A few days after hearing the news of social media star and feminist activist Qandeel Baloch’s honour killing by her brother in Pakistan, I found myself at the tail end of a celebration where two men I have grown up with (and love dearly) had had a bit too much to drink. I tried to stay engaged but I was reeling.
I was feeling discouraged by her death. I couldn’t comprehend how anyone could take the life of their own sister to rid the family of its shame. We have such a long way to go in the fight for equality. It was on this thought that – like clockwork – the sexist jokes at the table began. The group were a mix: some in relationships; some single. Good blokes and smart women. So why is it that as the jokes were laid down, one after the other, there was laughter, especially when some of the jokes were directed at the joker’s partner?
Ten years ago, I would have found the jokes funny. I was naïve and enshrouded in cultural norms. I had always been the good Greek girl. Reports that Qandeel was married young and had a child did not surprise me. I too exploded out of my marriage in art and feminist activism. What I was not expecting, however, was the reaction of women within my culture. They seemed to find my separation harder to swallow than the men.
They either stayed silent, questioned my leaving the marriage, or insisted I go back.
I actually had to shut out all the women and men in my life for six months. They either stayed silent, questioned my leaving the marriage, or insisted I go back. There was spoken and unspoken emotional blackmail: be normal or we won’t treat you (love you) the same. It was the hardest time in my life where I was so close, many times, to caving in and going back to a life I hated. I had never felt more alone.
It’s easy to understand why men intentionally or unintentionally reinforce patriarchy through sexist jokes. They are relatively harmless tactics to test the waters and reaffirm that even in these advanced times where women have “equal rights”, that just beneath the surface, the man is the man. But why do smart women just take this, or laugh these joke off?
"As women we must stand up for ourselves,” Qandeel wrote on her Facebook page which has recently been taken down. “As women we must stand up for each other...As women we must stand up for justice.” Logically it would seem that women should stand up for other women because in doing this they are actually standing up for themselves. But this is a far stretch from reality. As I scrolled through Twitter I was astounded to see not only men, but women, celebrating her death, the death of a 26-year-old woman, for not living her life the way women were supposed to in her culture.
While we’re not living in Pakistan, strict religions or cultures have different sets of rules and expectations for women and men. It’s easy to understand why men want patriarchy to continue. They want the power. But the reasons women consciously or unconsciously do, I believe, is to do with fear. Passed down through the generations is the notion that women need a man to take care of them. Or that women will be punished if they do the wrong thing. That was the message I was brought up with and when I separated, I believe that was what was driving the actions of the people around me: She’ll never meet anyone else. He doesn’t hit her. Why is she leaving? She is crazy. Patriarchy becomes less about bowing to men and more about safety.
Women should stand up for other women because in doing this they are actually standing up for themselves.
My life has been harder since leaving, and that’s what most of the women that condone patriarchy want to hear, so it validates their choices to stay where they are. It is hard to be a single parent in an unstable world. But I did it because I wanted to stand on my own, just like Qandeel, to make my own choices and live my own life, something I had not done before. I did it to claim my own voice and it was the best choice I made in my life.
The truth is, I fought against the grain of patriarchy not only for me, but for women. Because some of the women who witnessed what I did, while at the time did not understand and were quick to call me crazy behind my back (or to my face), today, have a new found respect for me. They have learned that women don’t just have to bow to patriarchy. With each loud voice, things get shaken up, women change, and see they have choices. Things are not as they were six years ago when I first separated, and it’s nice to know that a small part of that is to do with me.
Koraly Dimitriadis vehemently opposes Facebook’s decision to remove Qandeel Baloch’s page and sees it as silencing her voice, what she worked so hard for and paid with her life. Facebook must reinstate her page as a memorial in the name of feminism. Koraly Dimitriadis is a freelance opinion writer, poet, film and theatre maker and the author of Love and F**k Poems.