Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

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.

Image

A friend of mine sent me an e-book of Tina Fey’s Bossypants. Its awesome. I have yet to finish it, stopped reading it in between due to assignments, but in one chapter, she talks about the beauty ideals when she was growing up, and how J.Lo and Beyonce changed them, since “junk in the trunk” and muscular thighs were suddenly in. But according to Tina Fey, this wasn’t just a revolution for women, allowing them to embrace their beauty, even if they were slightly fat; it only added to the attributes that women were supposed to have in order to be noticed, and to be beautiful.

Now every girl is expected to
have:
Caucasian blue eyes
full Spanish lips
a classic button nose
hairless Asian skin with a California tan
a Jamaican dance hall ass
long Swedish legs
small Japanese feet
the abs of a lesbian gym owner
the hips of a nine-year-old boy
the arms of Michelle Obama
and doll tits

And this does apply to Pakistan as well. The abundance of fairness cream ads, and their popular usage is a prime example.

Tina Fey’s solution was simple; “How do we survive this? How do we teach our daughters and our gay sons that they are good enough the way they are? We have to lead by example. Instead of trying to fit an impossible ideal, I took
a personal inventory of all my healthy body parts for which I am grateful”

I was inspired by this, and decided to do the same thing, because I suffer from crippling insecurities. I sometimes look around my classroom, at all the juniors who seldom come to class, trot in an hour late, with immaculately straightened hair, pink cheeks, kohl-rimmed eyes, and wonder why someone would go to so much effort just to come to university. (Mind you, my own friends have straightened hair and kohl’d eyes, but they also attend classes and have a 3.8 GPA, and many have part-time jobs) I look at those girls, whom I know are only there because nowadays, a good rishta requires a four year bachelor’s, and the mind boggles. Bear in mind, I’ve seen their test papers, their quizzes, their assignments (when they bother to actually hand them in) I’ve seen the more serious students of their batch working on presentation topics such as environment protection, extremism, politics, while the “stylish” girls pick topics such as fashion, hairstyles, new fashion trends (in a class called Approaches To Journalistic Practices, btw) and I want to weep. I’ve painted this extensive picture, not out of any vendetta against these girls, but rather to portray a point; that in our society, every emphasis is on women looking beautiful, and talking less, and even to a vast extent, not being intelligent so they can one day get married. Our education system and society fails them. So when I criticize these girls for being so made-up, I criticize the fact that this is all there is to life for them. Otherwise, I would not hesitate to lump in my own made-up friends in this category, if they were so non-serious about life goals other than rishtas as well. (I’m still friends with them because they’re not)

And again, I am not, and refuse to put all the blame of these girls being the way they are, on them as individuals. They’re the products of a society, of primary and secondary environments where they’re expected to be this way. If you want to be fashionable and trendy, that’s great, I’m anti-fashion and anti-consumerism and those arguments and stances are very different from the point I’m making here. Which is that it is a tragedy when young girls think that their only goal in life is to look pretty, be fashionable, and just get married. The lack of ambition is tragic, and sure, sometimes people just lack ambition even when they have an environment that encourages setting bigger life goals, but that is not always the case, and specially not with women.

In every culture across the world, there is an overwhelming obsession with women’s appearance. In America, this obsession is fueled by a booming cosmetic industry, and celebrities who only profit by pandering to them and promoting impossible ideals for young girls and women. In Pakistan, this obsession is shaped by religious fervor, a remnant of a dark time in Pakistan’s history in the 80s.

But I digress. The main point to remember here is simply this; whether you’re being told to hide your body, or to make it more beautiful, or to flaunt it, your body is yours, and yours alone. And its absolutely perfect. I have seen perfectly lovely women seemingly self-confident and yet, bewailing their too-big feet, or imperfect nose, or too-small lips. To which I can only respond with, “WHY?”

