Of all the misfortunes that befall women in our society I think the hardest is an idle husband. A husband who doesn’t work, doesn’t earn, doesn’t do home chores, and neither does he go away and leave the woman (and kids) alone. A woman stuck with such a husband is in a quandary.
An idle husband (nikthatto shauher) is not an uncommon phenomenon in our society. Women suffer in silence accepting their condition as fate. They know the treatment of this diseased situation is divorce. But they don’t want a divorce because of the stigma attached.
“In women,” Bertrand Russell said, “zest has been greatly diminished by a mistaken concept of respectability”.
Zest is an in-born human capacity to enjoy life, to be interested in the world and the varied and the beautiful things it has to offer. In our society, I think, this basic human instinct is, to a large extent, killed in women not only by a mistaken concept of respectability but also by a distrust of men inculcated in women by men themselves.
Take for instance travelling. Not till very late, a woman’s going out of her house for pleasure was considered a horrible, ignoble act. Times have definitely changed. The women who have the opportunity and desire to travel in-land or abroad, do travel. Still, by and large, conventional thinking persists — that it’s dangerous for girls to travel unless they are duly chaperoned. Girls who do travel may have to face raised eyebrows and sarcastic remarks.
The concept (and practice) of taking up to four wives has always intrigued me. Rather, enraged me. I always thought irritatingly, ‘Well, if a man can take four wives why can’t a woman take four husbands?’
As I grew up and delved further into the question I realised the complexity of the issue and naivety of my stand: polyandry is no answer to polygamy. Telling the kid one’s not sure who his father is among the four guys is as confusing as the disclosure that the poor soul has got four mothers (one real, three step)!
How shall I begin? The same old story — the quaint ritual of match-making that goes on in our society. Well, if you are a woman and single too, the subject is emotionally charged, especially so if you belong to a bourgeoisie set-up where your parents and you have no way out but to allow people — prospective mothers-in-law, to be exact — to come and have a look at you.
Perhaps at this stage of my life I can talk about it with ease. All the emotions and the rage have gone out of it. The mist has dissolved and I can see clearly now. Or so I think.
Previously published on 20th October, 1983
The other day a friend of mine and I were talking about women and sports. She said, “I’m not in favour of women jumping, shaking, running, exhibiting their bodies in front of men.”
I was a bit surprised at her attitude. Yet, I wasn’t worked up. Personally, I am not interested in sports. I have this attitude towards sport: ‘If somebody wants to play, let her/him play. And leave me alone.’
Published in Pakistan Journal of Women’s Studies: Alam-e-Niswan, Vol.2, No.1, 1995, Center of Excellence of Women’s Studies, Karachi University.
Truth, love, self-respect
Fragile playthings, made of clay
Crumble in a moment
Still, the world is beautiful
(Patthar ki Zuban, Fahmida Riaz)
It was a voice of a young poet communicating to the readers in the 1960s in Pakistan, in a patriarchal, class-ridden society under a military rule. The poems spoke of love of life, of yearnings for a beloved, of a muted sexual awakening. Despite being written in a traditional romantic vein, a certain vibrancy, a hesitant questioning, a subtle mockery of the norms, and a well-rounded lyricism set those poems apart from the run-of-the-mill Urdu poetry. And the fact that it was a voice of a woman, with an awareness of herself as a female growing up in a world where her feelings, her thoughts, her actions are circumscribed by traditional mores:
While walking down the busy street or waiting for a rickshaw and trying hard to ignore men’s crude stares, I am often overwhelmed with a sad reflection: things haven’t changed.
I then correct myself: men haven’t changed. These are the same odd glances I braved as a teenager. Commuting to college and back home in public transport had been an ordeal and going to Bohri Bazaar dreadful.
As a woman you have to brave many a storm. And the list of minor emotional crises is long. But those keep fading from your mind as you grow stronger.
There is one thing can never forget. Your first menstruation. How can you? The shock, the horror, the trauma. The degree of intensity many differ for each of us. But intense it is – certainly!
Social fantasia beamed on PTV make me squirm many a times. Soapy stories of the worst kind, they usually revolve around women who are either weak or wild – damaging stereotypes that subtly strengthen wrongful images of women.
PTV’s popular stereotypes: rural woman. Meak, submissive, pitiable creature, with no control whatsoever over her destiny. If wealthy, she is vile and creates trouble for others. Lower-class urban illiterate woman. Pushes her husband into corruption. Else indulges in petty jealousies and social gossiping. Educated middle-class woman has nothing to do except NOT to get any suitors and be a burden to ageing parents. If married and working, plays havoc with her married life. Upper-class women: frivolous, immoral, pretentious.
Sometimes it seems to me as a people we score poorly in problem-solving behavior. That is, we often exhibit a lack of initiative and mental synthesis to attain a goal when faced with a situation of some complexity.
We have a tendency either to ignore the problem altogether or shove it under the carpet. By no means do such tactics shield us from the effects of something gone wrong. A problem, in fact, if not solved creates a myriad of other problems.