The Shaadi Manifesto

Since everyone’s coming up with their own manifesto for whatever reason they believe in, I’ve decided to put forth my own because I am, much to my disappointment and irritation, surrounded by rishta zombies. Now let’s clear one thing before I even start: It’s not just the aunties. I see tweets on Twitter and status updates on Facebook bashing elderly ladies and claiming that they’re the sole reason why our society is obsessed with marriage and other gimmicks but guess what? No, they’re not. It is very convenient to throw the blame on one single group for the intrusive madness found in our culture. It’s not just these elderly folks or even slightly young ones; it is also men who assert the flawed notion that a chaste, successful woman is the one who ties the knot early without having her hymen touched. It is also people – even “liberal feminists” and “progressive thinkers” who forget, during their bouts of rage on social networks, that they indirectly define parameters and rules for other women as well when they yell, “I don’t get why she married so early!” when it just could be, if you consider the possibility, that said woman did so because of her own choice and priorities.

Which brings us to the first point in my manifesto replete with crayons and doodles:

Choice.

Holy shit. Choice. Listen to the word. Ch-oi-ce. God, that sounds so good. Choice. Ch-ch-ch-choice, baby. Prerogative, consciously thinking a step through in order to commit it, the idea to decide for yourself. Possibly one of the best words in the whole damn universe. Ironically enough, it is the least respected one by both spectrums of political, social and religious debates. So let’s set one thing straight: It is a person’s choice to marry or not and this decision is theirs alone. Now that we’ve established this basic truth, allow me to dispel several things our society makes us believe in:

i) “Larki ki shaadi x umer mai ho jani chahiye.” Translation: “A girl should get married when she is x-years-old.”

Stop setting an age limit for tying the knot. I’ve known several people to instantly throw in the biological reasons for marrying at so-and-so age because “it gets tough to have babies later on.” Let’s consider another real possibility: Maybe she doesn’t want to have children. That is completely fine. Stop forcing women to view themselves as reproductive machines in crisp aprons and nothing else. Some women don’t want to be mothers. Some women don’t want to have sex at all; They don’t want to touch your horny plans with a pole for the rest of their lives. That does not make them cold-blooded, baby-chewing demons from the deepest pits of hell. It makes them humans with their own ideas of living life. Stop punishing them for that.

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ii) “Jab shaadi hoti hai to sirf dulhan/dulha se nahi hojati; uske pooray khandaan se aik qism ki shaadi ho jati hai.” Translation: “When a wedding takes place, it’s not just the bride or groom you’re marrying; it’s like you’ve married the in-laws in a way too.”

How about no? While mutual respect and consideration for the legitimate needs of the family is fine, we need to stop conflating respect with blind subservience. Respecting a human does not mean fearing a human. Respect does not mean breaking your spine to please your mother-in-law or your husband’s second cousin’s uncle’s sister. Respect does not mean forgetting your own legitimate needs for the petty objection raised by the family you’ve become part of. Stop feeding young women and girls of our society this recipe of eternal subjugation. You’re raising slaves.

iii) “Larki ki rangat gori, kamar patli aur qadd acha hona chahiye warna larka nahi milay ga.” Translation: “The girl’s complexion should be fair, her waist slender and her height tall or else she won’t land a spouse.”

Get the hell out of here. This is exactly where hypocrites step in and do the salsa with these “imperfect” girls. This obsession with white skin, waif thin bodies, aquiline noses, delicate features is not a recent development; it is steeped in a history where a colonized people are forced to think that there is something fundamentally wrong with their physical characteristics. This goes on for decades and then, down the lane, we are ‘freed’ to run our own country where our society can ‘flourish’ but that never actually happens. We allow industries to capitalize on our inferiority complex. Case in point: Fair ‘n’ Lovely, Stillman, Garnier and the list goes on. I still remember one commercial where a naturally fair-skinned actress encourages women to buy Garnier’s skin lightening cream to look “prettier.” If there is a way to punch TV without breaking the set, email me here.

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“Shit.”

This bullying of dark skinned women is found in classrooms, at tea parties, during subtle rishta-hunts at weddings, everywhere. Several girls in elementary school in Virginia called me and my mother “ugly” because we weren’t white, we were Asians and that incident can be classified under pure racism. But what do you call it when people of your own ethnicity, of your own race decide to cast you out because you’re not white enough or your eyes aren’t blue enough or you don’t look Nordic enough to land a husband? It’s called: Misfortune and internalized racism. So from now on, if you see someone making fun of a girl or a boy by calling them “kaala”, “choora” (way to go, bigots) or anything similar to that, you best break everything they love with a handy dandy crowbar.

