“Put those legs together!”, are the words I heard the most when I was younger. I vividly remember thinking, “what is between these legs that is driving everyone so crazy?” Dresses came built-in with granny panties and I had to sit cross-legged or demure whenever in the company of people. My family was quite liberal, making sure that us girls, my sister and I, received the best education and spent most of the day constructively. However, there was subliminal subjugation which was harder to break out of. We were raised to be strong but feminism was still an unknown concept.
The constant reminders to lower our gaze when the random driver, male help, or grocery man walked by. To speak softer when my grandfather was in the room. To appreciate and aim for the sanctity of marriage and the benefits of male protection. To accept that the world is one giant construction site for women walking by. Well, it may still be the case but it will not be the way my daughter will perceive the world.
I remember when my son was born, we were at a gathering in Karachi and one lady turned to me and said, ‘Well now your daughter has a brother to protect her.’ But little did they know that my husband and I are working day and night to make sure my daughter never feels like she needs protection and is raised as a true feminist.
These are some of the ways we are trying to emancipate her from the usual traps of a patriarchal society.
I don’t ever tell her anything is for boys or girls. She’s asked me for cars, shorter hair, shorts and I always give in. She has also asked me for unicorns, rainbows, and tutus and I’ve happily given her those too. Toys and clothing shouldn’t be gendered and children should be allowed to play with whatever they please, however they please.
I let her see my struggles and woes. Women generally have a penchant for hiding our pain. Holding our head high and plowing through our struggles makes it hard to show that we may be drowning under pressure. I try not to do that with my daughter. I let her witness my struggles at work to make my voice heard, my arguments with her dad to ensure he’s an equal parent, and my constant efforts to improve myself as a woman, feminist, and mother. Perfection isn’t something I want her to strive for. Contentment is. Because in the end what matters is how happy she is, not how happy the world is with her.
I make sure her dad is as much a part of her life as I am. We were told over and over as children how men are too busy to be involved parents. How men don’t have the mental bandwidth to deal with day to day child-rearing. But that just isn’t true anymore, and I don’t want her to believe that she should accept any less. So whether it’s school life, home upkeep, or emotional support, I want her to feel she doesn’t need to accept anything less than what she expects from me.
I have changed the endings of all fairytales. A major part of our childhood is the stories we hear, but those stories are often flawed. How can we be rational human beings, if we’re constantly hoping for a knight in shining armor to whisk us away? So even though she’s now 5 and has started to read, I make sure that I explain to her why Rapunzel actually saved the prince, and Cinderella could have made it on her own but chose to get married.
I stand up for myself. I remember as a child, my mother would create the biggest fuss when a man would graze past us, making it a point to touch us inappropriately. I felt mortified as my mother yelled at him, calling him out publicly. But now I understand the importance of calling out wrong-doings, and I make sure she sees me make myself heard. I don’t cower when I’m being dominated or talked over. I raise my voice, even if it sticks in my throat because I want her to do the same.
And finally, I am raising her and her brother in exactly the same way. The rules in my house don’t shift based on gender. They are and will continue to be the same for both. If he stays out all night, so can she. If he has friends over, so will she. And of course, there is no debate about the level of education they will receive. Both will get the best I can offer and afford.
After all, only when everyone stands up for what is right, is the world going to move towards true progress.
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