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I speak from a South Asian perspective – briefly so. The idea of “saving” a woman’s “honor” is not a man’s job. It is highly complicated in the sense that when a woman is sexually assaulted or harrassed, she is seen as a lesser being because her “honor” has been “stolen.” The attacker against said honor is often a man. The guardian of that honor is, erroneously so, a man again. Therefore he has to “save” her and “protect” the “sanctity” of her reputation from that criminal not because he believes that women deserve equal rights and access to the same privilege he has, but because the honor of the woman – an object under him – has been violated. The running emotion behind it is often misguided in that instead of making it her issue, he makes it his own. He finds himself less masculine if his sister, wife, mother or daughter is assaulted. He blames himself. She becomes a fragile, easily-broken, easily-tainted object. The concept of “Ghairat” that continues to thrive in the minds of men in our society is also endorsed by many women. To believe that it is only men perpetuating this mindset, is overly simplified and flawed. I do encourage men and women to protect each other but also to view each other  as equal human beings, that an assault on a woman’s body is not supposed to undermine a male relative’s honor but that it is inherently the attacker’s fault, the shame should be thrown upon him. When a man is assaulted, his ‘honor’ isn’t fretted over upon by a woman. His issue is his alone, his body belongs to him. But when a woman is assaulted, the related man believes he has been insulted. Her body becomes a battlefield. Another problem that arises is that instead of holding the male attacker responsible for the crime, the woman is instantly hidden from public view. The belief is that by hiding her, the problem goes away. But it doesn’t; it grows stronger, angrier and more dangerous for the woman. Silence implies complicity in this case.

Many people forget during feminist discourse on patriarchy that while patriarchy oppresses women, it also defines hyper-masculine, rigid requisites for men. “He must not cry, he must not express emotion, he must be strong every single day of his life.” Men should not define their masculinity by narrow concepts of “honor” but by supporting the idea that their masculinity is defined by the noble drive to hold women’s status and respect equal to that of men.

A real man is the one who respects the individual space and voice of a woman. A real man does not define honor for a woman. That her issue is hers alone and that the help and protection offered is not out of upholding his sense of ‘ghairat’ or honor but because it is her right to be safe from assaults. It is her right to be treated with respect.

Khatam shud.

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.

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