A woman is a woman and she doesn’t need to be ‘gorgeous’ according to definitions by society. She can be thin, fat, dark, fair, big, small, hairy, shaved, single, married, button-nosed, thin-nosed, lanky, chunky, virgin, non-virgin, anything and no one is allowed to make her feel inferior. Parents, if you’re doing this, quit it. Teachers, if you haven’t talked about this to your students, do it. Sisters, if your sibling is found hating themselves in the mirror, snap them out of it. Brothers, if your sister is made to feel ugly because she doesn’t fit the typical image of a “beautiful” woman, love her and tell her she’s perfect the way she is. Fathers, make your girls feel at home, at ease, respect them. Mothers, my God, don’t ever buy colors that “complement” a girl’s complexion; let her wear the color she likes, quit buying creams that “enhance” her pigmentation.

iv) “Jiski shaadi na ho, uska janaza nahi parhaya jata.” Translation: “The janaza of an unmarried Muslim isn’t carried out.”

I really don’t enjoy bringing religion into cultural debates but since our country has mixed the two to dangerous levels, let’s clear one thing for the last time: Matrimony is not farz, it is a sunnah. A sunnah is not mandatory, it is only highly encouraged. But in the case of not committing it, no one will drag you to
hell as long as you conform to your religion’s prescribed idea of not performing gunaah. That is all. Quit quoting zaeef (weak) ahadith and scaring the lights out of people. There are unmarried Muslims out there doing a whole good to the society and I’m sure I’ll be saying their janaza when their time comes. If you choose not to pray for someone simply because they didn’t marry, you’re an idiot. For Non-Muslims: The fourth point doesn’t apply to you.

Now that we’ve tackled some nonsense we’re told to believe in, let’s come to the solution part of my manifesto.

Say No to Rishta-Window Shopping:

You are a human with feelings. You are not a commodity on the shelf of a super store. You do not have a price tag hanging from your left butt cheek. You are a person who deserves respect, consideration and space. And if someone deliberately violates any one of those rights, you have the right to call them out on their insensitivity. If I were you, I’d make sure I gave crass rishta people a memorable time. Say, surprise them:

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Say Yes to Your Comfort

Uncomfortable with the idea of getting married to the guy you don’t even know? Have you tried talking to him and still felt that the communication wasn’t exactly the best one? Does he seem unfit for commitment with you? Does he exude the shining potential to be a complete jackass? Then say it out loud. Don’t hide it. Some people are completely okay with the idea of an arranged marriage/marrying early/marrying late and some aren’t. That’s their choice. No one should be able to define what a perfect marriage is for you. Find out for yourself. Marry when you’re ready or don’t marry at all. Stand your ground. Like this:

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Sorry. Wait. Like this:

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Prioritize:

My priority: I am only marrying when I’ve established a career for myself. Women in our society are whisked off when they’re not essentially ready in any way. I speak for the majority, before several of you decide to criticize me for my “generalizing.” The idea of becoming dependent on a male for financial assistance and a respectable social position is something that needs to stop. This argument can be challenged rightfully by the scenario in lower classes where marriages of convenience take place – something that will be discussed in another post. That said, the pinnacle of a woman’s life should not be getting married, in my opinion. There’s a thing called empowerment and it’s not emphasized enough because here’s what happens: Employment and education provide women with power and equality if done right. Something that our culture and society doesn’t exactly enjoy entertaining the thought of. Invest in your education, invest in your career, invest in your own priorities before marrying. I am not denouncing the institution of marriage at all. I am simply asking people to let women think and decide for themselves. For some women, settling down is the most important plan on their list and that’s fine as long as she is not at the mercy of her spouse. To make that possible, she should be aware of her rights as a human being. If you’re close to someone who doesn’t exactly know what her rights are, tell her. And remember: Don’t force liberation or your idea of “empowerment” on her. It’s her choice at the end of the day.

