In Pakistan, August is a month deeply intertwined with the idea of azadi, the Urdu phrase for freedom, and through a complete month of ‘bleeding inexperienced’ in celebration of a questionable liberation, it’s straightforward to gloss over the spilling of all that purple throughout the nation. The phrase ‘azad‘ holds a novel place within the Urdu lexicon, inspiring equal ranges of reverence, delight, and within the context of girls, utter hostility and revulsion. Whereas an azad mulk, a free nation, is trigger for celebration and revelry, an azad aurat, or a free lady, is met with accusations of cultural degradation, an lively risk to the nation at finest, and a justification for barbaric violence in opposition to her at worst.
There’s maybe no higher encapsulation of this than the current assault of a singular lady at Better Iqbal Park, Lahore final month by a hoard of over 400 males throughout Independence Day celebrations, all underneath the shadow of the Minar-e-Pakistan. Ayesha Akram, a TikToker, noticed not solely her bodily particular person attacked but in addition discovered her character positioned underneath exceedingly damaging scrutiny. For a lot of, Akram’s ‘digital freedoms’, her visibility on TikTok and thus her supposed questionable morality, validated the assault.
The digital world, on the floor stage a minimum of, appears to afford girls larger freedom of opinion and expression. Nevertheless, the violence enacted upon girls, so usually justified utilizing their on-line presence, leads one to query the supposed ‘freedom’ the digital realm seeks to allow altogether. The obtrusive unevenness of the digital taking part in area appears now extra apparent than ever, aiding the replication of pre-existing patriarchal energy buildings, in the end making a recent house populated by age-old violence. With questions of morality and respectability so deeply intertwined with each on-line and offline personas of girls, how does their supposed ethical standing have an effect on the violence enacted upon them, and may a software so deeply entrenched in patriarchal buildings promise any stage of liberation?
The current incident in Lahore just isn’t the primary time a lady’s on-line presence has been weaponized in opposition to her and used to justify acts of violence. Most famously, Qandeel Baloch, in some ways Pakistan’s first social media star, was murdered in 2016 by her brother for posting risque movies and jeopardizing the ‘honourability’ of her household. Her ‘freedom’ was unacceptable.
An entangled mess
Social media, particularly in its present type, is a uniquely late-Twenty first century phenomenon. Its obvious newness, and subsequent supposed unfamiliarity, breed each hope and concern. At its finest, this digital house is deemed a pressure of liberation, and at its worst, a breeding floor for violence. The reality seems to lie someplace in between, seemingly inching nearer and nearer in the direction of the latter with every passing day.
With violence within the bodily world being enacted upon girls taking on house and exercising their obvious freedoms within the digital realm, the declare that the 2 can’t be thought-about mutually unique just isn’t a contested one. Nevertheless, the connection between the bodily and digital worlds defies straightforward categorization. It’s a relationship consistently in flux, with every of the 2 being knowledgeable by the opposite. The web house, nonetheless, is commonly championed for enabling freedom of expression to a far larger extent than the bodily.
Shmyla, an activist coping with problems with gender and on-line areas, was fast to debunk the parable of a democratic digital world. “It’s not as democratic as individuals make it out to be. The primary problem with these platforms is that they find yourself replicating the identical energy buildings that exist within the offline world. There’s an phantasm that folks can say something they need, and whereas generally sure issues do get previous the barrier and go viral, it’s not as democratic. Populist opinions maintain quite a lot of sway in these areas,” she defined.
Whereas the ability of digital group constructing shines by way of as a saving grace, the activist asserts that there’s nonetheless a lot to be accomplished till the digital house can really be used as a software for any type of liberation. “Ladies are capable of entry completely different frames of thought and communities that may in any other case be tough within the offline world. Other than this, I don’t imagine it actually helps ‘empower’ girls. It’s extra about making connections. There’s much more that must be accomplished.”
The novelty of the digital house usually results in it being equated with progress, and in the end the bettering of societies. Nevertheless, for Dr Muhammad Moiz, a world coverage practitioner with a powerful curiosity in urbanism, governance reform in post-colonial states, and problems with gender and sexuality, the novel digital house brings with it novel issues by way of its interplay with preexisting energy buildings. For them, social media, and the following visibility that it at instances forces upon people, is an additional software by way of which misogyny might be exercised. “Visibility begets violence,” they begin, citing queer principle. “Expertise is an entrant in a preexisting system, and it has its negative effects. That’s what we’re seeing right here. There are extra instruments to commit violence with. Visibility of violence appears to have elevated as a result of now you may have a better variety of seen our bodies to commit violence upon,” they added.
