Part One: The yes girl
At 22, I moved home. Back into my parents house, back into the bubble that is Karachi, Pakistan. Living away from home, especially when you come from a country like mine, is liberating, groundbreaking, and eye-opening to say the least. My life in Karachi had always been controlled. I was controlled by my teachers in school, by my parents at home, by my religion in life. Everything I said and did was somehow watched and valued. As a writer, I never liked rules. I didn’t care for them. My writing was my constant solace. I rebelled through characters, letting the girls free their minds while I sat on the edge of my bed, listening again to what my parents told me to do.
I was always the yes girl. I nodded when my parents told me that I had to wear a shawl over my sleeve-less top to cover my arms in public – because of the apparent male gaze that followed every girl in Karachi. I silently agreed when my teacher told me that Biology was a man’s subject, and I was better suited to humanities. I was always agreeing. I was always saying yes. Until one day. I finally said no.
Part Two: The girl that grew up
It’s 9 a.m. Karachi is cool in a way that it never usually gets. My mother is banging on my door to get me to wake up for my workout. I can’t miss class. I have to be thin. I must be thin. My mother says I have to be thin for wedding season. What will all the aunties say if I’m not? How will I ever get married if I’m not? This is the constant battle in my life. I am constantly told to prepare myself for marriage.
The module, The Social Construction of Gender states, “Every society classifies people as “girl and boy children,” “girls and boys ready to be married,” and “fully constructs similarities among them and differences between them, and assigns them to different roles and responsibilities” 278)
Eat better, my mother says. Back straight, my father says. Head up high, my mother says. Get a manicure, my father says. My life is a series of do-betters and get betters. I am the opposite of the epitome of what every Pakistani mother wants her daughter to be. Yes, I can cook. I can clean. When I was six-years-old, I learnt how to iron, not because I wanted to, but because that’s what girls do. But it wasn’t what I wanted. I didn’t want someone to judge me on my ability to make roti, or nod my head when someone older spoke to me. Ali Tazeen explains how gender is constructed in such a way that men and women have roles that are predetermined, like it or not.
In Pakistan, gender roles are constructed of a combination of traditional roots and social values, primarily based on the concepts of production and reproduction, taken to mirror masculine and feminine traits of an individual. More than 50% of the women lack basic education and approximately 30% do earn some income, but most women in Pakistan are confined to their homes to do housework for the extended family and are excluded from main decision making.
There is a majority of women that aren’t allowed to work or leave the country, and through that notion, I fall under the exception. My life isn’t as gender determined as so many of the girl out there, trying to gain even a remnant of freedom, but being told they cannot.
Part Three: The girl that speaks
My mother tells me i’m not lady-like enough, that my voice is too loud for a Pakistani girl, my clothes too wild, and my thoughts too provocative – I live in a society where patriarchy reigns. My world is woman-centric and every things I do is measured.
My clothes are measured, the tone of my voice in public is measured. My whole life is measured by customs and rules that I no longer believe in.
I am chained within four walls constantly. The walls of my house, the walls of my gender, the walls of the ever dominating patriarchy that keep growing taller and taller as I grow smaller to fit into my self-made box. I cannot breathe because I am larger than the box, my thoughts do not fit within it, and my actions do not either. One of the reasons why I’ve even been able to realise this is through my education. As Alavi illustrates through the quotation below, many do not even have the chance to realise how much of a difference their gender makes to their lives because they have not been given an education. This is both a cultural, and religious problem.
Education is the key to acceptable and respectable jobs. Lower middle class families would find it degrading to let their women take up jobs as domestic servants or to work on the factory floor for which education is not a pre-requisite. Families who expect their women to take up jobs as teachers or office clerks (or better) tend therefore to put a high value on women’s education which, at one time, was thought to be mere indulgence and wasteful of money spent on it.
There is a vast majority of women who long to express themselves creatively but are not given the chance. The social structure in Pakistan is set up in such a way that women cannot walk on the streets in certain places because of the constant stares from men and the fear of rape. Since women cannot even walk on the streets without being questioned, it is hard imagining a place in Pakistan where women’s voices are not challenged in the least.
Pakistan is infamous for its gender gap. Within the country exists a society that adheres to patriarchal beliefs and authority, one that pushes the conception that a man must be in charge of a woman’s life, and a woman must be in charge of her house and obtain the role of a caretaker. The woman is seen as the primary caretaker, while the man is seen as the primary provider, since his duty involves leaving the house to provide monetary wealth for his family. Even though in major cities in Pakistan, such as Karachi and Islamabad, the role of a woman outside the house is not always condemned, there are still many people that are firm believers in the woman as the center of the domestic sphere.
Culturally, household work (in her own home) is considered a woman’s primary role. Due to the increase of economic pressures on families in the past few decades, the traditional restrictions on women have lessened and large numbers of women have taken on paid employment; but domestic work remains a woman’s principal duty.
Thankfully, my family doesn’t believe that I have to be a domesticated housewife, and I do work at a newspaper. Working in the media is an interesting job, as every day I see so many women that have been wronged. Honour killing and rape are always on the front page of the paper, and I can’t escape it. I can’t get away from the rising patriarchy no matter how hard I try. It seeps into my life. The video, “How does gender affect the workplace?” explains that occupations like engineering and law are usually filled by men, and this does reign true in Karachi. My little brothers are told to become doctors and lawyers, and then here, I am – I studied Literature and Creative Writing in Italy.
There is an inherent need for the questioning of societal norms in Pakistan. A woman’s independence and freedom of choice should be her priority during her formative years, not her presentation in the eyes of possible proposers.
Maybe my life wouldn’t revolve around gender if I lived somewhere else. But I’ve realised that standing up for yourself is the best way to go about it. I can’t help that my society values the damsel in distress, and the perfect housewife, but I don’t have to follow those rules. There is always room for the girls that say no. The girls that raise their voices even when everyone around them wants to silence them.
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