Was I objectified and humiliated because I am a woman?

Published: October 12, 2015

I must be really unique, for I’m the only one I know to have been stopped at the spot for no apparent reason or justification.

To be honest, I had no plans of writing this blog post, till some well-intentioned friends noticed my passive-aggressive rant on Facebook a few days back and nudged me to let it all out.

Indeed, I owe it to their encouragement and to my own sanity. Not to mention, the borderline harassment incident that makes me want to smash pumpkins for Halloween. Just for starters.

It all began when I was stopped by security guards at the gate of the Parliament House, asking me to prove my identity. As if flashing my press and senate cards was not enough, I had to verbally explain that I am a journalist and have been covering the beat for many months now. I had a meeting and no time to waste. One of them coyly admitted that even though he recognised me, I would need ‘permission’ to get through, whatever that meant.

I must be really unique, for I’m the only one I know to have been stopped at the spot for no apparent reason or justification. I wonder if dressing more modestly than my demure desi attire would have helped. Because I had an important meeting to go to and their nonsense was only getting on my nerves. On the verge of exploding, I called up a colleague who had driven past the same gate without having his motives questioned only minutes ago. He surfaced, cajoled them to let me in, intervened into a long series of phone calls with croaky walkie-talkie-holding uniformed men. The hot afternoon was just turning out to be more bizarre while I shuttled between my car and the stupid arguments, regretting to have ever made the effort. Should have cancelled the appointment and done with an email, anything to avoid this dumb exchange on a workday.

A good 30 minutes later, when I was feeling sufficiently tanned, I was finally ushered into the entrance with more guards confirming my name on more walkie-talkies till I got to the office I was supposed to all along. So much for only doing my job at a place I go to every other day. Marching through the corridors, I couldn’t help feeling objectified and humiliated for an umpteenth time. It still feels so ridiculous that I do not want to bring it up.

Photo: Screenshot

Photo: Screenshot

Photo: Screenshot

Be assertive, was my colleague’s ‘advise’ to me. The mild-mannered feminism and no-fuss attitude is no good apparently. Male colleagues pride themselves over sailing by without being checked, some with expired cards and others with none at all. And it’s not about cards but confidence they tell me.

However, all their well-meaning advice is lost on me. I’d much rather be doing my job without having to explain myself to anyone, much less security guards getting a kick out of becoming an obstacle in my path. I acknowledge the heightened security situation in the country, but not the sense of entitlement to pick up on women randomly just because they’re born women in an over-arching patriarchal society.

Too bad, I don’t play the angsty feminist card too well. Instead of being upset and creating drama, I’ll just be upfront and reason with the unreasonable. I wonder why so many women tend to let these things go by? No matter how insignificant, harassment is a very much a thing in our society.

No matter your credentials, your gender is a soft target. Like it or not, you are harassed to varying degrees and varied settings, more often that you’d like to believe. Some part of your conscious mind has learned to look beyond getting riled up in the fruitless battle of the sexes. Instead, you surrender to the menace as being a norm and tell yourself that it is something you are ordained to deal with just by virtue of being born you.

Some feelings are just hard to articulate, like the ones I had those in that moment that day. While I know there will be no overnight breakthrough in amending the age-old mind-set, I hope my words will resonate with someone who has been through similar experience and is willing to take a stand against blatant displays of sexism at work or otherwise.


Maryam Usman

The author is currently working as a National Reporter at The Express Tribune newspaper in Islamabad and in the past, has also worked as an Arts, Culture and Life & Style Reporter and a Sub-Editor for the newspaper. She tweets as @mittzbitz (twitter.com/mittzbitz)

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

  • Asad

    Oh you had to stop for a few minutes for a check. That is very sad and cruel. Accept our sympathies. #sarcasm #firstworldproblemsRecommend

  • M Waqas Sajid

    “Because I had an important meeting to go to”, really??? Are there any worthy parliamentarians with whom your so-called meeting is considered important?
    Since, she was stopped for the first time (ever in her life), that is why she’s complaining. Don’t try to play female card everywhere, like many of females play in their universities..

