Book Reviews Books Pop Culture

Becky Albertalli’s ‘Kate In Waiting’ is an ode to crushes, theater, and friendships

From the bestselling author of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda, comes a sweeping love letter to high school crushes, theater, and friendships. In her latest standalone, Becky Albertalli tells the story of Kate, a charming and delightful teenage girl who loves too much, gets her heart broken too often, and holds her friendships so dear against all odds.

Kate in Waiting is an ode to crushes. Kate and her best friend Anderson exercise a practice they call ‘communal crushes,’ as both teens silently crush on a distant attractive boy, sharing giggles and butterflies, and when nothing comes out of it, their heartbreak. But when one of their distant summer crushes, Matt Olsson, actually shows up at their school and becomes friends with the duo, Kate and Anderson are now struck with the reality that this time around something might actually come out of the crush, and liking – and getting – Matt might actually hurt their friendship.

As Matt is cast as a love interest opposite Kate in their school musical, and starts spending more time with both friends, the communal crush slowly starts to become an unintentional competition, and Kate is devastated about hurting Andy’s feelings if her own feelings ever become reciprocated. Not to mention that her brother’s annoying best friend Noah has suddenly joined the musical, keen to become friends with Kate, adding more complications to the brewing love triangle.

Seeing these two kids go all out on their crushes is delightful. I am a serial crusher myself, and I wish more stories zoned in on the bittersweet beauty and joy of having unrequited crushes. There is also that gradual build-up when a fun crush actually becomes serious, the moment you start to catch feelings, that little flash of understanding. High school love and feelings are also extremely messy (who am I kidding, it’s messy even now in my 20s), and Albertalli understands that completely. But in the midst of all the crushing and the theatric renditions of love and loss, at the heart of this book is Kate and Anderson’s friendship that powers the narrative through.

The Tempest sat down with Becky Albertalli for an exclusive Q&A (which we will release in full soon) and she admitted to be a “veteran communal crusher.” She also revealed that the book is dedicated to Adam Silvera (author of They Both Die at the End)  with whom she co-wrote the NYT bestselling novel What If It’s Us. Their friendship is a huge inspiration for the relationship between Kate and Anderson, however she also mentioned that “for the most part, it seems that my characters just have to find their footing with each other through trial and error. I get to know them—and they get to know each other—as I write them.”

But the story is not all conflict and moping, in fact Kate in Waiting is probably the most fun I’ve had with a YA book in recent times. Since the backdrop is a school musical, you can imagine the fanfare and the drama, along with all the laughter and tears (theater and musicals has played a role in Albertalli’s previous novels, especially in Simon Vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda). The theater background also adds to the idea of social facades that plays a big role in the story. Both Kate and Anderson catch themselves attempting to change part of who they are in the pursuit of love, and the way it contrasts with the actual roles they play in the musical is so brilliant.

Becky also talked to us about theater in the story, and how it adds to the thematic concerns of the narrative: “I was an unabashed, fully committed theater kid throughout middle and high school—it was such a big part of my identity as a teen. Including theater in Kate In Waiting was never a thematic decision—the idea of social facades spilled into the narrative pretty organically (in a way that gave me more insight into my own relationship with theater). I do think the world of high school theater created the perfect backdrop (pun intended) for this story and these friendships. I loved having the opportunity to deep dive into some of my favorite high school memories—I was even in Once Upon a Mattress as a sophomore— naturally, I was a lady in waiting.”

Albertalli’s books have become sort of comfort reads to me, as her stories carry a sense of hope, optimism, and centers joy even in the midst of conflict and real-life issues. Her characters exist in a protected bubble where they are allowed to make mistakes, find love, and move on without having to always worry about the outside world.

People of color and queer characters are able to enjoy a world of acceptance and love, and it’s so refreshing to be able to read an almost utopian rendering of high school. Is that unrealistic? Maybe. But sometimes we deserve stories that highlight what could be and what we deserve, instead of always having to provide a reality check.

Another key element of Albertalli’s stories is friendships – in all their messy glory. Kate in Waiting convinces you in the deep friendship between Kate and Anderson, that with every passing minute I am terrified of what this new communal crush is going to do to their friendship. They are pretty much soulmates, and even when their relationship enters some rocky patches, they never lose sight of who and what really matters.

I also really loved a conversation about privilege between these two – probably one of the only times when the story acknowledges difference and marginalization – and Anderson’s deep-rooted insecurities of being Black and gay, that gives Kate a much-needed reality check and humbling.

Kate in Waiting is a heartfelt and wholesome story that is guaranteed to bring you much joy, with a sweet romance, sweeter friendships, and characters who are lovable and delightful even at their worst moments. The story has all the trademark Becky Albertalli elements, with a deep understanding of what it is to be a teenager, to catch feelings, and to move on.

Get the book on Amazon or on The Tempest’s Bookshop supporting local bookstores.

College 101 Best Friends Forever Life

I considered myself a loner until I started university

Something I didn’t realize about my friends in primary school was that they, with the exception of one girl, were all white. Of course, it didn’t matter then and doesn’t matter now, but I never realized how much my ethnicity had alienated me from most of the school.

I only realized my struggle to integrate with the other kids at school when I had gotten to secondary school where I was labeled a coconut; a brown girl with white girl-isms. My school was mostly white back then – it probably had something to do with the area I grew up in. For context, my neighbor used to be Tony Blair. My primary school had an estimate of 10-15 non-white kids so you can imagine the clashes I had with a lot of the kids when they would make fun of my culture and beliefs. I could refer to the boy who decided to rip my hijab off my head when I first started wearing it at eight years old, but I’ll put that down to him simply being Islamophobic. I thought I was the brownest kid you could possibly get in the area until I walked through the halls of secondary school, an experience that continues to haunt me even now. 

In primary school, I struggled to make lifelong friends because I was brown and different. Surely secondary school was set to be easier? After all, my parents had made the conscious decision for me to integrate more with the people of my culture. Yeah, that’s not how it went. 