This form of insecurity, self-imposed or external influence, comes in many disguises. It can be the girl saying she’s getting medical skin treatments for her skin because spotty skin looks bad. It can be the girl with the 26 inch waist obsessively working out because she gained two pounds. It can be the family constantly telling you to lose weight, not because its unhealthy, but because its spoiling your prettiness. Its the interview of a celebrity you’re reading so enthusiastically in a glossy magazine, inspired instead of disgusted by how proud the celebrity is to only eat one tomato and two carrots per day. It can be the friend telling you not to wear a t-shirt without a coverup, because apparently, your body is so flawed that it will look bad. (Personal experience, true story)

And at the end of the day, you know what’s important? To look at yourself in the mirror, and not find a single flaw with your appearance. I’m not advocating behaving like a sloth or being plain unhygienic (you can never have too many showers in a day, you can only have too little) or heck, using my argument as a defense for being unhealthy! The last, btw, is something I suffer from, and while I’ve gone on and off diets, I’ve learned not to let it be an obsession and yes, you should be healthy, you should be able to climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath, but you should NOT be obsessed with your appearance, to the point that you don’t even  socialize much or meet people because you’re too fat or zitty or dark or whatever and you don’t want people seeing you that way. You should not be filled with self-loathing because you’re, well, not the way you wish you could be. There are worst fates than having bushy eyebrows, after all.

In short; learn to look at yourself, and be happy with what you see. That beautiful, cheerful girl beaming back at you in the mirror? Sweetheart, that’s you. Gorgeous, isn’t she?

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is:  I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute. ”

Rebecca West.

I’ve never understood the rationale behind it, but I’ve always been referred to as the ‘gharilo’ type. It’s pretty baffling because I’m far from it. Maybe it’s because my family’s so conservative and traditional that it makes me the ‘mummy daddy’ type. Maybe it’s because I’ve been cooking since I was about 8 or 9. Be that as it may, it’s a stupid stereotype and one I’ve always hated.

However, due to this misconception, I’d often draw the ire of feminists telling me I was shackling myself by cooking and I was too subservient to men and needed to stand up to my father and his patriarchal values. Due to a few random experiences along this vein, I had an abhorrence of feminists. All I want is to cook myself or my family a meal, do we really need to psychoanalyze that?

But within the past year or so, I’ve realized that I do have a lot of strong feminist ideals. I actually had no idea that some of my beliefs constituted as feminist, to be honest, maybe it’s stupid of me but I don’t sit and think about why I think what I think. And as someone with strong feminist beliefs, I am apparently a constantly PMSing nutcase.

A blog I wrote previously about my school- a school which remained unnamed by the way, because I did not feel it ethical to name it- garnered me a lot of criticism from old classmates. I was bombarded with abuse and death threats. And one comment in particular stood out; “You think you’re so smart well my school taught us to be good girls, not feminists like you.” So apparently, feminists that speak up on your behalf, enabling you to attend universities and mingle with boys are the wrong kind of women?

Yesterday, a guy on my timeline tweeted about how there weren’t girls on Twitter because 140 word limits were too small for them. It’s an offensive thing to say, stereotyping women as airheaded chatterboxes, and I called him out on it. He responded with statements about how such women need to be controlled, and that they should’ve been smacked when they were little. Later on he claimed he meant such kids should’ve been smacked, not girls, if you really want to believe him. Obviously, I told him off. He then went on to bitch about me to his female friends, who flocked to his defense and they all sat and mocked the crazy chick who was probably on her  period. (I’m awara because he said hormonal issues like a good little boy, and I’m being blunt and using bad words like period.)

The pathetic part is that all these people are studying at one of the top medical universities in the city. These girls are Pakistani women, who have access to higher level education, who can mingle with boys, who can have guy friends, and yet, these girls are the ones who were making statements such as “she should meet that girl from our uni, they can make their so-called women’s right group”.

These so-called women’s rights groups are why you’re in a medical university. If these women did not speak out for you, who would? The men, rooted in their traditions of patriarchy? The women, standing in their kitchens because they don’t know they deserve better? Because of women who constantly break boundaries and just by their very existence, prove the worth of women, who by example, show that women deserve equal opportunities and rights, we now live in a society where at least a minute percentage of women have some sort of freedom.

It’s so much fun to roam around at night with guys and not be beaten for dishonoring your family. It’s wonderful to wear jeans without censure. It’s fortunate that you get to study as much as you want without anyone trying to take that right from you. It’s great to be able to have the freedom to make your own choices in life. It’s great that you are allowed to actually work, and to have a career, and to not have a life that’s confined to cooking and taking care of the children.