  • Sami

    Stop whining because you waited for a while because guards were confirming your identityRecommend

  • M. Ali

    Another one of those “estrogened”-crazed-feminist. You go on and celeberate Halloween……Recommend

  • Humza

    To me it sounds like the author has a chip on her shoulder and considers herself some type of VIP because she is a journalist. All over the world, journalists are given a hard time when they try to cover a story. They are often shooed away or told to get lost which is why western reporters take things in stride and develop thick skin. Our journalists and reporters excel in sensationalism and tabloid type news. There is a big difference in professionalism. That’s why being asked to prove identity repeatedly, being held up for hours, being given a hard time and being told to get lost is part of the job for Western reporters but not for Pakistani reporters who like most of the nation’s people, expect VIP treatment. Feeling humiliated because she had to show her ID many times and she was held up for an hour is blatant sexism to her! She would not survive as a journalist in US!Recommend

  • Sami

    Exactly… she didn’t even play the feminism card right. And look at the comments of her friend who are equating it to sexual harassment… i mean seriously??? All this because daddy’s princess was stopped at the gate for a few minutes and got tanned because of it…Recommend

  • Raheem

    This is sad and unacceptable, but wait where’s the ‘objectification’ in this?Recommend

  • tungi

    grow up woman…. so every guy who stops you has to be harassing you huh?Recommend

  • Custard_Pie_In_Your_Face

    Guys are harassed by security services all the time. Welcome to equality.Recommend

  • Iqbal

    I sympathise with you. And all the criticism you are getting in the comments section actually prove your point. Unfortunately, we men of Pakistan have become a macho, sexually repressed, uncouth and intolerant lot.Recommend

  • Fawad Ali

    If you are not her facebook, here is everything for you. Article on how she waited for 30 min while authorities confirmed her identity. What if terrorist threat and they body search before letting you in, that would be disaster, please you are just another person and need proof of who you are.Recommend

  • Saad Salman Zia

    If you think this is the sort of harassment that women in Pakistan have to face on a daily basis, you’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Men with families face lesser scrutiny on the roadside check posts but if you have a car full of young men, it’s very likely that the cops will ask you to disembark for detailed security checks. Is that male discrimination? Absolutely not.
    Having to wait more than your colleagues is not something exclusive to females and is definitely not harassment; it is inefficiency at best. Articles like these hurt the cause of women’s rights by providing cannon fodder to chauvinistic viewpoints. As most people have said here, this is more of a whining rant rather than an example of gender based harassment.Recommend

  • rationalist

    Apparently, this lady grew up with elite privileges and wants to be treated as a VIP wherever she goes. Welcome to the club of ordinary people who have to follow rules and procedures especially at airports and other security check points.Recommend

  • Jameel Ur Rasheed Ansari

    I use to go that place for my office related work and I am being stopped and frisked at all times. I had been visiting PTV HQs for past five months on daily basis and just the other day I was barred from entrance in the building for not possessing a PTV employee card. There were some stupid elections going on. I did not feel insulted or humiliated. If you tanned there for only 30 minutes, those guards stand beneath the sun for good whole days and meet people like us. They do what are asked to do. Had this been a man in Army Uniform, you would have been happy to oblige all his demands. You would even laugh on their sexist jokes, except for they won’t make any! But please, it’s not misogyny or anti-female drive. Stop making it a personal issue. I wonder why girls like you never say a word on such blogs when men step aside in public places to let your girls take turns, at banks, at stores, at market places and others. If you want to work like men, at least make up your mind for situations like these which happen very rarely.Recommend

  • Jameel Ur Rasheed Ansari

    Well they are goons on wheels when they put a strip on their number plates saying “Press”.Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Journalism isn’t a game for a mummy daddy kid like yourself. You better go do something else where your “female” card works.Recommend

  • Rd px

    It doesn’t seem to be a gender bias. The lady is imagining things. Next she will say she was stopped because of her ethnicity.Recommend

  • Jehangir Khan Mescanzai.

    Dead wrong !! In the West you do not want to be on the wrong side
    of journalists. They can literally destroy your career or give your
    reputation a huge black eye. Ask Trump, he is suffering the consequences of badmouthing Megan Kelly/ Fox News, that means Rupert Murdock, was firmly behind her. Trump is now slipping and loosing, because Fox News have nearly cut him off. Instead of being the racist/bigot’s mouthpiece. He is just another pol. He will get nowhere now.[the other networks treat him as a joke in seriousness]
    The author of the blog clearly wrote that she is a regular reporter,
    covering parliament, for a major newspaper, for months now. Not
    a new face.The guards knew her very well.They kept scanning her
    card, like juveniles, with lascivious smirks. Scanned her security clearance card and journalist credentials umpteenth time. Anyone
    can see they were giving her a hard time. Even the village idiot can
    verify this. Why they were doing this? Because in the Land of the Pure it can be done. Because imbeciles are placed in sensitive positions…such as guards at the gates of Parliament. Very likely
    nepotism in full bloom. An uncle or friend of grandmother’s secret paramour, got them the job. Punjab Gullus at work.
    Now, then, do you understand? Hope it helps just a tad, a tiny bit.Recommend

  • Fareed Khan Afridi.