I developed social anxiety at a very young age – the thought of meeting new people terrified me and I had the worst timing for becoming timid. Going into secondary school made me realize that perhaps people who I had previously considered my friends weren’t really – not to blame them though. We were all young and knew nothing about keeping in touch. Well not with me anyways, my previous friend group are still friends to this day. I was apparently more difficult to reach because my parents were ‘too strict’ for their liking. In reality, they were just Asian. Their parenting ideas were a little different from their parents and that made ‘my friends’  uncomfortable. 

Oddly though, I had the opposite problem when I got to secondary school. The brown kids would bully me saying my parents weren’t Bangladeshi enough and I failed as a Bangladeshi girl – something I hadn’t heard before. My accent was ‘too white’, my sentences too complex, I didn’t speak a word of slang and I read for fun. Somehow, that was really white to them. It didn’t help that my lovely sister was a beautiful and intelligent individual while I was quite the opposite; shy, fat and recused. It’s safe to say I didn’t make any friends in secondary school either. Does it get better for me in sixth form? No. Secondary school left too many scars for me to focus on making friends. I was beside myself trying to pull myself out of a really dark place

My parents forced me to go to university – I know what you’re thinking “your parents can’t make you do anything”. Wrong. My parents could but not in a malicious way that benefits them.  Rather in a way that always filled me with hope. 

My dad had told me that everyone was an adult by this stage, if they had time left to bully someone, consider them pathetic and walk past them. Always easier said than done but in September of 2015, I walked through the hallways of the university making my way to orientation, nervous as heck. Thankfully for me, this girl who had come into the lecture late wasn’t. I felt a light tap on my arm and a voice asking if this was the right place. Denying eye contact I nodded only to be smacked in the arm as she pushed up a seat next to me. “You and me? We’re friends now. You’re stuck with me” the girl said. I was stuck with her and we are friends, even now. But I didn’t luck out at just one friend. There’s my friend who calls herself the fish and chip kid (apparently that’s what people in Somalia call British-Somali kids), my friend who takes enjoyment in towering over me with all six feet of her and my friend who decided that the best way to become my friend was to hold my hand while staring at a video of BTS’ Jimin dancing blindfolded. Sure, my friend group is small but it’s all I’ve ever needed – a kind face or two. My background meant nothing to them unlike it did to the kids back in my early stages of education. I could finally, unapologetically, be myself. 

My friends mean so much to me; after all my years of struggling to connect with people, I learned that it’s not impossible and there are genuinely good people out there in the world. The thing I’ve yet to learn is to go pursue friends myself as all my friends had to approach me.  It’s ok though. Knowing that I have friends that have my back is all I need for a long while.

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Book Reviews Book Club Pop Culture Interviews

Witches are at the forefront of the Suffragette movement in Alix E. Harrow’s “The Once and Future Witches”

Why have regular activists when you can have activist witches? I found the perfect combination of the two in Alix E. Harrow’s new novel The Once and Future Witches.

We’ve all heard the witch tales told to us as little girls – the Wicked Witch of the West was a popular one in my childhood. She is so widely hated by people because of the inconvenience she causes Dorothy, but I secretly liked her better. She made the story. Why are we taught that the witches are always the villains of the story?

Author Alix E. Harrow recalls tales told in her childhood, “There are witches in so many of our stories,” she says in an exclusive interview with The Tempest, “creeping along the margins, waiting at crossroads and hexing babies; I guess it was only a matter of time before we started dragging them out into the light.” And drag to the light she did.

The Once and Future Witches is a novel that centers around injustices that, sadly, are still all too familiar to modern-day society, legal, economic, social and racial. The story is set in 1893, during the time of the suffragette movement, and did I mention that the main characters are activist witches?

Harrow admits that the idea wasn’t entirely hers: “I wish I could say it came to me in a dream, but the honest truth is that I was trying really hard to come up with a new novel idea, and my husband said, ‘you should do witches, but like, activists.'” And from there, The Once and Future Witches was born; a story combining the modern understanding of witchery with the age-old movement of the Suffragettes.

The protagonists of the book, the three Eastwood sisters, display a sense of morality that isn’t heard of from witches in the tales stemming from centuries ago; they are activists fighting for their rights as women. But can they balance witchery and activism? 

There are so many characters that you come to love in this book; my favorite happens to be James Juniper, the youngest of all the Eastwood sisters, on a journey to leave her traumatic past behind. She also happens to be the most dedicated to her roots and a proud witch – something that is consistently frowned upon within the pages of this book and is a trait that makes her incredibly appealing in the new age of activism.

Juniper is the first to become involved with the women’s suffrage movement, later involving her sisters. However, the movement itself is not just for the rights of women, it also serves as a coverup for the Eastwood sisters’ own growing power throughout the city of New Salem; a force that reconciled the sisterhood of these three and brought forward a new sisterhood between the women of New Salem.

Agnes Amaranth is the middle sister and a solitary individual, and Alix Harrow’s favorite: “I had a newborn and a two-year-old while I was writing this book, and the idea of a character who found strength in motherhood, rather than sentimentality or weakness or softness is one that mattered a great deal to me.” 

Last but certainly not least, we have Beatrice Belladonna, the eldest of the sisters and the insatiable bookworm of the trio. Beatrice is bursting at the seams for knowledge of her ancestors and finds herself digging deeper and deeper into her emotions and knowledge about witchcraft with the aid of her new friend. Beatrice’s love of books resonates with many readers and although on the surface Beatrice has less going on in her life than her sisters, it is truly a wonderful experience to watch such an introverted character bloom into a powerful presence. 

My favorite thing about The Once and Future Witches happens to be how starkly different each of the Eastwood sisters are: there’s a part of everyone in each of these sisters, making them relatable to any reader. It is also quite refreshing to see the characters find pride in being women in a time where it was shunned.

But, throughout History, where there are women, there are injustices and at its very core, The Once and Future Witches is a story about all of these struggles whilst being a disliked member of society. As Harrow so wonderfully puts it,  “All of us grew up on stories of wicked witches. The villages they cursed, the plagues they brewed. We need to show people what else we have to offer, give them better stories.”

