I am Woman – Hear Me Roar

Batool Mehdi and Zainab Muhammad present a stream-of-consciousness essay on some of the trials and tribulations the modern Pakistani woman must go through, and the role society plays in getting here there.

Is it a boy or a girl?” The labeling begins from the moment we find out a woman is pregnant. Of course, it’s not that difficult to see why. After all, the roles were always there, weren’t they? Women were given a role, to take care of a house, cook good food, produce healthy babies and then the dealing with in-laws and husband comes along as part and parcel. The same way a man was the breadwinner. The only thing is that while the rest of the developed world moves on at lightning speed in shattering stereotypes, the Pakistani urban landscape still seems stuck in a terribly frustrating generational loop.

The ‘Why’ of it all

Here’s an example.

When we start interacting as toddlers, we play games with dolls where ‘chalo shadi shadi khelein’ is often the choice of game.  This recreation of domestic bliss with the Barbie and Ken dolls is a thing of sociological fascination. The girl doll cooks and cleans and all that while strutting around in perfect clothes and perpetually arched heels. While the boy doll zooms off to work in the Ferrari and comes home with the proverbial bacon.  The question is, where does this recreation come from? Our homes. The ultimate aspiration for a girl this age isn’t to zoom off in the Ferrari herself. No, it’s to be there at home waiting for the man who comes back in said Ferrari

Oh, the Judgment

While urban socialites love talking of women’s liberation and rights in general, they often fail to see the unbending mindsets within their own circle. Back biting and slander are not viewed as vices or sins in this little bubble of life that we have created, where every other person likes to preach. In fact, people feel they have a right to comment, criticize and judge especially if an issue or circumstance relates to a woman.

What happens when “jab larki jawani ke taraf turn leti hai” (hits puberty), is that the majority of parents start finding the “right boy” (rishta). That’s where it begins. In some areas a girl or a boy is bound into a “rishta” (an unsigned treaty) so that the transaction can be made as soon as the girl turns a certain age. If the girl doesn’t conform to society’s ideals of the ‘marrigeable age’ then behold. The judgment that ensues. Who decided this magical ‘marrigeable age?’ No-one knows.


The Labels – ‘Try to make it work’ Syndrome

As long as a woman continues to be the suffering victim or damsel in distress (bechari, as they say) in any situation, people are satisfied. Just take a look at TV serial ratings. The ones with the most copious shedding of female tears is the one that garners the highest ratings. We just love a good cry. This craving of sympathy transcends the screen though. We feed our children, especially girls with a near daily dose of emotional trash in the form of “family kya kahay gi” and “loag kya kehein ge”. If a woman takes charge of her life and makes decisions to ease her suffering, then she is perceived as stubborn, negative, disrespectful and rebellious. If a woman decides to divorce her abusive husband or a toxic life after marriage, then she is bombarded by a series of ‘should have tried harder to make it work.’ Worse yet, these judgments are passed, unaware or unfeeling of the negative psychological and emotional impact the dysfunctional family life has on the woman and her children, if she has any

‘The Modrran Woman’ syndrome

The woman who says no to marriage in her twenties, for whatever reason, is described as too modern, incapable of having a family life and so on. “Paagal hai. Pachtaye gi baad mein.’ Despite, being entirely unrelated and unconnected, people from all corners of relative and friend-dom will offer their ill-informed advice and opinions in order to discourage the woman from making a decision that will help her be free and happy in that moment.

And unfortunately, it isn’t just men who are the chief critics of “the independent woman.” Women perhaps play an even more insidious role in creating a narrative where a woman’s worth is linked intrinsically to her marital status or lack thereof. No matter how accomplished a woman might be in her life and career, no matter how many accolades she may have won in her work, the tepid ‘congratulations’ pale in contrast to the stream of ‘mubarakan’ that flow, nay, flood in after her marriage. Because, lest we forget, the real accomplishment is that she found a man. The one thing in life that happens entirely by chance and destiny, is the one thing that people will most congratulate her for. Yet the hard work and effort that goes into creating a successful career – pfft. Anyone could have done it.

A strong woman chooses to ignore the demands of society and does as she pleases with her life – study, work and of course, most importantly, marry on her own terms and when she wants to.  She’s a rare one, sure. But she exists.

The ‘Shaadi tou ho gayi par bachay nahi huey’ syndrome

 Of course, the stigmas don’t end with marriage. Nope. Sometimes barely even after a year, the whispering begins, lamenting the lack of ‘pitter patter’ in the house. If a woman happens to get married in her 30’s, the race to the maternity ward begins almost immediately. Never mind that the biological clock world over is no longer the same as it was twenty years ago.

And God forbid should the woman not want any children. Because, that’s just unfathomable for anyone to grasp. Her very womanhood itself is put to question if she doesn’t happen to want to be a mother. Sacrilege, we tell you! Sacrilege!

The working mother goes through her own share of problems though. She won’t be ‘family oriented.’ She won’t ‘give enough time to her kids.’ At the same time, the standards she has to meet are herculean in proportion. Nothing less than ‘superwoman’ will do.

The Bottom Line

Whether women are single, married or divorced, it’s clear; we all need to get past the judgments, labels and stereotyping and create a better life and environment for everyone. Mercifully, things are changing, albeit at a snail pace, but we will take what we can get. All around us now there are an increasing number of women, beautiful, confident and successful in their own rights, living fulfilling lives, and on their own terms. More and more women are choosing to wait to find the best fit possible in terms of marriage, rather than settling for the first proposal that comes their way. If this means waiting till their 30’s and beyond, so be it.

Slowly but surely, with each case of a strong, successful woman at 31, 32, 35, 37, 40, getting married to someone of her own choice, sans desperation, one stereotype at a time is shattered. And make sure you hear that shattering – for it’s a glorious sound!

Post Script

Here are those ‘delightfully’ annoying questions we have all faced at one point or another and our comebacks.

“Why Aren’t You Married?”

“Why aren’t human?”

“Are You Seeing Anyone?”

“Is that a come-on?”

“When are you going to settle down?”

“Last time I checked, I wasn’t exactly floating around in the ether…I’m pretty ‘settled’ already, kthxbye.”