Confines Of Mind

By Manahil

It’s another day during a global pandemic and another day we’re supposed to keep calm and deal with it. Which is the best thing we can do in this moment but it’s also frightening. Much like most things right now. It’s no surprise why so many find solace through writing since you have all the time in the world to say how you feel without any element coming to interrupt you. It’s almost as if someone is always not just listening to you, but also totally getting what you mean. For many, it’s only through writing that they ever get to be their authentic self and that too mostly in hiding. It’s a way for us to be what we are told not to be. Once it’s written and out in the world (or not) there’s a sense of gratitude that you get to be who are and say what you wanna say through one way or the other. It’s beautiful to be heard but even more beautiful to be understood. Writing gives us the power to state exactly how we feel without asking for permission. During a time like this we are told to focus on “what matters” and be careful to not “nag” about the inevitable crap we usually deal with on our daily basis. It’s almost as if it’s a crime to discuss any other issue besides the pandemic. The lockdown, by all means has brought a lot of us down and has especially effected those who are less privileged. As someone who has always been very vocal about gender equality, and often too vocal to others dismay, the one thing this lockdown and the patriarchy have in common are that they both can be seen taking place actively all over the world. It’s because when people write about how men should take care of themselves in quarantine they also write about how women should take care of men during quarantine by “not nagging, putting on make up and being nice”.

Whether we like it or not, the thing is most of us now have to stay at home. Which means men are finally realizing how women feel when they live in households that restrict rules for them and when they live in a world where going out can turn into something disastrous real quick and how it feels like to constantly be cautious of your surroundings in order to not fall victim to harassment, abuse and just disrespect in general. Violence after all, is the leading cause of death for women than all illnesses combined. They still won’t get it though. What they have to be afraid of right now along with us is a virus while countless amounts of women have to be “careful” of fellow human beings. It’d be great when the people who tell women to stay home in order to stay safe start telling men to make sure when they go out they don’t make the world unsafe. Most people are rebelling against the rule to wear a mask because it doesn’t make them feel good and they’d rather not. But women of all ages, beginning in childhood are always policed, sexualized, objectified and abused on the basis of what they are or are not wearing, whether it’s during a pandemic or not. While it’s true many women solely make the decision for what they wanna wear or not themselves, I know girls that would be beaten up at home for not following a dress code. It’s easy to assume everything is just fine to handle for women when you grew up in a household and in a culture where female oppression was and is not only normalized, but glorified. Every now and then, when I call out sexist bullshit, I’m told and reminded to not make everything about gender. To not always pull out the “woman card”. But how could I not? It’s very important to talk about this because of how evident it is that gender does indeed truly affect us. Maybe I’d stop talking about it when they stop discriminating on the basis of gender. That seems very far fetched for Pakistan though. There is religion and and then there is culture. We tend to always focus on just culture and enable some very toxic aspects of it in the name of religion all while forgetting that our culture is deeply misogynistic and benefits only men in every way. Of course they don’t want any changes in a culture that benefits them. Instead they call you out for pulling “the woman card”. But do I really pull out the woman card? Does that “card” even have an advantage? Or am I just made to feel that way so I don’t question the absurdity of what we call normal? Why isn’t that same thing told to men who use their masculinity to their advantage and at the expense of women? Why are they allowed to boost about being “the man” and allowed to call us bitches and no one bats an eye to the amount of sexism that goes around in our everyday lives? Why am I being told to shut up by the same man who goes from saying “paradise is under the feet of mothers” to “teri maa ki…” in the same breath? Men can sit on live television and abuse women who speak up, they can sexualize us, blame an entire pandemic on us but don’t you dare call out any double standard you are facing because what I’ve always been told is women don’t react. They just overreact. Women aren’t rational. They are hysterical. All of this is told to us by that very culture that loves power when power belongs to men. All of this is taught to us so we stay silent because they love women with a few words and women who make themselves small for their comfort and who doesn’t love comfort? They love it so much that they turn reality around and villainize women in the media because portraying themselves as one would make them take a step down. And that won’t be comfortable now would it?

