As international women’s day approaches, I wanted to quote some women writers who have inspired millions with their wit, wisdom and courage. Quoting only a few of them is difficult because there are so many women out there, some living and some in a better place, who are torch bearers and the reason that a modicum of love and harmony still exists in the world today. They define the spirit of feminism. I’ll start with women who come to my mind first and since I am in love with words, those who give them their due importance.
‘A word after a word after a word is power.’ Margaret Atwood.
‘The words that come out of our mouth do not vanish but are perpetually stored in infinite space, and they will come back to us in due time.’ Elif Shafaq.
In today’s digital world, words have a power that is unprecedented. They can spew hate, be brand ambassadors to misogyny and prejudice creating a world of intolerance. They can also be used to uplift progressive causes and be the precursors of change as they spread their wings to spread love. A typed word sent out, like the written word in eons gone by, now has a power akin to a weapon. We as soldiers just need to know how to use it.
In the words of Atwood again, “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.”
This sentence harks true specially today when the blanket slogan of ‘Mera Jism Meri Marzi’ and a group of women coming out on the streets for a peaceful march to protest against the crimes committed against her person has become a topic of heated debate. Is it right or wrong? Is it vulgarity prompting these women or aligning their views to the west? The slogans appear confused, varied and disjointed, you wander? It’s not the fault of the women scribbling them because the crimes against them have been so varied and so confounding in themselves. There is a story in each billboard, a dark terrible story if someone were only to stop and ask.
This line from Atwood, sitting so far away from our Aurat March, explains why men hold the reins a little tighter around a woman’s neck. We cannot laugh at a superior, can we? Only at an equal. We can joke with an equal, we can mock them but we dare not stare in a superior’s eyes and demand they behave themselves. Men in a misogynistic culture expect women to know their place, that place is not of equality, it’s the same place as their mothers and sisters have and the women before them. ‘A rat in a maze is free to go anywhere, as long as it stays inside the maze.’ Atwood. As long as they don’t talk openly about all the abuse they face on a daily basis, they are free to think. That’s progressive. The freedom to think but, ‘As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.’ Virginia Woolf.
Islamic values are used to make sure women like the colouring of a toddler stays inside the lines. The same Islam vanishes from their vocabulary and line of thought, when they grope women in crowded streets, when they leer at them, rape them, beat them black and blue and finally kill them in spirit and body. Why are women marching, you ask? Because they are afraid that men will kill them one day, they will kill their soul, their spirit, their dignity before they kill their bodies. They cannot articulate what it is they are shouting for. But can we just take heed that they are shouting? They are in agony. Taking notice there is a problem is the least you can do.
The role of media in bringing about change for women is undebatable. Women binge watch TV plays and if a repeated message plays on like persistent advertising with a narrative calling them weak, helpless and put upon, subconsciously they won’t be surprised when it happens to them. Media has the power to open forums of discussions and debate or to cash in on cheap ratings. Of course they can show the ugly truth of our world ‘as is’, putting up their hands helplessly and saying this is exactly what happened or ‘happens’ in our society but they can also open a narrative saying this is how things should happen and let that out as the accepted practice.
A writer that I have admired from a long time, Haseena Moin, says, “I wrote strong female characters that were bold and courageous and could have a good laugh along the way. Today’s plays either show the women to be weak, submissive and oppressed or the conniving home-wrecker. This simplification of complex issues needs to stop.” I grew up watching Tara of Shehzori, Sana of Unkahi, Zara of Tanhaiyaan and Dr. Zoya of Dhoop Kinare and I aspired to be as bold and brave as them, their feet firmly planted on the ground and a humility and humour that could laugh at their own weaknesses but never doubt their inner strength. I look for these characters in vain these days. No matter how strong a female character, it never inspires a dream in me.
Personally, for me there are so many stars that I’ll have to write a novel on all my favourites, some well-known, some unknown and some fictional. For me the brightest of them all is still my mother. Not because she is a saint, has never done anything wrong and I have placed her on a pedestal like we are wont to do with our maters. She is a strong courageous woman, who has lived life on her own terms, has made mistakes, fallen, stood up and marched right ahead with her head held high. My favourite quote from her is, ‘Fall, fail, or weep but never accede to disrespect and final defeat.’
To sum it up, women should set the standard and template of how we need to be treated. ‘I always deserve the best treatment because I never put up with any other.’ Jane Austen. It’s not as simple and we will be mistreated multiple time in the process. As long as we know what the goal is and that goal is clear of how we want to be treated we need to fight towards it. It’s an ongoing war to change mindsets and culture but you only need three weapons to win any war; courage, intelligence and persistence. And I really hope we win this one for our daughters and granddaughters.