    “Stop whining”…? Says you! It was a clear case of sexual harassment. Or
    call it gender inequality. A male acquaintance had to be called back to clear
    her way and deal with these Neanderthals at the gates. If you cannot see that she was being harassed and the grossness of the situation that was being
    perpetuated then you are still in the last century. Time to make the move into year 2015. One of the shills even admitted he knew her.Yet they gave her a hard time for no apparent reason. If she was an unknown, she would have been told to turn around and leave. Immediately. No, they played with her.Recommend


    I understand Pakistan is not the best place to be a women, but in you case the guard was just trying to do his job.Recommend

  • Misbah

    Maryam bibi, yeh dost he phaswatay hain… Read the comments from the people who are not known to you. Writing something on FB wall is totally different as you only have got friends and the people who are following your comments and views.

    Respect the people who were at your service to check all the people going inside any of the building so that you and us can be saved. You should have your ID cards and and all other necessary documents in your hands before reaching to the entry gates. Moreover, from next time, you may reach your place well before time so you can spare sometime for identity checks as well.

    Everyone is a VIP here in Pakistan. huhRecommend

  • Umar

    The comments here are more spot on than the article itself.. I am wondering since when asking for identity in high security zone count as harassment..? why you didn’t have the identity card with you in first place..Recommend

  • Aqeel Maqbool

    Pointless article. Seems like writer just wanted to expand her facebook frustration status into an article and did i tell you it was pointless.Recommend

  • manzoor

    well….a journalist who claims of not playing the female card is writing an article here that shows how truthfull she is in her claim……Recommend

  • rationalist

    “A male acquaintance had to be called back to clear
    her way and deal with these Neanderthals at the gates.”

    What is so bad about that? If she had ever been raped, she would have had to produce four male Muslim witnesses to prove the rape according to Islamic and Pakistani laws.Recommend

  • Sami

    So according to your logic if i go to an office and receptionist (a lady) asks me to please wait and let me confirm your identity. If for some reason (may be a glitch) it takes her time to confirm it that means she was sexually harassing me….Recommend

  • talat

    Bizzare article with no sense.I don’t know what writer wants that where ever she goes , she be received with gun salute??????Recommend

  • Sami

    The lady wanted to enjoy two privileges and she failed in both. The first is the Journalistic Privilege. The second is the privilege to be a woman. Upon failure in cashing in on both of these she declared it as an act of harassment.Recommend

  • Motiwala

    Why compare her and say she will have a hard time in the US.
    She has already proven her worth in triplicate. Being a Parliament
    reporter [female] in a Muslim country where women are not even allowed to go and vote. And girls are kept out of schools, threaten
    with dire consequences. Malala comes to mind. She will make an excellent reporter, ANYWHERE. Considering she has already
    achieved a prestigious assignment. Mashallah.
    No sir, she has more courage, guts, fortitude and a desire to excel
    than YOU will ever have in 10 lifetimes. See, after all, she succeeded
    in one of the most dangerous countries in the world. Kudos to her.Recommend

  • M Waqas Sajid

    the title of article should have been ‘How VIP prefer to do jobs’Recommend

  • Hassan MEhmood

    Well honestly, i’m really disappointed Ms Maryam or whatever you are just trying to dig out nothing let me qoute an example here i live in sort of prohibited area although i have clearance pass to enter that zone but security personel often ask for NIC and i have to show it as a requirement if you don’t like to be waited outside QUIT THIS job at on side you “Female” our respected ladies we want equality , Well listen Wake up dream is over start living !

    And if you are really trying to say i’m journalist then i would have been provided with protocol why that so ? To be honest i have seen journalists trying to act as a MAFIA which is truth !Recommend

  • Humza

    You are always welcome to an opinion but facts remain unchanged. If being forced to wait a half hour and being given a hard time by some difficult guards by petty delaying tactics at the parliament is what validates her in your mind as a reporter of distinction in Pakistan, you have just proved my point! Journalism isn’t about posting petty comments on facebook like high school girls and inventing sexist innuendo to suit your ego and sense of entitlement. In no way would I dispute that women face challenges in many Muslim countries, Pakistan included but you conveniently forget that Pakistan has had women serve as Prime Minister, speaker of the house, parliamentarians, ambassadors, fighter pilots, policewomen – you name it. Yes there is a conservative streak in some rural areas, particularly in KPK but the majority of women ARE allowed to vote, go to school and fully participate in any sphere of public life. Look up what western female journalists tackle without instead of being impressed by facebook posts.Recommend

