Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations against Imran Khan and the subsequent invective the public has unleashed against her are another stain on Pakistan’s increasingly losing battle against gender discrimination and misogyny. Regardless of whether Gulalai’s allegations are true or not, the response she has faced from the public — including notable journalists and anchor-persons — is highly deplorable and highlights the sexism endemic to our society. The venomous response to Gulalai’s accusations depicts how society intimidates and silences women who dare to speak out against their oppressors. Intimidation and physical threats are in fact fundamental tools males use to silence women. These threats can range from emotional duress to outright physical acts of violence. Indeed, many men went as far as to champion throwing acid on Gulalai as ‘punishment’ for her attempts at ‘maligning Imran Khan’. The callous way in which males can advocate for violent measures such as acid throwing highlights not only their complete disregard for women but also shows the power dynamics that lie at the heart of misogyny. Whereas women like Gulalai are publically condemned for claiming they were harassed by a male in a powerful position, all males have the right to advocate violent acts against women. Ayesha Gulalai’s vilification is both a product of this power dynamic and further reinforces it. Controlling the narrative is one way to shape opinions and discourse, and the conversation over gender parity is very much in the hands of men. Moreover, the masculine segment of society is further able to perpetuate its control by shaming and publically ridiculing women who dare to challenge the hegemony of tyrannical masculine forces. This shaming forces women to remain silent in the face of oppression and accept their position as supressed minorities in society. Thus, when men are ridiculing Ayesha Gulalai and threatening to act violently against her, they are exploiting the power they have over women which society has afforded them. When men ridicule Gulalai and also threaten her with violence — they are simply exploiting the power they have over women and which society has afforded them It is important to realise that this power dynamic is not at all limited to our political landscape. It is in play when a man beats his wife or threatens her with divorce. It is evident when a woman is castigated for giving birth to a daughter and not to a son. It is in front of our eyes when women are catcalled in public, and it is evident when the honour killings of women like Qandeel Baloch are justified on the premise that ‘she had it coming to her’. This episode also sheds light on another aspect of misogyny in Pakistan — that a woman is never taken as an individual, but as a representative of her family, culture, and community. This aspect also lies behind so called ‘honour killings’ as well, where a woman is killed because she somehow violated the honour or public standing of a male relative. This was very evident in the way our public resorted to condemning Ayesha’s sister, Maria Toorpakai. Maria was accused of wearing shorts and thus somehow promoting promiscuity in society, and this was in some way related to Ayesha’s own allegations against Imran Khan. Society’s tendency to clump together Ayesha and her sister and shame both of them highlights how women are seen as representatives of those around them, and how they are considered responsible for the actions of others. This is very prevalent in common speak as well, where we continuously hear of how a woman must have corrupted a man, or caused discord in families. These charges against women, and allegations that women are somehow more emotional and irrational than men stem from the narrative a male-dominated society has created to perpetuate the control of one gender over another. Understanding the reasoning behind shaming Gulalai’s sister is in fact crucial to fighting misogyny all over the world. Since the advent of liberalism and the prominence of philosophers such as James Mill and John Stuart Mill, women have come to represent progress and modernity in society. As a counterweight to this, traditional thinkers especially in South Asia advocated an ideology that claimed women represent ‘tradition’ and modesty, and thus, any steps taken by a woman which seem out of line from this definition of tradition are considered immodest and a violation of a society’s norms. This is why a man’s honour is falsely tied to his wife or sister or mother or any female relative, and this also pushes men to shoulder the responsibility of ‘protecting’ women. This protection in fact, takes the guise of oppressing women and jealously circumscribing their freedoms of action, thought and movement. Any discussion of fighting misogyny, therefore, must start with men acknowledging their culpability in promoting sexism. Claims such as ‘not all men’ and ‘it’s all in good fun’ must be jettisoned for they in fact perpetuate misogyny. Each and every one of us is guilty of promoting sexism if we ever claimed — no matter how casually — that a woman is more sentimental or if we ever laughed at a rape joke. We must also appreciate that the fight against sexual harassment and against the oppression of women is indeed an uphill one, but we can initiate the struggle by supporting Ayesha Gulalai and defending her right to speak out in public. Let men take responsibility for once. And let us stop shaming the better half. The writer graduated from Aitchison College and Cornell University. He also studied at Oxford University and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His interests include the politics of class, gender and race Published in Daily Times, August 10th 2017.