The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines misogyny as “hatred of women”. For the longest time, the word was considered a radical accusation and was rarely used in daily conversations. Ever since its break into popularity, it is not unusual to find the word in news headlines, tweets, movies, stories, and memes. Even though the growing familiarity with the word signals towards a general acceptance of discrimination against women, internalized misogyny manifested systematically across the globe points towards a denial of the manifestation of misogynistic values.
The term misogyny emerged during the 17th century when an English fencing master named Joseph Swetnam wrote a pamphlet with anti-women remarks in it. The tract which called women “lewd”, “idle”, and “inconstant” was published in an age when the early modern anxiety surrounding the debate on women’s place in society had threatened patriarchal order. Swetnam wrote, “Women are crooked by nature”. According to him, “fairest women have some filthiness in her”. The tract drew a lot of critical responses from women calling him out for his misogyny. At the same time, an anonymous feminist writer wrote a play called “Swetnam the Woman-Hater, Arraigned by Women” whereby the character depicting him was named Misogynous.
The use of the word skyrocketed in the late 20th century coinciding with the second wave of feminism. However, despite its popularity, misogyny is deeply rooted in cultures and institutions all around the world including Pakistan. Due to the internalization of misogynistic values, people fail to recognize actions that reek gender inequality. Not only that, but misogyny has been guiding people to subconsciously manifest their sexist notion onto other women. There have been a lot of instances across social and political spectrums where women have been degraded not only by men but also other women. For example, the applause of the audience over misogynistic dialogues in one of the highest-rated dramas in the history of Pakistani cinema, “Mere Paas Tum Ho” reflects internalized misogyny in Pakistani society.
“Mere Paas Tum Ho” revolves around the story of a family, where the wife leaves her middle-class husband and her child for her corporate rich boss. Unsurprisingly, when this happens, the Pakistani viewers took to Twitter to show their support and sympathy to Danish, the husband who gets cheated on. In the meanwhile, Mehwish, the infidel wife gets called a “bad woman”, who has no regard for her family and out of touch with her motherly characteristics. Ironically, while she is shamed for cheating on her husband, Shahwar, the rich man she has an affair with is absolved of the moral responsibility he has as a husband. It shows that the guilt in moral lapses lies on the woman who cheated, and not the man who also cheats on his wife.
The deeply ingrained misogyny is also evident in the semantic used across arenas. Phrases like, “be a man”, “talking like a female”, and “don’t be sissy” are a result of the internalization of misogynistic notions. The words that are used to address women are often used as derogatory remarks to insult men. In addition, women who have internalized misogyny tend to shame other women for their choice, and Mehwish’s role in the show reflects it very well. Women indulging in unhealthy competition with their associates is another example of how women at times abuse their power by colluding with a sexist culture.
Similarly, the yearly backlash targeting Aurat March participants is to boot telling of the level of sexism ingrained in our culture. Every year the participants of the march receive death threats and rape threats for holding placards that call out men for their sexism and misogyny. To most Pakistani men and women who have internalized misogyny, the mere idea of women coming out on streets to talk about their sexuality is a threat to the moral fabric of society. This could also be the reason why victim blaming is common in the country. Within a month of the Aurat March last year, the mother of a rape victim was shamed for what had happened to her daughter. People claimed that had it not been for her mother to hang out with the rapist, her daughter would not be raped. Such allegations are not novel in Pakistan or any other patriarchal country in the world. However, it is imperative that people unlearn the misogynistic and sexist values they have internalized.
One way to overcome internalized misogyny would be to accept the fact that the society has internalized misogynistic values, which guides all their actions. Acceptance of one’s traits may help them recognize the misogyny at play in large across institutions. It is time that we as a nation initiate a discourse on misogynic values deeply ingrained in our culture, and learn to empathize with women.