If he runs wearing blue, she must sit dressed in pink. If he speaks up in a crowd, she must silently walk by head bowed. If tall, dark and handsome he roams the night, she must return home by daylight and scrub her face to a paler shade. If he works to build a career, she must push to bring a child. From time immemorial, a woman’s identity has been constructed in opposition to men. All that men choose not to be, becomes woman. Thus a woman chasing equality knows her existence depends on continuing to push against the pillar called man.
From demanding equal wages to protesting against rape; women young and old attempt to topple this pillar every day. During the Women’s March held across Pakistan on World Women’s day, a young activist was photographed holding a sign that read: ‘warm your own food’. The image garnered much attention on social media. In retaliation, a series was released with men holding posters which read: fix your own puncture, stitch your own clothes, and build your own bricks and the like. Now to assume women do not or cannot perform the said activities is simply inane.
Women throughout history have performed roles specifically set aside for men. Cleopatra ruled the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Emily Bronte penned novels under the male name Ellis Bell. Marie Curie received two Nobel prizes for her work in physics and chemistry. Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Occupations and activities have no gender but are constructed as such to ensure the pillar stands tall, thereby compelling women to push against it. But why must a woman compete with a man to be equal? Why must a woman prove she can fix her own flat tyre? Is matching a man’s every step the only means of undoing gender inequality?
The pillar called man has stood tall for centuries. It extends deep into the past and casts a shadow onto the present. Its history cannot be undone. The rights I have today are the result of struggles borne by generations of women, loosely termed feminists. Traditionally, the suffragette movement of the late nineteenth century is recognized as the first wave of feminism, although women such as Christine de Pizan were advocating for a society governed by gender equality during the fifteenth century. The suffragettes sought the right to vote and starved themselves for their cause.
Why must a woman prove she can fix her own flat tyre? Is matching a man’s every step the only means of undoing gender inequality?
In 1867, political economist John Stuart Mill proposed women be given the right to vote and the UK’s Parliament was in uproar. But with 73 votes casted in favour of women’s suffrage the movement continued to gather momentum. Alas in 1918, women over the age of thirty received the right to vote while men twenty one and older were granted the same right by Representation of the People Act of 1918. Ten years passed before the women’s age was lowered to 21. The feminists had finally won.
But feminism is by no means anti-men. The suffragette movement was not a call to bear arms against men, but a struggle by women to take control of their lives; to have a voice, to own property, to remodel society. Neither does being a feminist entail having to take over every task a man normally performs. A feminist simply demands equality. And men and women can be equal while being different. A woman continuing to push against the pillar will gain very little.It is more constructive to pursue personal development while disregarding what gender category a goal falls into.
Women today must push to exist as entities in themselves. It is futile to function in competition against the opposite gender. We are not at war with men. Hazrat Khadijah bint Khuwaylid was a very successful merchant in an age when women were permitted to do very little outside the four walls of their homes. Due to the success of her business, she earned the title Ameerat-Quraysh or Princess of Quraysh. She was also the Prophet’s (PBUH) wife. But history hasn’t forgotten her remarkable sense of business. Then why must we insist on pushing against the pillar in pursuit of equality?
A woman is not the absence of man. She must be free to create her own identity irrespective of gender– be it as homemaker or public figure. She doesn’t have to refuse warming her husband’s food to be equal. But neither is she obliged to warm it. A woman must be free to define herself in various ways. And to do so we must turn our backs to the pillar and walk off.
The writer has a master’s in media with a distinction from the London School of Economics. She tweets @mawish_m
Published in Daily Times, April 21st 2018.