Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

The co-opting of social justice issues by capitalist actors is nothing new; from body positivity in Dove ads, to female empowerment ads by large multi-national corporations, from Jennifer Lawrence to Wonder Woman, we’re painfully familiar with how our emotions and our lives are exploited for capitalist profit. But when I saw Sanam Saeed talking about how she doesn’t agree with bra-burning or unshaved underarms, I wondered if this was a case of yet another celebrity co-opting feminism to market her film, or just the story of an extremely privileged woman, utterly divorced of women’s realities in her own country and who once claimed that feminism was overrated, and yet was strangely aware of the need for better representation of women in the media and had begun to identify herself as a feminist. As fallacious as her claims about feminism and equality were, I still felt that she and Aamina Sheikh meant it when they said their characters in Cake were feminist, which was why I decided to watch the movie and see for myself.

I didn’t love the movie, but I didn’t hate it either. I liked some parts, I hated some parts, I was incredulous at some parts at the sheer privilege dripping off the screen. I don’t believe in romance but I’m a sucker for it anyway, so Romeo quietly sitting and reading with Zareen immediately won me over. But possibly by sheer accident, there were some things the movie gets right.

The script was stunted and awkward in parts; a friend pointed out that it sounded like it was written in English and then translated to Urdu, and the English sub-titles actually read better than the spoken dialogue. It also seemed like whoever wrote the script had a vague idea of what a relationship between two sisters is like. Despite the awkwardness though, the chemistry between Zareen and Zara isn’t that bad. You can easily see Zara in real-life younger sisters, the child constantly trying to be affectionate but pettishly irritated by the older sister’s dismissive attitude, or trying to pretend like they aren’t spoiled because the elder siblings resent them for it. You can see the older daughter left behind at home in Zareen, burdened with so much care-work and emotional labour, proud of herself for maintaining the responsibility her siblings cannot, but hating them for not sharing her burden. What I particularly loved is how the brother is absent even when he is there, or how Zareen and Zara gang up on him; the sibling rivalry and camaraderie was pretty well-done despite the hiccups in dialogue.

The mother’s role however, is hardly feminist; she’s reduced to a wife deeply in love with her husband. Oh, and she loves wigs and music, but the wig might just be a fetish for her husband, and not something she herself enjoys. The woman spends half of the movie in a coma, and the other half demonstrating affection for her husband. Somebody call the writers and tell them 2018 called, since they’re clearly stuck in the past. It’s surprising that you have two strong, fierce, angry women who’ll brook no nonsense from anyone, and yet see no reflection of this in their mother. Women like Zareen and Zara don’t just spring up out of thin air, but you never see that same ferocity or independence in their mother. This is particularly disappointing as the one scene where she isn’t utterly devoted to her husband, is a scene where she tells him that a mysterious decision he made in the past was wrong. This made me wonder how many other times she’s quietly disagreed with her husband, and how much their relationship dynamics would change in such an interaction.

I highly doubt the writers, or anyone on the film crew, knows the concept of female rage in feminism. That’s a terribly condescending statement, but female rage is a concept which isn’t very mainstream unless you’re part of online feminist discourses where the subject might come up. But why would it be mainstream? After all, it serves to overturn the status quo, and mainstream feminism, liberal feminism, choice feminism, all spout slogans of empowerment and produce feel-good ads without actually challenging structural oppression like the capitalist patriarchy.

To break it down, the concept of female rage is this; women are taught to be soft and gentle, sweet and compassionate, but never angry. It’s a negative emotion for us, so we’re told us to keep our voices low, our words gentle and non-provocative. On the other hand, boys aren’t discouraged from being loud and rowdy, and men are expected to be angry. If my driver yells at someone who’s crashed into our car, he’s being a man, but if I yell at the person myself, I’m told to “please be quiet and go back to your car,” and then ignored in favour of shouting at my driver. That isn’t hypothetical, it’s an actual situation, one I’ve been through countless times.

