Challenging South Asian Culture

For those of you that follow me on Twitter and are on my Facebook you’ll notice that the last 24 hours have been particularly rage inducing for me. I don’t know whether this is a problem that’s inherent in my South Asian culture or whether it’s just some of my extended family but what I do know is that it absolutely stinks of patriarchy, sexism, entitlement and privilege – the worse thing is, is that they don’t even know it. To put the cherry on this disgustingly male-entitled cake, those who do see the injustice, silencing and dis-empowerment of women continually fail to speak up. Every. Single. Time.

The irony of those telling me how to be a ‘good and respectable South Asian woman’ in how I dress and act is that they hardly have impeccable records themselves; they’re not exactly what you would identify as you know, model citizens. From breaking the law, to serving time in prison and even stints of domestic violence by way of violence against women perpetrated by men you’d wonder where on earth they get off by telling me their views on morals, respect and behaviour within the South Asian context.

For a long I’ve felt a disconnect between myself and my culture. Now, I’ve always thought it was because of my sexuality but actually, I’ve come to realise it’s because of my gender. The patriarchal and sexist attitudes of a lot of men in my community mean that women are often marginalised, silenced and left with a plunging self-esteem. Well, enough is enough.

What’s caused this sudden outburst I hear you ask? Some men in my extended family seem to think it’s acceptable to tell me how to dress and justify this by stating the moral reasons and societal codes of respect in the South Asian community. If we take it as that for a moment, that wearing traditional South Asian clothes is a sign a respect for your guests and indeed family then they have to understand that I don’t deem them worthy of my respect for the aforementioned reasons.

I’ve always been the somewhat black sheep of the family, despite never breaking the law, serving time in prison, or engaging in domestic violence because I’m seen as the rebel, as the tom-boy, as the gay one, as the un-feminine one, as the outspoken one with too many opinions and isn’t it all so funny how she sticks out and doesn’t fit into the traditional conforming restricting stereotypes of what it means to be a South Asian woman?

I need to turn my negative energy of anger, frustration, rage and feeling so incredibly dis-empowered into something positive and ultimately a force for change. I never thought that I, in a million years would say what I’m about to say in solution to my current crisis – I’m seriously considering donning the jilbab at home as a feminist and Islamic statement of independence and bodily autonomy. (Here’s what a jilbab looks like: http://tinyurl.com/nrh2x4v) The patriarchs and men in general in this world need to understand that they cannot tell women what to do or even how to dress. It is unacceptable, it is un-Islamic. I will don the jilbab and I will teach them about all of the glorious women who have gone before me in Islam; all of the scholars, intellectuals, teachers, businesswomen and warriors from the very beginning of Islam to the present day in order to confront their sexist attitudes with facts from history, the Qur’an and Hadith.

They will not silence us. They can shut us down. They will not continue to dis-empower us. History is on our side. Islam is on our side. If they think that they can force me to conform into their narrow-minded bullshit patriarchal and sexist attitudes they really couldn’t be more mistaken. In order to achieve this goal though, I need to change myself first. I need to continue to educate myself on the rights that I have as a human being and as a woman within Islam. I need to learn more about my history in terms of women in South Asia and Islam as I need to have a robust defence and understanding of my history from a cultural and religious perspective. I need to advance my knowledge and understanding of the Qur’an and Hadith so when they judge me, when they criticise me and when they try to shut me up I will not only have a bullet-proof defence but also one in which that will get them thinking by way of challenging their inherently problematic views on women and indeed themselves as patriarchal and sexist men.

Wish me luck and give me all the support in the world as I embark on this personal mission which will surely ostracise me more from some parts of my extended family. As many of us know at first hand, some people don’t like to hear the truth especially when they consider it an attack on themselves in terms of their actions and character but Islam instructs to me seek justice wherever there is injustice and oh my Allah is there so much injustice around me.

‘You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly – if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.’

Qur’an: An-Nisa [4:135]

This quote comes from the chapter in the Qur’an titled ‘An-Nisa’ which in English is rather aptly ‘Women’. This is one of my favourite quotes from the Holy Book and yet I never registered the significance of the title of this chapter until now.

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4 thoughts on “Challenging South Asian Culture

  1. Powerful post. Good luck! You’ve reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:
    “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.” ― Gloria Steinem (I’ve been there many times!)

    1. Thank you so much for your comment and support. I appreciate it! Ah, now that’s a quote I very much resonate with. Thank you for sharing it. I’ve just finished watching an episode of The L Word which guest stared Gloria Steinem!

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