Shame and violence are natural emotions that have always gone hand-in-hand. Nearly two decades ago, as a young child, I recall the first time I witnessed and learned how shame manifests into violence, in the physical and verbal abuse my father would impose upon my mother. (My father would impose his cowardice, not to be mistaken for strength). Once my anxious seven-year-old self had calmed down and my father had left the room, I would fearfully approach and sit beside my mother to provide her hugs, love and ultimately, comfort — acting in a reversed role as a parent. Personal experiences of this nature allowed me to identify violence and abuse much more easily as shameless tools of power, tools which are used to mask one’s own shame, and this shamelessness is visible in any person who inflicts violence and power on a weaker, more vulnerable being. Shame, and the dirt it leaves behind, often remains ‘hidden’ (or at least one hopes it does), a process more allegorically referred to as ‘shoving it under the rug’. Take for example having to ignore the irrational anger of a grandparent, or looking away from the mutilated street child knocking on your car window, or avoiding mentioning that one uncle in the family who ran off with his second-wife in 1992. But what happens when the bulge gets too big to ignore: how do we react to the dirt lying underneath? My own shame has always been something I wanted to hide, too. No matter how badly I wanted to remain unaffected by the words, judgments and policing of people (especially the men) who surrounded me, I could not. This was until three years ago when I decided to address a critical aspect of the weight of shame in an article on premarital sex in Pakistan. The dialogue on sex, and even menstruation, in Pakistan, is one that has been used by men to create rules to govern women and is one that ascribes women their ‘worth’ or ‘purity’ strictly by being concerned with how women use their own bodies. Both sex and menstruation are inherent and naturally-occurring parts of our anatomy and sex are not anomalous to me as a Pakistani woman (albeit, one with a lot more privilege to explore my sexuality). The post-publishing aftermath of the article was cataclysmic, leading to my paternal disownment and the unwelcome public and male gaze on my being. Confronting shame (especially as a woman, where being shamed merely for being born is possible) was crucial for healing psychological wounds and providing solace to those who felt similarly, I learned, and I believe what caused others to either slander or embrace my stance was either the projection or recognition of one’s own shame. Being intolerant towards one’s own shame —shamelessness— is precisely what triggers incomprehensible, irrational violent outbursts and insensitive comments towards your character. A more historical example of the roots of our cultural shame is Partition violence. The blatant devaluation of human lives in the gruesome rape and murder of women that took place has proved to be simply an instance of masculine pride exerted over the enemy’s women (by men) through gender-specific sexual violence. Another example manifesting in Pakistan’s highly unequal socioeconomic landscape is where shame is hidden by one’s pride. The pride in one’s status is the shadow which conceals one’s own shame of inadequacy and inferiority in a circular way; a Catch-22 which reinforces the idea that some human lives are more valuable than others. Pride masks shame. Both are sides of the same coin visible in the behaviors of people who seize power and who have, throughout history, demonstrated self-serving, even greedy behavior. Pride masking shame is also evident in those who gluttonously partake in one of sharam’s (modesty) close relatives, sifarish,(intercession) which existed in pre-Partition India as a result of British nepotism and the eruption of Indian feudalism. In present-day Pakistan, the act of name-dropping has been a perpetual contributor to classism and the lack of a meritocratic system. This culture has succeeded in justifying the elite class as untouchable. The painless bribery of law enforcement and the foregoing of equality and basic justice to fuel VIP culture are two instances I am, unfortunately, much too familiar with. At the same time, sifarish inspires the lower- and middle-classes to remain in competition with one another for a chance at similar privileges. Therefore, sifarish appears as necessary for survival in pressing, uncertain situations. But, it is the underlying subliminal message of sifarish that reveals our own sharam: ‘if you don’t listen to me, I have the means to hurt you.’ Sifarish becomes an almost narcissistic behavior masked by the artifice of ‘pride’, and it reflects a severe lack of self-awareness. “Between shame and shamelessness lies the axis upon which we turn; meteorological conditions at both these poles are of the most extreme, ferocious type. Shamelessness, shame: the roots of violence,” excerpted from Salman Rushdie’s third novel, Shame, published in 1983. Written during Zia’s regime who was only Pakistan’s second most oppressive dictator (shame being first, of course), Rushdie painted a crucial image of the birth and progression of Pakistan’s history, which has developed alongside shame. Although nationalism has arguably been indispensable for creating a political collectivity, for women it has resulted in sets of rules that apparently preserve our pride and honor—two things which are imaginary, fictitious ideals. When we internalize male standards of pride and honor, we continue to reject our collective shame, guilt, and regret. In turn, our culture suffers and becomes dishonest. ‘Double-lives’ emerge, where one part of us assumes pride to preserve one’s honor and reputation, and the other is where we attempt to hide the simmering shame in the furthermost corner of our mind. But a vicious cycle of self-censorship and self-denial ensues if we forget about our shame and guilt—the rug continues to bulge under the blanket of our lies told to the outside world. The iconic phrase ‘log kya kehenge?’ is a good example of behavior that prefers to look outwards, rather than inwards at the root causes of our own guilt and shame. Women have involuntarily been the most affected by the collective reluctance to accept and understand shame. As mentioned, Partition was a time when women were used as emblems, ‘badges’ of each nation’s honor and it has been suggested that what was done to their bodies represented the intense rivalry between both nation-states. Thousands of women were murdered, and many committed sacrificial suicides to preserve another imaginary, fictitious shame-driven and pride-preserving ideology. A more recent example of gender-based violence is that of Asma Aziz’s assault, a woman who had every right to refuse her husband’s demands yet became victim to a violent attack driven by fragile toxic masculinity and, equally as horrific, victim-blaming. Violence towards women has contributed heavily towards the degradation of gender equality and socio-cultural norms, and this shows up in the disappointment towards the birth of a daughter, her disownment and even her killing if she causes the family dishonor, not to forget her murder over the terms of a dowry ― all events she may have no control over. Traditional gender and class roles reinforce that women have little autonomy and power over their free-will, and the fact that our culture is heavily dependent on familial values becomes both a blessing and a curse. Shame incites the policing of women’s bodies, such as the over-concerned male anxiety towards virginity. Women are objectified by the male gaze, which is a gaze that sees women solely as objects for the fulfillment of male desire. The gaze weighs heavy upon the body when women attempt to claim public spaces, dress ‘immodestly’, or try to reject cultural silencing and patriarchal constructs ― such as the belief a menstruating woman is ‘impure’. Again and again, the gaze of patriarchy arouses shame. Women empowerment movements in Pakistan have not been altogether absent, although shaming and serious repercussions still occur in varied forms depending on one’s particular socio-economic background and privilege. Indeed, most are subject to involuntary cultural silencing, and this primarily affects those with little to no freedom and autonomy. As said poignantly in Salman Rushdie’s novel ‘Shame’, published in 1983 (which still maintains relevance to present-day Pakistan), “I hope that it goes without saying that not all women are crushed by any system, no matter how oppressive. It is commonly and, I believe, accurately said of Pakistan that her women are much more impressive than her men… their chains, nevertheless, are no fictions. They exist. And they are getting heavier”. The gazer and the gazed, the abuser and the abused, the one who shames and the ashamed. All of us suffer when a part of us and our culture conditions us to shame ourselves and others: there is an unbearable burning in our chests; a shudder passes through our bodies, accompanied by the desire to bury it as deeply into the ground as we possibly can. Shame is most certainly an unwanted acquaintance, an unwelcome guest for us all. How does it go away? Perhaps only by accepting ourselves and others for who they are, and not judging them by societal standards of ‘proper’ behavior, of ‘purity’, of ‘womanhood’. Zahra Haider is a Pakistani-Canadian writer based in Toronto. She has written for and appeared on VICE, BBC World, Huffington Post, Bustle, Daily Beast, rabble.ca, Times of India and more. Zahra is currently working on a collection of essays and her first novel.