It truly has been a sad and disappointing week in the regressive, woman-hating society that is Pakistan

Published: October 31, 2017
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What followed after Sharmeen’s claim of harassment was, ironically, the worst form of harassment we’ve witnessed on social media recently. PHOTO: SHARMEEN OBAID-CHINOY

Unless you live under a rock, you are not only aware of the Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy vs the doctor debate that has stirred the Pakistani nation, but have also most certainly picked a side.

Statistically, it is more likely that you support the doctor, and why not? Poor man, who is also a father of four, allegedly got fired – a reminder to the harassers in the Pakistani population that harassment can also have consequences, a concept they are, of course, unfamiliar with.

It all started with Facebook and Twitter – which is probably something we’ll also say about the third world war – as a Facebook friend request led to a Twitter rant which led to all of Pakistan collectively losing its chill.

This is a country that has definitely seen worse days, but if anything, this incident has revealed the issues that are big enough to trigger the collective conscience of the country. This is also a country where murderers walk free, and most people stay silent rather than talk about crimes pertaining to sex, so of course the public at large felt a deep sympathy for a doctor facing consequences for his inappropriate actions.

Sharmeen taking to Twitter to express her outrage – something Donald Trump is allowed to do on a regular basis, but hey, it’s not like he’s in a position of power or anything – was the trigger for the keyboard warriors of Pakistan to emerge. What followed after Sharmeen’s claim of harassment was, ironically, the worst form of harassment we’ve witnessed on social media recently.

Here’s why this outrage is not only selective, but also excessively blown out of proportion:

1. Sharmeen made the big mistake of…tweeting?

With great power comes great responsibility – apparently they should add that to Twitter’s guidelines. One of the reasons everyone got so angry was that Sharmeen tweeted about this issue using her celebrity status. Since when do celebrities tweet about things of a personal nature? Also, how dare she use her celebrity power and her privilege to highlight an issue? Has she learnt nothing from our politicians?

People felt that if she wanted to take action, she should have done so privately, not on Twitter. Even though Twitter is definitely the place to go to if you want anything to happen, as evident by international politics these days. But no, we live in a society where a doctor can send friend requests to patients or like their pictures on Facebook and that is okay, but a woman can’t tweet on Twitter, since we clearly don’t understand how social media is supposed to work .

Even though it might have been a case of poor choice of words in a time of heated emotion, as clarified by Sharmeen, why did we focus on her choice of words and not the issue at hand? How many times have we gone on a rant or vented on social media when angry or frustrated? Do you remember a grammar nazi popping up in your head and telling you to be careful of your choice of words? How many posts have we come across on Facebook where men and women are ranting on about poor delivery service from a vendor, or women ranting about Uber and Careem drivers, or people ranting on about Karachi’s traffic or police woes, or women complaining about clothing stores? Are all these rants perfectly worded and formed? Are they justified?

We completely skipped the part, by choice or not, where Sharmeen was narrating her sister’s ordeal and instead focused on her claiming this is “harassment” or how most assumed that she was showing off her privilege and power when she said “wrong women in the wrong family” and focused on that. Does she not get the benefit of the doubt?

2. She misused her privilege and her celebrity power by… standing up for her sister?

Yes, she went on a Twitter rant. But it’s important to address that she was the third party in this incident, and that she was standing up for her sister, who was the one the doctor harassed. Then why is Sharmeen bearing the brunt of it?

How dare Sharmeen take a picture with one of the most influential men in Hollywood, before he was accused of sexual harassment and rape? Why did Sharmeen stay silent when literally no one else in Hollywood was speaking up? And why is she not aware that once you take a picture with a criminal, it apparently becomes hypocritical to report a crime?

In a recently released statement, Sharmeen admitted that being a celebrity, she gets a lot of friend requests which she politely ignores, as we all do. However, she revealed that not only did the doctor send a Facebook friend request, he also commented on her sister’s pictures. This is not normal. Please don’t let us be known as a society that is okay with a doctor breaching confidentiality but is angry at a woman for standing up for her sister.

3. Doctors aren’t allowed to send friend requests…when did this happen?

I make an appointment at a renowned hospital with a doctor I have never met before. The doctor is a man, and while I sit there in his office, naked underneath a gown, he is allowed to touch me – and I place my trust in him to only do so where and when necessary. This is an implicit agreement made whenever anyone, male or female, visits the doctor, because they have your consent, which they have to try and maintain by acting in a professional manner.

So I go to the doctor, a man who has treated me and knows private details about me, as only a doctor does. My check-up ends and I go home, trying to forget the experience since hospitals always remind me of death for some reason.

The next day, I wake up to see that the doctor has accessed my private, personal information, looked me up and sent me a friend request on Facebook. Moreover, he has also started liking and commenting on my pictures.

This unknown man, who I trusted enough to honour the doctor-patient ethical code, has now broken the fourth wall and is trying to reach me on a personal level. Why? Am I dying, and the only way to tell me is to befriend me? Probably not. Is this a creepy thing to do? Absolutely. Will I ever go to this doctor again? Only if he was the last doctor alive and I needed medical treatment.

Is this harassment? Yes, it unequivocally is.

Furthermore, what might count as harassment for one woman might not be the case for another, but that does not mean that we belittle that woman’s fight for ending harassment and instead fight against her.

