Artwork by Fatima Ghani
By Hooran M. Khattak
We’ve all been there. We’re 13, we’re 14, we’re 15. We have all said six words meant to separate us, six words we tried too hard to embody, six words just so ingrained within us that the ridiculousness never truly sink in:
“I am not like other girls.”
Now, I am 23, maybe you’re 20 or 24 or 27. All I want in my life is to be like other girls. There’s no separating myself, there’s no incessant need to prove that I am different, I am unique, or God forbid, that I hate pink. To define me I do not feel the need to look down at any other female, to feel like I am worthy, I do not feel the need to remind everyone else that other womxn are not worthy. There is a place for all womxn to exist as freely as they want. If there isn’t, we’ll make some.
I was standing at the school gate of my first or second day in a new school. I couldn’t spot my car, so I was just awkwardly standing by, pretending I was willingly not talking to anyone when really, I was just the new girl and I didn’t know anybody. To my right, I felt a mass of curly hair announce its presence before the actual person it was attached to did. Hair as glorious as that begs more attention so I turned towards it, and before I know it, the owner and nourisher of said hair is looking back at me, smiles this megawatt, brilliant smile, and starts talking at a speed of easily 30 words in one second. She’s yapping away and I am keeping up, the next thing you know, she tells me she’ll see me tomorrow and she walks away. That girl was Filza Anjum. We were both 16. She will turn 24 in 20 days. She’s one of the most important people in my life every day.
In the same new school, it was time for biology class. I was casually chatting with the girls next to me, and this aloof, intimidating girl caught my eye. Hair braided down her back, sleeveless shalwar kameez, one leg crossed over the other, just casually sitting and looking great. I saw her and I thought, “meh, we’ll never be friends.” Skip ahead to two weeks, both of us get recruited for this really sought-after competition, we pick the same department so it’s us and two other girls, but the actual team would eventually have space for only two out of the four of us. We chat for a bit, share some laughs, then she looks at me and goes, “You’re cool, want to team up and be better than the other two?”. I said yes. That girl was Noor Humayun. We were both 16. We are both 23 now. We cannot function if we don’t send at least 30 texts in one day, even when we are fighting. She’s one of the most important people in my life every day.
Before meeting my Mislaid Sisters (referring to a Lucille Clifton poem here), I didn’t know or understand the importance of behenchara, of female friendships, of sisterhood in all its ways. I don’t have any biological sisters, so this was not a relationship I ever had the chance to explore. Prior to 16, I found some great people, sure, but did I have my hype team of girls? No, I didn’t. Around 16 was also the time when my Great Feminist Initiation took place, so parallel that with forming these lovely friendships in an all-girl school, it was just such a new and amazing experience. Movies tell me the smart girl doesn’t get along with the popular girl or that girls are always competing for the same guy or we thrive on gossip, but my actual life is telling me absolutely none of that is true.
Who am I supposed to feel comfortable with, if not the womxn of the world? Who else will understand how difficult it was to wake up one day at 12 or 13 with a completely new body, discomfort within my own skin, and an odd confusion about how much space to take? Who else will understand the raging pain of menstrual cramps, the mood swings that come along with it and the confusion of wanting to switch to a menstrual cup but also being intimidated by it? Who else will understand how sickening unwanted words, uninvited stares, and unwelcome touches on the body feel? Who else will understand my rage over not being equal or enough, over being reduced to half that of a man, over having my value equated to finding a man to attach myself to? Who else will understand the uninhibited joy of pockets in dresses? Who else will ever understand the insane experience it is to be me, except my fellow womxn? Nobody.
I can’t separate behenchara from my life and still be myself, it’s so dramatic, but it’s true. You want someone to hype your Instagram? I’ll call you a queen any day. You want to walk to Lahore Press Club and scream for azaadi and hope someone listens? I’ll march alongside you and I’ll remind you to wear sunscreen. You want to talk about how infuriating it is to listen to other girls’ discount feminism and political stances but then realize it is just internalized misogyny speaking? I’ll listen to you, and I’ll probably agree. I am here for my girls, all of them. For those who’re younger, for those who’re older, for those that like to fit within expected molds, and for those who like to shatter them, I’m here for you, I will listen to you, I see you, I value you.
Behenchara. What a wonderful concept.
Bio: I’m Hooran, an MSc student, a staunch feminist, avid reader, and occasional writer! You can find me on Instagram.