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Everyday sexism

By: Juggun Kazim

Being a woman isn’t easy but it doesn’t have to be a burden either. Why are women constantly expected to fall into predefined roles? Why can’t a woman just be herself, whatever that self may be?

I know you are probably rolling your eyes right now, thinking this is yet another rant about female empowerment. Not quite. Let’s just say that these are the pet peeves of a working wife and mother.

Let’s start with my favorite: why is it only a man’s right to look at the opposite sex or to make a comment about someone being attractive? Why is it ‘natural’ for a man but ‘inappropriate’ for a woman? The other day at dinner I made a comment about how ‘good looking’ a particular male actor was. In return, I got filthy stares and a pointed question, “Aren’t you married, Juggun?” My reply was simple, “I’m married, not dead. Last time I checked I could still appreciate beauty.”

When a woman gets married, people start asking her when she will quit her job. Note, not ‘if’ but ‘when’. The standard assumption is that no woman would want to work because she has a husband who takes care of her financially.

What shocks me is that people automatically assume that every woman wants nothing more than to give up everything she has worked for, just because she has signed up for marriage. What if a woman wants to work for her own personal savings? Or what if the couple’s economic situation requires a dual income household?

At social and family gatherings, the only question more predictable than ‘when are you getting married?’ is ‘when are you going to have children?’ Nobody considers that a woman may not be interested in being married or, for that matter, interested in men at all. Also, what if she physically can’t have any kids? Is this level of insensitivity really that necessary? Is it not possible to think of women other than as childbearing machines with no opinions or desires of their own?

Another unacknowledged part of a woman’s existence is the fact that bearing children may not be an unadulterated joy for her. Many women suffer, not just from post-partum depression, but also depression and anxiety while pregnant. This is hardly surprising because both pregnancy and child birth involve major hormonal and life changes. And in each case, women are supposed to just deal with them. Everybody just wants to know when a kid is going to show up. But very few feel the need to be there after the woman fulfills her duty of getting knocked up or delivering the child.

Going to therapy is out of the question because, as we as know, only crazy people go to psychologists. Instead, most women are left to deal on their own with whatever demons they are fighting. Often even the husband doesn’t care or understand. What one hears instead is ‘she is not the first woman to get pregnant. Dramay kiyon kar rahi hai?’

If a woman has a child and decides to go back to work, society immediately presumes that she is either broke or a selfish career-obsessed woman. The fact that a woman might actually love both her job and her kid equally and at the same time rarely occurs to anyone. And, of course, a working woman is unlikely to have any support from her husband, no matter what economic background he comes from. Apparently feeding, bathing and changing pampers is only a woman’s job, whether that woman is the mother or the domestic staff.

Something has got to give. Otherwise, more and more women will end up depressed, anxious and alone. Then we wonder why so many women these days opt to be single or divorced. Isn’t it fairly obvious?

Of course, there are exceptions. I salute the Pakistani men who support and stand by their independent and brilliant daughters, wives and mothers. But for the most part, this is how it is and this is how it will be. If you speak up you are being ungrateful. And if you don’t, you’re a mazloom. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Express Tribune