In the developed world, doctors are actually given training on what constitutes as harassment and unethical behaviour, and surprisingly, sending a Facebook friend request is, quite literally, on the list.

4. We’re showing her this is not harassment by… harassing her?

Perhaps it was a healthy argument to have, to discuss whether a doctor sending a patient a Facebook friend request counts as harassment. But we went for the overkill, as always. Social media decided to take it a step further and actually harass Sharmeen to prove to her what harassment is like. For how would she know what harassment feels like? It’s not like women have any experience in that department.

But wait, why stop at Sharmeen? Her sister was dragged into the witch hunt; her pictures released online, with comments ranging from “she’s ugly, so who would harass her”, to how she dressed like a “slut”, which means she was asking for it. It’s nice to see that in 2017, the Pakistani public still has the mentality where they shame and blame the victim. “What was she wearing?”, because of course, you have to cover yourself up lest you happen to seduce your doctor. Following this logic, I honestly can’t fathom how male doctors are ever able to perform surgery on female patients.

Meanwhile, the poor doctor – whose only crime was to harass a patient and breach confidentially through an unethical practice – is getting the public’s sympathy, with more and more people and hospitals offering him a job. With the way things are going, this guy could win the 2018 election.

Everyone is talking about him, and how he will feed his four children. No one is talking about how this practice is unethical, or how he allegedly has more harassment cases against him.

The doctor’s picture and name has still not been revealed. If what is happening to him is wrong and false, where is his side of the story? Why are Aga Khan University Hospital and millions of Pakistanis speaking on his behalf when they don’t even know his side?

So while he enjoys his anonymity, Sharmeen and her sister have been dissected right, left and centre. Why are millions not commenting on his appearance or on how sleazy he may or may not look? Why has he not come forward to fight for his family or his job or his reputation? Because he is a man and hence he doesn’t need to, and that’s his privilege. Sharmeen is a woman in a patriarchal society, hence she may have celebrity privileges but not one that gives her the right to accuse a man for harassment and get him sacked.

Okay, but have you seen the picture of her sister wearing a perfectly normal outfit? She was definitely asking for it, right?

5. Women should support other women…but not if it’s Sharmeen?

Be it on Whatsapp groups, Facebook groups such as Soul Sisters or Soul B*****s, or just privately to their friends, most women are always talking about messages or requests they receive from men. Sometimes it’s as a simple as a “Hi, I saw you the other day, can we be friends?”, or sometimes it can be as explicit as a picture of a man’s genitals on Snapchat or messages detailing exactly what strange, unknown men would like to do to us. Closed groups such as ‘Frandshippers exposed’ are created on Facebook where countless women share their experiences of receiving friend requests or messages from random people and how they think it is “creepy”, “sleazy” and “wrong”. Does the perpetrators’ occupation or family not come into consideration then? Or is that exposing such men and their harassment is only allowed on closed groups and Whatsapp groups, but cannot be done publically?

So what’s different about Sharmeen’s case?  Why aren’t more women on her side, and are instead siding with the harasser? Think of every time you’ve been harassed, sexually or otherwise, and then try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. What if you complained about your harasser, and in turn people started harassing you? Telling you that your harassment was not harassment? That you’re a “slut” and were hence asking for it?

Every woman has a story; every woman has felt uncomfortable because of a man at one point or another. We know because only last week, we were all saying #MeToo. Then why is it that only a week later, we’re saying yes, me too, but no, not you?

Seeing most men not understand how this is harassment is understandable – they participate in worse cases of harassment every day, which is why this probably seems like nothing. But to see women, who are harassed day in and day out, open up about their stories but at the same time declare another woman’s situation as trivial? There aren’t enough words to describe how extremely disappointing that is.

Harassment is a part of every Pakistani woman’s daily life; from the moment you step out of your house, a pair of ogling eyes will follow your every step, till you reach back home safely. So Pakistani women are used to being harassed by men, though that does not mean that it’s okay to do so, but to see fellow women harass Sharmeen and put her down just because they don’t agree that her case constitutes as “harassment”, that’s just downright demoralising. Women are putting other women down for speaking up. For calling out a harasser (yes, that is what he is). For using a platform that millions of women use to raise awareness about their ordeal or social issues. For saying that no, what happened to my sister is not acceptable. For saying that being a family of strong women, we will not stand by this.

It truly has been a sad and disappointing week for Pakistan. And for those who are still struggling to voice their pain, to seek justice after what some doctor, maulvi, shopkeeper, uncle, CEO, did to them, because they now know it’s better to keep quiet than raise their voice.

Remember when a week ago everyone was harassing Malala for wearing jeans? And before that when we were unhappy with how Mahira Khan was smoking in a dress? And before that when we didn’t stop slut-shaming Qandeel Baloch, even after she was murdered?

That’s because in Pakistan, we hate women. We hate that a woman spoke up about harassment and for a change, people listened to her. We hate that Sharmeen made documentaries to highlight social problems women face in our society, and we hate the fact that those documentaries got acknowledged by the western world and won awards, because why should Sharmeen highlight what a regressive, woman-hating society Pakistan really is? We can do that commendably all on our own.

Iqra Khan

Iqra Khan

The writer is a political science graduate from LUMS.

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