Witchery is an essential part of history and literature. From the tales in the literary canon and children’s books to the ones in crime history and newspapers, it’s fair to say that witches haven’t always been depicted as the most just beings. The author of The Once and Future Witches dives deep into the set of fears surrounding the inversions of the natural order. Witches are often portrayed as promiscuous rather than chaste housewives; they prey on children rather than bear them and they curse houses rather than keep them. The nineteenth-century nailed in the gender roles of our society with witches being the feminine form of evil – but not the protagonists of this book. 

The Eastwood sisters alongside many of the other characters find themselves facing an age-old battle that women appear to be destined to fight for the longevity of their time. “I wouldn’t necessarily want to declare that it’s some sort of grand allegory for the #MeToo movement, which involves real women in the real world.” Harrows says, “But all the injustices my characters deal with – legal, economic, social, racial, are absolutely still with us.”

Whether it’s an issue of classism or the economical stance of women in society, Harrow taps into our innermost subconscious, allowing us to see an age-old story with modern eyes in the best way; through the lives of witches. “I think the thing that fantasy can do better than any other genre is literalize experiences that are metaphorical – it can make the invisible suddenly visible. Women’s sociopolitical power is an invisible, uncertain quantity that shifts according to class, race, sexuality, ability, and identity. But with witchcraft–I could make it visible.”

The Once and Future Witches was a great read for me personally: though I’ve never villainized the witches, I’ve never thought to put them in the position of the heroes either. I was surprised just how much I connected with the main character James Juniper – her wit and charm as well as her pride had me rooting for her the entire way through. And although witches have never been traditionally written as humane, this was the most human I’ve read them to be and definitely the most I’ve connected with them.

This book is eloquently crafted and depicts the long-lasting journey that women have been on since the beginning of time and fills you with a sense of righteousness. Remnants of beautiful yet powerful messages are hidden in the charming words you’d come to expect from an Alix E. Harrow’s story. “With my first book (the take away) was a sense of wonder and nostalgia. With this one, it’s righteous anger, and the thing underneath righteous anger, which is almost always hope.”

We are hosting a giveaway of the book on our Instagram, stay tuned! Or, if you absolutely can’t wait to read “The Once and Future Witches”, get it now on The Tempest’s bookshop supporting local bookstores here or on Amazon here.


How reading taught me to be emotionally competent in life

I’ve always loved reading. While other children often got told off for being naughty, I often found myself being told off for ‘being away with the fairies’ as my Math teacher called it – simply put, I love books.

Reading is fun; you come across so many characters that you like and dislike and so many to relate to. Personally, I’ve always related to Matilda – a tiny human that wants to do nothing more than read and be the best version of herself. Even as I’ve grown older, I seek knowledge through books rather than the internet and if there is one thing reading has taught me, it is how to be emotionally competent. 

I read all types of literature; essays, novellas, poetry, short stories. Hand me anything with words and I’ll absorb it. Remember during English class where your teacher would tell you to find the deeper meaning of the crow in the background or the gloomy setting of the book? Everyone would groan in disbelief – “Miss, it’s just a crow.” And it’s true, it may very well be just a crow, but secretly, I enjoyed looking for the deeper meaning of the scenes and characters in the book. I found it helping me to develop my understanding of humans in general. 

I think what a lot of people forget is that when authors write, they write what they know so it is likely that the characters in the book are a mirror image of someone the authors know or used to know. That would mean that all the little traits that the characters have in a book suddenly make them a part of who they are. When we were reading The Kite Runner in class, I knew that the protagonist’s father’s thoughts on Islamic leaders were his own personal thoughts. I had seen an interview somewhere where Khaled Hosseini described his hatred for Islamic leaders as he had grown up watching Kabul fall down at the leader’s expense. The same thing happened when we were reading Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Sebold drew from her experience as she wrote of Susie Salmon’s death. 

But it’s not just character emotions and insight that I’ve learned to pick up through reading; my friends will tell you that sometimes, I jolt when I walk past people because I can almost see their emotions. I didn’t have a social life growing up (story of every broody teen ever), but I am no longer a broody teen. I turned to books for comfort because of the lack of people in my life and somehow, I have ended up with the ability to feel other people’s emotions and their fluctuations. And I know I’m not the first person something like this has happened to. I have a friend who often calls herself emotionally inept – you could tell her the saddest story in the world and unfortunately, it will go in one ear and out the other. And that not to say that she’s not paying attention – she is. Her eyes zoom into your soul and everything in between. But she can’t comprehend emotions unless she is reading about them. 

I think that although the death of the book is on the rise, it is important to appreciate what a good book can do for a person; for a lonely person, it provided me with an endless variety of friends and a boost in confidence. For many other people, both children and adults, it provides entertainment and knowledge. It allows you to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a brief moment in time and just escape.

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Food & Drinks Life

Cooking makes me feel guilty about food and here’s why

One hot summer afternoon, a hollow void was growing where my stomach had been. I was starving but had been putting off rectifying it after consulting the kitchen cabinets and finding nothing that I could eat with zero cooking. Even the early-2000’s America’s Next Top Model could not distract me and I began to feel lightheaded.

I could easily fry some paratha and be more or less satisfied but thinking of all that oil on the sizzling pan made me feel sick. From the corner of my eye, I spied an unopened box of couscous. Somehow, I had the patience to let the water boil before I poured in the couscous, adding in the tiniest pinch of salt. I brought half a bowl’s worth of plain couscous with me and returned to my little nook on the couch. 

The thought and act of cooking are certainly daunting for me.

It wasn’t laziness that had caused me to be this way. Well, not entirely. Preparing food is always perceived as such a technical and calming thing. Some people even plan their days around exciting meals. Yet, there is actually a recognized phobia of cooking that comes in many forms, ranging from the fear of following recipes to the fear of harming one’s self in the process.

I am not entirely sure if what I experience is a medical phobia, but the thought and act of cooking are certainly daunting for me. One on hand, I may be internally defying forced gender roles by refusing to be good at an act traditionally taken on by women. However, I know the real reason is something far more complicated and twisted.