But when the time comes to think, your mind shuts down. When the time comes to recognize why you have such a great life, you instead, revert to mocking the very people who made it possible for you to have that life. You mock them, censure them, call them insane, say they’re surely on their period, mock their attempts to provide equal rights for women.

We live in a society where we ridicule women, and then exclaim, “Take it easy, don’t get hyper it was just a joke!” We stereotype women as vapid chatterboxes but it’s all just in harmless fun. We state that girls who use slang should’ve been smacked when they were little, and then try to pretend we meant all kids, not just girls. And what’s worse, we live in a society where we support misogyny, the ridiculing of women, where we agree with men and mock anyone who dares to have a strong-minded opinion as a nutcase.

Is it so insane to stick up for my own sex? Is it so crazy that I want women to be on equal footing with men? Am I really just some loony who should be institutionalized? Sometimes, I feel like I have no other solution other than screaming long and hard every time I encounter such parhaylikhay jahils. Men shun me and those like me, women mock us and consider us unnatural- my previous blog had one girl calling me a frustrated lesbian- and where does that leave us? In the institution for women with independent minds and strong opinions, being taught how to submit to a man that can control us.

(Title of my blog lovingly adapted from Helen Ruddy’s song, “I Am Woman.”)

I’ve blogged previously about how most girls in my school wound up getting married at 17 or 18. A month or so back, I was digging up my old tenth grade Islamiat notes for references since I was writing an article on Islamic society for a class assignment of sorts. (long story there) I was struck by the content of those notes, and how absolutely wrong they were, which got me reminiscing about other aspects of my experiences in school.

Throughout my middle school and high school years, as we approached our teens, obviously, some teachers felt a need to talk to us about being girls. That isn’t really something bad, I can understand their concerns. But what bothered me, I guess even then, was what they talked to us about.

We used to have a lecture every year that all students from grades 6-10 had to attend, about the female body, delivered by representatives of Always. It was cool when we were 12, not so much when we were 15,  but we suffered our way through it. After the lecture, teachers would always ask us what we thought, what we learnt, answer our jokes and mockeries (lets face it, we were 15, we’d experienced being girls ffs, what else was there to learn?)

In one grade, one student got annoyed and said, “Why don’t guys get these sort of lectures, we’re so sick of hearing the same thing!” The teacher gave a vague reference to male puberty being different, and then launched into a lecture about how its important to learn what it is to be a girl, because as a woman, we would bear children, and it was our responsibility to keep our home, to have a welcoming atmosphere for when our husbands got home, how we must make sure we cook good food, keep the house clean, take care of the children, and more importantly, how it is our responsibility to procreate as women. The last was insinuated in such a way as to imply that if we did not take care of our health, we might have health issues and would not be able to live up to our responsibility of procreating. In other words, it was our fault. One girl said, “Yeah what about the men, they should take care of the kids too, what do they do?” the teacher explained that it was the men’s reponsibility to earn a living, and that the woman’s place was at home with her children.

In another incident, our tenth grade physics teacher lost his shit and screamed loudly at one girl because she told him the bell had rung and the period had ended. She did it because he himself had told us he was hard of hearing, and that we had to tell him whenever the bell rang. It was terrifying, to say the least. He was a tall guy, and we were all 15 year old girls. Imagine watching a grown man shouting so loudly that his voice echoed throughout the halls. We had a rough time concentrating in the next class because we were all so shaken up; the girl who got yelled at cried, she was a timid thing as it was, and in her place, I would’ve done the same thing.

Now this teacher, under the pretext of having trouble hearing us, would always stand extremely close, bend and shove his face closer than was necessary, and ask us to repeat whatever we’d said. What was really curious is the fact that he could hear whispering all the way in the very back row, despite being hard of hearing. Curiouser was how some girls, he could hear perfectly fine, but the pretty ones, he always had trouble hearing. We complained. Several times. No good came of it. The girl who got yelled at, brought in her father and elder brother to complain. The result? The teacher would constantly taunt her, making comments such as “If I scold you, you’ll bring your father to complain as well” to other girls, or when he was passing out our checked exams, he would throw the paper at her rather than handing it. He even did it to me once, I don’t even remember what I’d done because I was the epitome of a meek, respectful child in school. (Explanation: I listened to my father a lot more than I do now. :D)

One lecture I remember vividly was given by our teacher in tenth grade. I don’t recall precisely what the lecture was about. What I do remember is something she said at one point; “Could you go outside your house and stand on the street at 10:00pm? I’d like to see you try it,  being all alone without someone else in a dark street, it isn’t that easy.” The implication was obviously this; as women, we could not stand alone, not even on a street. Metaphorically, she was saying that it was very difficult to do anything in life alone, without a man standing by your side.

