“How can a working woman be a good mother?” An assertive comment disguised as a question comes across women so many times during the day that ultimately it becomes a huge guilt for them, to work (read work for getting paid). But did someone ever realize that it’s not only paid work that generates guilt, a woman’s mere living on her choice becomes guilt at the end of a day. One of my Facebook friends was narrating how she was harassed by aggressive onlookers when one evening she just wanted to drive on roads and listen to music in car. She pulled down the car windows, and here came the wrath! I can imagine how it would have been.
Just thought to get the idea from my Facebook contact list, as my list is a perfect microcosm of the society we’re living in. There are hawks, there are moderates, there are seculars and there are very few agnostics / atheists and anti-religious people as well. There are people from political / social / economic elite, there are people from urban middle class, there are people from semi urban towns, from lower middle class, from educated (academically speaking) and semi-literate class – all of them. I thoroughly enjoy comments coming from all of them as it gives me great insight to anthropology of issues; we normally deal with in complete isolation. Although, I do understand the limitations of FB user generally and completely understand that a sample that uses FB, can’t be taken as a representative of our society. Without an academic generalization, we can somehow get an idea where the collective opinion is tilting to.
In order to get that sense, I posted a scenario, which might not occur in daily life of most of the respondents, but the possibility of which could not be set aside considering the “subject” of our story, being a human being. My question was:
A young wife, mother of three, wants to go cinema with one of her friends. The friend is a male. Should her husband ALLOW her to go with a male at the dead of the night? Three of our characters live in Lahore. What should the husband do? Please be concise and clear. We’ll analyse the result, which is going to be interesting for you to read!
The first response was from a male with a western name, in a strong NO. There were total 139 responses, out of which only five said a straight yes, only two could get the trick of my putting the word “ALLOW” in caps and put a question mark as to why she should be allowed! Rest of the people either said no, or suggested the husband of our story to allow her if the friend is her brother, cousin etc. But there came some very interesting points during all this discussion, which amply showed how women are taken among the class that uses Facebook, means the computers and the internet. This class has to be effluent enough to buy a computer, rent a computer in a net cafe, access a computer at workplace, or borrow a computer for leisure purpose. It must be the class with minimum level of education, or at least literate. It must be the class that could access internet, means in bigger cities or smaller towns of Pakistan, or may be abroad. Since majority of the respondents (99.9%) had Muslim names and displayed linguistic nuances and social jargon of Pakistan (or at the maximum north India), it is assumed that they were mostly Pakistanis.
It must be noted that I changed my question twice in order to get more natural responses from them. The second set of responses came for the following question:
I think my question was unfair. Let’s change it. A young handsome man, father of three, wants to go cinema with one of his female colleagues/friends. Should his wife allow him to go with a female in the dead of the night?
I changed it once again to the following question:
Alright alright . . . The wife wants to go alone. No male or female friend. Just alone. Cinema for herself. Then?
And finally, this one:
So guys, do we settle that wife shouldn’t go alone, her security, our religion – - – so many issues. But husband can. Right?
I record my observation on their responses here:
- Most of the respondents were males. Only two women became part of the discussion. One of them came up with a very strange aspect of the whole issue. It was shocking to see how gender relations are seen even among women.
- Any contact between man and woman is linked to sex and sexual aspect of relationships
- Men seem to be extremely suspicious of fellow male folk, when it comes to their contact with women. It seems all men behave in the same manner with women, overtly or covertly, which is why they would not allow “their” women to have any contact with a male.
- There seems to be just no concept of a relationship between men and women, which has no sexual connotation. That makes me extremely uncomfortable with all the men on my list, who are unable to see their contact with women in a platonic manner.
- There’s just no concept what so ever, of a woman leading her life on her own will. Men take a woman as their “owned” being, with all the rights on her life. A woman is expected to do anything and everything with their permission. Only two responses recognized the fact that a woman should need no “permission” from anyone before exercising the right to recreation, and that no o ne should have any right to allow or disallow her.
- It was strange to note, that men had no concern about themselves going out, but when it came to women, they had their ‘defence mechanism’ in full force. For some it was equivalent to catalysing a deterioration of moral code, for others it was repugnant to the religious injunctions. Some thought it would be dangerous for a woman to go out considering the “mentality” of men folk, others said it would be insecure for women to roam about in today’s circumstances of terrorism. It was rather strange to note that none of these insecurities could be cited to hinder men’s right to mobility. Although bombs do not recognize sexes before killing, but danger of terrorism was put in the way of women’s freedom.
- A woman went to the extent of saying that such a husband (the one who ALLOWS his wife to go out with a male friend) would actually be promoting prostitution. This was one of the most honest comments I must say. When a woman is out, she is seen no lesser than a SLUT by all and sundry. And if her husband is not seen encaging or “disallowing” her to move freely, he would be seen as a PIMP who draws certain benefits in lieu of “sending” his wife with someone.
Does that piss you off? I mean, the only reason for a woman’s existence is SEX. And this is conditioned so strongly among men and women alike, that it is just not possible for them to accept that women are human beings just like men. They can long for happiness, just like men do. Their happiness might lie outside the four walls of home, and outside the ambit of social roles attached to them, just like in the case of men. A woman might want to go out, without having to think about her being an object of sex. A woman might want to do little things to have fun, outside the home. A woman might like to have friends around her – male or female. A woman might like to experience the freedom of not asking her husband before going anywhere, at any point in time, just like men do.
On the contrary, she is expected to attach all her happiness around her family. Her morality, her goodness, her value of being – everything is linked to how she performs her social role. She has to be a good mother, a good wife, sister and daughter. Every role, please note, is to cater men. A woman is respectable only if she is a sister, mother or wife. There is no other way for her to claim respect in society.
A man would never think about religion before doing anything around his daily activity. But when it comes to women, religion rapidly comes into play. If it is mingling of the other sex with them, outside homes and family, things would be ok. But women of their own families should be taken in certain way, they should behave in certain way and talked about in certain way. This hypocrisy almost always goes unnoticed by our men folk, to sensitive about religious injunctions otherwise!
It is also interesting to see that religion which is brought in whenever it comes to the rights of women, it is never brought in play whenever cultural norms, which negate religious injunctions (Swara, karo kari, Badl-e-sulh, marriage with Quran, not giving women their right to inheritance etc.) are used to coerce women.
In brief, it was very clear to see all the responses that it is just not right for women to exercise their right to befriend with anyone, to have fun with their friends without being taken as object of sex, lead their lives with freedom of will and choice. And last but not least, to have fun.