When I’m in the kitchen, I am hyper-aware of the ingredients that are being put into my food and feel almost sick to my stomach. I can’t bring myself to follow recipes correctly because who knew everything needed so much butter? I skim down on the ‘unhealthy’ ingredients when I cook, and predictably, the food doesn’t turn out right.

Now, don’t get me wrong, while I have tried tracking what I eat, I mostly allow myself to indulge in food that I enjoy. Yet, in order to do that, I have to adopt a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mindset. I don’t want to see how my food is being prepared so that I don’t feel as guilty when consuming it. Knowing how much sugar went into it is sure to make me feel too distressed to eat it. When I don’t see it, I can fool myself into thinking it’s not a big deal. It is a coping mechanism I need.

Preparing food for myself triggers something toxic within me. If I am being honest with myself, I am scared that it will blossom into a condition that is more serious. Right now, I am just wary of cooking for myself. Yet, it could escalate into being more strict with calories, or skipping meals completely. I know I can’t continue having this relationship with food. I am holding myself back from enjoying life by refusing to be self-sufficient in this simple way. 

My own self-esteem issues were manifesting in the way I cook– or rather, refused to cook, impairing my lifestyle.

Acknowledging this behavior of mine has been crucial to overcoming it. Having someone cook alongside me as helped to ground me in reality and hold me accountable. A friend had told me, “Well, like it nor not, we need to add butter otherwise the carrot cake will be a sad brick.” Their words are brutally honest and correct. Why bother cooking if I am going to consciously mess it up anyway?

But more than that, recognizing the source of my cooking-induced anxiety is important in defeating it. While I could dismiss ANTM as a silly, ironic pastime, it does wire my brain a certain way. The bodies that these shows promote or bash creep up on me. These things subliminally plaster onto my mind, without me even consciously recognizing them. In an era of self-love, it may be difficult to recognize the self-criticism that lurks beneath. My own self-esteem issues were manifesting in the way I cook– or rather, refused to cook, impairing my lifestyle.

I know it will take a while for me to unplug the wires and reset them. With time, I hope to confidently cook food that I will enjoy without breaking a sweat about the amount of butter in the recipe. Continuing to learn how to cook can break me out of this cycle of guilt. While I don’t think I will get to the culinary level of needing a personalized apron, I am hopeful to see where this journey takes me.  

Editor's Picks Culture Gender & Identity Life

What it’s really like to be a strong woman stuck in a bad marriage

My grandmother lives in Attock, Pakistan.

Growing up, I saw Attock developing from a village to a city. However, the small underdeveloped villages on the outskirts of Attock are still there and one of the villagers works as a maid. Her name is Shahida. When I went spent a week at my grandmother’s house,  I had the honor of interacting with Shahida and learning her story.

On the outside, I saw a very feeble and petite woman who looked tired and weak, but from the inside, she held a plethora of strength and resilience. As her story unfolded, I realized it is a tale no different than the ones of so many other Pakistani women.

Shahida works in 5 different houses.

Her tasks include cooking, washing the dishes and clothes, and mopping floors. She travels to the city using public transport to arrive by 7 in the morning. From making someone’s kitchen shine to washing someone else’s clothes, she runs from one house to another until evening and goes back to her village as the sun goes down.

Shahida’s husband, who never did have a full-time job, was always dependent on Shahida’s income.

Shahida goes back home to her five children; two sons, two daughters, and one step-daughter. Her husband had married and brought another young bride home one day and Shahida was left with no choice but to welcome her and live with a co-wife, silently accepting the polygyny. After a year, however, the new bride decided to marry another man. She left her husband and their newly born daughter and fled.

Shahida’s husband, who never did have a full-time job, was always dependent on Shahida’s income to pay the rent and feed the family. His newborn daughter was an infant, so Shahida raised her along with her own children since the very beginning.

Regardless of being dependent on Shahida’s income, the ‘man of the house’ would hit her and never felt ashamed. He knew that Shahida would remain living with domestic abuse due to the agonizing societal taboo of being a divorced woman. The only thing that saved her husband from being treated like the worthless, abusive piece of crap he was, was his gender.

“I have been working for the past 19 years,” said Shahida. “I have worked very hard and built my own house. Unlike my husband, my dignity did not allow me to sit at home and watch my children starve.”

“I wanted to set the right example of hard work for my children. When I started working, my brother took his cap off of his head, put it at my feet and made me promise not to be a scarlet letter for the family. I have spent my entire life protecting the worth of his cap,” Shahida welled up as she shared her story.

“My story is very painful as I recall it,” she continued. “If I wanted to get separation from my husband, my family would doubt my homemaking capabilities. I am poor but that does not mean I’m not respectable. My children ask me to stop working now but I don’t know what else to do, if not work.”

Many marriages in our society take place not out of love but to secure a woman’s future.

Being male is a privilege – a privilege that costs the female gender dearly. I kept asking Shahida why she was putting up with a good-for-nothing man in her house when she had financial power now. But she had no valid answer except “pleasing society.”

Shahida, being the sole breadwinner, was a strong and resilient homemaker who still couldn’t figure out that she was being crushed by the male privilege. For her, the status she had as a married woman in her neighborhood and her family was most important to her – and this status was, unfortunately, only given to her from her husband, the “man” who was supposedly providing her and her family.

Being male is a privilege – a privilege that costs the female gender dearly.

Even after knowing that Shahida is the only provider, everyone in the neighborhood still cannot utter a word against her husband because he is a man and that fact alone makes it enough for him to survive in this society.

The worst part is that even Shahida cannot afford to acknowledge out loud that she doesn’t need a male figure in her house – that would make her the wrong type of woman in society. Though Shahida was independent, in every sense of the word, she was dependent on a man for her status.

Shahida’s story is no different than the story of so many other working women of Pakistan who raise their kids and “husbands” on their own. Many marriages in our society take place not out of love but to secure a woman’s future by tagging her name with a man, even if he is good for nothing.

I can’t help but think how different our society would be if we stopped allowing a woman’s honor to be directly related to a man and started focusing on the woman’s individuality, capability and contribution to society.

Not only would this give women the chance to excel and succeed in life, but it would hold men to a higher standard as well.