You see the critique of female anger in stereotypes of the angry feminist, who is caricatured as being angry and confrontational for no apparent reason. We’re afraid to own that anger because we’re trying to be good feminists who are calm, and reasonable, and gentle, like a woman must be. I remember hearing men criticise Asma Jahangir, and their major contention with her was that she was “rude” because she shouted a lot; in comparison, my mother greatly admired her for never being afraid to speak up.

But then again, my mother, like many women, is familiar with the frustration of suppressing your anger at a shitty lot in life, and turning it into calm understanding and life lessons about a world where the odds are rarely in our favour.

So it was a refreshing surprise to see the glimmerings of female rage in Zareen; “oh look, here comes the fancy financial professional,” she sneers at her sister, the sister who got to follow her dreams while Zareen is supervising a household. Zara doesn’t understand why Zareen is constantly snapping at her but how could she? She got to have everything, while Zareen was left to sacrifice her dreams and shoulder responsibility. When Zara tries to help her sister change a tire, Zareen isn’t just refusing her help because she can do it herself, she’s refusing help because she’s angry at her sister for being absent for years, for being absent for many other flat tires which she had to fix on her own. My favorite part is when her father calls her bitter, and she reacts with anger and disbelief, or when she vents to her siblings, telling them that they both got to follow their dreams while she was left to be squashed by family responsibilities. Zareen is absolutely furious, and she keeps it hidden underneath years of “good breeding” so it makes sense that she reaches her tipping point when her siblings come traipsing home to be utterly useless, as always.

The film was touted for looking at ageing parents, but I had little sympathy for the father. The sweet doddering old fool routine didn’t fool this feminist; this is a cunning man who manipulated many people, including a poor Christian boy (more on that in a bit) as well as own daughter; in fact, he is the reason there is a wall between Zara and Zarene in the first place. I’ve seen it in my family, in other families, even in the field research that my organisation conducts; sisters are frequently each other’s greatest allies especially in their homes. But this man pressures his daughter to keep secrets from her little sister, to lie to her about her boyfriend, and who would know better than Zareen how hurt Zara was that her boyfriend didn’t wait for her to come home? So it is absolutely audacious for him to play the part of a sad, wronged, abandoned father who is perplexed by his daughter’s anger and says, “This daughter of mine, who carries so much bitterness inside her” and Zareen’s disbelief is completely warranted; as she reminds her father a few minutes later, she did everything he asked of her.

Before I dive into the Romeo storyline, I’ll pause for a moment to talk about feminism. I was derisive about choice and liberal feminism earlier, and here’s why; liberal feminism focuses on “creating equal opportunities” for women, without reckoning with the patriarchal institutions and structures in which those opportunities are being created. For example, a liberal feminist would say, 50% of medical school seats should be for girls, but the same liberal feminist would sorrow over med school graduates getting married and not practicing medicine, without doing anything to change to mindsets or the practical hurdles which prevent women from practicing medicine. Choice feminism will bullshit about a woman’s right to choice, and deem those choices beyond questioning which inherently goes against feminism’s basic tenets; to question our choices and decisions through a critical feminist lens. Liberal feminism and choice feminism are thus not intersectional; giving a 50% quota in med school is fantastic, but when the Christian community is deprived of equal opportunities in education, when social attitudes towards the minority community are discriminatory, how can they possibly have equal access to opportunity? That’s where the intersectional approach comes in; to look at women’s issues as connected with various oppressive institutions. This means that many issues which may seem disconnected from women are in fact, women’s issues- climate change is a women’s issue, migration is a women’s issue, class politics is a women’s issue because the way women’s lives are impacted by inequality and injustice goes far beyond “lacking empowerment.”  If feminism is the pursuit of equality, it is equality for all, not just women, not just heterosexual women, not just women born with a vagina, but all people.

