The perfect Pakistani girl? I can imagine she is most likely a doctor and learned to cook from an early age. Of course, she will not work if her husband does not want her to, and she obviously married him at an early age because everyone knows a woman is no good the minute she reaches her mid-twenties.

Growing up, I was adamant about being the farthest thing from this fantasy of our patriarchal society. As a feminist, I was convinced that I could not partake in any of these things, or it would be akin to admitting defeat. So, I refused to learn how to cook because no one ever asked my brother to do so, and I made sure that my opinions were out there no matter how much the “rebellion” scared my mother sometimes. Most of all, I vowed to myself that I would never get married early.

If there is anything in my life that has been as consistent as my feminist ideals, if not more, it is the fear of ending up trapped in a stereotypical Pakistani marriage. One that would drain me as the years went by and slowly chip away at my personality, as patriarchy often does, till I was mostly a caricature of what the men in my life wanted. Not to mention that early marriage is most certainly one of patriarchy’s favorite tools.  It often ensures that a young girl does not grow into an independent woman capable of standing up for herself.

In Pakistan, it isn’t unusual for someone to say that the bride should be young as that would make it easier for her husband to control her. Most of the marriages I had seen in our society were entirely dependant on the woman’s ability to compromise and were more often than not completely lacking in love. The highly patriarchal society I had grown up in essentially meant that not only was I terrified of marriage I also thought that an early marriage would be nothing but oppressive.

The folded hands of a Pakistani bride covered in henna, she has bracelets made of flowers on her wrists.
[Image description: The folded hands of a Pakistani bride covered in henna, she has bracelets made of flowers on her wrists.] Via Unsplash.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that at the young age of 22, and before I had even graduated, I was ready to wear an engagement ring. This went against everything I had ever believed in, and for a while, I even wondered if my decision made me less of a feminist. So, what happened? How does a regular critic of marriage decide to commit the one sin she was never supposed to commit? Most of that answer has to do with love and being with a man who is willing to listen and learn. Massive shoutout to my partner for celebrating everything that I am right down to my rebellion! Through soul-searching and choosing the right partner, I was able to redefine what feminism means for me.

My journey with feminism is ever-evolving. In the early years of high school, I thought that running away from traditionally feminine things like makeup and “not being like other girls” was the perfect answer to a world of patriarchy I barely understood. Of course, I would later realize that prioritizing masculine forms of expression was not the revolution I thought it to be, and my femininity can be celebrated. There was also the realization in my junior year that I quite enjoyed cooking and why should I let the patriarchy take that pleasure away from me?

Choosing to get engaged at 22 has helped me remember that marriage is a historically sexist institution. However, I want to be engaged and feminism is not about making yourself feel guilty. It has always been a positive force in my life, guiding me in moments where I had no idea what to do, or giving me the strength to do things I never thought possible. So, why should marriage be any different? It’s completely alright that some nights I would rather spend hours looking for the perfect dress or venue instead of job opportunities. It does not take away from my feminism and might even add to it in all honesty.

Feminism has always taught me to make my own way in the world and that is exactly what I will be doing throughout my engagement.

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  • Saleha Noor

    Saleha is currently completing her undergraduate in Asian and International Studies from the City University of Hong Kong. As someone who is highly opinionated and believes that words can be extremely powerful she spends most of her time writing about everything from politics to fashion.