Editor's Picks Gender & Identity Gender Inequality

Too many women still support attackers and the patriarchy. Will that ever change?

In 2012, December was my first month back in New Delhi as a single, financially independent woman. Having spent three years in the capital for my undergraduate studies, the city was familiar and a second home. However, returning to it as an adult was comforting and unnerving at the same time.

Primarily because Delhi is notorious for being unsafe for women; a statistic that continues to rank the city highest in India.

This was also the month when 23-year-old Jyoti Singh was brutally raped and assaulted by six assailants in the city. The inhumane violence she suffered at the hands of her perpetrators sent shivers across the country and the capital was engulfed in protests. Referred to as Nirbhaya, the fearless one, her case brought the issue of women’s safety right in the heart of political and societal discourse.

My parents began making regular calls for me to return home.

I convinced them that fleeing the city was not the solution, rather fighting for justice and making this city safe for everyone. While my parents grappled with the fear, I sensed a disturbing insensitivity existing within my relatives regarding women’s choices and behavior.

“Why was the girl out that late? If she had stayed at home and not gone to watch a film with a male friend, nothing would have happened,” a female relative said in the aftermath of Nirbhaya’s case.

I stared at her in disbelief and disgust. I wanted to scream at her but was held back by my cousin. We were supposed to respect our elders, she reminded me. Fuming, I walked out of the room, promising myself never to engage with her again.

It’s important to understand that while institutions created by men have given birth to the present patriarchal traditions, these continue to be upheld by countless women who silently or vocally support them.

These are our mothers, aunts, grandmothers, sisters, in-laws, and neighborhood aunties who choose to side with patriarchy, eventually choosing to side with oppression.

Early on, girls are silenced by female family members from speaking about their sexual, physical or emotional abuse at the hands of men.

What begins with rules like: “Do not talk to boys. Do not wear short dresses. Do not stay out late at night,” eventually turns into: “Learn to adjust with an abusive husband. Learn to stay at home and become a better homemaker. Learn to listen to your in-laws. Learn to understand the importance as a mother, career is secondary.”

In feminist theory, this form of behavior is called a patriarchal bargain, where women in order to uphold their limited authority under patriarchy, exercise it onto other women. A classic example is the case of mothers-in-law who try to govern the lives of their daughters-in-law. There are several accounts of Indian women where their mother-in-laws’ insecurity issues with them led to power struggles within families.

With every undesired act viewed as rebellion and considered a transgression, young girls are morally policed by women who then internalize the misogyny and continue this vicious cycle of oppression.

This behavior was reflected during the recent #MeToo movement in India, by senior female journalist and author, Tavleen Singh. While defending a celebrity consultant, Suhel Seth, who was accused of sexual misconduct, she stated, “Why did you go to Suhel’s house? Surely even an ‘innocent’ young girl like you should have known not to go alone to a strange man’s house alone?”

Statements like these reflect the entrenched patriarchal patterns in the existing urban society of India, and generally across South Asia.

One reason for this form of exertion is the need to gain whatever amount of authority is available in a patriarchal household. The other reason is the fear of societal repercussions for going against the community standards because making choices as an independent woman is not a feature that patriarchy recognizes or respects.

Six years to that episode, and my battle with women who enable patriarchy continues.

I have asked uncomfortable questions to women in my family, and have been called a bra-burning feminist for it. What I have also received in return are messages of solidarity from girls in my family. Cousins have thanked me for standing up to mistreatment. Raising my voice has evoked strength in others to be heard too and irrevocably encouraged me to continue fighting this battle.

And that is the hope that feminism carries forward. To enable women to find their voices and develop the courage to fight injustice.

When women support women, sisterhood is nurtured within families and societies. Abusive patterns are recognized and redressed. Otherwise, the cycle of patriarchy and misogyny continues.

The #MeToo movement is a spark that lights that fire of sisterhood harmony. It should not be blown out by a few misinformed women.

Editor's Picks Weddings Inequality

Here’s why interfaith marriages in India continue to raise eyebrows

In February 2018, 23-year old Ankit Saxena was brutally murdered by the father and uncle of his girlfriend Shehzadi in New Delhi. In a fit of fury and fear of societal backlash, the girl’s father took it upon himself to kill the guy in an attempt to end the relationship.

This violent and reprehensible act was the result of vehement opposition to the relationship because it was interfaith. Ankit came from a Hindu family whereas Shehzadi belonged to a Muslim household.

Shehzadi’s father confessed to police that he had gone out with the full intention of killing Ankit and ending the entire squabble, claiming that the relationship had caused him great embarrassment in the community. And while the disturbing incident made headlines across the country, the girl’s parents seemed unfazed in the aftermath of the crime. The primary reason for this apathy was the result of just how unacceptable interfaith relationships are to a significant number of Indians. 

A 2018 survey of urban Indians revealed an astounding 93 percent of respondents had found their partners through a match set up by their parents from within their religious or caste communities. In addition, three-quarters of those surveyed did not approve of inter-caste marriages for their children.

This sweeping number largely stems from strict patterns of endogamy promoting marriages within one’s religion or caste so as to preserve social and financial hierarchy. Since patriarchy subsume’s a woman’s identity into her father or husband’s, inter-religious marriages pose a challenge to this set up.

In addition to wanting to maintain the status quo, Indian families tend to focus on their outward personas as functional units. Interfaith marriages raise questions within religious communities:  Will the girl convert to the guy’s religion? Why did the parents not intervene? What wedding traditions will the couple have? What will be the religion of the couple’s offsprings? Who will marry the siblings of such couples? Families tend to wish to avoid such questions and having to answer them.

In recent times, India has witnessed fervent right-wing extremism and the birth of the concept of ‘Love Jihad’, in which relationships between Muslim men and Hindu women are painted as targeted attempts to convert the women to Islam.  In early 2018, a Facebook page was pulled after it listed the names of 102 Muslim men who were allegedly involved with Hindu women, asking Hindus to “track and hunt the boys on the list”.

