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     Volume 4 Issue 52 | July 1, 2005 |

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I know I am a Woman

Rubaiyat Hossain

I know I am a woman.
I know I was born not as a human being, but as a lesser being. A female, a Nari, a womanI always was an extension of a male, a Noro, a man. I am denied my individual identity as a person. Moreover, various religious, social, cultural, economic, and political imperatives push me down into the social category called 'woman.' As a woman I am treated very specifically in reference to my biological peculiarities in reference to the male body. The male is the natural, the normal, the rational, the centralI am the unnatural, the abnormal, the emotional, the peripheral, my silenced individuality must compensate for my biological distinctness, "[f]or him she is sexabsolute sexno less." The only identities I am offered are those of mother, sister, wife, and daughter. What if I refuse them? What if I just want to live for myself? What if I just wish to explore my own brain, speak my own voice, and create my own dreams? What if I just want to be a human being? What if I feel this world was created with all its beauty for me? What if I feel the moon is mine? What if I feel I want to fly high above the clouds on my own two wings? What if? What if? What if? What if? I have been asking ever since I was a little girl. Asking these questions led me to take up Women's Studies as my academic discipline, and it has opened up a third eye for me.

What I have learnt is that every woman needs their third eye open. Every woman needs to look through a gender specific lens in order to comprehend the otherwise transparent tropes of patriarchy. After all, patriarchy is probably the most ancient system of political domination invented my males. The domestication of women by raping, and impregnating them was the first building block of patriarchy. By raping the first woman, the cave man realized his strength of force and materiality over love and spirituality. Women's structural vulnerability to be raped and men's structural capability to rape is at the core of the superior male collective identity. Rape as a biological weapon is the monopoly of men, and it is via this weapon, they keep women under a constant sense of fear. Cultural stigma that is attached to rape victims, especially in a place like Bangladesh further accentuates the women's primitive fear of the male species. Thus we women, give the authority of our bodies to one single man through marriage. Thereby, one particular man becomes the legal proprietor of one particular female body. It becomes his responsibility to guard that female body from other males. Marriage entitles him to rape her lawfully as many times as he wishes. In a country where most marriages are arranged, and women are raised with little or no information about, and choice to explore their own sexualities, marital rape is no news. It is a well established state authority given to the males of our country.

Women are made to believe by heart that they are weak, vulnerable, stupid, emotional, and irrational. Women themselves believe that their position as subordinates, and sexual slaves to men is a justifiable one. The inequality between two genders has poisoned our understanding of religious, cultural, and social institutions. Our concept of romance is very clearly outlined with a notion of female subjugation. Therefore, it is not easy to come in terms with one's individual identity as a woman. It is a completely new path to walk on. It is a path that shows no light or gives no guidance. One has to struggle, strain their arms and legs in an attempt to stand up. One has to keep falling. One has to be pounded by contradictory forces. One has to be pulled into different directions. One has to feel like she has been thrown into a limitless sea. One has to bear the weights of her own female body with all its biological peculiarities in relation to the male body. One has to go to work with a nine month old baby in her belly, and perform with peak efficiency as a banker. For a woman to emerge into the public realm, and begin to explore herself as an individual means that she has to wage her battle in a thoroughly male world. She has to become part of a game plan originally designed for and by males. In this world she is harassed all the way through for the uniqueness of her sexuality. She has to render her pain of menstruation and pregnancy transparent in order to continue working just as efficiently as her male counterparts. She must play his game and abide by his rules. How is, then, she to avoid the trope of patriarchy?

The answer is: she can not. However, painful the answer may be, it is still the material reality of our time. Women are alienated from their own selves, and used as sexual and emotional slaves by the omnipresent power structure of patriarchy. It is foolish to assume that men would come forward to demolish this system. And why would they, since they are the ultimate beneficiary of the system? They are made to believe as little boys that they are superior, they are better, they are smarter, they are stronger, they are more capable, and finally they deserve the unconditional service of their mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. It is women, and only women, who can come forward to break the chains of patriarchy.

Since the beginning of the eighteenth century women have been coming forward through out the entire globe to claim their rights as individuals. Two hundred years down the road, we are still not any where near the goal of gaining our recognition as free individuals. The third wave feminism in the West has taken the route of abolishing the category of gender all together. The focus has shifted towards homosexual and trans-gendered women, rather than heterosexual women existing and functioning within the parameter of patriarchy. The shark jaw of consumerist media has turned the Western mainstream women into pure sexual objects. Six out of ten women I knew in my college dorm in the United States had some sort of an eating disorder. Women, today must starve themselves, or stick their heads into the toilets to puke up their meals to reach a level of thinness advertised in the media. Thanks to globalisation, women in Bangladesh are also contaminated by the seeds of image and eating disorder. But we have more real issues at hand here, such as the alarmingly rising level of violence against women, especially rape, murder, and acid attacks. In a country like ours, we do not have the luxury or the escapist attitude like our Western counterparts to seek peace and protection in homosexual partnerships. On the contrary, we are faced with the difficult challenge of co-existing with a culturally, socially, and religiously enforced value system of patriarchy. We have to exhibit our individuality from within the framework of heterosexual partnership.

The job ahead of us is not an easy one. The first step is to pop open our third eye, and witness the patriarchal transparency imposed on the domination and sexual slavery of women. We have to learn how to love the man who sleeps next to us at night, and still realise deep down that he is actually robbing us of our rights as free individuals. We have to love and respect our fathers, but we have to speak up against him in a loud tone because fathers are, after all, the founding pillars of patriarchy. We have to adore our sons, but never to treat them more specially than our daughters. We have to have feelings for our brothers, but refuse to pour him his glass of water or serve him rice on his plate at the dinner table. As women, the sacred responsibility falls on our shoulder to change the value system, and the gender biased practices within our own families. Demolishing patriarchy would be the ultimate triumph of humanity, since it would establish a peaceful and equitable partnership between men and women, and establish justice in the most important and basic social unitthe family. As women it is up to us to carry on this job with patience not detestation, with a superior level of humanity not with violence, and finally by understanding the insecurities within men that trigger them to claim forceful superiority over women.

We will fall a hundred times, but we will keep standing up thousands of time. The opposite of success is not failure for us, rather it is quitting. We must remember we are free individual human beings, before we are someone's daughter, sister, mother, and wife. As resilient the women of Bangladesh have been in surviving acid burns, brutal rape, dowry murders, marital rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment at work placea new dawn of equitable co-existence awaits them, given they open their eyes to the inequitable and unjust practices they are made a part of everyday.

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