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Entertainment

April 23, 2018
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Ali Zafar-Meesha Shafi spat: The bigger issue

The single, most important issue that has shaken the Pakistani media industry to the core these days is the country’s very own #MeToo movement, after leading actress and singer Meesha Shafi came forward to level allegations of sexual harassment on another leading actor and singer Ali Zafar.

Whether you decide to side with Meesha or with Ali Zafar is your own call, however there are some serious issues that need to be addressed right off the back, amid the entire fiasco that has forced me to sit down and write this piece. Now, harassment is a very sensitive issue that needs to be dealt with a lot of care and caution. But unfortunately, just as normal as this single word has taken space in our everyday conversations and its usage has become so casual, its basic definition to us remains very unclear. While harassment can take any form; at workplace or elsewhere, sexual or otherwise, the act of staring at a woman up and down also falls in the parameters of harassment, if it is making her feel uncomfortable.

It was only yesterday that I came across a ridiculous article rooted in some very troubled perceptions about harassment. The writer, a man of course, proclaiming himself to be a fan of Ali Zafar, indicated a picture in which Meesha was seen standing close to Ali and went on to comment over how women if dressed immodestly (as per the writer’s individual standards of modesty, obviously) somehow ‘provide “license” to all men to stare, touch and harass them in any way they want or like’. This is the very root cause of all problems that have taken birth in our society: how a woman dresses up is her personal choice, and even if she is not ‘appropriately covered’ according to people’s individual standards, then it in no way gives someone a go-ahead of invading her personal space, either physically or mentally. You see, it is all about a simple yet much neglected concept named “consent”. While the writer absolutely ignored the fact that Meesha might have consented Ali, in that particular picture, to stand close to her, at other times it definitely might not have been okay for her to be felt or touched without “consent”.

As a woman I can tell that it is very difficult for us to speak about experiences of sexual harassment. And no woman would ever do it just for the sake of some very temporary, superficial “cheap publicity” that would later tarnish her reputation forever. Here, I am not advocating the fact that speaking up about such experiences is attached to any sort of shame, but let’s be real; people in our society always slut-shame women, every time blaming their dressing of whatever unpleasant experiences they go through. Which makes me think what provocative dressing seven-year-old, innocent Zainab would have done to be abducted, raped and killed so brutally?

And just so people can get a glimpse into how common and prevalent sexual harassment in our society is, I conducted a small research at my workplace in which I asked my fellow colleagues if they have ever faced sexual harassment of any kind. And to my surprise 8 out of 9 women shared that they have been harassed multiple times in their life by someone who they knew from very close. So the fact that it does happen is irrefutable, but the fact that it happens to such a vast majority of women and that too so frequently is very alarming. And just like it happens to common women, it happens to high-profile celebrities and empowered women like Meesha Shafi too, who do not just share their experiences as part of a mere publicity stunt, but perhaps because they are too tired of suffering in silence.

I also happened to come across some news regarding women (Ali Zafar’s band-mates) coming out in support of the singer, stating that they have known Ali for a very long time and such a disgraceful thing has not happened to them ever. To this, I would only like to point out the possibility that everybody’s experiences, equation and relation with a particular person is different and can vary greatly.

However, unfortunately, after the entire episode, it makes me highly depressed to say that we are far from solving harassment (a very major problem at hand), if we continue to breed toxic thoughts - like a woman’s dressing being linked to and actually causing incidents of sexual harassment with her - in the same way in future as we do now. 

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