Such disturbing trends have been augmented by episodes of violence against interfaith couples by self-appointed moral police. Cases of physical assaults and mob violence against such couples have become prominent in recent times. The occurrence of such episodes has made it more difficult to push the envelope of free choice and more progressive values within the Indian diaspora.

One can witness the situation getting grimmer as interfaith couples are harassed by police officials as well. In 2017, the country’s National Investigation Agency rounded at least twelve interfaith couples in the state of Kerala to question them on their relationships.  The most prominent case was of a 24-year-old Indian woman named Hadiya who was in the eye of a judicial and religious storm for having married a Muslim man. Born Akhila Ashokan to Hindu parents, Hadiya converted to Islam and married Shafin Jahan.

The marriage, her father claimed, was borne out of forced conversion, while Hadiya maintained that it was of her own choice. A case was registered in court to “rescue” Hadiya, calling for the annulment of the marriage. Hadiya persisted that she had married for love, without any coercion. The Supreme Court of India later restored her right to be with the person she wanted to be, irrespective of their religion, that had earlier been annulled by a lower court.

These episodes are a result of narrow-mindedness and right-wing nationalism gaining ground within Indian society. Families, couples and society at large have a long way to go towards respecting individual freedom of religion and marriage, granted as constitutional rights to all Indians.

Accepting love as the basis of happy and successful relationships is the foundation of resilient and harmonious societies. Being born in a particular religion is not a matter of choice, but choosing whom you spend your life with is. While interfaith couples might face more hurdles than intrafaith ones, jingoistic and politically driven actors have tried to give such relationships a nationalistic tinge.

Change, however, is imminent. It can be resisted through fear and hatred, but it does eventually come about.

In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court announced interracial marriages valid, placing a permanent end to all state laws that opposed them.  That civil rights decision saw a remarkable rise in the numbers of interracial marriages, which in 2015 constituted 17% in the country.

We are not too far away from the day when interfaith couples become the norm in India. It would indicate a shift towards a more open, tolerant and accepting society. But until then, the fight has to continue to challenge sexism, patriarchy and misogyny existing in the minds and lives of our current generation as well as those of the future.

World News Gender Politics The World Inequality

Feminism is taking Chile by storm, and students are behind the movement

Chile remains one of the most conservative nations in the world, and its culture is admittedly patriarchal in nature. Recently, however, Chileans are demanding changes take place in the way women are treated under the law. Chilean feminists and their supporters have demanded an end to violence against women and an implementation of nonsexist curriculum in educational institutions.

Chile has a rich cultural and educational heritage. However, historically, women in Chile have suffered under the authoritarian rule of men in both their public and private lives. Beginning in the 19th century, groups of women began banding together to institute changes in the way women were treated. Early feminist organizers in Chile focused on asserting their political rights. Women have long faced oppression by social conservatives in Chile, and indeed, Chilean women only gained the right to vote in the presidential elections in 1952.

In recent years, however, Chileans have made significant strides toward female equality. Sadly, it took a natural disaster to bring certain socioeconomic disparities in Chile to light, including the plight of many impoverished women. The exposure of the degree of disparity in treatment inherent in Chilean society led to significant strides for women, including the legalization of abortion in 2013 under certain specified circumstances. This occurred despite staunch opposition from the Catholic Church and conservative members of the Chilean Congress.

Much remains to be done to address gender inequality in Chile. For example, despite the fact that women make up 25 percent of the legislature in Chile, the percentage of women in Congress remains at 15.8 percent. Violence against women in Chile remains rampant, in part due to a patriarchal culture under which women were historically considered to be the property of men. The violence is further compounded by an educational system that still utilizes curricula steeped with gender bias.

The current wave of feminism sweeping over Chile found its resurgence in female students demanding an end to violence against women and an equal parity under the law to have incidents of sexual harassment and assault fully investigated by an independent source. In May, Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced his agenda for combating the rise in violence against women, as well as to address the demand for nonsexist education.

However, student leaders from myriad Chilean universities were quick to condemn the measures as not going far enough. Feminist critics were quick to note that the measures proposed by President Pinera’s agenda only focused on ending gender disparity for heterosexual women in universities and the armed forces. Pinera’s agenda, according to critics, also fails to address the students’ demands for a nonsexist education.

On May 16, 2018, feminist university students held marches in several Chilean cities, including the capital of Santiago. While students demanded a nonsexist curriculum be instituted in all schools, they also marched to protest severe inequalities in education due to income inequality. While wealthy Chilean children have access to some of best schools in the world, due to the infusion of funds to private educational institutions, lower-income students are often taught in schools that have fallen into disrepair and lack adequate supplies.

The protests drew as many as 100,000 people, and woke up what is considered one of the sleepiest and most stable nations in South America. Women in Chile are upset for good reason: One recent study by the Chilean National Women’s Service found that 50 percent of Chilean women had been the victims of either spousal abuse or sexual assault. That’s one out of every two women. When you consider the staggering implications of half of all women being victimized, it is clear that change is necessary.

Chilean feminists are determined that change can and must come, and not fast enough. Those of us watching the protests from around the globe can not only celebrate, but also learn a lot about the importance of standing up to demand equality.

By addressing sexism, misogyny and gender inequality at a systematic level, and by educating youth that all people should be treated equally regardless of gender, maybe, we can make some headway into combating sexual assault and harassment not only in Chile, but around the globe.

Health Care Love + Sex Love Life Stories Wellness

The day I got my first period happened weeks before I started college

I got my period when I was sixteen and a half years old.

Why that matters to most people, I can’t tell you. But it mattered the world to me, for years.

I was seven and a half years old when I first noticed that my Mama sometimes didn’t pray with the rest of us. She was – and is – a blunt, powerful woman, unafraid of putting out her opinion or life if she felt that you needed to hear about it. Sometimes it was an opinion you didn’t want to hear, but she said it anyway. She didn’t mesh well with the other Mamas at the mosque, many of whom were taken aback at how blunt she was, and how vehemently opposed to frivolous banter she seemed.

My Mama grew up in a country where she made her way back and forth to her school on her own from six years old. She didn’t believe children had limitations, in the truest sense of the word – if you showed up and asked a question, you wanted the real answer.