And that is why the treatment of Romeo, and Zara’s accident, is flawed and anti-feminist. Minority rights are a feminist issue, and the politics of power between a poor Christian boy, and a wealthy landed Muslim family are treated with a clear privileged gaze; Romeo’s father served the family for years, therefore, Romeo, out of gratitude for his father’s employment, and having spent his life around the family, feels that they are his family too.

Family doesn’t throw you under the bus, or in Romeo’s case, lets you take the fall for someone else and rot in jail for four years. Not functional families, at least.

A rich girl runs over a poor boy on her family’s lands and kills him. Her family ships her off to London (how damned convenient) and tries to pay hush money to the child’s family in the form of Diyat. The family refuses and demands justice (as well they should!) so Romeo takes the blame for Zara, the poor little rich girl who simply must not know that she’s murdered a child, and he goes to jail. When Zara asks him why, he tells her that her family is like family to him. Her father tells her that Romeo himself volunteered to go to jail.

How convenient for an elite land-owning Muslim man to have a Christian servant whose son feels indebted to him, and will thus internalise that debt into a sense of escalated servitude to the family. Not once are the power dynamics challenged in this film; not once does anyone tell the doddering old fool, “Baba how could you let Romeo go to jail? He’s a minority, he’s poor, of course he feels like he owes us a debt because we provided his father with gainful employment! He’s not making a choice for us, he feels obligated to serve us in any way possible!”

Romeo’s lack of privilege is also treated poorly; Zareen teases him for having holey socks, and when he brushes it off with a joke about living life fully by feeling the breeze on his toes, we see Zareen cutting holes in her socks as well. It’s not cute or romantic, it’s repulsive; Zareen is a princess living inside a bubble of wealth and privilege, why else would she actually comment on someone having holes in their socks? Especially when she knows that someone lacks her wealth and prestige? The only time when she’s called out on her class privilege is when Romeo tells her she’s ashamed of their relationship, but we never see her own up to her own class bias.

Speaking of socio-economic class privilege, I can’t be the only one bored of seeing a rich family wail on about how their lives have been impacted by a spoiled princess murdering a poor child. We do see Zara going to the family to make amends towards the end; it’s a bit of a saving grace for a movie which otherwise focused on the wealthy and powerful family, whereas the people most affected were completely absently from the narrative. But even that saving grace fails to salvage the film from being utterly elitist; I’m disinterested in rich girls throwing eggs at judgmental aunties, and far more interested in seeing how those with privilege impact the working class.

Cake isn’t a feminist film. It has elements of feminism in it, sure, but I refuse to call it feminist for its flawed power dynamics and mistreatment of minority characters. And let me be absolutely clear, it isn’t feminist to smoke cigarettes or go out at night. Choice feminism would say it’s feminist because you’re exercising your right to choose to smoke, but choice feminism is utterly idiotic and useless. If you’re so empowered, smoke in front of your parents, wear sleeveless in front of your parents, hold hands with a boy in front of your parents, otherwise, don’t call it feminism or empowerment. And aren’t there better ways to be empowered? More fruitful ways even?

Back in 2015 when I was attending the Sangat course, Kamla Bhasin talked to us about internalised misogyny. I had an enlightening discussion afterwards with her, when I told her that I wore certain outfits because it made me feel powerful to wear something which I knew I wasn’t allowed to do. Kamla Di pointed out that I could wear a plunging neckline if I wanted to, I had the right to do so, but if I were to call it a feminist choice because I can be sexy, that’s flawed because I’m pandering to the same sexist objectification of women’s bodies which as a feminist, I stand against. Why don’t you learn to drive and go places on your own? Isn’t that feminist and empowering too? She asked me.

Climate change and ending pollution is a women’s issue as well, so I see nothing empowering about smoking, in secret or otherwise, when there are studies showing that smoking contributes more to air pollution than cars do. Smoke that damned cigarette but don’t call it feminism or empowerment. Call it choice but don’t call it a feminist choice, because that’s not what it is.