Whereas Tik Tok and Instagram, in addition to the elevated visibility they provide, could also be new, girls, in addition to those that chastise them for participating in acts of self-expression and pleasure, predate social media. In accordance with Dr Moiz, “We don’t usually get to see girls dancing or doing their make-up on the streets. It feels novel one way or the other, however I’d argue that ladies have existed who’ve been participating in these acts nicely earlier than TikTok.”
Elaborating on their level additional, they clarify that violence in opposition to these girls has additionally all the time existed. They continued, after citing the instance of a blogger by the identify of Nosheen Islam who tried to justify the assault on Ayesha Akram by claiming she was a trans lady, “If girls who have interaction in such acts are killed after being labelled ‘gashti’, ‘randi’ or ‘khusra’, then we have to perceive that these phrases predate social media. They’ve existed from earlier than. And these girls had been being killed utilizing these phrases earlier than social media as nicely, with the violence being actively justified by the perpetrators.”
Blurring of social boundaries
Social media has led to a deterioration of the boundary between private and non-private. Whereas makes an attempt are made to share sure info with a sure viewers, the convenience of accessing info and the wildfire-like nature of it make gatekeeping tough, particularly when info is actively sought out. The weaponization of personal info is a daily incidence relating to enabling and justifying acts of violence, particularly in opposition to girls.
“The presence of private info on-line which might then be used in opposition to people makes the web house reasonably unsafe, for girls particularly,” explains Shmyla. “You see this quite a bit with journalists, the place individuals will use their non-public footage to defame them and lift points on their character regardless that that has nothing to do with the work they do,” the activist added.
With TikTok so usually positioned on the coronary heart of this cultural warfare in opposition to ethical degradation, Shmyla explains that a lot of the eye the app receives relating to questions of immorality could need to do with the visible nature of the platform, particularly its emphasis on bodily visibility. “Individuals who create content material on Tik Tok are compelled to be extra seen, as in comparison with different platforms equivalent to Twitter,” she shared.
For Dr Moiz, this visibility comes at a price. “We’re used to listening to issues like visibility is highly effective, however indigenous queer individuals argue that invisibility is energy. That you just stay invisible and also you select visibility in your phrases.”
To be seen means to place details about your self out into the digital house, and in keeping with Dr Moiz, entry to info is the place true energy lies in our technocratic societies. They begin off by explaining how makes an attempt are sometimes made to filter out and management what info reaches who. “Individuals now could have entry to details about you that you just didn’t intend for them to have. Social media tried to avoid this at first by introducing Fb teams, Google Plus had circles and Instagram has shut buddies, however these are all technological instruments which were there from the get-go as a result of individuals realized even then that info is capital.”
Elaborating additional, Dr Moiz explains that the extent of management somebody has over these boundaries between various narratives determines the extent of energy they command in society. “Our private and non-private info disposition are completely different with completely different individuals as a result of we want to create a sure type of picture and narrative for ourselves in entrance of them. How highly effective you might be will depend on how a lot company you may have over sustaining these boundaries, and the way nicely you may make all these various narratives come again to go well with you.”
Sharing an instance of a lady who understood the ability of a story and appropriated it accordingly, Zaimal Azad, a gender equality campaigner with expertise working within the girls’s sector in each the UK and Pakistan, cites the case of the undaunted social media star Qandeel Baloch.
Baloch took management of a story, one which was actively used in opposition to her. “What she was doing was precisely what males and society do to girls, however she clocked onto that and mentioned that if somebody’s going to make use of my physique it would as nicely be me,” defined Azad. Her unabashed and radical acceptance of the labels of immorality imposed upon her for her personal achieve gave the social media sensation energy, which was in the end a risk to a patriarchal system that advantages off of girls’s submission within the face of the fear of being labelled as an ‘immoral’ outcast.
A disaster of honour and morality
Morality makes up the primary line of defence for girls who’re the victims of violence, in addition to the primary line of assault of those that want to justify the violence enacted upon them. This then begs the query, what’s an ethical lady? The impossibility of discovering an goal reply to this query makes the ‘ethical’ lady appear to be an virtually mythological determine, with no lady ever with the ability to match the invoice. Regardless of the elusiveness, girls are compelled to idealize an impossibility.
Bee Gul, a screenwriter in style for her well-rounded, realist feminine characters, after mulling over the query of girls’s morality, mirrored, “Though there’s a very clear divide between lady and a nasty lady, I all the time marvel what the definitions of the ‘good’ and ‘unhealthy’ lady are. We by no means take a look at her as a complete, seeing her as both black or white.”
