Gender & Identity, Life

My Desi community tried to impose the patriarchy on everything I did, but I fought back

If I gave in to everything that patriarchy asked me to, I do not want to imagine what that would look like for me today.

The patriarchy sucks. No novel idea there. Too many people have tried to impose it on me with nonsensical phrases like:

“You plan to let her go away from your house to live on her own during university? She is going to be out of hand,” said the sabotaging relative to my parents.

“She went abroad all by herself. This is what happens when you give girls too much freedom. She has no reason being abroad – she will not make money or run a home,” they chided my parents yet again.

“She has finished university and plans to pursue a higher degree – she will not find a suitable man. Why are you not stopping her?” they barked while putting more nonsense in my parents’ heads.

Thank goodness my parents brushed them aside even if it was difficult for them to do. Each time that I asserted any level of freedom or choice to live life on my terms it became a topic of ridicule for others. Yet, the scary scenarios everyone tried to brilliantly display in front of my parents never happened. I spent way too much time brushing off naysayers that tried to make sure I remained under the control of my parents because my life was not my own, at least according to them. Dreaming was pointless unless those dreams were about the perfect husband. Because the perfect husband solves any women’s problems for the rest of their lives.

Regardless of growing up in the United States, the South Asian Muslim community that I grew up in felt the need to cling to extreme patriarchy in order to protect their “culture” in the West. They felt like warriors for the hard work it took to maintain this clinginess. They joined my worth to an imaginary husband,  imaginary men making my decisions, an imaginary home, and an imaginary life of submission and compromise. With the way everyone made having a husband sound, I felt more than happy to pass on these expectations. As much as the social circle around me wanted to blame Western society and ideals for making me feel this way, their ideas were the problem.

I was constantly hassled with the phrases: “You can do all of this now, but not in your husband’s house.”

“You have to maintain the home, otherwise your husband will get tired of you.”

Or, my favorite one: “Just get married and perhaps your husband will let you work or study.”

Newsflash: I have a husband now. I chose him not out of desperation and not because everyone told me to. No, he nor I ask for “permission” for anything because we are not hormonal teenagers. Any changes we have had to make in the way we operate before our marriage came from both of us.  We come to mutual agreements on most issues based on our resources and the life we plan together. We both take care of our home together. He exhibits no signs of leaving me over any of the reasons people cited to me before. Want to know why?

Because marriage is a consensual agreement between two adults. Women are conditioned to believe that if anything goes wrong in their marriage, the onus was on the woman to save it. It would be the woman’s fault rather than the fault of them both. So far, my husband and I have a great system for realizing when we are blaming one another rather than owning up to our mistakes. I am also a flawed person continue to work on this. I can’t count how many times I have to stop myself from using “you” in my sentences.

If I ever listened to any of the nonsense my realm of patriarchy blurted, I would never have learned what a healthy marital relationship was for myself.  The strange irony about patriarchy is that it defines a woman’s role, but her ability to exist in this world remains in an infantile state. Someone must approve or disapprove of everything she decides or does. Otherwise, society makes a moralistic judgment of her roles and abilities.  Many women internalize this judgment, and in order to “keep the peace,” stay away from disrupting the status quo.

And I do not completely blame them. Unfortunately, patriarchy’s favorite myth is that if we keep going down this line, women lose their femininity. Women become more like men (oh, the silly gender binaries), and men become emasculated.

Even if that was the case, why do traditional ideas of femininity still sell? From fashion magazines to every beauty trend in the book on dressing your curves, femininity is well and alive. Patriarchy has been the suppressor of femininity in traditionally masculine settings. Most of these settings are public and outside of the domain of the home.  Patriarchy may not be going anywhere soon, but every day I remind myself of how more women are disproving its greatest fears.