Back to the notes that prompted this blog. The controversial 2:223 was quoted, from Surah Baqrah stating that “women are like your fields, you may go them as you wish.”

Now I have my own issues with religion, but I will never, ever support misrepresentation of any religion at all. That quote is interpreted to mean that men can marry women if they so wish, and maintain relations with them/have a family with them etc. In other words, I suppose its discouraging premarital relations, and its telling men to maintain a healthy relationship. Personally, I support that. Not the monogamy or marriage thing of course, fuck no, but the healthy relationship part. After all, a farmer can’t plow another man’s fields, he can only plow his own fields. I’m not going to comment on the whole “oh so women are dirt fields are they!” debate because there’s a logical argument, and then there’s just nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking.

But. BUT. In my notes, I had written the explanation of this quote, as presented by my teacher. The explanation ran along the lines of “Men have every claim to women and if they choose a woman to marry, then she is theirs to do with as they please. In addition, a man has ownership over his woman and she is his property just like a field is a farmer’s property.”

Do I even need to say anything about this? The explanation itself is enough, what more could I possibly say? At the tender age of 15, I learned that when I marry, I become the property of my husband, whose word is law.

This chapter, btw, was about ayeli zindagi or familial life. Further in my notes was the sub-heading baqaye nasl-e-insani. In this charming little paragraphs I learned that the relationship between a husband and a wife has been established solely for the purpose of procreation, and that this system will continue on till Judgment Day. I’m grateful to my school and my teacher for making sure that I knew my only purpose in the world was to be a hole for some man to use under the name of religion and sprout out his spawn, whether I liked it or not.

Then comes the lovely sub-heading titled protection of respect/dignity. Here, my teacher dictated a paragraph about how the specific purpose of ayeli zindagi is the safeguarding of dignity and respect, and that upon marriage, a man builds a fortress and the woman is in charge of safeguarding said fortress. I’m so happy I’ll be locked up in someone’s fortress one day, whether I like it or not!

What’s amusing is that in the headings about love and understanding  and living in comfort, there’s only a couple of lines and the same short quote for both. The former stated that the relationship between man and wife is to promote love and understanding, so we live in a peaceful society. The latter states that the purpose of ayeli zindagi  is that all the members of the family can live in comfort and share emotional and financial comfort with each other. the way I see it, these headings should’ve been expanded on, but they weren’t. Because if they were, we wouldn’t grow up thinking that we’re nothing more than babymakers, and that we do not belong to ourselves, but to others. The one quote given in both these headings was Allah has created pairs of you from amongst yourselves so you may find peace with them.

Would it really have been so difficult to expand on that quote? To teach young, impressionable teenagers that their God doesn’t want them to be alone, He doesn’t want them to struggle to make ends meet, He doesn’t want them to be lonely, and for that purpose He has established the institution of marriage. I don’t agree with the concept of marriage, not by a long shot; but the idea of there being someone out there for all of us cause God wills it so is just… sweet.

But that isn’t what we were taught. We were taught that we were property. We were taught that we must safeguard our man’s fortress. We were taught that men have the right to do to us as they will. We were taught that we have no independence, no freedom, no free will, and that everything we do, must be dictated by our men, as Allah commands.

We were taught our place, and this is the place that Pakistani society gives us. It is the place that so many of us fight to break away from every single day. It is the place that far too many girls believe is all there is to life. It is the place that our traditional patriarchal ideals would have us conform to, because there is no space in our society for a woman who can think for herself.

After all, if a woman thinks for herself, she might not want children, or feel like making dinner, or doing the laundry, or Allah forbid! She might want to go outside and WORK!