She added, “This ‘good lady syndrome’ is ingrained within the thoughts of a lady as quickly as she is born. That’s what she carries ahead, so the difficulty of morality turns into very deep-rooted.”
Echoing the beforehand acknowledged sentiments on the label of ‘azad aurat’, the screenwriter defined, “A nasty lady is an azad aurat. However, to me, an azad aurat is one who questions oppression and violence brazenly. All of the victims of abuse who arise for themselves immediately change into azad.”
Regardless of ‘immoral’ behaviour being deemed because the chief motivator behind violence in opposition to girls, Azad asserts that whether or not a lady is taken into account morally upright or degenerate has no bearing on whether or not she is protected against patriarchal violence. She shared, “I used to be itemizing down the current situations of rape within the information, and the variation within the type of girls in opposition to whom the violence was being enacted actually stood out. There have been cis girls, trans girls, girls from completely different class backgrounds, TikTokers, a 50-60-year-old lady who was raped. Our response to it’s completely different relying on who we predict is deserving of our sympathy.”
If the sufferer is deemed a ‘good’ lady, full with an virtually childlike innocence and the helplessness of a lamb, she is assaulted for her lack of worldliness. If the sufferer is labelled as immoral, she is assaulted as a method to a badge of honour for ‘correcting’ her deviant behaviour. The hypermasculine underpinnings of energy and management stay constant.
The ‘honourability’ in query could not all the time be a lady’s personal both. Azad cites the case of Mukhtar Mai, who was gang-raped in 2002 as retribution for her youthful brother’s alleged illicit affair with a lady from a rival tribe. Whereas Mukhtara Mai was subsequently labelled as immoral for talking out, becoming a member of the ranks of the azad aurtein thought-about cultural and nationwide threats, the unique violence concerned her appearing merely as a vessel for the honour of one other. She explains, “If you consider honour-based violence in opposition to somebody like Mukhtara Mai, she herself wasn’t perceived as immoral, nevertheless it was due to what another person had accomplished. It doesn’t matter if she’s honourable or not. She turns into a mechanism to punish any person else.”
The impossibility of safeguarding oneself from violence stemming out of assumed ethical degradation can maybe be handled finest by discarding these concepts of morality altogether. By means of the instance of trans girls, who’ve confronted a perpetually rising tide of barbaric violence and gang assault, Dr Moiz stresses the significance of rejecting patriarchal labels altogether. “Trans girls are open to taking part in the great lady and the unhealthy lady as a result of why select? Use these patriarchal ideas on your personal achieve. Our complete narrative relies on girls attempting very exhausting to rid themselves of labels,” they clarify.
Elaborating on how searching for out validation from the patriarchal system at play works solely to perpetuate this violent system of management, they add, “‘Not all feminine TikTokers have unhealthy characters’, by way of this portray of the trendy lady because the ‘good lady’ we’re additionally concurrently legitimizing violence in opposition to anybody who doesn’t match that picture. Who’s the unhealthy lady? Will depend on who you ask. It doesn’t matter what you do, you may be thought-about a dishonourable lady by somebody.”
The digital house has the potential to change into a software for liberation, however the highway to freedom is paved with radical, and at instances uncomfortable, change. Dr Moiz, whereas discussing the disconnected nature of Pakistan’s feminist motion, asserts the significance of shifting away from the entice of single narratives that the motion appears to be taking part in into in the mean time. They share, “Even the feminist battle for liberation is consumed by what info this struggle for liberation needs to be portrayed of itself, whereas being unable to manage the narrative.”
Elaborating additional on how any try at freedom and liberation have to be born out of a rejection of divides between class and the questions of respectability they entail, Dr Moiz provides, “I’d say that the digital house hasn’t liberated girls, it has confined girls much more as a result of it has launched new concepts of female propriety. It has launched new ethical questions on what it’s to be a lady in 2021 on social media. Up to date feminism is shedding the battle as a result of it’s attempting to lean right into a narrative not understanding that its battle just isn’t for a story, it’s for a number of narratives. It can not solely attraction to middle-class, parha likha sensibilities.”
Liberation can’t be achieved, by way of digital means or in any other case, whereas concurrently preserving patriarchal buildings equivalent to class, race and gender. “Kis se haqooq maang rahein hain? Who’re you interesting to? The heteropatriarchal system?” they ask, concluding with a query on the coronary heart of each battle for true freedom, “The place is the rise up?”