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Knock It Off With the “Larki Ka Ghar Uska Susraal Hota Hai”/”A Girl’s Real Home is With Her In-Laws”:

Fuck no. My home is where I was raised, it’s where my mother made breakfast for me and my siblings, it’s where my mineral face wash is. Don’t tell me some prospective house in another city or country is my “real” home. This mentality is such a destructive one, people don’t realize. The first time I saw this in action was when I was on a visit to my grandma’s and this commercial appeared. Here’s an image of it:

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“Sweetheart, I just wanted to tell you: This isn’t exactly your home. You need to get out right now. There, there. Don’t cry. I’m sending you off with some pretty dowry.”

“Meri nanhi parri naye ghar ko challi.” Really now. Where was she before? A boarding house? Oh, she was with her parents? That’s a strange place to be for a girl, right? The idea of telling a young girl that her parents’ house is not her home, is wrong for one reason: You’re feeding her mind with the idea that she is displaced and a burden on the family during her “stay.” When she gets married and lives with her spouse, society tells her then: “Your real home is your maika (parents’ house).” Thank you for confusing a woman with the idea that neither her mother and father’s abode is hers nor is her husband’s house. That she is a misfit in both places. What’s even worse is how many households never inform their sons that their “real” home is elsewhere; they’re already home. If you see someone telling a girl something so flawed, call them out on it right then and there. Marriage should not be the reason for a girl to validate her presence in any area. Why should anyone tell a girl her real home is B, not A when A is basically where she was raised?

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Divorce is NOT the End of the World:

Really. It’s not. A social orgy happens when a woman gets divorced. There is something inherently sickening about a society that experiences collective shock, horror and insatiable curiosity when a marriage is called off. The second thing that happens is how the majority speculates that there had to be something wrong with the girl’s character, past, appearance, family, bra, anything for the failed marriage. Very few people even consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe the husband was a jerk to nth level and so it would’ve been stupid to spend a lifetime with him. In this way, we make life impossible for women. Something we do not have the right to do. Stop hyping something so commonly-occuring. If someone tells you they’re divorced, don’t do this:

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Do this:

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Okay, sorry. Don’t tell them seagulls are fascinating (which they actually are). Just don’t offer pity. It’s insulting.

Be Vocal

You have every right to voice your concerns, needs, wants, dreams, goals to your parents and guardians and if need be, the society we live in. If you’re not ready for such a big change in your life, it’s okay. Tell your parents, tell your partner, tell your friends. Let them know. Getting badgered by the whole town is really annoying, I know. But what you can do is speak up. It takes guts and I’m sure you have them. If someone uses the what-will-people-say card on you, tell them: You don’t live for public approval. If someone throws the religious card on you, tell them: Religion states that a person doesn’t have to marry if they’re not ready, that their consent is extremely important. If someone tells you you’re getting old/unwanted/etc, tell them to find another hobby instead of pampering their ego by picking on others. There are so many people out there who genuinely have nothing better to do but the good thing is, I believe there’s a special spot for them in hell and karma also does them a favor eventually but that their sole punishment in life is simple: Being their miserable, pathetic selves.

Rise above them.

See, the thing this society won’t tell you is that you need to think your plans through, you need to ask yourself before you commit to something, you have to think for yourself. This society won’t ever tell you that your worth is not determined by the melanin in your skin, the pounds you weigh or don’t, how many jewels you have or not, how hot a partner you’ve scored, the cash in your account, etc. The society will always make you feel rushed, incompetent and disrespected. Challenge that. Fight against it. Call people out on their bullshit. Make mistakes, learn from them. Live life the way you want to. Don’t let anyone define anything for you. But above all, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Learn and live and be happy.

And marry when you want to.

End of my manifesto.

Ran out of crayons.

On Daughters

From the trailer:

In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide”.

This documentary film tells the stories of abandoned and trafficked girls, of women who suffer extreme dowry-related violence, of brave mothers fighting to save their daughters’ lives, and of other mothers who would kill for a son. Global experts and grassroots activists put the stories in context and advocate different paths towards change, while collectively lamenting the lack of any truly effective action against this injustice.

