Earlier this month, women across Pakistan marched to mark International Women’s Day. They shouted slogans such as Aurat aiee, aurat aiee, tharki teri shaamath aiee!, which roughly translates to “Women are here, harassers must fear!” And photographs from the march, which quickly spread across the internet, showed women holding up a number of different signs, including “The Future is Female” and “Paratha Rolls, Not Gender Roles.”
But one sign in particular quickly went viral across Pakistani social media. Written in Urdu, the sign read: “Khud khana garam kar lo!” The translation: “Reheat the food yourself!” The slogan — a play on the expectation that wives have hot food ready for their husbands when the men return from work — has since become shorthand for many young Pakistani women when discussing the role of gender at local schools, universities and offices. On social media, the phrase is also being used to help organize protests and foster female-only communities and support groups.
Acceptance of the slogan among Pakistani men online, however, was less enthusiastic. “Men buy all the food in the house” and “Feminists are dividing men and women by spreading hatred” were a couple of the more popular comments. DAWN, among Pakistan’s largest newspapers, even put together a roundup of men over-reacting to the sign — essentially a mix of mansplaining, taunts and mansplained taunts. “Pakistan doesn’t need feminism,” Junaid, a university student based in Lahore tweeted, more or less summing up the Pakistani male response in 140 characters. “Feminism is a Western idea, and it has corrupted their men and their societies.”
What he’s arguing, though — or at least how he’s articulating it — is a Western idea, too. In fact, the tenor of his tweet is essentially the battle cry of the MRAs and “Red Pillers” who post to Reddit and YouTube from the safety of their laptops in North America and Europe. “I’m a traditionalist and a nationalist,” Junaid says via Skype. “I believe in having strong, traditional societies where men and women have roles and responsibilities that make [society] work. I don’t agree with all of the beliefs or ideology [of men’s rights groups], but I think they have a point when they say that feminism is dangerous.”
Junaid isn’t the only young Pakistani gravitating toward these groups either. Over the past year, I’ve noticed more and more 20something Pakistani men — often those based in the U.S. and angry about their bad dating experiences — actively participating in Facebook’s and Reddit’s largest Redpill forums. Meanwhile, smaller groups like Men Who Go Their Own Way (MGTOW) Pakistan have emerged as well, attracting a growing audience of young people who are convinced that Pakistan “will be destroyed” if it imitates the West.
“Pakistanis are more connected to the rest of the world, and they can see the dangers that feminism is bringing in regards to wanting to destroy traditional Islamic culture,” Umair Haque, an admin for MGTOW Pakistan tells me over Facebook Messenger.
Haque doesn’t tell me much else about himself, but he does explain that his fascination with American politics, which heightened during the 2016 presidential election, brought him to the Redpill subreddit. “I was just posting memes of Pepe the Frog like everyone else,” he says. “It was fun. And I fucking hated Hillary Clinton — not because of her gender, though you might twist it like that — but because she’s a warmonger who ruined our country.” He adds that if he was American, he probably would’ve voted for Bernie Sanders. That said, he sees the appeal of Trump to young Americans. “He’s this big, strong guy who cuts through bullshit,” he says.
As for the Pakistani Women’s March, he argues, “There are tons of Pakistanis who are anti-feminist. The media were supportive of [the marchers] and their agenda, but normal Pakistanis were not. Just because we weren’t out there counter protesting doesn’t mean that feminist groups are bigger than us. We’re the silent majority who say, ‘Yes, treat women with respect, but also treat men with the same respect.’”
He also rejects any assertion that men had it better in most situations in Pakistan, telling me that this is an assumption I’d made as a Westerner. “You’ve been conditioned to believe that by your media,” he explains. “In reality, it’s not true. Men across the world are at a disadvantage — at work, in education. You won’t realize that until it’s too late.”
“Toxic masculinity in Pakistan is complicated because it affects all areas of society,” says Farzana Khan, a member of the All Pakistan Feminists Association who hopes to work for a women’s rights charity after she finishes her degree in economics. “Most men here don’t think that feminism has taken over like in the West. [Instead,] they’re scared that more women will become feminist, and that will mean that their power will be reduced — not just in the workplace either. They’re also afraid that they won’t find a wife who treats them in the same way as their mothers do. Or that they will speak back to them, when they’ve been treated like princes their whole lives and told that they cannot do anything wrong.”
When all of this inevitably happens, though, she predicts that these men will turn to a familiar place to voice their frustrations. “The internet will be where they go to get angry and say they’re treated unfairly. It’s also where they’ll find other men across the world, who will say the same thing. And when they listen to that, they’re hearing exactly what they want to hear, so that belief is reinforced.
“Instead of questioning why they feel less powerful next to a woman, they’ll blame it on the West. Or communists. Or feminists. And the more people who say that, the more that belief will spread.”
Still, Khan and the other women marching in Pakistan are undeterred. “There’s energy for change, especially with women here,” she says. “We want to achieve great things and represent our country in the best way we can, against all odds. Maybe that’s what scares men.”