Masculinity and feminism.
Individual and society.
Culture and religion.
Often, these terms are used in opposition; often, as contradictions.
Masculinity and feminism, in particular, are such clashing concepts that can’t seem to co-exist peacefully.
There are so many directions that we can take this conversation. I do want to steer it toward the designated gender roles as deemed by my South Asian culture, as this is my experience and what I have been most impacted by. But if this taboo conversation can become an open dialogue amongst us brown folk, I hope this conversation can be inclusive of other gender-related issues as well, such as gender identity and LGBTQ+ rights.
It is common practice in South Asian households that as soon as a woman is of “marital age”, she must begin to transform herself. She must mold herself into the ideal wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. She must exhaust herself mentally, emotionally, physically in order to please her new family. Meanwhile, a man is not expected to change at all; no efforts at maturity, percipience, tolerance, acceptance, humility. But all of this and much, much more is expected out of a woman. What entails is often an unbalanced relationship defined by miscommunication, control/domination, ego, and therefore, mistreatment and abuse. (Source). Of course, the harsh reality of misogyny/inequality is quite obvious in countries like Pakistan and India, but these disparities absolutely exist here in the West as well. With sexual objectification, rape culture, and inequality in the workforce, as a few examples.
This poem was in part inspired by the documentary A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness. I encourage you all to watch this powerful film as well. If anything, the film asks us to reevaluate and reflect upon our identities. It is of the utmost necessity to redefine what it means to be a Man and what it means to be a Woman.
This poem is written in a series of questions. I hope you benefit and also find it to be an invitation for an open dialogue (please feel free to disagree, agree, or add onto the conversation).
(Note: The baby in the left image is me and the girl on the right is my sister. Still, these two images [hopefully] serve their purpose: to showcase that a woman’s identity is given to her at birth. She has no choice over her own self. Rather, a woman’s identity lies at the mercy of the society that she is born into.)
If we are from the same womb, the same home
Why then must I, the woman, leave mine
while you, the man, stay in yours?
You see, you and I, we are imprisoned. Behind the bars of society.
My punishment for being a woman is to suck up the hurt and bear the pain.
Your punishment for being a man is to express it through anger.
Why are daughters raised to be actresses,
performing in roles in which we cannot be broken or human?
Why must we pretend that these wounds do not exist?
For if we let you in and allow you to see past that Perfected Outer Shell,
Would you still stay?
Why are sons raised to be callous? Raised in a culture of
“Boys will be boys” and “At least he never hit you”.
Limited in their emotional expression
and denied the right to be vulnerable and kind.
Why has society taken away women and men and replaced them with
pink, dainty flowers and blue-wearing brutes?
Why is a woman feminine only if she is soft, beautiful, and fragile?
Why is a man masculine only if he is cold, controlling, and strong?
I am told that my greatest validation in life as a woman, is in becoming a wife and a daughter-in-law.
Why am I told that this is also my test?
To stay resilient and silent through the abuse.
As if I have nowhere else to go.
As if I am disposable,
You are told that your greatest validation in life as a man,
is in your career, your ego, your manhood.
“Don’t cry, you’re not a girl, are you??”
Words that you’ve heard since before you could even walk.
You were raised to be strong and stone: a mountain.
Why is it that a proud father will tell his daughter that she’s like a son to him,
Whereas it would be of utmost shame for a son to be likened to a daughter?
When did women stop becoming the daughters of Khadija, Aisha, Asiya
and instead became daughters of acid, sorrow, and shame?
When did men stop becoming the sons of the Mercy upon Mankind
and instead, became sons of privilege, abuse, and flame?
So you and I, we find ourselves here,
imprisoned by etiquette and customs.
In a society of superstition.
Upon a bed of acceptance.
And I ask, once again:
If we are of the same nafs*, the same Creator, the same womb, the same home
Why then, must I leave mine, while you stay in yours?
Nafs- Arabic term for the self/soul/person