Is it really the working class men who stop privileged women from ‘doing their own thing’?

Published: September 8, 2016

Yesterday, we shared the Do Your Own Thing (DYOT) video with our take on it. The video was taken down last night, so our post has disappeared… along with all the shares made from this page. For the sake of the on-going discussion on social media right now, we are re-posting our comments again:

This video has recently been shared a lot and the feelings many people expressed have been mixed. We think it is useful to talk more about it and add to the conversation.

Firstly, kudos to these girls. This could not have been easy to do. We have to be careful in our analysis where we pinpoint what is problematic, but not let our own internalised sexism shape it in any way. It is important to acknowledge this. Female presence is not normalised in public space. We’ll admit that we often want it to be done in a certain way, in what we perceive to be the most intentional or informed way. But in that process we must not adopt a holier-than-thou approach or start policing other women’s behaviour in public spaces. We may or may not like it, but this ad too, is an expression of mobility.

We are glad that ads are finally beginning to show confident young women asserting their rights to be in male-dominated spaces. We are glad they are pushing for women’s rights to be where they desire, in the way they choose to desire. And we need popular media to pick it up and normalise it in different ways.

But can we look at our decisions more closely? Unfortunately, having thin, pretty women dancing (to Beyonce!) in public spaces, while working class men gawk at them, is an image that is part of the problem. We had a mini think-in within our team about where this ad makes us uncomfortable, and here’s what we came up with:

1. In encouraging women to do their own thing, why must we demonise working class men? Are these really the men who stop privileged women from doing their own thing?

The people who police us and keep us from ‘doing our own thing’ are much closer to home: our parents, our brothers, our husbands. They are in our schools, in our workplaces, in our ‘educated and respectable’ social circles, and private spaces — where most harassment and assault occurs.

Statistically, most women report sexual violence in a private space, by someone they know. Not on the streets.

Yet, this video portrays men from working class backgrounds as the problem, successfully diverting attention from the real issue: policing women from interacting with working class men.

Think about it: how many times have you been told not to loiter or hang around in a public space because of the ‘kind of men’ there? Most of us are taught to fear, or be suspicious of, the ordinary male hawker / shopkeeper / rickshaw wala. Yet, interacting with these same men has personally taught us that this mistrust and suspicion is misplaced.

How do we expect to build safe, non-hostile public spaces if we (middle, upper-class women) draw boundaries (from working class men) and view one another with suspicion? Why can’t we fathom a world where the rickshaw wala or the shopkeeper is an equal, a friend? What do we gain from asserting our right to be in public by excluding another group, except a public space that is hostile in a new way?

Our idea of women in public spaces needs to be rooted in claiming/sharing/co-existing in public spaces, instead of consuming spaces from another social group. We need to reimagine our public spaces to welcome all identities, where all genders can interact and exist across class and religious boundaries. Also, where the dukaan walas (shopkeepers) and the upper-class women can share an experience rooted in mutual respect and trust (like sharing a conversation over chai, or even breaking out into dance together.)

A space like this (unlike the space shown in the video) is not marked by differences.

2. This brand uses working class men in their ad as props for their profits but sells clothes which are hardly affordable. Does anyone see the grotesque irony here? The day working class women and men can walk into this store without feeling out of place and afford these products as ‘daily’ wear, is the day one can perhaps responsibly use these images from a social justice lens.

DYOT claims ‘NO AGENDA or social cause—just a bunch of creative people owning a place in the way they wanted.’

That is dishonest at best— of course there is an agenda here — to sell clothes!

Regardless of what the message is — a commercial brand is complicit in maintaining structures of power that affect us all. Is that really in line with feminist ideals?

We struggle with this often. On one hand, we are quick to call out brands when they are particularly sexist or problematic. Yet, when the same brands churn out beautiful feminist ads (like the recent Qmobile ad about girls playing cricket) we are equally quick to share and applaud them. We don’t call them out for commercialising feminism then.

The question we ask ourselves: When an entity (even if it is a corporate entity) chooses to engage with issues in a positive way, shouldn’t they be encouraged? There is such little space for alternative narratives in Pakistani popular culture, that anything even remotely progressive feels radical.

That is not to say we shouldn’t lose sight of the ways corporations hijack social causes. That is not to say that brands and ads should not be criticised and analysed. But given that ads play a role in shaping popular culture and mainstreaming narratives that break convention, we can acknowledge where they create opportunities to open up conversations.

3. In critiquing this ad, we are not saying that women should not break into a flash-mob in public. We are not invalidating other women’s experiences. As we said earlier, whether we agree or not, this ad too is an expression of mobility. Others often feel the same way about our expressions of mobility. No one has the foresight or end solutions in hand from the get-go. But critique and constant self-reflection must go hand in hand as we try to navigate all of this together.

In the spirit of that, let’s all reflect on these ads, and challenge our assumptions. At the very least, this ad has opened up a much-needed conversation. We just hope that the conversation does not get misdirected before it even begins.

This post originally appeared elsewhere.

Anonymous 80

Anonymous 80

The author wishes to remain anonymous.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • S.A Waqas

    These women are not dancing by their own will or for “Women Empowerment”. its Paid ad of “DYOT” & girls are paid for this so please dont link or pretend that they did for “Women empowerment”. All scene are scripted like film .Recommend

  • Omer

    It’s like hey guys we’re shooting a video and some models will dance here so please make space, dun forget to take your phones out and shoot it with your Q mobile. What are you trying to assert? I am utterly confused? It’s a country where women are riding Motorcycles and Bicycles all the way to Khunjerab pass, for God’s sake.Recommend

  • Usman

    it was a good attempt but unfortunately very badly planned and executed, it could be a lot better, moreover no one is really stopping women to do their own things but it’s just a state a mind of few people who want to commercialize it.Recommend

  • Zubair Ahmed

    Dancing in front of whole crowd just because some random guy was staring you, DYOT found a new way(creative) of selling cloths in the name of dancing empowermentRecommend

  • Iram Chawla

    Women in Pakistan are conquering “Everest”, are very well performing in every field of science and arts, female cricket team is bringing more trophies than male cricket team. Why can’t we promote these accomplishments. My point is that un-knowingly these kind of ads will again bring women to being good entertainers, and that is what I hate. We are not dancers or entertainers this is not how I would enjoy my freedom I just want other people (men and women) to accept myself as an equal member of the society and don’t boss me around. I can achieve that by showing them that I can earn myself better rewards then those who make us object of entertainment.Recommend

  • Spyrogyra
  • sher khan

    She conquered it with her brother :)Recommend

  • Woman

    I once danced on a street corner in an evening in Delhi because there was a group of little kids playing drums and dholaks. I was with my dad and I said this is fun I feel like dancing and my dad said go ahead. and so I did. So my intent was not to be an entertainer but just enjoy the moment the way i wanted to and it was great fun. Why should anyone have a problem with that?Recommend

  • BrainBro

    I don’t own my sister. She is her own person. That is the problem with Muslims.

    They are taught by Shariah to own their women. Literally.Recommend