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Shamed into Shrinking

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Having grown up in a pretty liberal household in terms of both culture and religion, it always comes as a deafening blow when I hear things from my extended family that perpetuate the shrinking of women to make space for the ever-growing ego of the man. Now, I know by the end of this sentence you’re probably thinking “right okay, she’s a man hater, haha, what a surprise(!)” and you know what, you’re mostly right. I am a man hater. Not a single man I have known has touched my life with any type of kindness or goodness so yes, I hate men for the things they have continued to do to me and the people I love in the name of their identity, but no, I don’t hate men just because they’re men.

I alluded to it earlier, but let me explain the conversation that took place in the early hours of the night in our currently overflowing household. As per usual, (in concentrated moments between myself and anyone else) I am always in the mood to provoke and challenge traditions that are held so dearly while everyone else in the near vicinity falls silent and holds their breath (with daggers in their eyes), almost afraid of what might come out of my mouth in that specific moment. Today in particular, the conversation was with my maternal grandmother.

[Context: my grandmother has just returned from a short break in Bangladesh and is staying a few nights at our place as a sort of layover before heading back to her home in Manchester]

The topic of the conversation in question was ‘modesty in the home’ (my favourite topic ever) and much like every other old, brown grandparent, my grandmother’s stand on this is that (roughly translated from Sylheti Bangla):

“you must always cover in the home […] even if the men in the home are your own fathers, brothers, and sons because they are still man and you are just a woman […] as a Muslim if you fear God, you must cover in front of every man”

In the words of my favourite meme, I AM SHOOKETH*. As my grandmother says these things, I glance sideways at my mother and sister-in-law, who have covered themselves up today more so than usual, and notice that their expressions have frozen in an odd way and that they are both trying to catch my eye to give me the cutthroat gesture so I don’t pursue this conversation further, but me being me, I pretended to be oblivious to all this. I knew this was a necessary conversation no matter the sentiments that were to be hurt today.

I won’t give you a play-by-play rundown on the conversation because a) some of the things I said in Bangla don’t have the same meaning/effect when translated into English and b) it gets a bit boring to read (and write!) a ‘he said-she said’ conversation.

I am honestly just sick and tired of the generations of hurt in the women who have been shamed into shrinking, either in the name of culture or religion. I no longer stand for it and in every chance I get, I rise up and speak my part. In this particular situation, it was absolutely necessary that my grandmother understood that all these years of internalised misogyny will not go away overnight, but it is something we need to work on step by step, but until we start, we will never be able to move forward. I needed her to understand, like I need you all to do, that the female is not responsible for the male gaze. I will not be shamed into covering my body just because a man has a disconnect between his penis and his brain. It is not my problem that men have been socialised into thinking women are objects or property of their holding and that women have been pushed into a role of forced submission – even if it is just in the case of clothing.

Not to forget, if you expect me to cover my body in front of the men I trust and hold as my own, what does that say about what you think of your own men? It most definitely implies that you have no trust and believe that the man is inherently a sexual creature and the woman’s body only exists to be ravished by him.

Neither of these versions of man sit well with me and it is further proof that we are in dire need of reshaping our mindsets and shifting both blame and responsibilities from the woman onto man. I do not blame the generations before our own for their actions and opinions, but we are a new one with an untouchable agency and it is time for us to rise up. It is up to us to have these uncomfortable conversations within our own homes and inspire change. The time for brushing women under the rug is well and truly gone. We are alive, we are strong, and we are entirely present. And this, this is our time.

I leave you now with a few words from my 365daysofayesha project:

Your mother gave birth to a revolution and named it after you. Do not let yourself be shamed into shrinking. Rise up and revolt.

*shooketh meme – Elijah and Christine

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Ayesha Khanom

Sometimes a teacher, sometimes a student, but mostly caffeinated. This blog is a terrible attempt at writing out my thoughts - think of it as the 'comments, complaints, and suggestions' section of my brain. Nevertheless, I hope that some of these words will find a place in your heart and will stay with you even when I do not. If you'd like to get in touch, send me a message on Instagram or leave a comment on one of these posts and I'll get back to you at the best possible time.

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