Why women should drive if they want to

Driving is simply a symbol of autonomy that our patriarchal society cannot permit because it will open the door to more privileges and lesser dependence on male family members. A girl who can drive to go where she wants to can leave an abusive relationship tomorrow so she is not permitted this first step towards “rebellion.”

Aisha Sarwari

The fear of public spaces is called Agoraphobia, but when you have this fear on behalf of a group of women, its called misogyny. Called by another name it is abuse of power; oppression and downright cruel. The Saudis have this fear on behalf of women, which is why although it is not technically illegal for women to drive there, there are simply no licenses issued to women. Just like a mother may not technically kill her children but just refuse to feed them at all. Or like a politician may not technically evade taxes but keep his or her wealth in offshore accounts. Like how a bigoted country may not technically launch genocides on its minorities but certainly allow all sorts of hate speech to foster in an environment devoid of rule of law. So yes, technically a woman in Saudi Arabia can drive.

It’s just harder now. The…

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Misogynistic Women

Men are not the sole party responsible for the plight of women. South Asia is home to a particular class of women, what I call ‘Misogynistic Women,’ who hate their own gender. Their hatred goes beyond wishing that they were part of the privilege gender; they actively put down the women around them, especially those who try to break out of the stereotypical roles assigned to them.

A girl needs someone in her corner when she first opens her eyes in this big scary world and when her mother is bemoaning her birth, the mother who is supposed to love her no matter what, her future is bleak indeed. I have witnessed women in my family actually commiserating with the child’s family and the cause of bereavement is the birth of healthy, beautiful girl instead of the coveted male heir. The funny bit is everyone wants a male heir, even if they barely have a hovel to bequeath to the child and not even enough to feed it.

The mother-in-law is more often than not the villain in the story who tortures her daughter-in-law during the pregnancy and after the birth. I have heard of women who have screamed and cursed at their son’s wife when they found out that the child she was expecting was female. Far from accepting that it was God’s will, and that girls are as much a blessing, if not more, than boys, they castigate the poor mother. Some have demanded an abortion, most sonographers now refuse to divulge the gender of the child till the last few months of the pregnancy, if at all. In the middle of such a heinous display of ignorance and misogyny, I once got mad and tried to explain that the chromosome deciding the gender of the child actually comes from the male partner and is no way a deficiency in the female partner. My mom got mad and told me to shut up. This ignorance and more than that, the perpetrating of this evil mindset is as much the fault of women as it is of men.

God! In a society where a female’s hormonal development and signs of maturity are treated as shameful occurrences by their mothers, women cannot be confident, let alone proud of themselves. Lack of the pertinent knowledge can also be incredibly damning. Most girls think something is wrong with their body and some crazy mothers try to retard their physical development, worrying about what people will say. This is a time when girls are incredibly insecure about themselves and when they suffer such psychological blows, their self-esteem is shattered beyond repair. My father used to say that we should not wear nice clothes so that we do not look pretty. My mother actually slapped my younger sister across her face when the poor kid was trying to curl her hair with plastic curlers.

A male child is conditioned from birth to expect his female relatives to do everything for him. He does not put in as much effort in his studies, never helps around the house and demands that his sisters be available at his command at all times of the day and night. He is taught that whatever tiny thing he did for his sisters was a huge favour that they must be eternally grateful for and he never stoops so low as to thank his sisters for the dozens of things they do for him. If he is asked to wash the glass in which he just drank water or clean up the dining table or God forbid sort out his dirty clothes, he juts gives you a dirty look and walks away.

My mother has taught my brothers that because not only has she done that for her husband all her life, teaching by example; but has also verbally reiterated that numerous times. She actually questioned me directly about my use then if I cannot even do this stuff for my brothers. My mother thinks my only utility in life is serving the male members of my family. This is not just isolated to her though, all the female members of my family have the same views. When a woman refuses to see potential in another woman beyond cooking, cleaning, dusting, washing clothes and serving her brother, father, husband and even son, and actively strives towards ensuring that woman does not ‘rebel’ against society’s diktat, there is almost no hope left.

The sad thing is that these same women must have felt suffocated in their childhood when they witnessed such atrocities. They must have hated their brothers when their male siblings could go out to play and as girls, they had to stay within the four walls of the house cooking meals or washing mounds of dirty clothes. They did this at their father’s house and then got married to do the same in their husband’s house. They still feel imprisoned and that is the reason for their volatile behaviour. Why can they not see that? How can a victim perpetrate the same vicious cycle and become the victimiser?

Misogynistic women criticise and ostracise those women who have tried to gain a certain level of independence. If a woman works, she must be immoral; if she does not want to get married, there must be something wrong with her or she must be involved with someone else; if she wants to study and get a higher education degree, she is wasting time and money and is too vain. It is not only men who are insecure in the company of such women but also other women whose only accomplishment in life is marrying and producing kids.

I qualify my latest assertion here. I salute those women who are brave, patient and loving enough to give birth to and rear up a child. However, feeding and clothing a child or the myriad of tasks that a woman does in due course is not being a mother. A nanny could do the same. She is to be revered if she reared up her children to respect women, know of ones’ obligations and rights and be confident enough to demand such consideration from those around them. She has committed great evil if she has taught her daughters to accept oppression and her sons to dole it out.

Sibling Rivalry for the Right Reason

Pakistani society values male children over female ones, a practice that is common in most of the world. In our homes it is rare that moms or dads come out directly and say it but every action, the way they treat children of both genders, the restrictions placed on each, all speak volumes.

