by Fatima Tanvir
As women, we are made to carry not only the baggage of our own struggles, complexities, and experiences but also of that jolted upon us owing to the patriarchal milieu of our society. There is a lot of learning and unlearning, a lot of shaking up to do, in our own capacities, to make this stagnant, unfair system redundant and obsolete.
Coupled with our work responsibilities is the trial to demonstrate that our work is just as (if not more) consequential. With our already complicated friendships and relationships (as desi women) follows a challenge to prove that these connections, are in fact, some of the most fruitful and necessary assets that we have.
We are expected to act on our ambitious and professional aspirations just as long as none of our domestic obligations are being neglected. We are reproached for expressing difficulties in juggling the two. We are demanded to be yielding, not just grateful, for being granted a chance – at the cost of the patriarchal skeleton of the society – at pursuing an education or a career. We are ideated to express exclusively positive emotions; experiencing negative emotions in response to negative experiences, showing exhaustion when we are in fact tired is not simply taken as us being humans. Expressions of anger, anxiety, or exhaustion are equivalent to us being unruly, ungrateful, and problematic.
It should come as no surprise if all this muffling and suppression of experiences end up taking a heavy toll on our mental health. Our conditions are doomed to aggravate by the lack of acknowledgement of our experiences to such proportions that even we begin to believe them.
Not to negate the privilege that is to social distance and go into quarantine, but for many of us, our homes are just not a safe place to be. They might be the safest there is, but simply not safe enough. This atmosphere of unsafety has several dimensions, from women being misunderstood and overworked to the aggression of men transforming into physical and emotional violence.
Quarantine, to begin with, proposes several challenges and added struggles. There’s an inveterate uncertainty to when will we be able to get back to our usual working spaces and routines, when will we be able to meet our family and friends that we have been separated from by distance and an atmosphere of pandemic, and most of all if we will ever be able to return to our erstwhile normal?
Some of us have had to move away from the places that we felt safe existing in and were used to performing well in, be it educational institutions, workplaces, or student/work accommodations. Some have even had to move towns, cities, or countries, and forced to exist in the same places that we planned and worked relentlessly to escape.
Subsequently follow work endeavors, grasping difficult concepts, meeting deadlines, and trying to squeeze in online classes/meetings with the unpredictable happenings of our households. The other day I was prepping to cook aloo baingan, while listening to my professor go on about corrosion potentials on my laptop. Many of us are struggling to keep up, understandably so, with academic obligations while doing the household chores at the same time. Members of most households take it for granted if a you are back from educational institution, workplaces, or student/work accommodations; you must be available full-time for mundane household work.
You might be seated in a corner, just at the brink of understanding a concept you have been grappling with for long, but loud will come a voice asking you to brew chai for the family. There is a general lack of attentiveness to our boundaries, our need for a few undivided work hours, and our exigency for moments of solitude to re-center our mental faculties.
As a result, exacerbation of women’s mental health by virtue of all these quarantine factors is highly likely.
What can be done about it?
If you cannot afford the privilege of therapy, the following insights might prove helpful to you.
Negotiating with the fact that this is what we are working with for now and that it is not permanent can prove efficacious. This quarantine will be over one day. You will not have to live with the same people who are harmful for you forever, or at least, you will not have to live on their terms forever. You are to devise plans, take steps towards a more independent and safer future for yourself; you are to validate your own emotions and experiences for yourselves even when no one else is doing that; you are to restructure the building that we are living in, to ensure your safety, brick by brick.
Your experiences are well-grounded. You, in fact, are putting in a lot of effort. You are doing your part, even if it’s you trying to convince your mother unlearn some imprints of patriarchal system, or assertively demanding some time alone, or turning that assignment in, or reading that book, or even just surviving the people around you. You are carving a safer future for our daughters and a better learning ground for our sons to come.
Fatima Tanvir is a twentysomething feminist fellow studying towards a degree in Materials Engineering. You can often espy her with earphones plugged in and a water bottle nearby, most likely brooding over some indie record, or brewing her 271st cup of chai of the day, or buying yet another book to add to her TBR pile.
Fatima also likes to spend most of her time day-dreaming about getting a buzzcut (because her desi Amma would not let her get it IRL).
If you would like to know more about the author or get in touch with them, here’s a link to their public Instagram: @true.conversations_