Women challenged men. It was not pretty.

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The scene opens at dawn in a henhouse in northwestern France. In one corner a dead fox. In several other corners a lot of hens looking completely innocent. The tale goes – and it may just be an apocryphal urban myth – that a young fox got into the henhouse at dusk and was trapped when the light-sensitive doors closed for the night. Whatever happened next is the subject of speculation but the accepted version is that the hens pecked the fox to death. Possible? Well yes at least in theory, but there is very little in the way of academic references to hens going postal on their predators – though perhaps worth remembering that there were 3,000 chickens and just the one fox. A previous visit by a cunning vulpes-vulpes a year previously had the usual blood-and-feathers outcome. Hens are female chickens, cocks are male chickens. More on this later.

Cut to Pakistan and March 8th 2019, International Women’s Day. Marches by women, and a sprinkling of men, took place in a number of cities nationwide. The overarching cry was for women’s place in society to be re-written. There were protests against sexual harassment in the workplace, child marriage, wage inequality which is virtually universal, severely constrained political representation and honour killings. The organisers hoped to engage women at the grassroots, to bring out on the streets the women who are usually unseen and unheard, those that work in offices and factories and domestic service.

Perhaps to the surprise of the organisers and certainly to the surprise of most variants of media platforms, the marches were well attended and made some very spiky comments via a relatively small number of placards that were carried and displayed by the marchers. Cue the hurling of solids into the ventilation.

As some women reading this may be aware it is by no means uncommon for men to send women pictures via their mobile phones of their penises. Not unnaturally a majority of women do not welcome this and the marchers were very clear – ‘Keep your dick pics to yourself’ read several placards. Others challenged a different cultural issue – ‘If you like the headscarf so much tie it around your eyes’. Staring by men at women is a particularly obnoxious and widespread form of harassment. Yet another graphic poster was a drawing of a vagina and two ovaries in some anatomic detail with the text – ‘Grow a pair’. Such placards and posters were in the minority and most called for more access to education and jobs, but it was the in-your-face true grit that caught the attention of a lot of men as well as the national and international media and they were deeply unhappy about it.

Social media were quickly awash with complaints that the marchers were somehow ‘vulgar’ opportunists that had overstepped the (male-defined) mark regarding conservative values and somehow smuggled in a liberal-anti Islamic agenda. Some were so incensed that they called for a men’s march, displaying faux outrage at the language used by some of the marchers both verbally and in written form.

It may come as news to them but men do not have sole ownership of the swear words they use so freely, in front of women and children, every day. You don’t like a dose of your own meds fellas? Well tough. This is going to be very messy but the hens have discovered that ol’ foxy has a soft underbelly. He is vulnerable. That delicate ego of his is easily bruised, his cultural values traduced by the merest hint of a sweary syllable. Stalwarts such as poet Kishwar Naheed delivered herself of a video sermon exhorting women to be more mindful of their culture and traditions the next time they went a-sloganeering.

Women, some of them already high-profile activists such as Nighat Dad were soon receiving messages on their phones laced with sexual innuendo and threats, sometimes of rape. The latter is probably a criminal offence under existing legislation.

The posters and the reaction to them exposed the cracks in male society – most men could understand the need for better schooling for women and girls and greater participation in the workforce, but then have trouble reconciling that with allowing – note the word allowing – women freedom of speech. Talk about cake and eat it. Male anxiety came to a rolling simmer and has continued thus for the last week.

Well me ol’ cocks the hens have called time. Moreover they have called time using the very language that you use, and called time on the self-same streets that you walk. And there are a lot of them. Millions. You may not have noticed my cocky lads but in Chicken Universe there ain’t many cocks. Why? Well they don’t lay eggs is why. So what happens to the spare cocks? Do you really want to know chaps…really? Tootle-pip!

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