There was a time when, across the country, women like Asma Jahangir, my mother (Madeeha Gauhar) and scores of others crusaded against chauvinistic dictators. They fought fist for fist against bloodthirsty army and police officials, were baton charged and threatened, but they held on, absolutely focused on what was later considered the birth of the modern women’s movement in Pakistan. I remember one early morning, in my teens, I was having breakfast and watching some cartoons on TV. My mother was reading some newspapers when she got a phone call conveying “agencies” displeasure at her activism and opposition to the oppressive regime. It was a guy from some “agency”, and all I heard after that was her yelling at him asking for his rank and location, so she could come and show her displeasure. Circa 2019. Welcome to the (post) modern feminist movement or “Pseudo Feminism” as I would like to call it. It mostly consists of fiery Facebook comments and groups, hashtag “women rights”. Sometimes they even make the super human effort of gathering at the posh Lalik Chowk, where they can meet with friends and grab a bite or two later at one of many upscale cafes. Most of these upper and upper middle class women think feminism is the freedom to wear the latest Khadee kurta, smoke or post profane hashtags on Instagram. Men who believe in the superiority of their gender have these values entrenched in their psyche from infancy. Such mindsets cannot be upset by displaying banners such as “Merajismmerimarzi” (My body, my choice) during upscale protests Throwing up puffs of smoke while wearing a designer kurta is indeed enviable, but I wonder how it serves the feminist cause, except alienating them further from the common man (or woman). In contrast to activists getting beaten up by police and dragged on the roads before being thrown into police lorries and getting arrested, now the ultimate act of courage and defiance seems to be defying the sun with their Chanel sunglasses and struggling to save their make up from melting in the heat. The dictum of “saying the truth in front of the oppressive ruler” has been replaced by unburdening yourself on Facebook or Instagram. I can’t afford to be a male chauvinist, having a fiery feminist mother and a playwright father who has contributed to the cause of women’s rights more than most women writers. Besides some of my best friends are women. On a serious note, fighting an unjust patriarchal system is a huge challenge. You have to fight a centuries old social system, with values deeply ingrained in your sub conscious and unconscious. The bias in the socio-economic system is further complicated by the religious teachings which again are one-sided and outdated on issues such as gender. A woman is supposed to be emotional and vulnerable. Their evidence is rated as half of a man’s. Our culture preaches “modesty” but somehow places all the burden of being modest on women, without in fact clarifying what is modesty. We are advised a women should be hit “lightly”, leaving it to the man to determine how light is light. A woman wearing perfume is apparently something that makes her a “cursed” creature, and the smell of her scent is supposed to be a temptation to the men. A woman in our society is still a “delicate” piece of china that is to be protected. How can I, in my right mind, speak out against honour killings when the very culture shoved down my throat since a child tells me a woman is my honour, and specifically tells me a “proper” man will get angry if that honour is violated? How can I, in my right mind, expect women to be equal when my very culture specifically states that a woman is entitled to only a specific portion of inheritance, as well as no right to a proper divorce? Men who believe in the superiority of their gender have these values entrenched in their psyche from infancy. Such mindsets cannot be upset by displaying banners such as “Merajismmerimarzi” (My body, my choice) during upscale protests. Can it have an impact in a belief system which allows custodians of morality to kill or stone to death those taking this slogan to the logical conclusion? You may shout out against chauvinism, misogyny and gender bias, you may campaign against cases of honour killings and acid throwing, but you will get nowhere unless you hit at the core of the value system, which is the root cause of the unjust social system. You cannot expect to attain women’s rights and ignore rights of the poor, the rights of the minorities. It is a package deal. An oppressed working class man will continue beating his wife and children, a minority man whose human rights are denied, will deny the rights of women in his community. You can’t pick and choose, adhere to specific parts of a cultural norm, and disregard others according to convenience. If you obey the set cultural norms, then you have to accept being beaten every now and then, you have to stop wearing perfumes which tempt men and be “modest”, whatever that means. We are living in the 21st century, but our value system is archaic. If we remain stuck on thousands of years old dynamics, we have only ourselves to blame. Instead of thundering tirades against patriarchy, we need to look at ourselves, as a society and as individuals. Plan to take on the redundant system. Notions which prohibit women from working, having relationships based on free will, going out as they please, having a life of dignity and equal opportunity. The struggle for a free and fair society is not a women’s struggle alone. It is an equally important, if not greater, challenge for men. A society which gives due respect and rights to all oppressed sections of society, women included, is for the benefit of men as well. It will be as liberating for men as it will be for women. It will free them of the role of an oppressor, sole provider and protector, of the strong gender straitjacket. There is no point in alienating men, working class women and opinion-makers. We may hold as many protests as we want, we may create a hundred facebook groups and a thousand Instagram hashtags, as long as we do not address these fundamental issues, we will go round and round. I have seen women in my family fight against power hungry dictators and shrewd politicians, blood thirsty policemen and monstrous terrorists. I have seen women far surpassing men, not in only in courage, but also in vision and clarity. But they were able to achieve all that partly because of the support they received from the men around them. They have been good mothers, great partners and inspirational role models. The incredible strength they display comes out of the reservoirs of energy suppressed for centuries. If women are to meaningfully contribute to our society, they first and foremost must become aware, and consequently ask the hard but necessary questions of a culture that has chained huge sections of society, brainwashed citizens and imposed draconian unjust laws. If you are a true feminist, then you will truly break free from the confines of a thousands of years’ old decadent culture, and embrace who you were always meant to be as humans. And true men, have to show that they have an equal stake in freeing the society from its patriarchal chains. Let us pledge that we will step out of our cozy and comfortable hideouts and challenge the system per se. To end, a quote from Muhammad Ali Jinnah: “There are two powers in the world; one is the sword and the other is the pen. There is a great competition and rivalry between the two. There is a third power stronger than both, that of the women.” The writer is a director/actor; and a core member of Ajoka Theatre Pakistan. He has been involved in spreading awareness on socio-political issues through theatre Published in Daily Times, March 21st 2019.