A girl is not only responsible for her own actions but also for those of her brothers. If her brothers do something wrong, it is her fault. He does not get good grades- you did not tutor him, he stayed out late- you are horrible role models and are teaching him to be rebellious, he fell ill- you cooked something that gave him jaundice. It ranges from the shocking to the completely bizarre.

At ten I was supposed to know how to cook, wash dishes and help mom wash clothes. All my brothers did then and even now is eat, sleep, browse the internet or stay out. I must sweep the house and clean the washrooms because I do not have a maid but God forbid I remonstrate with my brother about why he throws used tissues in the dustbin after using them in the washroom rather than flush them. Mom curses my younger sister for dirtying her school clothes and she’s 12 and spends 15 minutes scrubbing stains off her adult son’s shirt. Asking my brother to warm his own food at night while I am scrubbing pots or rinse a glass he just used leads to half an hour of screaming and insults from my mother. Since I am a girl I must wash clothes without fail every week but I cannot ask my younger brothers to take their dirty clothes out of their room to get washed.

Fathers are sneakier about it, they pretend to love their daughters more than their sons. However, their sons are allowed to go out alone and their daughters must drag along a male family member even if they need to go to the nearby market to buy personal products. Daughters must not work or gain any financial independence because then they would get airs and “only women with unsavoury characters or those who would otherwise starve to death work outside their homes.” Sons are encouraged to work because later they will dole out money to their sisters and wives, when and if they feel like it, after minutely investigating the reason for the expenditure. In addition, they will condescendingly explain to the dimwitted females that they incur unnecessary expenditures due to their frivolous natures. Apparently, we can buy a fourth car for the sole use of the male members of the family but I have to ration shampoo because I am using it frivolously.

It is no surprise that girls resent the privileges their brothers get due to their gender, through no effort of their own. A sense of envy for the freedom they have, both in their personal and professional lives and their bright futures generates a new kind of sibling rivalry: the rivalry due to gender inequity.

Abolish Female Infanticide- Kill them Slowly Instead

Twenty Five percent of Northwest British India, what constitutes Pakistan today, used to kill off half their female infants in the 19th century. Statistics from the end of the 20th century state that 3.1 million girls are missing in Pakistan and according to Edhi Foundation, the number of female infanticides is on the rise. Laws, societal pressures and religious injunctions have stemmed the prevalence of this homicide so that the figures are much lower than in the previous century.

However, the other side of this picture is that these females now come into this world to a cacophony of wails, self-recriminations on the part of the mother, threats of a second marriage explicitly or implicitly made by the father and/ or his family and commiserations from relatives and friends. The sad truth is that I am not even talking about the lower income strata, rather, the middle and upper classes.

Since their births they are taught to treat their brothers as superior beings who cannot be questioned. They serve as surrogate mothers to their younger siblings, are supposed to cook, clean and wash clothes before they reach their teenage years. They are repeatedly told that their education is worthless and everything their parents (especially their dads) are doing for them are favours they are expected to return with interest.

Apparently, the fact that my dad paid for the hospital visit when I needed stitches was his Ehsaan (Beneficence) and I need to repay his favours by clearing my schedule at his whim. Here I am not even talking about having to give up meetups with friends or any fun pastimes, rather, preparing for mid-term exams because although I have cooked lunch, it isn’t fancy enough for dad’s friend whom he invited over without as much as a say-so. My time is not important enough to warrant considering alternate choices. I am simply supposed to bow down to his diktat. The funny bit is that I am still expected to ace my studies as well as ensure that my younger brothers do the same.

Kill them Slowly Instead

These girls had no say in their “unfortunate” births but spend their entire life questioning why they were born as the inferior sex. Their mobility is restricted, they are expected to find joy in menial household tasks and their entire social circle comprises of their immediate family. They are told that there is no need to meet their friends and they should keep their distance from their relatives. How can one logically expect a living, breathing human being, with desires and goals in life, to be content with spending her entire life imprisoned in a house- first her father’s, then her husband’s?

Innocent actions are given horrifically debasing connotations while their brothers can have girlfriends galore. If a guy stalks you, you must have encouraged or seduced him. He follows you, contacts your friends and colleagues, calls and messages you and ruins your reputation telling everyone that you had an affair with him that you ended abruptly. And in all of this, you are the party at fault. Even your own mother blames you in most instances and when women do not support other women, the situation is pretty dire. If a woman blames another when she gets raped, stating that she must have worn revealing clothing, stayed out late or frequented unsavoury places, you cannot expect anything from the male members of this society.

A girl is not supposed to wear flattering clothes in front of her own fathers and brothers and is supposed to put up with the male members of her family ogling her friends and even random women. The sad part is that Pakistan is supposedly a Muslim country, therefore, cultural and religious customs mean that women usually cover their heads, wear baggy clothing or even cover their entire bodies and faces when they go out. So if men are believed and women deliberately present temptation, why can they not desist their lecherous behaviour in such a society?

Respect is key here, when girls are conditioned to respect their male family members but not expect a reciprocation of that, they are essentially taught that they do not deserve that basic consideration. Women enable men in their domineering and controlling habits, since men have not experienced any resistance in treating their wives and mothers abysmally, they do the same to their daughters and their sons do the same to their female relatives.

A girl is not allowed to have an opinion about her own life, her only goal in life is to get married and have children. She DOES NOT want that, she has had enough! She has already sacrificed her life bringing up her siblings, why would she willingly sign up for perpetuating the vicious circle and give away even more of her life?