As far as Aamina Sheikh and Sanam Saeed’s misconceptions about feminism are concerned, I already tweeted Sanam Saeed about it. I hope she listens, because I have no interest in bullying or mocking anyone, it’s completely counter-productive. I would rather help people learn and understand. After all, the biggest complaint women my age have against senior feminists is that they don’t listen to us, trivialise our experiences and knowledge, behave like a sorority, and aren’t willing to actually teach us. We can’t repeat that same behaviour with others, not if we want to work towards sustainable change.

I know it is frustrating to see women co-opting a movement for justice and equality, and trivialising it to stereotypes which have no basis in actual facts, but I would much rather try to talk to them and include them in feminist discussions, than to vilify them. Because what if they aren’t actually using the feminism card to market their film and actually do want to do more to change women’s lives? Should we really lose two allies, even if they’re incredibly privileged and hideously, grossly misinformed to the point that we’re resisting the urge to tear out our hair in frustration over that utterly ridiculous HSY interview? Whether our numbers are few or many, it would be a failure on our part to alienate someone who wants to be part of the movement.

 

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I used to be a pretty normal girl. Quite geeky, not very fashionable or stylish, or interested in it to be honest, but still fond of bright colours and nail polish. I liked boys. I had a poster of Orlando Bloom, another one of Buffy and Angel and Spike and Cordelia. I watched Star Plus and Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill and 90210.

Then I made the fatal mistake of learning about feminism. What was worst though, is the fact that I actually agreed with a lot of what I read. To my horror, I found myself taking up that dreaded mantle, and calling myself The F-Word: Feminist.

And that is the moment when Feminism ruined my life.

No more did I go into bro mode around guys and objectify women. No, now I bristle at men who constantly have nothing to discuss other than so-and-so hot girls. No more did I make fun of girls wearing capris in university with the guys; I started telling them to mind their own goddamned business and take care of their lothario-like dressing first. Heck, even a mild “bachi” from a guy, designed simply to infantilize women and make them weak and helpless beings in need of protection like a child, reeking of pedophilia, makes me angry! No more did I crack crass rape jokes; I started to tell people to knock it off when they spoke of “raping” someone’s Facebook wall, telling them that it was wrong to do so. I mean, GOD! The context, right? The context is all that matters when making light of the violation of a person’s body and the trauma associated with that incident.

When guys try to pick up the check for me, I get angry. If they pull out a chair for me, I’m offended. If a guy gives up his seat to me, I push him back down and tell him I’m fine with standing. If a guy lets me cut in line simply because of my gender, I’m actually upset about it! Seriously, what is wrong with me? So what if chivalry is misogynist in nature? Other women who pander to patriarchy and internalize misogyny are perfectly happy to be reduced to weak helpless creatures, pretending that they’re weak by virtue of being a woman, and they’re perfectly happy doing so, so why can’t I do the same?

I mean seriously, I’ve gotten so uptight and high maintenance, that if anyone, male or female, says “women have their roles and men have theirs” I actually start going on about how gender is a social and cultural construct. How. Fucking. BORING. I mean, who cares what science or sociology or theory or logic says? Personal, limited opinions and subjective experiences are ALL that matter when it comes to making an informed decision!

Heck, I used to be sweet and romantic, thinking about prince charmings and knights in shining armour. Now, I’m anti-marriage and anti-relationships. Heck, I write about why Disney princesses and traditional faerietales center around the concept of female morality and controlling female sexuality. Who CARES as long as there’s a beautiful princess involved, right? And its messed up my love life. I’m so indifferent to guys when they try to flirt with me because I’m a feminist. And this is the rare occasions when guys actually do flirt with me. Because who wants to hit on a bitch of a feminazi, right? As if it wasn’t bad enough that I’m fat and short, instead of tall and thin and leggy like glossy magazines, the fashion industry, and the capitalist patriarchy tell me I’m supposed to. Plus, I recently chopped off my beautiful, impossible to manage long locks for a shorter haircut, which, to make matters worse, makes me look like a “butch lesbian” and you know how awful it is to look “butch” you know. I mean again, never mind that gender is a social construct, that sexual binaries are stupid, who wants to hear any of that when they’re flirting with someone, right?