So, I asked, not expecting what I would hear, but knowing that I would get the truth from her. She didn’t mince words. I found myself handed an introduction to a world, exclusive only to those who got a period.

“I got mine when I was thirteen,” Mama confided in me, “I was wearing the nicest pants when it happened.” Somehow, the reality of the experience became something I craved, the invitation to being a woman something I longed for.

Getting your period was the ultimate sign of becoming an adult for thirteen-year-old me.

You got to join a secret society, one replete with winks and the quick palming of a brightly colored pad. As a woman, you were allowed to take time off from fasting in the midst of the month, a period of time replete with sighs about how you weren’t able to fast, but a secret joy that you were a part of that club. I learned that having your period meant you could demand a little more heat for your sore joints, chocolate for those mysterious cravings, and a little more empathy from the people around you.

It was everything I wanted, and everything I didn’t have.

I was eight years old when I thought I got my period. But it was a false alarm, complete with my mother running to the bathroom and shaking her head at my enthusiasm.

“That’s not your period,” she said ruefully, “and you’re way too young for it to happen.”

I was preoccupied with the future. I would keep a diary, and each entry ended with a countdown for the number of days left until my next birthday. I don’t know when I started keeping track of my goal ages, but soon, the birthday entries were accompanied by excitement for my next goal age: 10 years old, then 13 years old.

Thirteen years old came and went without the arrival of my adulthood. I wondered if I was doing something wrong.

Every night, I would squeeze my hands side by side, whispering fervently under my breath to God to bring my period to me.

I just wanted to join the club. Soon, I was 14. My new goal was 15 years old. I waited day after day for the ticket to the club.

When I was 15, my mother took me to the doctor and asked whether everything was okay. The doctor was bemused by my mother’s concern, and peered over at me, swinging my legs sullenly back and forth on the examining table.

“It’s normal for girls to get their periods around this time,” she said, looking down at my charts. “And you’re perfectly normal for your age. Give it some time.”

My Mama tried to explain that in her family, this was late, but the doctor wouldn’t hear any of it. “Give it some time,” she repeated.

One evening later that year, I was leaving the kitchen, my Mama and aunt joking around about what it was to be a woman.

“Honey,” my Mama said in between laughs, “this is what your period will be like. It’s the way it is with all of our women.” She turned on both faucets, the water rushing out en-mass.

My aunt laughed, and I fled, my cheeks burning in mortification. As I swung around the banister to head up the stairs, I looked back. They were both laughing, the water still flowing.

I had given up on being a woman when I turned 16. I thought something was deeply wrong with me. I resolved to make my way forward, even if it felt like something was missing.

So the change surprised me when I was almost 17. I had given up.

It came all of a sudden, all in a rush, and in an instant, where I had been was no longer where I was. It was in the middle of a faith conference that everything happened. The cramps overwhelmed me, as though 17 years of pain were suddenly unfolding all at once. I didn’t know how to explain what it was that I was going through.

All I knew was that I had crossed over – and as terrifying as that was, I couldn’t wait to tell my little sisters what awaited them.

I had finally grown up. I was just like my mother. I had joined the club.

Editor's Picks Mind Mental Health Love Life Stories Wellness

This is why my Muslim community says I have depression

I have depression.

Not just a ‘once in a while I feel depressed and down, but the next day I’m fine’ – not that type of depression.

Rather, a chronic ‘what is my life, I wish I didn’t have to exist because I am so incredibly, incredibly sad.’

Despite being surrounded by a large support group, close friends who fight for me and urge me on, I have a constant aching, a feeling of emptiness, a lack of connection with the world. While they tell me constantly that they are there for me, I feel as though I am a burden, despite my knowing that I am not.

It is the nature of chronic depression to feel this way, to feel like a burden no matter what others reassure one with. To feel disconnected, empty. Tired, unmotivated.

Previously, my depression was bearable to disregard, stifling my feelings of worthlessness by throwing myself into academics.

Last year, however, things got worse.

I remember the day clearly. It had been an awful week for my personal life – I was angry with a close friend and had woken up the day of a test (that I had not studied for) to an email from another close friend.

“I feel you criticize a lot,” she had written. On a normal day, I could have easily admitted to this, but on this day, it triggered a reaction I am still terrified of.

Not just, ‘once in a while I feel depressed and down, but the next day I’m fine’ – not that type of depression.

Sadness. Not just feeling sad, but a curtaining of grief over my brain and heart. Unable to do anything, think anything, feel anything else, the tears began to stream downwards.

I am an awful person.

Who did I think I was, to say negative about others, to hurt others by my words?

I was an awful person, I should not exist, not if I were to create so much pain.

That week, I continued through my academics in a zombie-like manner, going through the movements without absorbing anything. When the end of the week came, I decided to take a drive, to clear my mind.

It did quite the opposite.

Prior to that moment, suicide had always sounded terrifying. Now, there was nothing else I wanted more than to just not exist. Death was not appealing to me, due to the pain, but I genuinely wished for nothing more than to cease existing.

Maybe there was a way, I wondered, to find a way to pass and just not be.

My faith in God was shaken.

I had always been a faithful person, working on my faith to get closer to God, for whom I previously had an unwavering belief.

There is a sickness within the Muslim community. A lack of understanding about mental health; a nonexistent support system.

Then, however, I was unsure.

What type of God is merciful, but would create a human that is so flawed, so empty?

Why would God continue to test someone that is so mentally unstable?

Despite the prayers that I did, I did not feel any better. Nothing could help me.

There is a sickness within the Muslim community. A lack of understanding about mental health; a nonexistent support system.

Having not grown up completely intertwined with a Muslim community in America, being surrounded by Muslims was never familiar to me. However, when the old school thinking of mental health as a lack of faith stands strong, there is a problem.

Depression, many people claim, is just a lack of faith.

You need to pray to get better.

That is what the community told me. The reason I was sick was that I had failed as a Muslim.

The depression was entirely my fault.

I cannot pray away my suicidal thoughts. I cannot ask enough to throw away my hopelessness. While I can pray that one day this feeling will cease, so far, no amount of prayer has pushed the depression away.