  • Humza

    Unlike in developing countries, Western journalists are held to higher standards of having to verify the authenticity of what they report and be subject to libel. It’s not like the Third World where you can write what you wish and even literate people believe it as gospel! So in fact, journalists can paint a favorable or a negative picture of any individual or event but most Western reporters are held to a higher standard of professionalism and would not let go facebook posts in the manner of slighted high school girls. Reporters can be left wing, right wing, center of the road or anywhere in American politics but we all know they have a bias whether it is right wing Fox news or a more liberal CNN. You can call the guards juveniles for scanning her card repeatedly with lascivious smirks because you have a preformed judgement on events. I have an opinion of a spoiled burger child who became a journalist. Should I say my female teacher let female students pass their assignments before me so let me jump to conclusions about her being against men and being rude and so on and so forth. I am from a village so should I say she is against Paindoos like me? When will the people of Pakistan learn to grow up beyond childish temper tantrums. If being educated means dealing with difficult people, show some maturity and professionalism.Recommend

  • Nero

    Obvious they picked on you because you are a young woman. I have seen it happen many a times at security gates.Recommend

  • stevenson

    Luckily Pakistan is not rape capital of world which is the title given to our Indian neighbours. In the other hand, I do have to congratulate Indian writers and journalists who are able to fight back against real and not imagined abuse. The Indian writers fight against all kinds of abuse and stand up by returning awards:

  • Fareed Khan Afridi

    See, if you got past the building’s front entrance security
    [which is now used everywhere, even in third world countries]
    And you took the elevator or stairs to the desired floor, then
    you are home free. Then why would the secretary ask for your identification? If you have an appointment, you are expected, she has this info. Just say ‘I am Gullu, here to see Mr. Goofy’.
    No harassment took place. Do you see it? I can draw pictures….
    This is beyond the pale.

    ET moderators, if you edit any portion, then do not print.Recommend

  • Ali

    I am sorry what happened there, was so not good. And, I must say, ‘ATTA GIRL” you have a guts to speak it out. However, I beg to differ, Gender equality,seriously?? where it is coming from? Have you people gone mad. Women are the assets of our nation, Apart from our mothers,sisters, they represent a nation in every field. I am not saying that what happened,was right. nay!!!! It was ridiculous, rather shocking. Its a long running system of our illiterare security forces(Police and security guards only) and their behavior how they work and deal with the civilians. I am a boy and i have faced particularly such attitude thrice. Firstly, i made a mistake of pulling over my bike in a traffic signal near to the LAND CRUISER of our some MNA and literally had to face the GUN,yes a GUN, one security guard just put a gun on me,OMG, i knw what i had been through at that time. Secondly, I made a mistake of overtaking the protocol on a motorway Petrol pump and had to face the music in the form of abusive language of their guards, teri maa ko….tri behen ko,,, !!!!! YA ALLAH Tu Sab Se Bara Hai,BEhsak!!! Third time, i remember on airport at the the time, umm when we just enter to get our ticket and passport checked by security forces. Okay, Pardon me, if i wont be able to understand you the exact term. At the time of checking,they said, Kitney capsules khaye hian??? How many capsules have you eaten??? i was like, shocked!!!!! What????? WHat the hell they were talking about? I had no idea. I said, no sir, i have not eaten anything like that, He said: AIK thapper maruga to sab such bolega, i got confused, m ne kiya kia sir??? Do i look like a drugastic??? HUH!!! YA ALLAH TU BHT RAHEEM HA,BEShak!!! I am thankful to my Allah who has always held my hand and HE was Allah who got me out of that scene..
    So, Ma’m, I am not surprised but curse on that security forces.Recommend

  • Motiwala

    Let’s not sidetrack the real point of contention here. By
    painting a rosy picture of past glories attained by women
    in the Land of the Pure. And some tattered remnants still
    propped up for international consumption. A woman as PM now? Hardly. [And Mohtarma’s revenge on the Pak exchequer to the tune of $1.5 billion as death dues for hanging her father deserves a 500 hundred page book.
    She was PM? No, a bandit]
    A female reporter harassed by male security guards, for no
    apparent, viable reason is the bone of contention here. Which
    you are maligning and papering over. After you trim off the excess hoopla and innuendos, stark reality is : she was harassed. Because she is a female. Simple as that. However
    people are known to be bull headed and inclined to be
    unbending. You being a prime example.
    And who gives a doozy about what exchanges were made on
    on Facebook.Recommend

  • Sami

    i along with my some class mates and teachers were invited in an award ceremony at the President house. Even though we were expected but still they thouroughly scanned us and we had to wait but we didn’t mind because security is always the top priority.. same goes with this lady no matter who she is or whom she wants to meet, same security measures should also be taken (gender equality remember..)
    p.s don’t mind E.T moderators are also editing my commentsRecommend

  • Umair Chaudhry

    Well Said. Guys are always harasses by security services all the time. Looking for gender equality then face it and stop complaining.Recommend