I lost my best friend because of feminism. He meant the world to me. He literally was my whole world. One day, he jokingly called me a slut. Loser that I am, I actually got offended. I mean, obviously, OBVIOUSLY he meant it fondly. Clearly, he was saying it out of pride, since I used to be the innocent, naïve sort and changed a lot over the years. And what did I do? I hung up on him in anger. And that was it. That was the moment our friendship started to unravel. That was the day we died.

Simply because I couldn’t tolerate my friend calling me a slut.

Now, look at me. I’m all alone on a Friday night, sad and lonely for my own reasons. On a normal day, I’m fierce and assertive and though I have a timid, not-confrontational nature, I’m driven to stand up for myself and for others, when I see someone being sexist or misogynist. I talk about boring things like the patriarchy, instead of flipping my hair and tilting my head with those slightly widened eyes that slays them every time (evidently, the usage of the word “slay” demonstrates how much I date… not) and giving a fake laugh to make the guy think I’m adorable. I refuse to watch Bollywood because of the rampant stereotypical misogyny and sexual exploitation in every movie.  I have intelligent conversations with people about male privilege and FEMEN and rape apologia. I don’t even listen to rap music anymore! So what if it’s homophobic and offensive? Normal people don’t have a problem with it, so why do I have to try to be different and cool?

So what if I’m intelligent and more aware of social issues and more knowledgeable than the average person? The average person gets laid more than me, after all. The average person is liked at parties. The average person is happier living in their privileged bubble because they’re just ignorant and uninformed about, well, quite a bit, if not everything. Sure, I still dress in bright colours and I still like boys and nail polish and of course, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. But hey, what’s the point of putting on nail polish when no guy is interested in seeing how pretty and delicate my weak feminine hands are, and thus liking how I appeal to his chivalrous side by appealing to his masculinity and boosting his ego by looking like a soft, small thing that must be protected? Obviously, no amount of nail polish or eyeliner can mask the stench of bored indifference, that reek of feminism, that distinct air of “I like you but really, I couldn’t care less because my existence does not revolve around being a man’s property and my happiness is not dependent on the attention men give me, or in conforming to the gender-specific behaviours of a patriarchal society. Your mother would possibly be scandalized that I even exist. I’m never going to procreate. Marriage is a problematic concept.” I mean sure, there are men whose mothers wouldn’t be scandalized but actually adore me, and there are male feminists who seek out feminist partners but hey, those ones get snapped up by the other feminists quite quickly, seeing as they’re an unfortunate rarity in a place like Pakistan.

And this is why feminism has ruined my life. If I could go back, would I change any of it? Stay uninformed, making rape jokes, calling feminists butch lesbians, using gender-specific slurs, objectifying women, and just being an offensive douchebag in general?

Fuck, no.

I don’t normally write about TV shows, despite being a big TV junkie, but ever since I started watching Once Upon A Time, I’ve wanted to write about it frequently. I refrained from the urge because I felt I would dwell too much on its feminist aspects, something I would not like to do for a show that’s mildly complex. I say mildly, not as criticism, but as truth; it’s a good show, but it lacks the layers and complexity of a show like, say, Fringe for example (another show I’m in love with)

Instead, I’m focusing on the portrayal of women in Once Upon A Time. Its devious of me, I know. Its still a feminist theme, but cleverly disguised as television discussion. I’m evil that way.

And so is Regina. The Evil Queen Regina, who wanted to kill her stepdaughter, Snow White. When the brothers Grimm transcribed this folktale in their first edition of Grimm’s Faerietales, they wanted to keep the evil mothers as stepmothers, not just because it was un-Christian to want to kill your own blood (the brothers were deeply religious) but also, because doing so fulfilled their nationalist intentions for writing this book, i.e. to emphasize that when you are with your own people, be it countrymen or family, you are safe and loved (as indicated by the pure, motherly love of mothers in The Goose Girl, The Wolf and the Seven Goslings, and strong bonds between siblings in The Twelve Brothers and The Brother and Sister, to name a few)but when you are with an out-group, you will suffer, and be treated as a secondary citizen, denied your rights; in the case of the faerietales, those rights were a child’s right to be safe, loved, protected, taken care of.

