Trolls: who needs them?

January 15, 2023

The answer is always, no one. But trolls do tend to magnify and bring focus to issues we usually take in our stride, and in this case, they have reminded us to look into making the Aurat Card a reality.

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Opinions: you know what they say about them, everybody has one. Do we want to be exposed to them? Sure. But opinions have to be justified. If I tell you right now that I think Harry Styles isn’t the icon he is made out to be, that’s a benign opinion. We agree to disagree, and move on. But if I say Harry Styles shouldn’t be viewed as iconic because his ideals and practices are harmful to society, then the opinion becomes potentially malignant. When I add that it is rumored he also pushes drugs on the side to teens; my opinion becomes absolute poison.

Harry Styles, however, being famous, rich, male and white, has an advantage we don’t all enjoy. Try playing opposites with all the words used to describe him one by one, and then together, and ask yourself if the immunity to criticism and lies remains as strong when the qualifiers change.

Now change all of that, and bring the situation home. Being a brown woman puts one at a disadvantage anywhere, but speaking from personal experience, nowhere is that disadvantage as great as within one’s own home country.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love this messy, beautiful, strange country we call home, but come on – do you really think Pakistani women are in any way protected and at any kind of advantage within Pakistan? Have you met a Pakistani woman recently?It doesn’t matter if we’re educated, affluent, beautiful or famous: someone is going to have a comment for, and an opinion on us, and 70 times out of 100, it isn’t complimentary.

In Pakistan, however, the more a woman is visible, the more hate she incites. So, e.g., if you have a Facebook account and maybe a profile picture confirming you are indeed a woman, you’re literally opening the door to men you don’t know proposing everything from friendship to marriage to their ‘services’ to them suggesting why a woman like you would burn in hell.

If you’re a woman in the public eye, the commentary and suggestions and rumors become even more vicious.

When you have actual access to your favorite stars, through their socials, and to every little piece of news about them, thanks to constant availability of information, the responsibility to nurture the relationship becomes two-way.

As a woman in Pakistan, I would always advise public figures who happen to be women to share anything about themselves sparingly on their very public platforms, and to ensure close friends and family also follow a ‘minimum info’ dictum.

A woman wearing a dress to a gala event becomes the catalyst for toxic commentary. A woman choosing a professional option that is a little different from her ‘image’ draws backlash. Even the women who play it completely safe in terms of public image aren’t spared the speculation when there is no evidence of misconduct.

You know what I’m talking about, right? Here’s a guy, whom I’ve never heard of before in my life, alleges that some of the most prominent faces in Pakistan’s entertainment industry have committed sexual misconduct, and protects himself from litigation by only mentioning initials, not names. Clever. And now he’s all over all my feeds, though I have never shown the slightest interest in his content.

When one of the women threatened to take legal action against him, he responded by saying he was requested to respond politely by a relative who is a woman, and suggested the celebrity in question was using an ‘aurat card’ to make him look bad.

Firstly, what is an aurat card, and where can we get one? If it lets us go out without being ogled at, groped, or worse, then it’s totally worth it. Let’s all sign up. Secondly, if these women, beloved actors, successful in their industry, economically independent, can’t get respect, what hope do us ordinary folk have? Our looks and financial worth simply don’t compare. Also we don’t have fan followings who will come out to defend us. The moral of the story here is obviously: there’s no winning against misogyny. But the second moral is: why can’t we use it to our advantage?

Before one of our very intelligent brethren (and some sisters) point out that women constantly use their misfortune to get attention, I’ll acknowledge it myself. Women use their misfortune, when it gets too much, to call attention to systemic injustices that have governed our lives for too long. We have to, famous or not, curate our public face to acceptable perfection. We do all of this while living actual lives. We are angry, we are tired, and we are sick of people telling us not only what to do but also how to feel. We are pulling the famous aurat card here, and telling you to back off.

If you identify as an aurat, you have our blessings to use the Aurat Card in the following situations

The ‘mehmaan aaye hain’

Use Aurat Card to get out of making chai for these kings and queens among men and women who have chosen to descend on your home at 10 p.m. Pull out card and shrug helplessly, wide-eyed. You need your beauty sleep.

The classic late sitting at work, because some of your coworkers are perennially late:

Flash the Aurat Card, and say you cannot stay till 3 a.m. to finish a task that should have been accomplished during office hours, since your silly feminine instinct makes you come to work on time.

When the gentleman at the mall stares too long at your ankles because you dared to wear cropped pants:

Put your card to good use by going up to him and asking if he realizes you’re a person who deserves a safe respectful space when you’re out, while holding the card up to his eyes like a blinder (so he can stop checking those ankles out, obvs).

If you’re Mahira Khan

Mahira, you’re amazing, so when the fans come at you for behaving out of line (their line), hold up your Aurat Card and remind them that you’re Pakistan’s sweetheart second, but Mahira Khan, the aurat, first.

If you are Kubra Khan:

Make sure your Aurat Card is edged in steel – like yourself – and don’t be too stingy with throwing it around as needed. Literally and figuratively.

If you’re Mehwish Hayat:

Ensure that your Aurat Card states, ‘Mehwish Hayat: Tamgha-e-Imtiaz’.

When you’re Sajal Aly:

Anytime someone asks you about the state of your personal life, pull out the Aurat Card and remind them that a lady never answers questions. Any questions. Period.

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