The Muslim community surrounding me does not understand this, and that hurts. Without any support system, how is one supposed to reconcile the faith that one has lost?

While I still struggle with my depression, I have reached a crossroads in my faith.

I would be a fool to end this on a sugar-sweet note, telling you that I am better; that I am a more improved Muslim than ever and that my faith in God is more than strong.

However, I would be lying to say that I am 100% back on track in my spirituality. I am not. At this moment, I am unsure. Questioning. The problems within the community have only forced me to have to reevaluate my belief system, making me question how I understand life as a whole.

I wish there was more of an understanding of mental health within the Muslim community, but alas, there is not. I wish I had a stronger understanding of why God would test me so, but as I have been told all my life:

God knows best.

And though for now I am finding myself and trying to make sense of this all, I can only take it one small step at a time.

Every day that I live, I am proud that I have overcome my obstacle.

I would be a fool to end this on a sugar-sweet note, telling you that I am better.

Maybe one day I will be brave enough to stand up for the cause that is affecting me so strongly.

Maybe one day I will be able to erase these feelings of depression and replace them with those of happiness.  

Maybe one day I will be able to understand, to accept the trials that He has set for me.

Maybe one day I will be able to speak about this with ease, unafraid of the judgments of others.

With time comes ease.


If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or suicidal crisis, check out the resources below:

* Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline1-800-273-TALK (8255). Here is a list of international suicide hotlines.

* People who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach Lifeline via TTY by dialing 1-800-799-4889 or use the Lifeline Live Chat service online.

* Text TALK to 741741 for 24/7, anonymous, free counseling.

* Call the SAMHSA Treatment Referral Hotline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), for free, confidential support for substance abuse treatment.

* Call the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), for confidential crisis support.

* Call Trevor Lifeline, 1-866-488-7386, a free and confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth.

7 Cups and IMAlive are free, anonymous online text chat services with trained listeners, online therapists, and counselors.


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Gender & Identity Life

I’m a proud feminist, but sometimes I love getting catcalled

Last fall, I was in Baltimore with my husband. He was there for business, so I had a lot of time to wander the city by myself. It was still relatively warm, so one day I wore a flowy, low-cut sundress, without a bra.

While out at the mall, I was catcalled at least three times in the span of five minutes.

A range of thoughts rushed through my head. My first thought was “Guess I’ve still got it!” I was gratified that my appearance was validated by the male gaze. But almost immediately after the gratification registered, I began to feel shame. I’d asked for this by wearing a low-cut dress without a bra.

I felt kind of like a slut.

Then the feminist in me kicked in.

I began getting angry at the men for assuming they had the right to comment on my body, and for assuming their assessment of me was valid and necessary. Then I started to get angry at myself for enjoying their catcalls. I was a feminist. Didn’t I know that catcalling was a form of harassment? Didn’t I know that objectifying women was a product of a patriarchal society that oppressed women? I was deeply conflicted.

I often use humor to cope with overwhelming emotions, so I posted the following status update on my Facebook:


I had meant it to be a sarcastic joke, but as we all find out at some point in our online existences, sarcasm doesn’t always come across in text on the screen.

A bunch of my intelligent, insightful, feminist friends started commenting. Some of them took the joke as a reproach for enjoying catcalls. They strongly expressed their opinions that there was nothing wrong with being a feminist who enjoys being catcalled.

Some of my other friends sympathized with me, saying they also felt guilty when they enjoyed being catcalled; that it made them feel like a bad feminist.

Still, others launched into arguments against catcalling, asserting that women need to confront cat-callers to stop the harassment from occurring.

Others shared that they thought their sexuality was empowering and that they felt they gained control over men who ogled their bodies.

We live in a patriarchal society, which means that men control the power structures and they control the messages that society uses to manipulate women.

One of those messages is that women are only valuable if they are beautiful. And since men control the power structures, they’re the ones who get to decide what’s beautiful.

Women are taught that their value can only be given to them by a man who thinks they are beautiful. This is one of the reasons why women like being catcalled so much.

We see it as confirming our worth.

If women ever want to break free from the oppression of the patriarchy, we have to deconstruct and confront manifestations of the patriarchy, which means confronting things like catcalling. This can happen in a variety of different ways.

Maybe it’s just an internal confrontation: why did I enjoy being catcalled? Did I really enjoy it or am I fooling myself because it actually made me uncomfortable? What societal messages make me enjoy validation from the male gaze?

Most simply put, all female experiences have value and women are allowed to feel and do whatever fulfills them and makes them happy. So, if being catcalled makes you happy because you love your body and you love that other people love your body, good for you!

You’re not any less of a feminist.

However, if you like being catcalled because you hate your body and you’re seeking validation from others in order to find self-worth, and you believe your self-worth is based on your appearance, I suggest you read some feminist literature and do some hard thinking.

If you think about these questions and still come up with the answer that you love yourself and your body and you love other people enjoying your body, then you are an amazing woman.

If, on the other hand, you come up with some troubling thoughts and feelings about yourself and how you value yourself, then take some time to educate yourself on how patriarchal systems of oppression function.

Devote some time to learning to love yourself and your body. If you’ve done this and you’ve decided that catcalling actually makes you really uncomfortable, consider how you might react the next time you get catcalled.

You don’t have to stop every cat-caller you see and give them a college-level lecture on patriarchal systems and feminism, but you could say, “That makes me really uncomfortable, please don’t do that.”

Or you could say, “My body is not for your consumption,” and just walk away.

Or if you’re not comfortable confronting cat-callers directly, maybe the next time you see another woman being catcalled you could help the woman. Ask her to walk with you and leave the situation. Let her process her feelings about being catcalled.

These are all effective and productive ways to fight the patriarchy.

So, back to the original question: does it make you a bad feminist if you enjoy being catcalled? Hell to the no.

You are an individual woman with individual thoughts, feelings, and experiences, and it’s not feminism’s job to tell you how to think, feel, or process your experiences. What feminism can do is give you a new framework to process your experiences in order to see them through a different lens.

Use the framework as you will.