Because of this, women in the Grimms’ stories had one-sided characters. Ambition was a characteristic for evil women such as Aschenputtel’s evil stepsisters, who aspired to marry well. Submissiveness, an inability to fight against injustice, being a constant victim, were characteristics of good, modest, pure women awarded in the end with the overly hyped knight in shining armour.  Strength, more importantly, was a vice, wielded, along with power, by the evil female characters. And so, Snow White’s evil stepmother tried to kill her, because Snow White was prettier than her. Note that Snow White is all the more fairer for being unaware of her beauty, whereas the Evil Queen is less beautiful because she is conscious that she is attractive; a confident self-image it seems, is not worthy of the good Christian woman the brothers Grimm wanted to portray.

So is that who the Evil Queen Regina is in Once Upon A Time? A woman driven by jealously to murder her own stepdaughter? No, not really. Actually, Regina was a sweet, kind, gentle soul. She hated magic which her mother wielded with darkness. She strove to escape her mother’s evil influence several times, and feared her so much that she did not even tell her of the stablehand she loved, afraid of her mother’s rage, since her mother wanted her to “do well” in life. And as for Snow White, Regina saved her life when she was a little girl. She was friends with Snow as well, something that Snow’s father deeply appreciated, and therefore, asked for Regina’s hand in marriage. Regina’s ambitious mother, happy her daughter would be a queen agreed to Regina’s dismay. Then Snow discovered that Regina loved someone else, and accidentally let it slip to Regina’s mother, who promptly killed the stablehand. And that was why Regina hated Snow; because her childish naiveté cost Regina all her happiness.

Regina didn’t kill Snow immediately though. It took her many years to formulate her revenge, culminating when Snow was an adult, starting with the death of Snow’s father. As events unfold in the TV show, a battle resulted, where Regina was defeated, but banished instead of being executed. She then transported all the citizens of the kingdom to a land without magic, a town named StoryBrooke in our world. Here they would live their lives stuck in stasis for 28 years, remembering nothing of their past lives. What would happen in 28 years, though? Snow and Prince Charming’s daughter, Emma the Saviour, would come to break the spell on the town. And in the meantime? Emma had a baby she gave up for adoption. This baby was adopted by Regina, who grew up to be a precocious eight-year-old and brought his mother back to StoryBrooke to break the spell.

This is where the show starts, with flashbacks to the past in The Enchanted Forest, the land where it all started. And Regina is evil, yes. She’s evil not for insane jealously, but out of love; her son Henry has found his real mother, and knowing the truth about Regina, drifts away from her. Regina loves her son with the fierce, protective love only a mother can possess, which is why Emma is her enemy. She takes steps to ensure Henry remains hers and hers alone, from keeping him from meeting Emma, to finally resorting to poisoning Emma. Tragically, its Henry who eats the poisoned apple pie meant for his mother, which results in Regina breaking down, and teaming up with her enemy to save her son.

The layers begin to unravel. From a mean, vindictive, petty woman, Regina turns into a young girl who lost her happily ever after, and swore to deny the person responsible every chance at happiness as revenge. From the embittered witch that does so, she transforms into a mother terrified of losing her son, and willing to do anything to keep that from happening. This evil stepmother is apparently, an onion. That statement is hilarious for me but unfortunately, people don’t understand my sense of humour, so you probably think its lame. I apologize. Amidst much chortling.

