“My value as a woman is not measured by the size of my waist or the number of men who like me. My worth as a human being is measured on a higher scale: a scale of righteousness and piety. And my purpose in life-despite what fashion magazines say-is something more sublime than just looking good for men.” This beautiful piece, written by one of the most awe-inspiring Muslim scholars named Yasmin Mogahed, has a special place in my heart because I realized a lot about myself and my identity when I read it. Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and observe the person in front of me in the mirror. I notice that this person is a woman. This person is me. I am alive, I am breathing. I am healthy and today, I have yet another chance to make the best of what I have. I have a chance to truly prove my worth to myself. In honour of the International Women’s Day of 2015, I want to take the opportunity to define my definition and experience of being a woman. And I must say, it is a continuing enthralling journey.
As a young girl, I always wanted to grow up as a strong independent woman. My definition of independence was a misconception, an illusion, a fallacy. I always believed that the definition of being a woman was associated with the concept of being “equal” to men, having the same “equal” rights as men. I do not entirely blame myself because we are always exposed to this misconception. The truth is, it was never a competition to begin with. Being a third-year Undergraduate Student at York University pursuing a degree in Social Science and Gender and Women Studies, I have had the privilege to clear a lot of my concepts about what it means to be “equal” to men VS what it means to be truly contended with your fate (your identity as a woman). I do not have any feminist thoughts because I do not want to be anything else besides a woman, nor can I think of a better contribution to society than that offered by a woman. Here is why…
Being independent does not, in any way, mean that you have to be “equal” to men. It is impossible to be equal to men because we are biologically different from them. Many women gasp at this so-called “harsh” reality but as a matter-of-fact, it is not just men being different from women but also women being different from women. For example, a pregnant woman has certain rights and privileges that a non-pregnant woman does not (such as maternity leave). Therefore, women are treated differently depending on their consequences, conditions, and scenarios. Independence means having the right to think freely and having the right to define yourself. A huge part of me believes that my identity as a Pakistani Muslim woman is something more pure and purposeful than being in a constant conflict of how I could be like a man or better than one. I grew up with the school of thought that a woman is known by how she raises a family – that does not in any way mean she is only confined to the private sphere of life. I was raised by a man and a father who never ever made me feel like he needed a son or a male figure in the house. Moreover, I am alienated and oblivious to the concept of not having the same rights and privileges as a non-Muslim and non-Pakistani woman. In fact, my parents have encouraged me to expand my knowledge, given me the best education, given me the best facilities, have always been compassionate, loving, and caring. I can proudly say I was exposed to both the public and the private realms of life. I would like to share a few words of wisdom that were given to me by the most beautiful woman on Earth, my mother, my Ami.
My mother always says that a woman is a nurturer. She is the most prominent person when it comes to raising a family. A mother’s upbringing to her child is imperative to his/ her character building. She is what keeps the family intact when everything else is falling apart. She will cry and feel your pain when nobody else does and she is the most respected person on Earth because heaven lies beneath her feet. Being a mother is the most phenomenal feeling in the world because you are bear the brunt of delivering a child, your carry a child in your womb for nine months and you do not really wince at the thought of it because you enjoy that privilege, you feel proud of it, blessed because of it. However, being a mother does not mean you cannot truly identity yourself individually. My mother, in addition to her experience as a being a mother, has always advised my sisters and I to be able to do almost everything. My sisters, who are happily married now (Alhamdulillah) are full-time working women and enthusiastically do domestic chores as well (often get help from their husbands too). They do not, however, do both of the things because they HAVE to but because they WANT to and CHOOSE to. In other words, your perspective about things change when you start to see things from a different and more positive angle. When it comes to being a mother, women should adapt to the concept of mothering – which is more of a choice and privilege/blessing – than motherhood – which is more of a need or requisite.
The reason why we are expected to balance both realms of life is because we can. We are emotionally and physically capable of it. However, the only aspects we are equal to men are on the grounds of being limitless, having the same amount of opportunities, and chances as them (perhaps even more). A woman is like an elastic band that can stretch and be flexible beyond imagination. Therefore, our concern and goal as a woman should be to transform ourselves into something extraordinary. The only way a woman can do that is if she closes her eyes to the people around her, stops comparing herself to other women and other people, stops competing with men, and stops trapping herself in the illusion that she can be “better” than men or “equal” to them because it is not a competition. It was NEVER a competition.
Every now and then, every woman should take a good look at herself in the mirror – irrespective of her class, race, religion, culture, ethnicity, colour, etc – and appreciate her outer beauty and inner beauty, not for any man, not for anybody else, but for herself. When I see myself in the mirror, I see a 22 years old Pakistani Muslim woman who does not need society’s standard of beauty or fashion to define her worth. She does need to become just like men to be honoured, doesn’t need to wait for a prince to save or complete her. Her worth, her completion lies in the world’s standard but endless faith in herself. So today, I want each and every beautiful woman to ask herself the same question, “Who am I? What is my purpose? What is my true identity?”