As most of us who are on social media or watch the news know, the Prime Minister (PM) of the country called the leader of the PPP ‘sahiba’ recently. The term is an honorific used when referring to women, akin to calling someone ‘madam’. This would have been perfectly acceptable had the leader of the PPP not been a man. Before anyone starts harping about knee-jerk reactions, let’s just get right to it: men calling other men women has always been an insult. Men and women both know this, and there’s really no point in trying to bleat “but it’s not really misogyny”. It’s not a skewed compliment, it’s not a backhand way of saying women are amazing. The optics of this particular zinger are doubly sad: the PM in a huge turban, the zenith of masculine fashion statements, calling his opponent a girl. It’s the dumbest of playground insults, and one that starts heartbreakingly early. Girls everywhere feel that reverberate in their bones, and it’s an old ache.

You run like a girl, you throw like a girl, you scream like a girl. For Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who was raised abroad, speaks with a British accent and doesn’t display the usual ‘Manly Markers’—sports, hunting, driving around with one arm hanging out the window—it’s an old refrain. He clearly doesn’t give a hoot, and more power to him. But for the rest of us, the girls and the not-so-manly boys, how long do we have to keep putting up with this obnoxiousness? As long as the patriarchy lives and thrives, one supposes.

For the confused, this might be homophobia and transphobia (although why we’re discussing this in respect to BBZ I’m uncertain; not being the usual iteration of masculine doesn’t automatically make you a homosexual or a dormant trans woman), but it is most certainly misogyny. The feminine has always been derided as foolish, irrational and hysterical. Anyone who is visibly upset or angry, for example, is seen as unreasonable and out of control, and men are socialised to see this as weakness. As a result, men loathe to express emotions while women are freer in expressing theirs—ergo, it’s a traditionally female trait, to be ‘weak’ and ‘weepy’. Other ‘female’ traits include being nurturing—so, for example, in workplaces, women are frequently asked to make the tea. Parenting is also seen as a female sphere, so fathers who actually like caring for their babies are often badgered by relatives and friends to stop being such a softie, that it’s a ‘woman’s job’. Even men’s deodorants have to have a name like Icicle Avalanche Sharkbite lest anyone think that smelling nice is also ‘girly’ instead of just basic personal hygiene. Men are made to feel like being feminine is the worst possible outcome of their manhood, and it’s no accident that the PM deliberately chose to use this kind of insult.

To the average desi man, being told they’re women are fighting words. You can insult a man in a myriad of ways without ever bringing their masculinity into question, or wishing harm upon their womenfolk. But that takes skill and intelligence—just ask Winston Churchill, or your most sarcastic friend. You could insult someone’s intelligence, their looks, their slow wit or their mean heart. You could call them kanjoos, duffer, fool, ugly. The world is your insult oyster. But, surprise surprise, the easiest and most direct way to decimate a man is to just jeeringly call him a girl. If that isn’t misogyny, I don’t know what is. Interestingly, women don’t tell their enemies that they’re like men—we usually go directly to looks or brains. It’s rare that one uses the masculine as a standard for disgustingness, because we haven’t been socialised to see men as the standard for the rock-bottom of humanity (that needs revision, obviously). But from childhood, boys are trained to look at girls like that—with derision and disgust. You hit like a girl, you run like a girl, you scream like a girl. You talk like a girl, you walk like a girl. It’s a vicious cycle of indoctrination: men are raised to think that masculinity can only be proven as a direct inversion of womanhood, and they in turn go on to raise boys the same way.

That is why this conversation needs to be had, again and again. This is why we have to keep on talking about the words we choose when we speak because it’s not a slip of the tongue. It’s the psyche of generations, boys’ and girls’. It’s every time you tell a boy ‘only girls cry’, and every time a girl hears her body being used as the standard for deficiency. We are raising boys to actively hate girls, and it’s no surprise that as adults they become the kind of men who beat their wives in front of their friends, and instead of stopping him, their friends just make videos of it. It’s not about one ‘sahiba’, it’s about millions of men in this country and millions more around the world who think it’s funny, and who actively hate women and wish harm upon them. The statistics are there for us all, and the numbers are not a feminist conspiracy. The cycle has to be broken, and the time is now.