By Zahra H
In case you have been raped or harassed and are wondering what will follow when you go to a police station to report the crime, watch (and cringe as you watch) Pakistani male journalists’ interview (read: grilling) sessions of Ayesha Gulalai.
Nearly all of them portray themselves as liberals. They are educated and come from urban backgrounds. Being liberal is fashionable and convenient. But being liberal is not progressive and the prevailing display of misogyny on TV in coverage of Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations is proof of that.
Ayesha Gulalai is an MNA who resigned from her party, terming it ‘anti-women’. She went on to accuse her former party’s chief of sending her inappropriate text messages. As soon as she held a press conference to speak out about the alleged harassment, a flood of malice and threats was let loose on Twitter. Now, all of this social media smear campaign is quite like routine for us. Even if God were to descend on earth to tell people that, for example, Imran Khan has a child out of wedlock and has flaunted the nickname of ‘Playboy’, Twitter would be taken by the storm.
This time, however, media houses decided to throw a challenge at Twitterati. Mainstream media and social media are entwined in a competition – both are bent upon winning the misogyny trophy. The contest was a tough one. Twitterati began with the usual warm-up – Ayesha’s character assassination coupled with misuse of her sister’s pictures was initiated. They threw their best then with the acid attack threats. Nevertheless, in the neck-and-neck race, mainstream media managed to secure the lead. The boys grilled the woman one by one, ganging up against her by unleashing the misogynist bullies that are part and parcel of their souls.
They asked her irrelevant and/or cleverly designed questions to extract desired answers if not confuse her. They interrupted her when she attempted to address those irrelevant questions. They called her a liar. They blamed the victim as per the customs of their misogynist bully gang culture. Let’s assume for a moment that Ayesha Gulalai is actually lying. She is a politician after all and could have chosen to manipulate the harassment allegations in her favour when the iron is hot. Does that, however, give any right to journalists to grill her the way they did? Is it time for the police to retire?
Media, often termed the fourth pillar of the state, is supposed to be the watchdog. Pakistani journalists often lecture us on how we should be neutral in our work. But when it came to harassment allegations leveled against a man in power, they were not just biased – they all came into action to ensure that all other women think a hundred times before speaking out on harassment. Media – the watchdog meant to be the voice of the voiceless masses – became the tool that was used to silence all women.
The bully boys must be lauded nevertheless. They have joined hands and are making such concerted efforts against this one ‘lying’ woman. Those not directly involved, such as the male editor-in-chief of a leading English daily, are lending moral support to the boys who are working so hard. This unity is a remarkable feat – one that they can never achieve when it comes to gaining freedom from their real masters. I wonder if I will live to see the day when the bully boys gather the courage to stand up to Pindi boys…