One intensely riveting documentary. Recommended to those with a palate and zest for social justice, gender equality and harmony in cultures around the world. There are several parts in this documentary where the incidents narrated are highly graphic and unsettling (wherein some mothers killed female offspring due to pressure and stigma from the society) but this is a reality and the only way to tackle and eliminate it is to address it, firstly, and, secondly, rebel against the status quo that establishes this brutal approach. This is a warped amalgamation of cultural norms, societal obsessions with power and status as a result of patriarchy’s megalomania, religious orthodoxy and mass misinterpretation further reinforced by authoritarian institution(s), economic reasons, so on and so forth. It begins with the idea that (i) a female carries the evil potential to bring “dishonor” to the family and (ii) she is incapable of bringing food to the table like a “true man” would. Therefore she is seen as a potentially promiscuous burden on the monetary capacity of the household. In order to satiate the society and to uphold “integrity”, many female infants have been killed throughout Asia, Middle East and beyond.

As a female from a similar culture, I know how difficult it has been for me and my parents to receive comments on them having daughters only; from well-phrased sympathy and pity like “Well, may you have many grandsons if not sons!” to suggestions for my father to abandon my mother because she ‘couldn’t bring sons in the house.’ He stayed with her not only because he loved her but because no woman deserves to become a pariah for the gender she carries in her womb.

It is important to view this documentary and to read on how female infanticide is a dilemma our region faces but has done little to combat against. I honestly wish that our classrooms were less of master-slave cells where raising questions and objections are viewed as desecration, never curiosity. As someone with experience in teaching, I have yet to meet a teacher who drops the textbook in at least one class and addresses the questions and resentment that our girls have. I am not advocating the exclusion of male pupils in these discussions. You’re more than welcome to share your thoughts if you do indeed want a society where women are revered and treated as equal beings. I still remember mentioning this entire topic in front of a high school class. By the end of the discussion, majority of the girls did admit feeling that their sex was used as an excuse for all sorts of abuse. The male students confessed that they did, at least once in their lives, use the gender card to put a female relative, sibling, friend down. It’s about time teachers, parents, activists, the guy at the corner of the damn street acknowledged that there is inequality but more importantly something has to be done about it. Use education, activism, words, pictures, your voice, anything to fight against it.

I will have daughters one day, deo volente, and they will know that their mother is more than proud to have them; she’s blessed.

Why I don’t listen to Adele – A doodle strip

Because there really are better ways to torture yourself with failed-romance-related nostalgia. Such as attending your ex’s five star wedding or browsing their Facebook pictures at 3 in the morning.

So here’s what happens.

Simply browsing the internet. Nothing dangerous - yet.

Creeping Adele is creeping in.

Oh God no.

But then...

AND THEN.

Lord, save me.

The end.

She has that effect on me.

Part II

In the light of what has been discussed after I posted my open letter to Maya Khan which was later on published on Express Tribune’s blog, I’ve decided to clear several things out for the first and last time before someone misunderstands me for supporting sex trafficking and prostitution in family parks.

I don’t.

I don’t support occupying family spots for these acts. I don’t encourage anyone to strip naked on a wooden bench while kids play on the seesaw. I really don’t endorse the idea of soliciting people for paid sex in such vicinities. I’m not here, as several argued, to incinerate the very fabric of ‘Islamic’ social and moral conduct. Some people accused me of being in favor of letting young males and females engage in “questionable” acts due to which they get hurt sexually, physically and emotionally. One even told me to “leave the country” and “go back to USA” where “this shit happens on a daily basis.”  Implying that this “shit” is perfectly contained and controlled in the land of pure Pakistani perfection. Delusional people are most entertaining.

Some people also alleged that I am trying to be “hip” and “in” by conforming to the modern idea of PDA, socializing and modern relationships. They tell me that I am oblivious of what happens to young people when they are not told to avoid sneaking out, lying to guardians or parents, etc. They inform me that what Maya Khan and her kind did, was simply “interview” young couples in parks. Conflating “interviewing” with “harassing” is a dangerous misunderstanding. I could “interview” you too. It won’t be pleasant.

So here’s what I’ve proposed to all those who misconstrue me needlessly on two major fronts among others:

  • Concerned about indecency in public places? Use the right medium to educate

    Closet Maya Khans sit comfortably in their privilege as they preach those under them. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Her act was not just a moral policing one, but also a classist lashing against those with less a chance to meet in the places she goes to. We all know what happens in opulent, endowed settings. There is no difference between the “illegal” act happening in a poor man’s household and that taking place in a rich man’s mansion. It is very easy to attack and admonish the weaker party. You can use religion, morality or simple concern as an excuse. I don’t deny the reality that unsettling things do occur in parks and the idea to address those happenings is valid. But there are ways to go about these problems. Creating social and religious stigma around them is the least preferable thing to do. Someone with a little decent knowledge of ethics – media and otherwise – would know. Stigmatizing public places not only deviates the majority from the real issue but also limits accessibility to them. You are not helping by locking the venue up.