By season two, Regina starts to see parallels between her mother and herself. She uses magic to keep Henry from escaping her clutches, the same way that her mother did with her so long ago. Whatever her reasons, she remains evil, you think. Ah hah! That’s where you’re wrong. In an episode which critics described as pivotal in Regina’s redemption, memories of Regina’s tortured childhood drives her to “free” Henry, allowing him to live with his grandfather, Prince Charming/David Nolan in the absence of Emma. Her redemption continues when, to keep a promise she made to Henry, Regina refrains from using magic, making a conscious effort to change and be a better person for Henry. Though once again, Snow and her daughter Emma keep Regina away from her happily ever after with her son, she doesn’t remain the static evil character throughout the show; she evolves, as a woman, a mother, a human being. She’s driven, not by insane hateful jealousy, but rather, by an aching loneliness from the ever-human yearning to be loved, channeled into vengeance against the person responsible for the loss of her happiness. In StoryBrooke, she’s driven by the same desire to keep the amnesiac Charming and Snow apart, but also, by love, love for her son, and her heart is broken time after time when Henry rejects her. She isn’t an evil, stone-hearted monster; she feels, loves, aches, weeps, and when Henry, out of his still-childish love for his mother, spends time with her, she smiles from happiness and contentment at being with her son.

So there you have it folks. An Evil Queen in a faerietales with a heart, layers of complexity, and more importantly, despite her power, frequently vulnerable, like all humans are. The brothers Grimm gave you countless women to hate simply because they were powerful females; Once Upon A Time gives you powerful females that you not only have difficulty hating, but can also relate to. Can anyone really blame a mother for trying to keep a son all to herself? For saying, “No, you gave him up for adoption and I gave him the love you denied him, how dare you come back and try to make any claim to the child that’s rightfully mine?” Can anyone blame a woman who lost the love of her life for her anger at those responsible, for trying to destroy that person’s happiness? We’ve all had dark moments when we have either come close, or done the same. I know I have. I know I’ve tried. At times, I’ve successfully stopped. Other times, I haven’t. And such is that darkness that to this day, I don’t regret a thing. That darkness, along with the knowledge of knowing there’s no justification for cruelty no matter how great the wrong (let’s not confuse justice with cruelty here)but being capable of both immense good and evil makes us human.

Like me, like you, like all of us, Regina is very much human. She’s capable of good, like saving a child’s life, and evil, striving to destroy that same child years later. And like all of us, she’s capable of learning, changing, redeeming herself, of leaving her past to be a better person for the sake of someone she loves. And isn’t that more interesting and realistic than the evil stepmothers of the Brothers Grimm?

Dear pre-teens, teenagers, young girls, women, and everyone remotely female,

You do not have to be blonde, white, and have coloured eyes to be beautiful.

You do not need a specific waist size or hip size or bust size to be attractive.

You don’t need expensive hairdos, buckets of makeup, or accessories to stand out.

You do not need ass-hugging jeans, painted-on tops, high heels that push your ass up prominently, body piercings, tattoos in suggestive areas to be desirable.

Actually, you do not need to be beautiful, attractive, or desirable.

You need to be true to yourself. To your individuality, that unique spark that makes you you.

What do you like to do?

But you have no answer to that, because no one ever told you that you could like things on your own. All you’ve ever known is that as a girl, a woman, you’re supposed to be sexy, flirty, friendly but not too friendly, mysterious but not too elusive, stylish but not too trendy, air-headed but not too flighty.

Do you like to paint? Or draw? Or write?

Do you want to construct buildings and skyscrapers and banks and homes?

Do you want to do interior decorating? Open up a flower shop? Be a party planner? Design clothes?

Do you want to serve and protect people as a cop or firefighter?

Do you want to be a veterinarian, helping injured animals, or an animal rights activist, helping and protecting animals?

A doctor, healing people, giving people hope in miracles? A surgeon, giving people’s lives back to them?

A social worker, helping those with the sort of disturbed home life you had, helping orphans? An NGO worker, protecting minorities, women, disabled children, the elderly?

A car racer? A sportswoman? A businesswoman? An entrepreneur? A teacher?

A musician perhaps, or a singer, or an actress? Or an anchorwoman on a news channel, or a journalist?