Whenever I bring this up, I’m reminded that this is just how culture is and one cannot question culture. I used to believe that until I heard Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s speech in which she calls out this bullshit and reminds everyone that “Culture doesn’t make people. People make culture.” And if people don’t realize how fucked up their culture is, it’s going to stay that way and I don’t think any more women need to continue being treated the way they are being treated right now. While I myself am not subjected to that behavior, right now there are women everywhere stuck in violent households where they are being abused by the same people who love to brag about the respect they give to women related to them. Girls are slaving off at houses doing the cleaning and making the iftar while the uncles sit around forwarding shitty WhatsApp jokes making fun of the same women who put food on the table both figuratively and literally. Many women and girls are taught to be ashamed of their bodies so much that even something natural about their bodies is sexualized and considered a taboo which would make people uncomfortable and that is why women hide and pretend to have sehr while on their periods during ramadan all while staying hungry and still doing all the work without so much as being appreciated for it. This is also why period products don’t even fall under the essential items list during this pandemic because apparently something that is essential to women isn’t or shouldn’t be essential to the general public? Would it take too many brown paper bags to hide all these products for your comfort and fragility? But yes, I will still see shitty ass posts glorifying this culture and people who do nothing to help calling the women related to them as saints instead of seeing the fault in that norm. Girls grow up not knowing how their bodies work because every conversation about their bodies is considered unethical and sexual. Unless men are joking about it or want to mansplain your body and existence to you, that’s considered just fine. Being quarantined means hearing your family have different expectations from your brother than they do from you. The brother usually gets the cooler ones. What a man does, he does for success. What a woman does is to help the man get that success. I’m sick of the “head of the family” trope and just how dangerous it is. It teaches little girls not to have bigger ambitions. It makes the boys grow up to be conceited, abusive men. It teaches us that the man, as the head of the family is always right which is why it’s such a task to question this culture. I feel for my 4 year old niece quarantined with my aunt who instead of teaching her how to make her decisions teaches her to sit with her legs closed and to not make men uncomfortable and has already sexualized and instilled shame in a toddler. I was talking to a guy the other day who reminded me that I should stay home not just because of covid-19 but for my own “protection” and always ask my brother to do the outside work. What we get wrong about protection in a culture like ours is that most of it is just control under a disguise. They don’t protect us because they love us. They protect us because they consider us property. If they loved us, they wouldn’t kill us for honor but they do. They wouldn’t treat their sons differently and give them more freedom but they do. They wouldn’t equate their daughters to a son in order to compliment her when she does something worth noting but they do. Why is being called a “beta” considered a badge of honor? Is being born male something to be proud of? If so why isn’t being born female considered the same? If they loved us, every insult wouldn’t have something to do with a woman but it does. If they truly loved us honor wouldn’t be placed on and in us but they do place it. They wouldn’t think our worth lies in how sexy we are or how many kids we can bear for them or how sexy we can make ourselves look while bearing kids for them, but they sure do. Our worth wouldn’t be just physical but according to most of them it is. Which means they respect us as much as they respect a fucking incubator. If they loved us they would care more about the rape in this country, take it seriously, not make jokes about it and believe our stories. I laugh when someone tries to silence me with their “but here we respect you so much” bullshit. A religious group assaulted a female police officer who was reminding them to go home and be safe during this time. While it’s true that respect to some extent is earned, there is also something called basic human decency which our men forget when a woman isn’t following the very narrow definition of womanhood created by men, which results in assault for said woman. So what do they respect? The same hypocrites who get off by consuming porn and women’s bodies come to remind us how shameful our bodies are and why they must be covered and speak against the women they just consumed for their own pleasure. And if their sexism isn’t hostile it definitely is benovolent and creeps up everywhere and it’s very prominent during quarantine which means it’s only hurting women more. My dm’s have gotten very interesting because men are getting hornier and more sexually aggressive during quarantine. Which means more unsolicited dick pics and comments on my body. Which also means if you have a look at those men’s stories they’d be bashing the “behaya” women and I just have to laugh at how comical all that is at this point. I was recently told that I “can’t take a joke” but the joke was how men are doing all the work at home now and how their wives are bossing them around. It’s funny how after all that really goes down, we are taught that it’s women who “boss you around”. The statistics of the entire world prove otherwise. It’s funny how women are considered gossip loving, catty and vain for the same reason men are considered opinionated. While we are confined in our homes it’s noteworthy that the majority of people suffering right now are doing so because of the confinement of the minds of those in power who silence us and don’t want anything different. They don’t ever want to expand their mind to anything different than what benefits them. It is important to let go of the patriarchal judgement and to not be afraid to make this about gender. If the patriarchy can be loud why can’t we? And misogyny and the effect it has on women is the loudest secret we keep.

I speak from a place of immense privilege and that is why it was important for someone like me to talk about it. I know how treacherous times like these can be for those with unfavorable living conditions. There are people out there who do love you, support you and are there for you. It is good to acknowledge the discrimination and to question the culture you live in and to try to bring forth change. Without change, there is stagnancy and nothing good ever grows or goes there. There are many things that we’ve been taught and as women we need to unlearn which is a tough but beautiful process. How someone chooses to mistreat you is not your fault or a show of your character, rather it is theirs. Your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing matters the most and you are doing your best. It’s okay to reach out if not for help then to help but do know that putting your needs before others is vital and does not make you selfish. No matter what the world tells you, you are not an emotional support animal. Put yourself first. We’ll get through this and it’ll be yet another thing that’ll prove them wrong. Take care of yourself, you don’t know how amazing your existence is.

Manahil is a 19 year old, badass, raging feminist. You can see more of Manahil on her Instagram by the name of @thatfreakcalled_manahil.

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