  • “Girls get hurt when they don’t tell their parents about their lives!” 

    They actually do, you’re right. However please help me wrap my head around the approach consisting of publicly naming and shaming a young person in order to make them aware of their actions. How does shoving a camera into a young girl’s face rectify her dishonesty? If we all are so worried about our young women, why hasn’t any one of us ever considered talking to them in their classrooms, in their school halls, in their colleges? Why hasn’t anyone of us bothered writing about it? Some of you seem so horrified behind your screens about the looming danger waiting to claw at our girls yet you offer no pragmatic solution to solve this problem. If Maya Khan and her troupe wanted to help girls from getting harmed, why didn’t she turn the camera off, implored the girl to listen and offered her well-intended advice in privacy? A group of panting men and women holding cameras after a young couple doesn’t change anything. You were not assigned by the government, constitution or God to ram “naseehat” down someone’s throat. Worried about young girls’ safety? Guide them without shaming them. Disgusted by indecency tainting the family park? Report to authorities firmly and promptly. Public vigilantism is not the right way to go about it.

It may sound tangential but many of you want to help women from getting hurt. That’s wonderful. I realize that many of our parents and well wishers do not have access to internet or open media sources to learn more in terms of going about discussing sexual safety, rights, etc. This is where you become useful and spread the word without becoming a moral preacher like the woman aforementioned. Tell young women how to fight against sexual harassment, educate young girls about sex because it is one of their primary rights, empower them through education, conduct classes, seminars and conferences open for everyone and talk about it in Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, English, whatever.

Get to it or

An Open Letter to Maya Khan

It started with this video.

Dear Maya Khan,

My name is Mehreen. I like browsing through morning talk shows when I’m waiting for breakfast made by my mom who, like your colleague said in a particular clip, is like my friend and I confide in her often. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I do. She’s never demanded an oath of eternal confidence in her. We’re humans, and we love our private space. You might be thinking, “Why is she telling me this?” I thought I should let you know about the knitty gritty of my personal life since you do enjoy delving into deeper details. Wise people always do.

Maya? I love parks. Parks are amazing. Did you know that top ten parks in the world are located in London, Vancouver, San Francisco, Tokyo, Lisbon (don’t worry – not ‘lesbian’), Chicago and Bangkok? If you show up in Lahore in the same park that I go to, it might become the most famous park in the whole world for what happens right after we encounter each other. Parks have lots of nice, lush grass and benches. I love benches. Parks also have trees and swings and sidewalks for people to walk on, and sometimes chase people after. Parks are amazing. My dad used to take me to my favorite park when I was little, you know? Sometimes couples passed by us and my dad would bring his Sony high definition video camera out and run after them, inquiring of their marital or non-marital status based on his idea of morality. Kidding. My dad just yawned and pushed the swing higher for me.

Hey, Maya? Sorry, I know I’m rambling. Just bear with me. Come on, we’re girls, we should confide in each other. I really like someone. Most young people do. It’s natural, don’t worry. Nothing extraordinary, absurd or heinous about it. We hang out often. Since we’re on a nice, equal wavelength, we enjoy spending time in places that are simple, easy to go (unless someone decides to chase us with a cell phone camera to document our stray presence) and open-spaced because I love sitting in the sun on a winter afternoon. Do you know where we go? A local park. That’s right.

Young people fall in love all the time. Sometimes they don’t – it’s just infatuation. Sometimes they do and they’re confused as hell and they still go out to understand the significance of the other. In the process, they pick a location like normal people do where they can sit down and spend time together. I’m sure you liked someone when you were in college. No big deal. See, girls fall in love pretty much every single day of the week and so do boys. Sometimes they make the right decision, sometimes they make mistakes. It’s called being human. But trust me, they don’t need a team of middle aged women hounding them down public places to enlighten them about their decisions. And trust me, their mothers will handle whatever happens. No one asked you or anyone else to take the responsibility of scrutinizing them. See, what worries me a lot is when public figures like you with considerable influence on viewers morph into moral police. In a country like Pakistan where public vigilantism has exceeded levels of brutality, the last thing the youth needs is a team of moral watchdogs sniffing around for “impure” behavior.

