rowing up, I was a bit of a nightmare for my parents. My father was the sole authority on all matters and my mother the passive caretaker. Angered and furious with this unequal relationship, I somewhat unknowingly became a rebel. What was acceptable to Ammi would not be acceptable to me. Whatever I was told, I would promptly do the opposite. I resented my mother for even allowing her voice to be snatched away. I felt it set the wrong precedent for my decisions and the path I wanted to carve for myself. She had told herself, I felt, that subservience was the key to happiness and maintaining the status quo was her responsibility. And so I became a feminist without even realizing it.
My feminism was about having the same curfew as my brothers. My feminism was about studying economics rather than medicine. My feminism was about wearing sleeveless shirts and mocking women in burqas. I rebelled so I could teach rather than work in a bank. I refused to cook and took driving lessons at a very early age. I thought I had figured it out. I would do everything a man is allowed to do and then some more.
I thought my friends who opted out of careers were wasting their life. I felt like women who chose to have lots of children were oppressed without even recognizing it. In my heart I was sure that women who listened to men were ruining it for the rest of us.
Then I started seeing how much joy and comfort my mother found in cooking, ironing, and cleaning for her family. I was discomforted by how she made it a labor of love. Working full-time with no pay, she was the happiest performing self-assigned tasks.
At first I reassured myself that she didn’t know any better, that she’d only seen this one kind of life. I trivialized her experiences and assumed they were inferior to mine. It took so many years for me to see through my biases. My mother was not chained to her circumstances with no chance of escape from domestic slavery. In fact, she chose to assert her womanhood in ways that were, although different from mine, equally valid. She was exercising her agency and will every single day; it was I who had denied it to her. She was not the one in chains; I was.
In some ways my entire belief system shattered. In other ways I was liberated. I saw bikinis and burqas as choices, albeit more politicized in some cases than in others. The quest for a high-flying career (in my case a Ph.D.) was no longer the source of meaning in my life. It was but another way of making my life fulfilling. Marriage no longer felt like feminist suicide. A stifling institution though it had been for many, I came to see how it could, if I chose it, work for me.
Last week was Valentine’s Day and I thoroughly enjoyed celebrating it in the most conventional way possible. I didn’t tell myself it was a commercialized charade aimed at making money. I didn’t feel the need to rage against The Man. Instead I spent Valentine’s Day thinking about the power of love, and appreciating the dramatic ways in which it can change you.
That’s right: I’m on a feminist trajectory even
can’t relate to anymore. But it’s very, very exciting,
The point isn’t that one can’t be an angry feminist legitimately. The point is that there are many ways to practice feminism. There are just as many feminisms as there are feminists. Each one of us is entitled to her own idea of what her life should feel like. What good is feminism if doesn’t empower people to do as they please and create meaning in unique ways?
My feminism is not the same anymore. It doesn’t make me angry with other women. It doesn’t hate men either. It makes me appreciate a woman’s right to choose, provided she is cognizant of her contexts. And it makes me curious enough to go beyond the rhetoric and learn about stories and insights women can give me that I had only projected onto them before.
Most importantly, I no longer feel sorry for “other” women: women who are separated from me by class, religious affiliation and other social barriers. I don’t assume I know what they want more than they do.
As for myself, my heady outrage as been replaced by a kind of peace. Heck, I can even see myself quitting my job to take care of my children one day – as long as it’s what I want, and as long as it works for me.
Rabayl Manzoor teaches Economics and Politics, and lives in Karachi out of habit rather than choice. She may or may not reply to e-mails at