Online Dating Has Perforated The Misogynistic Norms In Pakistan As Women Give Two Hoots About “Shame”
We are a judgmental society. It used to be aunties passing comments on the time you return home and people in high school making wild assumptions about you. Today, we can add to the series of anti-live-and-let-live philosophy the taboo associated with being on a dating app. Of course, in several places, even meeting boys and falling in love is frowned upon let alone going on a casual date. If found making out with someone, the so-called respectable members of the society can label you as a fallen woman, while deeming the man as just another man. This is why to protect their daughters from “ruining their lives” families restrict them from doing activities that would fuel people’s passion for character assassination.
I would like to believe that in the urban youth universe, we have come a long way, and being on an online dating app isn’t considered as a sign of “bad character”, at least not openly. Have you or anyone you know ever judged a girl you found out was dating online? Did you ever start looking at someone differently when you heard about their casual encounters? Why do we share screenshots if we find someone we know or our friend knows on an app? Like hey, let’s normalise online dating instead of sensationalising it.
Like India, Pakistan too is struggling with gender equality and societal norms that restrict sexuality and female freedom. According to a piece by DW, online dating has perforated the orthodox and misogynistic norms in Pakistan as women pull the curtains of shame to embrace their long-suppressed desires. At least in major cities, online dating has gained momentum, not as much as we’d like but that’s still a start. According to a study by the Indonesian Journal of Communication Studies, most of Tinder users in Pakistan are from cities like Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.
DW spoke to women in Pakistan who have been dating online and Faiqa said she finds the experience “liberating”. “With a dating app, a woman can choose if she wants a discreet one night stand, a fling, a long-term relationship, etc. It is hard for women to do this openly in our culture, which is why dating apps give them an opportunity they won’t find elsewhere,” Nabiha Meher Shaikh, a feminist activist was quoted by DW.
Sophia, a 26-year old researcher from Lahore, said she wants to explore “sexuality without constraints.” “I don’t care if people judge me. Society will always judge you, so why bother trying to please them?” she was quoted by DW.
And while women are sprinting towards freedom of expression, they are also being discreet because it seems like traditionalists and men are still way behind in this progress. “I’ve met some men on Tinder who describe themselves as ‘open minded feminists,’ yet still ask me: ‘Why is a decent and educated girl like you on a dating app?’” Faiqa told DW. They hesitate to put their full pictures and names on their profiles because they are afraid they will either be stalked or shamed. I had joined a dating app once and I called myself ‘A’ because I didn’t want stalkers looking me up on social media. “If we put up our real names or photographs, most men tend to stalk us. If we don’t respond, they find us on social media and send weird messages,” said Alishba from Lahore.
Men who themselves are on the same apps don’t respect the women who are on it and look at them as promiscuous and easy like those are bad words. Even if a girl wants to casually do men, it’s her choice. Fariha, a blogger revealed that she makes sure she meets men in public places, “I always chose to meet men in public places until I felt safe. But one guy kept inviting me to his place. Men often assume that women will engage sexually if they keep asking,” she told DW.
Because female sexuality is seen as taboo and apparently brings shame to the family, women are forced to choose secrecy over safety. They are afraid that even if something goes wrong in these meetings, will they be able to report it? Anyway, owing to the inherent misogyny, several of those men tend to view these women as easy and willing to put out.
Zarish explained that women should “no longer be controlled by shaming and labeling.” She believes Pakistan should focus on bigger issues that burden its shoulders rather than being worried about what people do in their private lives. “My individual choices and desires represent me as a person, not my family or society’s honour,” DW quoted Zarish. It’s important these taboos are erased so women can feel not only free but also safe.