If indeed your concern is sincere (which I still have qualms with – since the privacy of a person’s choice is most cogent; they’ll ask for help when they ask you) then invest in sex education or how a female can avoid getting hurt in various situations. Better yet, do a segment on respect for privacy. Now that’s a talk show I would make my entire neighborhood subscribe to. I understand that you might be fretting about the welfare of young women in this society. I do too along with thousands of other well-to-do folks. But there’s a difference between you and me: I don’t publicize their actions on a local TV channel, I don’t chastise them for going out on a date and I don’t expect people to slut-shame the girl or the boy into hiding. I let them be unless and until they ask for help or if there is eminent danger.

Hold on. I’m Muslim too. However the ethos of my faith urges that unless I am perfect in my moral conduct, I have no right whatsoever to point my finger at anyone for anything. Whatever is done is left between the individual and their conscience. Hell, no one ever told me to demand for someone’s nikah-nama when they’re sitting together. It doesn’t concern me or you or anyone else. Sometimes I am ashamed to be from the same faith when I see people like you dictating immaculate morality for others. Furthermore I am mortified as a Pakistani when I see wardens of rectitude making dangerous spectacles of common citizens simply to boost hits on their show or to become shining role models for people of equally disappointing, mediocre thinking.

If that young couple gets hurt – which happens inevitably as a result of your irresponsible moral policing – you will be held accountable for reinforcing the sick obsession our society has with prying and needling into privacy. I thought media ethics would’ve taught you and several others the art of Letting People Be. It’s not too hard, really. All you have to do is mind your own business and find other mature, commendable ways of increasing popularity for your show. Say, have you seen that reporter who raided on someone’s residence for possessing alcohol? Don’t you think it would’ve yielded a decent conversation if you, let’s say, entered Cosa Nostra or Espresso or CTC or Cinnabon, where privileged folks like you go to, and accosted an unmarried couple for sitting together in their unmarriedness? Isn’t it pathetically convenient to interrogate a harmless couple in a park? Can someone please explain why haven’t these righteous correspondents ever barged into a conspiring terrorist’s household to expose their plans? Or maybe into a conservative political figure’s cozy room when they call over hookers (I don’t even care about that, honestly) or when they approve of policies that render our lives a lot more miserable than it already is? That takes guts.

You’re smart enough to understand by now that I am legitimately aggravated and so are others. Invasive moral policing is not just hypocritical, it is harmful. A petition against your program has been initiated on Change.org and I’m signing this while making yet another sinful plan of sitting in a park with the guy I like. Is this a one-way ticket to hell and destruction? I’m sure it is. No skin off my nose.

Assuming your action was religiously motivated, I was wondering how you would react if a raging maulvi decided to hound you on his morning talk show for not covering your hair. And assuming your action wasn’t religiously motivated but only carried out as a display of social concern, I wonder how you would feel if someone verbally quartered you for making the decisions you have by telling you, you were foolish and misdirected for doing so.

Now if you don’t mind, I have plans to make. I’m spending unmarried time with the guy I like in a few days. We’re so unmarried, it’s amazing. Sometimes in our high unmarriedfulness, I hold his arm and we walk through the park past closet Maya Khans and Zaid Hamids who genuinely detest us for our open display of joy, comfort and affection. I can’t wait to have you show up and ask us for our nikah document. This is what I’ll give you as proof:

It's legit.

Stay out of my park.

Sincerely Sitting Unmarried On a Bench in a Park With a Guy,
Mehreen

Feminism Ain’t Always Perfect

And I, a feminist, have said this along with many others.

Jessica Yee says it best:

We’re not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when white women are praised for winning “women’s rights,” and to painfully forget the Indigenous women and women of colour who were hurt in that same process. We are not equal when in the name of “feminism”, so-called “women’s only” spaces are created and get to police and regulate who is and isn’t a “woman” based on their interpretation of your body parts and gender presentation, not your own. We are not equal when initiatives to achieve gender equity have reverted yet again to “saving” people and making decisions for them, rather than supporting their right to self-determination, whether it’s engaging in sex work, or wearing a niqab. So when feminism itself has become its own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it? Western notions of polite discourse are not the norm for all of us, and just because we’ve got some new and hot language like “intersectionality” to use in our talk, it doesn’t necessarily make things change in our walk (i.e., actually being anti-racist). And I have to say that these uncomfortable processes have been worth the many paths that brought the different contributors of the book together to tell their sometimes uncomfortable truths — not just about feminism, but about themselves and where they are coming from.

