Thursday, 30 November 2017

VAW 2017: Gender pressures on the female and male genders in Pakistan

by Saima Eman

While we all know that gender-based violence affects women more than men, it strange to think that the male gender can be adversely affected by the negative stereotypes held by their female counterparts in many countries. South Asia can be a very good example in this regard and I will use the example of Pakistan to describe my point further.

What I observe is that it is not easy for men to accompany their spouse and children to family parks in the evening because that time is confined to ladies and children. In schools, men may not be allowed to go inside and communicate with teachers on a daily basis. One might say that this is a manifestation of patriarchy and a way things are in a patriarchal society such as Pakistan’s, however, this also has an impact on males too, or at least on some men. Since women in Pakistan feel uncomfortable in the presence of men other than their relatives, women in dual roles involving outside work and household tasks face a lot of pressure. That pressure is culture-driven, whereby women are expected to perform their household duties no matter whether they are working women or not. I would also call this pressure, an indirect form of self-bestowed pressure, which seems to stem from the unfounded, culturally instilled androphobia in Pakistani women. As a consequence, women feel overwhelmed with multiple tasks and responsibilities. Husbands are generally overprotective of their wives to the extent that ladies are not allowed to stand outside the house gate until the car or the taxi has arrived. Women from middle and higher classes are not seen walking to the markets outside the housing society. There is no safe public transport. The movement of women is quite restricted due to an unsafe environment. By unsafe, I am referring to the pollution of attitudes (male and female staring and ogling, hostile traffic) and the pollution generated by the smog.

The government institutions work in a haphazard way. When a man enters the women’s university, the security guards follow him as if he is a criminal. Female university students are perceived as the property of their parents and guardians. The parents pay their tuition fees. They cannot leave the university without their guardians. If a female student manages to escape the university within the university term, the parents or guardians hold the university, the teachers and the staff accountable. The guardianship gets transferred from parents to husbands following marriage.

Men who have experienced the friendliness of women in other countries (where they may have worked or studied), feel intimidated by the female members of Pakistani society because they give the man a stern or angry look as if he is any ordinary Pakistani (stereotyping him as a male villain or a chauvinistic person). Such a man avoids gatherings, which are dominated by ladies. Women domestic helpers are usually very defensive towards men because men are traditionally aggressive. Most men are perceived as aggressive with a domineering attitude, obsessed with sexual fulfilment, disrespectful towards women and their desires to the extent of honour killings in extreme cases. Therefore, suspicious glares from women towards men and androphobia is justified to a certain extent. Since men are also aware of the nature of Pakistani men in Pakistan, they assume an overly protective role towards their wives, mothers and sisters. For example, they would not sit with their female relatives in the male-dominated areas of a restaurant, hospital or market place. Due to the gendered societal response, an open-minded man would be uncomfortable being a male in Pakistan, while a female is overburdened with different roles. I can give my own example here. I have to do so many things on my own because my husband cannot accompany me everywhere due to his gender. For example, I have to miss delivering lectures at my workplace to accompany my child’s school trip to the zoo. I have to be late to work because I have to attend a practice assembly to motivate my son to speak before the audience (fathers not allowed). There is an hour’s distance between my child’s school and my workplace. My husband could easily help me out because he is 5 minutes from the school (at home) and he is not at work at the children’s school time. However, due to the school rules based on societal attitudes (females comfortable with females and males with males), the fathers are not allowed and as a female in Pakistan, I have to suffer.

The typical orthodox Pakistani culture does not accept friendliness of the opposite sexes. Those who go against the culture are termed as ‘liberal’, ‘modern’ in a negative way. Since the society segregates the male and the female genders, generally female members of upper middle class families are not seen walking on the roads, bicycling, and in roles defined as masculine by the society. The gender roles are still stereotyped into masculine (outside work) and feminine roles (inside household work). Even though many Pakistani women are going for higher education and careers in Pakistan, their primary role is still considered to revolve around the house and children, but men are not expected to work or help out at home. Therefore, when a female member from an upper middle class is seen in masculine roles, she is not protected from ugly stares of the men. Surprisingly, even in a female-dominated area, the female is perceived as a victim if a male enters that area. The underlying eastern societal perception is that the female gender is weak and unable to protect herself and survive without a man (brother, father, son or husband only). Therefore, the men (other than brother, father, son or husband) are perceived to be the perpetrators, the villains, and the women are perceived as victims no matter whether women are performing the masculine chores or even if a single man enters the female-dominated area.

The unhealthy expectations on behalf of the female gender about the male gender due to a stereotypical negative image of the male gender in Pakistan, the female gender is victimising the female gender through an increase in the female share of the burden. This is just one facet of gender discrimination. Even in household politics and workplace politics the female is both the perpetrator and the victim in Pakistan. The mother-in-law, sister-in-law, daughter-in-law politics occurs at home (primarily around kitchen control and division of the household tasks) whereby the female is a perpetrator and a victim. The mother-in-law complains to her son about her daughter-in-law; the daughter-in-law complains to her husband about the mother-in-law. The female domestic helpers gossip about daughter-in-law to mother-in-law and vice-versa. At workplace the female clerical staff as opposed to the male clerical staff disrespects the female teachers. The female bosses create problems for female subordinates and vice versa. The power politics occurs in the form of psychological bullying, taunts, harsh words, etc., and the physical torture occurs in the form of extra duties, work burden, extraordinary inspection and accountability.

I think that both genders are equally victimised in Pakistani society. The difference, however, could be in the form of overburden and restriction (of movement, and performing male-stereotyped roles) for the female gender and under-burden/restriction (in performing female-stereotyped roles) for the male gender.

Saima Eman
Lecturer in Psychology
Lahore College for Women University, Pakistan

PhD Commonwealth Scholar
University of Sheffield, UK

Khan Bahadur Visionaries Welfare

Twitter: @SaimaEman1


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