Are these slogans not a reflection of our collective and individual lived experiences?
very recent article in The New Yorker (enter bougie Lahori-feminist trope) sheds light on a linguistic Heisenberg principle: “as soon as you label something, you change how it’s perceived”. Sounds familiar?
Feminism in Pakistan is labelled as a western import, a dehistoricised, decontextualised, exclusively bourgeois, unrelatable and limited phenomenon to the point where this label is used as a substitute for facts. But feminist struggles and movements have always been a part of Pakistan’s history, be it the struggle for Independence, the advent of All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA), the mighty conception of Women’s Action Forum (WAF), the Sindhiyani Tehreek, the Okara Women Farmer’s Movement or today’s Aurat March. Women of Pakistan exist, think, feel and do things. And they will keep on doing so.
The contentious placards and slogans used in the Aurat March are labelled as vulgar and “other-ed”. But are these deserving of the treatment received? Are these slogans not a reflection of our society, our culture and of our collective and individual lived experiences?
Mera Jism, Meri Marzi (My Body, My Choice)
It needs to be put out into the universe: women are human beings and have full autonomy over their bodies by virtue of being humans. The constitution, religion society and other institutional frameworks not only recognise this objective truth but also understand that all human beings have certain rights over their bodies. When women united under this slogan, it was not a challenge to anyone’s concept of religion nor was it an open call for prostitution.
Mera jism meri marzi is not a scandalous or a vicious attack on our ‘morals’.
It was a rightful desire to protect their bodies from unwarranted glances and touch, to choose to groom it whichever way they want, to be able to get help without making diseases a social taboo, to choose a partner who would respect their body and also to have the choice of not having a partner to begin with, to not think a hundred times before breathing in a public space, to not be regarded as a piece of meat or a transactional commodity that can be owned and disowned or a permanent site of someone else’s muddled concept of honour. Mera jism meri marzi is not a scandalous or a vicious attack on our ‘morals’, it is a historically stifled declaration of independence. Let’s not make it into something it really isn’t.
I genuinely do not get the hue and cry over this slogan. It does not even say cook your own food, it only asks you to reheat it – by using a microwave. The anti-marchers have gone after this particular slogan because it challenges the supposed status quo and the fixed gender roles over which the structures of oppression were established. It is not the act but the expression of it, the courage to dismantle something that is labelled as normal that has led to the backlash. And calling that out is the sort of defiance necessary to free Pakistani women from the burden of domestic labour that they are subjected to.
Read more: Know your feminists
There is also a section of society that would dismiss the politics behind this slogan and brush it off like a tiny flake resting on their conscience. But no, it is not a “small matter” or a ghar ka maamla. This is where the personal becomes political, undeniable and jarring, glaring at all of us unforgivingly, disturbing our feigned comfort that masks exploitation penetrating the most mundane of activities. Patriarchy is everywhere and there is no shame in calling it out.
Labels are a very common manipulation of words, a well-thought distortion of experiences that feeds the creation of patterns of oppression, limiting the true potential of the oppressed. The labels that have been pasted upon the slogans of the Aurat March are a great example of restrictive social engineering. This classic manoeuvring makes one think of Lorde’s words:
And when we speak we are afraid
Our words will not be heard
But when we are silent
We are still afraid
So it is better to speak
We were never meant to survive
Yeh hum gunahgaar aurtein hain
keh ab taaqub mein raat bhi aey
to yeh aankhein naheen bujhengi
keh ab jo deevaar gir chuki hai
use uthaane ki zidd na karna
In light of the words of these two great feminists, let this Aurat March be a celebration of not surviving a guinea pig-like existence, running on the wheel with no end in sight but an acceptance of the labels handed out. Because the walls are coming down, and there is nothing but the naked truth to hold near and dear. Gunahgaar tou gunahgaar hi sahi.