The possibilities are endless. You can be all this, and more. There are hidden talents inside you. Discover them and use them to spread joy to others. There is an intelligent mind in your head. Nurture it, watch the world around you and learn, read, travel, meet different people, because even the most vile, reprehensible person can teach you something.

You will make your own way in this world on the basis of your deeds, your work. And people will flock to you, look up to you, and admire you for everything you are. Learn humility for them, even as you try to nurture the person inside them, to teach them to realize their inner potential. Your path will be difficult because unfortunately, life tends to be like an abusive ex-boyfriend, constantly haunting you and stopping your progress with flashbacks and repressed memories. But you are capable of overcoming those difficulties, because a vagina is not a sign of weakness. It just indicates your gender. It’s a part of your body, nothing more, nothing less.

Who you are, depends on your actions, your words, your good nature, your amiability, your honesty and integrity, your kindness.

Who you are, does not depend on how aroused a man gets by your outfit, or how many boys ask you out to the prom. Who you are in life, is not dependent on how many ladies want their sons to marry you. Who you become one day, does not depend on the colour of your skin or hair, your fashion sense, your expertise with frivolities like hairstyling and makeup, your coquetry, your tailored giggles and flirty glances.

You are who you make of yourself in life.

You are never, ever, anything on the basis of your physical appearance and sexual desirability alone. They have zero significance, and well they should, considering that they get in the way of the outstanding individual you could be, if you weren’t trying to get a Kardashian body or Jennifer Anniston haircuts or rocker chic raccoon eyes.

You rock. Not because you’re hot or sexy or pretty. But because you’re you.

I met up with an old college friend of mine today. We were friends before I was anti-establishment and she, pro-military, before I was a feminist atheist, and she, a spiritual, bohemian artist. It is often the people you know, before you were anybody, or had found your place in the world, who remain with you throughout life, which is why, despite our radical differences, we’ve been friends all these years.I had an interesting conversation with her regarding feminism today. She expressed dislike of feminism and said, “Ugh god no, I’m not a feminist!” And I asked her, “why not?” And she claimed she wasn’t. This was the conversation that followed.

Justin to me: I’m not a feminist.

Me: Do you believe in educational opportunities for women?

Justin: Yes.

Me: Do you believe in freedom of movement and more independence for women?

Justin: Yes.

Me: Do you believe that a woman’s dress should not be dictated by whether it violates the honour of her father or husband, because her dress is not another person’s honour?

Justin: Yes.

Me: Do you believe in career opportunities for women?

Justin: Yes.

Me: Do you believe women have the right to decide if they want to marry, when they marry, or whom they marry?

Justin: Yes, definitely!

Me: Do you believe that marriage, in many ways, actually restricts the independence and freedom of women?

Justin: A little bit, yes.

Me: Do you feel a woman should be able to study, work, travel the city, without fear of sexual harassment or discrimination on the basis of her gender?

Justin: Yes.

Me: Congratulations! You’re a feminist!

Its interesting to note that after this conversation, Justin explained that she didn’t want to be one of those women screeching on and on about how men are horrible and how you hate men. I often forget how often, and how easily, feminist women are stereotyped as “man-haters” or my personal favorite, “man-hating lesbians”. What’s even more amusing is that feminism isn’t a system that promotes inequality of the sexes, it strives to bring a balance between the genders, removing men from their disadvantaged, male privilege, women from their inferior chattel status, and putting them both on equal footing. It would stand to reason that any attempts to discredit feminism can only stem from a desire of male privilege prevailing. After all, many women do prefer to be “taken care of” in a patriarchal system. (What, you thought only men were misogynists? Some of the biggest misogynists I know are women.)

The kind of thinking that would lead to many women who would actually serve as excellent feminist role models viewing feminism with contempt is best illustrated by a hasty illustration, courtesy of Shumaila from Mellow Creativity. Originally made for an article she contributed to my final year project, I’ve been itching for the chance to share it.

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