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When a woman tried to rebel, how does society conspire to hush her spirit? And what will it take to rise above?
A wise man once said that most parents can do everything for their children, except let them be themselves.
Growing up as a young teenage girl in a Pakistani Muslim society, I realized what a heavily patriarchal society I lived in. I wanted to be an actress when I was a kid, but I was informed that girls don’t work in the media industry and appear on TV. I was told I’d be considered a ‘loose’ woman and I wouldn’t get good proposals. Because, come on, a woman’s place is in the kitchen, right?
I was then pushed into learning how to cook, the reason behind it not being that I should know for myself, or polish my independence; but so that my future in-laws and husband could not ridicule me. I couldn’t spend my life being a wife to someone who had a predetermined idea of who I was supposed to be: a submissive housewife. I was a prisoner in my own home, my own country. I watched the women around me submit to their husbands and fathers, but there was always a part of me which objected to this, and called for the eradication of misogyny.
In the midst of all this, I was a victim of emotional abuse and rape. While broken bones eventually heal, the scars left from emotional abuse can damage you more than you think. His mouth was a loaded gun, full of verbal gunpowder that was slowly sucking the life out of me. Every time he humiliated me, he was slapping me on the face. Every time he blackmailed me, he was pushing me into the wall. Every time he interrogated me, he was giving me a black eye. His words eroded my self-esteem like the slow, deliberate dripping of acid onto my skin.
While broken bones eventually heal, the scars left from emotional abuse can damage you more than you think.
When I shared my rape experience with a close friend, she claimed that I was ‘asking for it’. She said I could’ve left, and I stayed out of choice. The truth is I thought I could fix his brokenness, and be the one to help him heal.
My life changed for the better when I came to Canada. I was a suppressed coil, finally let go to spring. I’m proud of my Pakistani heritage, but I also wanted to adapt to the Canadian lifestyle. However, it’s near to impossible to do so while living with your conservative family. I still couldn’t bare an inch of my shoulder. Showing leg was out of the question, even in the hottest days of summer. I couldn’t go out without being questioned. Who was I going with? Why was I so dressed up? When would I come back? Why was I going? Why couldn’t I just stay home?
And then, when I did leave, I would receive a check up call every hour, just to make sure I was alive and breathing, and not kidnapped and dead in some alley. Talk about suffocation. But I still went ahead, met people, and made friends, without feeling guilty. I broke all the rules, and went against my religion and my culture. Because this is my time to live.
So you see, while the host culture encourages individuality and independence, the culture to which you originally belong to reminds you of tradition and conventionalities. You are stuck at the edge, trying to leap to freedom from suppression. It’s a precarious state oscillating between two different perspectives. But these cultural norms contribute to patriarchal values of honour, shame and dignity, that can be violated by talking, eating, moving, wearing certain things or in certain ways.
This is a culture where girls don’t move out unless it’s for marriage. This is a culture where bodily autonomy is not a human right. Sexuality is a crime. Virginity is a matter of your family’s honour. If you’re not a virgin on your wedding night, shame on you. Bodies are sinful, so they should be hidden. Women need guardianship and are expected to be obedient.
Marriage is NOT the ultimate purpose of a female life. It is only a part of it, a choice some women wish to make while some don’t. The thing that matters is that women should have the liberty to do so without being forced or emotionally blackmailed. Marriage has absolutely nothing to do with their worth as a person. Meaning in life can be found in a hundred other ways and if your daughter wants to include marriage at some point in that list, great. If not, that should be okay as well.
…if it is your daughter’s wellbeing that you wish for, then begin by placing the control of her future in her own hands.
Educate her, teach her good morals, encourage her to pursue her passions, and let her celebrate her sexuality and uniqueness. After all, if it is your daughter’s wellbeing that you wish for, then begin by placing the control of her future in her own hands. You are a human being, a voice, a reason. Making mistakes and surviving, is part of this life, but how much can your flesh and blood take it?
Your skin will heal but your mind will forget what it’s like to be human. Your spirit dwells with a certain rebellion inside you that you forcibly soothe. Your lips stutter one set of values and identities, but your eyes hide the other. But all you can feel are your quivering fingers hidden underneath the covers in the dark of night, trying to hold on to your swollen heart.
Pic credit: dustandfog (Used under a CC license)
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Shows like Indian Matchmaking only further the argument that women must adhere to social norms without being allowed to follow their hearts.
When Netflix announced that Indian Matchmaking (2020-present) would be renewed for a second season, many of us hoped for the makers of the show to take all the criticism they faced seriously. That is definitely not the case because the show still continues to celebrate regressive patriarchal values.
Here are a few of the gendered notions that the show propagates.
A mediocre man can give himself a 9.5/10 and call himself ‘the world’s most eligible bachelor’, but an independent and successful woman must be happy with receiving just 60-70% of what she feels she deserves.
Darlings makes some excellent points about domestic violence . For such a movie to not follow through with a resolution that won't be problematic, is disappointing.
I watched Darlings last weekend, staying on top of its release on Netflix. It was a long-awaited respite from the recent flicks. I wanted badly to jump into its praise and will praise it, for something has to be said for the powerhouse performances it is packed with. But I will not be able to in a way that I really had wanted to.
I wanted to say that this is a must-watch on domestic violence that I stand behind and a needed and nuanced social portrayal. But unfortunately, I can’t. For I found Darlings to be deeply problematic when it comes to the portrayal of domestic violence and how that should be dealt with.
Before we rush to the ‘you must be having a problem because a man was hit’ or ‘much worse happens to women’ conclusions, that is not what my issue is. I have seen the praises and criticisms, and the criticisms of criticisms. I know, from having had close associations with non-profits and activists who fight domestic violence not just in India but globally, that much worse happens to women. I have written a book with case studies and statistics on that. Neither do I have any moral qualms around violence getting tackled with violence (that will be another post some day).