served faster, it wasn’t ready when they wanted it. Women have suffered violence because their rotis weren’t considered round enough. A woman’s emotional and physical safety and well-being is dirt compared to the fitness of a piece of bread. If that doesn’t make your blood run cold, then I wonder what would. Men have done this, and continue to do it, unpunished and unchecked. Women’s labour in the home is grueling, unending and unpaid. Men go out to work, but after a certain time return home to watch television, eat dinner, socialize and sleep. Women are up and on their feet from dawn cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes, looking after children, feeding them, looking after homework, old family members, cleaning the house….all chores that are without end. The clothes do not stay washed. The floors do not stay clean. The food does not magically re-make itself after each meal. There is no weekend leisure, no off-time, no summer holidays, no Eid breaks. It is boring, repetitive work, every single day.

People who defend gender roles to the death insist that men’s duty is to earn and women’s is to look after the home. But the trouble is that women are expected to have sympathy and respect for men doing their duty, but in return they are given none for theirs. Never mind sympathy or respect, women’s work isn’t even acknowledged as work. If “all women do it”, then surely so do all men, and so each should just get on with it, and so if women are going to put up and shut up then men don’t get to come home and expect to be treated like princes either. Then they should come home, put their dirty clothes in the laundry and warm up their dinner because their work is not a big deal either. A woman has already made your dinner, and will be washing those dirty clothes and ironing the fresh ones you’re wearing the next day. You don’t get to expect more than that. We all work hard, so either we can be kind and help each other out, or we can slap our wives over a roti, in which case…khana khud garam karo.

The writer is a feminist based in Lahore.

What on earth! They howled. What kind of madness is this orange piece of chart-paper, this scurrilous incitement to anarchy, this suggestion that someone, presumably male, warm up their own food?