About ishmaz

Woman, feminist, brown, mother, psychologist, ex-Muslim, new-ish to writing. In that order.

Ms. Deneuve

Dear Ms. Deneuve,

It is wonderful for you that you feel comfortable with male attention, that it does not make you feel unsafe or threatened, that it does not even annoy. It is wonderful for you that you feel so unthreatened by this behaviour, either solicited or unsolicited, that you feel the need to defend men and their ‘right’ to hit on women.

And don’t get me wrong; I realize where you’re coming from. It seems to be a reaction to a movement that may appear to you as contrary to what feminists of your era fought for: sexual freedom.

I can even, if I squint hard, see a little bit of your take on the #metoo movement being victimizing: women self-flagellating, re-opening wounds and re-triggering themselves may seem like martyrdom and victimhood. But look at it for what it was for many; women realizing they will not be heard until they scream. And realizing at the same time that whatever will elicit a scream loud enough will hurt and doing it anyway. The real pity is not these women and their unified scream, but your inability to see the courage it took.

Another real pity is that you are doing exactly what has been divisive in feminism – you’ve come at feminism devoid of awareness outside of yourself and therefore, coming to a conclusion that is ignorant and completely devoid of empathy. Though, how you managed to miss basic awareness of the state of women aside from yourself and your echo-chamber, is beyond me.

Your stance is tied to a single, narrow perspective: privilege. It is a privilege that you don’t see men as a real threat, that you can take pleasure from ‘a touch on the knee’ or even simply dismiss it as harmless.

Many women, don’t have that privilege: the men they’ve known have been actual threats. Their brothers, fathers, uncles, ex-partners or rejected suiters have all been threats. Like Qandeel Baloch, whose brother killed her for his ‘honour’, like Mukhtaran Bibi, who was gang raped because ‘an eye for an eye’, like Malala Yousefzai, shot for trying to get an education.  All the acid attack victims in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Nigeria, Ethiopia – attacked to protect family honour, community honour or as vessels for revenge. These women were not seen as human by the men, only as symbols of honour, as tokens of masculinity, as tools used to exact their twisted brand of justice.

What utter privilege and absolute ignorance it must take to even think the phrase ‘just a touch’. Oh, and the way you attempted to buffer yourself from the reaction to your letter: dragging another woman in front of you to take the flak. A classy move for a self-identified feminist.

And so, Ms. Deneuve stop denigrating the laurels from your feminist battles past and look at the context of the now for women outside the high walls of your wisteria-covered privilege.

When Is Consent Consensual 


Informed Consent- Kevin Krejci https://www.flickr.com/photos/kevinkrejci


Consent: controversial, to put it simply. The intricacies of sex and gender are constantly deconstructed and reconstructed in feminist debate, with the main hub of discourse around consent. Consent around sex itself, specific sex acts, sex-work and pornography.

I think we can, by now, put a very basic blanket rule on sex itself: that informed consent between two adults is vital. Each and every time sex is had. Obviously couples develop their own language within which they give consent, but this does not exclude the necessity of the blanket rule.

However, if consent is seen in more particular contexts pornography, specific acts/genres of sex, sex-work, things stop being simple.  Continue reading

Brown: What White Feminists Need

Brown isn’t just a color. Brown, when used by a woman in the know i.e. a Brown woman, means belief, ideology, culture, norms, rules, self-concept. It means family ties knotted and entangled and complex; linked to rules and obligations and a hierarchy of nuanced mores, both spoken and unspoken. Some rules are so complex and long-held, they are absorbed, almost like osmosis, through the skin. And on reflection, there is little recollection of how they permeated the consciousness.

Brown means being vigilant about these convoluted rules guiding conduct, deportment (discrete, mannered, controlled), speech (again, discrete mannered, controlled) and even body language (yes, also discrete, mannered, controlled). A small example of one of the ‘rules’ I seemed to have absorbed was ‘small yourself‘. Nothing direct was taught or said, but I recall the first time I stretched in public outside of Pakistan. I was in Australia on some sidewalk in some town. And I felt the urge to stretch; I stretched long and wide, chest out, back arched. And I felt a thrill-like I was doing something illicit. It was then that I realized Brown women from the sub-continent do not stretch like that in public.

Rules extend to dress and around engaging with men and women at different ages in different spaces. There are obvious and implied rules around sexuality and how it is/isn’t expressed. Continue reading

It’s Still Here

I was in semi-wakefulness for most of my childhood and some of my adolescence. Vaguely aware that something was bothering me but lacking the understanding of what it was or the words to express the bother. Certain terms and behaviors triggered strong dissonance, but as an adolescent I was unable to articulate why.

I’d hear the word ‘slut’ or ‘girls can’t *insert random activity/ability/skill/function*’ or see gender-unequal systems (for example the school I went to had a desultory attitude toward girls sport) and feel annoyed. This was exacerbated by my observation that no one else appeared disturbed by those words, behaviors.

I gradually woke up; a conscious process of self-education, navigating gender politics, socio-cultural mores and religion. Now, more awake than I have ever been, I sometimes fall into the classic echo-chamber trap. Just because me and mine are awake, doesn’t mean everyone is.

I am not talking about sleep, obviously. I am talking about wakening to the patriarchal hold that can go so deep you don’t feel or see the hold. The hold becomes the ‘normal’. When you can feel it and see it, only then can you see what ‘normal’ should look like. And a lot of people, regardless of gender, still don’t. Still don’t feel it, see it or seem to want to wake up to it.

I had a conversation with an early-30’s Pakistani male yesterday (let’s call him Man-Child, for convenience). I know him, he wasn’t just some random male I accosted and forced into conversation, I promise. In that conversation Man-Child began to describe why he feels so strongly about his current girlfriend. In his words “she’s a really GOOD girl, man. I mean, good. No messing around and shit. I mean she drinks, but that’s ok. See, man, other girls here; wow! I mean, one girl I was into tried taking  me into a bathroom to *insert vague allusion to some sexual act * at a party. I mean, a party where her brother was! That shit cray-cray, man! Girls doing that stuff? So I know; I’ve got to keep this girl, this Good Girl.”


Let’s just pause and deconstruct this little speech. Continue reading