TW: ASSAULT, R*PE CULTURE, GRAPHIC CONTENT, TRAUMA, PATRIARCHY, VIOLENCE
“If a woman is wearing very few clothes, it will have an impact on the men, unless they are robots.” — PM Khan
At the beginning of July, Pakistan’s domestic violence bill was opposed after several right-wing fundamentalists raised objections and demanded that the bill be sent for a review by the Council of Islamic Ideology. According to the CII, the bill interferes with the Islamic way of life. The proposed bill had punishments and fines for domestic violence and extends the definition of domestic violence to cover emotional, psychological and verbal abuse which is in direct opposition to the CII’s views of domestic violence, according to which a husband should be allowed to beat his wife ‘lightly’ and what constitutes psychological abuse is necessary for disciplining children.
There has been a brutal wave of patriarchal violence that seems to only rise with every passing day ever since the domestic violence bill faced resistance. As if the COVID-19 pandemic hadn’t worsened the domestic violence epidemic enough, victim blaming rhetoric preached by key government figures and officials has only served to encourage the perpetrators of these crimes. Femicide is the deep-set rot emerging from rape culture paired with a patriarchal mindset which is taking away precious lives from us everyday. Our mourning is declared vulgar because voyeuristic men can’t stop staring at our bodies when we protest. They deface murals of our dead sisters, and won’t stop treating murderers like champions of masculinity.
Around a week ago, I woke up with a bad taste in my mouth, sweating and scared because I dreamt a man with more social capital and power harassed me and I couldn’t do anything about it; I felt like helpless prey. I logged onto Twitter to find another Pakistani woman’s tweet about waking up disoriented from a dream with sexual assault symbolism, and several others affirmed they were having similar nightmares. Someone in the U.S dreamt of their friend back home and had to call them in the middle of the night to check up on them. This is in the aftermath of yet another woman murdered by patriarchy. 27-year-old Noor Mukadam was found beheaded by Zahir Jaffer on 20 July. Noor, Quratulain, Naseem, Kanwal, Maham, and Andaleeb are some of the names who became “Justice For” hashtags in July. These were just the cases that got reported and picked up by news outlets, and there were countless others who suffered the same fate.
In the wake of oppression, the internet has a tendency of becoming an echo chamber of trauma, where the voices of victims get amplified, and many more come out to talk about their similar experiences. Like #metoo, as much as these social media trends spread awareness and expose the extent to which such aggressions permeate our lives, it is important to remember the toll constant exposure and activism can take on our mental health. We feel responsible to stay in the loop, informed and updated about every new development. Such a thing is necessary but so is the need to take breaks and indulge in activities that build community and hope.
The revelation that symptoms such as nightmares, anger, dissociation, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, paranoia, hypervigilance, disturbed sleep, feeling unsafe, lethargy, fear, and uncommon body aches were being experienced collectively by women who are aware of the the femicide led me to research a little about collective trauma and patriarchal trauma. Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is a term coined by Dr. Valerie Rein. Based on her research of intergenerational transmission of trauma and her experience providing therapy to women, she came to define PSD as “intergenerational, collective, and personal trauma of oppression, the invisible inner barrier to women’s happiness and fulfilment”. Call it PSD, collective trauma, or intergenerational trauma, most women will affirm that they experience stress and trauma on a daily that their cishet male counterparts live oblivious to.
“When I was studying transgenerational trauma as a PhD candidate, people inevitably asked what my thesis was about, and as I answered eyes often glazed over; the idea of trauma transmitting threw them. But the big picture that came to view through my years of research revealed socially structured cyclical traumata founded in patriarchy.”
--Patriarchy Perpetuates Trauma by Meera Atkinson, The Guardian
A few months ago, a male cousin of mine told me how sometimes women will doubt his intentions and treat him unfairly even though he is a nice guy. He relayed an incident of him offering help to a group of women in a parking lot, as they seemed to be having trouble with their car and he volunteered to look. He tells me how bothered he was by their immediate mistrust, so I asked him to evaluate what he has to risk versus what they have to risk. He feared being considered a creep, someone making fun of him, or rejecting his sincere help, whereas for women, talking to and asking help from a strange man risks their safety, their lives, and/or being abducted. At this point he realised the stark difference between our worldviews and went quiet. I think about this often, how the things we learn to fear every moment of our lives don’t even occur to most straight men. More often than not, it is not just a matter of them not being observant or considerate.
Women grow up with this unspoken trauma and from the beginning learn that this fear of unprovoked violence against them is normal and to be expected. To a lot of us, it occurs too late in our lives that there is something deeply upsetting and wrong with this version of social reality. By the time we understand it, we’ve already learned to adapt and navigate, since it is our unspoken normal that we don’t talk to the men in our lives about these experiences. I see elder male relatives in family gatherings discussing everything from national politics to international sports, but I have never seen them talk once about femicide, rape culture, misogyny, domestic violence, or workplace sexism as social ills or as the national crisis it has become.