But now I’m going to take a stand and say that I’m constantly questioning what feminism even is, and I’m increasingly disturbed every day by the gate-keeping of who and what gets to decide the answer to that question.

So here’s another truth about me: I’m at a point in my activism where in many spaces I no longer feel comfortable just saying that I’m a feminist, full-stop, without adding a few words before or after. I say I’m a multi-racial Indigenous Two-Spirit feminist. I say I’m a hip-hop feminist, a reproductive justice feminist. Like many people, I feel like I’ve been burned out by the mainstream usage and representation of feminism and I’m not making any apologies for what I call myself, because I’m speaking the English language of the colonizer, and if it takes people a few extra words to give me my right to self-determination of what I want to be called in English, so be it.Being uncomfortable with this truth about feminism helps keep my fire alive to change it, and also helps me to not forget where we’ve really come from and where we’re really going.

(Source)

Like any woman of color, I can’t simply give in to feminism completely. It is a Western ideology that does not mesh well with mine. It has its roots embedded in a history that not only had White men oppressing their own women but their women were equally involved in oppressing my indigenous people – men and women together. I refuse to obediently follow every postulate stated by Western, Eurocentric feminists. Does that make me an incompetent supporter of women’s rights? Does that render me unsuccessful in this march against oppression and malevolent patriarchy? Does that invalidate my opinion on how to bring gender egalitarianism about? Does that make me an adversary in this struggle? Does that make me a bad person? My questioning of agendas and modus operandi should be taken as positive criticism for change.

When a white feminist conducts a conference on gender equality, I want her to introduce me as a Human Being, not an example for her friends and sponsors to examine and exhibit and capitalize on. I want her to ask me what my thoughts are concerning feminism in academia. I want her to understand that there are compartments to my feminist movement; that feminism in my society in the professional realm is far different than feminism in the domestic dimension. I want her to understand that things are not simple. I want her to stop reducing my people to a piece of cloth. I want her to look back and realize that feminists, too, can be very well racist and oppressive. I want her to know that enforcing her idea of success, happiness and liberation on women alienated by her very own culture does not help. I want her to talk to my sisters, cousins, friends, teachers, activists, women from the village, women from the city, women from every corner of my country, my culture, my history before she even thinks of concluding her thoughts on how to define feminism around the world. I want her to open her mind.

I want her to know that the conference she conducted on academic discussions on women’s rights, while poorly-paid migrant workers – my brothers and sisters – are preparing lunch for their lofty thinkers only to get deported the next day, is no good when she can’t acknowledge her own participation in silencing the rights of those around her. I don’t want to be invited to seminars where someone indirectly hints at me wearing my “cultural attire” to show diversity. What am I? A mannequin for the lot?

I want her to know that it is not necessary for anyone to have a post doctoral degree in women’s studies to speak about her own experience and to be regarded by the ones listening and reading. I want her to get rid of her own privilege before she goes on to highlight that of others. I am tired but undefeated of the constant sight of colored students who are expected and sometimes demanded to learn languages, theories, -isms that erase and appropriate but, worse, further colonize their history, heritage, culture and identity.

I want the West to understand that my women and men and I will not adhere to every single idea stated from that corner of the world concerning emancipation and progress. I know the men of my culture have committed extreme acts of brutality against their women but it makes you no good when your ancestry points to lineages and more lineages of colonizers who tortured and enslaved both men and women of my culture.

I am a feminist but consider the ineffectiveness of a title when sub-titles are added for further clarification, explanation and validation. When I speak on public radio or show up on TV, I have to explain my identity: A multi-cultural, anti-racist, Muslim feminist. Sub-titles are created when the primary title fails to encompass other identities, other voices. This is also why I have no issue with women of color creating their own movements like South Asian Women Equality, Womanism, Muslim Gender Equality, Racial and Gender Liberation, so on and so forth.

So stop forcing me to believe you have purged yourself of racism, of cashing in on my experience and history. Stop telling me feminism is “perfect.” Stop telling me you’re here to “help” and “save” me and my sisters. The only person you need to save is yourself before you turn into a subtle instance of yet another colonizer.