Dear men, please don’t pretend to be feminists
2018 was a big year for women. A simple hashtag, #MeToo, started a massive movement. This hashtag encouraged women of all races, backgrounds, and occupations to come forward and share their experiences of sexual harassment, workplace inequality and gender discrimination. It was initially created by Tarana Burke, an American social activist, and was popularised by actress Alyssa Milano in October 2017. By sharing their experiences with the hashtag, women used it as a platform to speak out.
“the greatest impact has been on Hollywood”
When this movement reached my home country, Pakistan, women used social media to call out years of unchecked, improper behaviour by teachers at schools and professors at universities. This movement also extended to the Pakistani music industry when the CEO of Patari was fired for asking prospective female singers for sexual favours. But by far, the greatest impact has been on Hollywood. Hollywood has been the place that the movement has been used and abused most by men: men in high positions, men leading fancy production houses, men hosting morning talk shows. Basically, men with a lot of power.
Take for instance, Aziz Ansari. Aziz Ansari is an Indian-Muslim who starred in sitcom Parks And Recreation, and then created his own show, Master of None. Ansari filled this show with allusions to the story of his own migration experiences growing up in the West and the racist microaggressions, comments and attacks he was victim of. He tells the story of how finally, he found his way to the top in an industry which doesn’t let outsiders in so easily: Hollywood. He also used his show to refer to women’s continued sexual harassment and unequal opportunities. This is interesting due to an incident that implicated Ansari in 2018.
A young woman, Grace, wrote on Babe.net about how she felt Ansari had instigated non-consensual sex with her on a date. This date left her with a feeling of unease and restlessness and she started questioning herself like many women do: maybe I made a mistake? Maybe I was the one who was wrong? Perhaps I should have made it obvious I was uncomfortable?
When I looked back at Master of None after reading her story and saw how Ansari wove elements of feminism and the need for gender discrimination to end into his writing, I didn’t see a ‘woke bae’. A woke bae is the one who’s a regular at women’s marches. The one who believes Jameela Jamil and all she stands for is super cool, or the kind of guy who actually realises how bad it’s been for women’s representation and opportunities. But, a woke bae is not what I saw in Ansari. What I saw was yet another man exploiting women’s rights for his personal social capital, when in fact he had had zero interest in the history and need behind women’s empowerment.
When Ansari walked on the stage at the Golden Globes wearing the #TimesUp pin, he was lying. This pin signifies a movement against sexual harassment. Hollywood celebrities headed by Reese Witherspoon and America Ferrera raised over $23 million for creating a legal defence fund for women pursuing legal action. He was using a movement to progress his career and show the world that he is in fact, a ‘woke bae’. It’s one thing to wear a pin and verbally align yourself with a movement. But it’s quite another to actually practice it in your personal life.
Growing up in Pakistan and working in the media industry part-time, I have met women who have dedicated their lives to improving equality in the workplace and working in grassroots organisations providing legal aid to women from a low-socioeconomic background. It is a major disservice to these women when men swoop in at the right time and squawk about how much they respect women and are ‘feminists’ but behind closed doors watch porn, or engage in non-consensual or uncomfortable sex with women, or speak over them in meetings and thereby intimidate them.
“It’s not enough to say it, you have to practice what you’re preaching.”
Unfortunately, we live in a world of Instagram and Facebook, where if we see a celebrity posting a picture aligning themselves with #TimesUp or posing with their wives and girlfriends saying ‘we love our women and respect them’, then that is seen as enough. But it’s not. It’s not enough to say it, you have to practice what you’re preaching.
You have no idea how much flack I get for saying I’m a feminist – but I will not let comments and judgmental stares stop me. I don’t want my mum to interrupt me when I voice my opinion about why it’s wrong the food on the table is laid for the men to eat first. I don’t let trolls on my social media stop me from writing about feminism and its significance. I won’t stop because it’s what I’m passionate about. Some men don’t want to go through the struggle, they don’t want to do the labour of actually understanding the history behind these movements and why they’re actually needed.
In March 2018, Pakistani women and the transgender community came out for the first Women’s March (Aurat March) in Karachi. It was a symbolic and brilliant step forward. But men, just hours after the march took place, went on social media to mock women, claiming they had enough rights, so what were they marching for? The fact of the matter is that many men simply do not understand the #MeToo movement. They cannot seem to fathom what all the fuss is about. This is largely due to the simple fact that misogynistic behaviour has been going on unchecked for decades, and men assume that this is simply how the world works.
This article was originally published on Rife Magazine. Neha Maqsood is a 20-year-old, born-and-bred Pakistani currently pursuing a dual degree in Medicine & Global Health at Imperial College London and Bristol University.
This is a Ghostwriter article. Ghostwriter is a space where people from any background can contribute their thoughts to the discussion about race and masculinity. Find out more here.