Queens without Crowns

Queens Without Crowns

It is not every day that you hear tales of village women sneaking out of their dwellings in search of education or even entertainment. I had grown up listening to Nano’s accounts of living up in the mountains. How she rebelled against her father and continued her education to become vice-principal of the only girls’ college in her village. She would recount instances where she would sneak out of her hostel with her friends just to watch a movie at the local cinema. And it perplexed me, for my own mother had never been that daring or permissive for that matter.

For a long time, the lives of the women in my family bemused me. Although they were given a certain degree of autonomy in the way they carried out their daily affairs, they were sent to school, they were given full control of the household ration and in most cases, they were the sole treasurer of the household income. Yet, they still seemed to be held back by invisible shackles. Like a figurehead tricked into believing they had real control when in fact they had none, these women were like queens; adorned and decorated but lacking any true value.

Their most dire concerns were decisions pertaining to what to cook that day or when to wash the kid’s uniforms and I secretly despised their complacent attitudes. They aspired nothing, appeared to be ambitionless and I was a dreamer, I dreamt all day of a profitable career of my own Lamborghini, dreamt of buying my own Jimmy Choo and it wasn’t until then that I realized what these women lacked was confidence, confidence to aspire, confidence to be creative, confidence to believe that their life wasn’t necessarily designed to be this mundane.

My Nano was a dreamer too, but during the 40 years between her and my mother, times have changed, the number of perpetrators set loose has increased and so have the supposed male protectors, guardians of patriarchy. It is hard to distinguish the perpetrators from the protectors, but both are equally detrimental to a women’s self-esteem.

Growing up I had encountered men who would try to diminish my self-confidence, their criticism; was directed solely at shattering my confidence and I realized that most women are subjected to such derogatory attitudes all their lives. From schools to offices, there is utter discouragement for a woman’s capabilities. There are constant reprimands directed solely at erasing the dreams they may once have had. While I was never a staunch advocate for gender equality, I certainly believed in the vitality of moral support for each other, regardless of gender. It’s imperative that we stand with our women, the same way we encourage our men.

In Pakistan, the concept of women empowerment in itself is a highly controversial topic, but even households that appear to be more liberal in their stance towards women, have adopted this sense of partial empowerment that maintains their image but does nothing to uplift the conditions of women in their families. Such norms may allow a woman to study but dissuade her from working thus bringing years of hard work into futility. Loyalists would argue that such measures exhibit protectiveness, that they are intended to safeguard their women. But the question remains, Safeguard them from what exactly?

In less than a week, we have seen three womens’ murder bespoke tales of gender prejudice, of patriarchy in all its forms; of friends, lovers, and acquaintances being perpetrators in crimes that the mind refuses to accept. But these gruesome murders did happen, they happened on our own soil; our silence is encouragement for the accused and for any man for whom their honor and obsession is above the life of a woman. But many of us are still silent, many of us are still pretending we don’t know that our friend is a harasser, or that a cousin’s husband is abusive, or that someone’s brother has a history of violence against women. To what do we owe this silence?

We owe this to our upbringing, to how our misogynistic family raised us. In their resolve to diminish our confidence, just because that confidence would make us rebellious; they forgot that the same under-confidence could make women naïve and accepting towards the tortures inflicted on them.

So while we are teaching our daughters to be more submissive, teach our sons to not only respect their women but also to encourage and trust them with the decisions they want to take.