Why do they not acknowledge these issues? Surely one reason is because they protect other men. Being friends with a man of social capital is more important than calling him out for his behaviour towards a woman you don’t even know. But what about the “good” men? They do not experience the collective trauma women around them do, but also because these issues are impersonal to them. Women who are gaslighted about their trauma their entire lives, who learn to accept these occurrences of harassment and violence as normal, who dissociate and minimise these issues to continue carrying on in a patriarchal society, culture and family, don’t talk to their fathers, brothers, sons, and male relatives about their collective experiences, which leads men to develop impersonal attitudes about these problems.
“Internalized oppression is likely to consist of self-hatred, self concealment, fear of violence and feelings of inferiority, resignation, isolation, powerlessness, and gratefulness for being allowed to survive.”
--Understanding Internalized Oppression by Teeomm K. Williams
As we’re talking of male obliviousness, internalised oppression in women as a means of survival under patriarchy is also worth touching upon. As much as feminists dislike women who pander to sexist men and uphold patriarchal structures, I believe it is important to understand how these behaviours form. Owing it to their personal circumstance, different women develop different coping mechanisms and survival instincts. We mustn’t shun our sisters who suffer from internalised oppression, as it only further alienates them. In a system that already seeks to alienate women, keeping them from developing effective support systems that may help them heal and overcome, it is in no way moral or productive to reject them. Some are in a position to self-educate and oppose systems of oppression without directly endangering their lives, while some of us have to play by the rules and use these systems to our own benefit. Others face the threat of violence even at a familial level and have to conform in order to just survive. Building a strong femme-centric support environment based on the principles of empathy and with aims to educate and help women heal from the inside out should be one of our prime goals.
“On a macro scale, internalized oppression (also known as self-directed oppression) is when a marginalised or oppressed population begins to accept and act on stereotypes and other inaccurate beliefs related to it. On a personal level, internalized oppression happens when we impose limits on ourselves in pursuit of safety.”
–Internalized Oppression: Living Safe Means Living Stuck by Jeremy McAllister, GoodTherapy.org
We can observe that as the international online communities for and by women grow stronger and increase in numbers, as more and more women who previously wouldn’t have thought of sharing their trauma or taking firm stands against sexism now feel safer, seen, and emboldened in doing so; this is the power of online safe spaces. In the Pakistani drama industry, rife with misogyny and problematic sexist tropes, we see actresses who in their personal lives enjoy the rights afforded to them by feminism. They get on TV and play insensitive stereotypes of womanhood for a male audience in serials like ‘Meray Paas Tum Ho’, ‘Jhooti’, ‘Durr-e-shahwar ’, ‘Zid’, ‘Laapata’, ‘Dunk’, ‘Jalan’ and ‘Zara Yaad Kar’.
With being a woman, there comes a sense of alienation; men who want to sleep with you do not stand by you when you’re under fire, and most women’s platforms or movements aren’t louder than angry religious mobs that uphold patriarchal standards. I do not say this to take the blame away from women who choose to remain ignorant due to class privilege, but to bring to light the deep isolation women face which we must remedy. This sense of isolation is the obstacle in the path of self-actualisation for many, as survival instincts do not care for morality. If you speak up, you will lose your freedom and nobody will save you and you can die. That is how simple the thought process is, and we cannot force people out of such learned behaviours. I hope that with time women succeed in cultivating empathetic support circles and powerful movements that can really protect us and urge other sisters to be a part of.
Until the required cultural revolution takes place, we have to make sure that we establish networks of support for victims of the patriarchy, and find strength in sisterhood while channeling our trauma into effective politics of change. We also must take the necessary steps towards collective healing. With the grief, rage, and survival instincts we have inherited, we have also gotten from our mothers perseverance and tactics to fool a system rigged against us, and above all the will to carry on. It falls largely upon the creative community to nurture safe spaces for women, where they can mourn, have access to group therapy, make art, volunteer, educate, heal, and connect. I believe that when we are overwhelmed by the injustices of oppressive systems working against us, it helps to collectively envision the beautiful future we are aiming for.
About the Author
Mashaal (she/her) is a Pakistani poet, writer and artist from Rawalpindi. Her poetry is centered around themes of lived experiences under capitalist patriarchy and women exploring identity, love and desire when their existence is highly politicized and their bodies policed. Most days you can find her writing poetry, reading for The Walled City Journal, volunteering art, admiring Mina Loy's 'Parturition' and listening to Sylvia Plath's audio recordings. She adores succulents, flowers and lepidoptera hence the recurring floral references in her Poems. Her work is forthcoming and published in Fahmidan, The Sutterville Review, Rigorous & The RIC Journal among others.