KARACHI, Pakistan — At first, it was just texts. I’d wake up in the middle of the night to a phone vibrating with messages from unknown numbers. Bleary eyed, I’d check them quickly:
“Can I be your fraind?”
“Will you pleez be my gf.”
“I would like to date you, plz.”
Then I’d groan and fall back to sleep.
Almost every woman I’ve met in Pakistan has experienced this harassment: an ongoing deluge of text messages written in misspelled English or Romanized Urdu, some of them explicitly sexual, most of them benign. (It’s worth adding that I have never heard of a woman responding to the messages; the senders seem undaunted.)
I’m not surprised that men seem to find sending these messages thrilling in its own right. Many young, middle-class Pakistanis are stuck uncomfortably in a sort of romantic limbo — they have access to Western movies and TV shows that show rapport and flirting between men and women, not to mention sexual relationships for teenagers of every class, but the society they live in often segregates the sexes.