A Letter of Apology to Every Pakistani Girl Ever!
A few days ago I shared a post on my Instagram, asking girls if they suffered from low self esteem and if they did, then to share their challenges with me in a Direct Message on the app. I expected a response from a few girls, ten at max, not more. After all, sharing one's intimate life story is never easy and people are either not comfortable being vulnerable in front of a stranger or do not realize they are struggling with a case of low self esteem altogether. I was blown away by the overwhelming outpouring of stories that flooded my inbox as I opened the app the next morning. I was surprised how desperate all these girls were to share and find a solution to their problems. They accepted and acknowledged their weakness and were willing to go beyond it.
For me, that in itself was progress right before my eyes. I realized we live in an age where the young generation is so well aware of what personality traits they ought to be aspiring to, and do not shy away from admitting their own weaknesses to not only themselves but to others as well. On top of that, they are proactive to step beyond these weaknesses, do whatever is in their limited means to be a better version of themselves. However, this silver lining was naturally overshadowed by the content of the stories that were shared and that is what has led me to right this letter of apology, for someone ought to apologize to all these women.
This is a letter to every woman out there, young or old, who grew up in Pakistan with the sincerest apology that I can muster on behalf of our Pakistani society. I didn't realize what all you went through, and I had totally forgotten that I had gone through it too, until recently it all came back to me.
A) Sorry You Don't Have Any Friends!
I'm deeply sorry that you are a product of a society where the most basic element of a person's self development, a social life, is kept sacred for the male gender. Women may or may not engage in it once they're married. So we're talking about some time in your twenties, you may start to experience what it's like to have a social life. You think I'm exaggerating? Majority of the stories I received were about girls feeling alone, not having any friends, not having the confidence to talk to people because well they never had any friends. It's interesting how this issue doesn't really arise in most boys. Basically we condition girls either consciously or subconsciously from a very young age about how their place is in the home. A girl ought to return home after school and stay at home throughout the day. She MAY be allowed to go out on some school events, etc. but going out to meet a friend is absolutely ridiculous. Fast forward to the age of 16 where the boys are going out on the streets to play sports or simply to meet friends on their own, but a girl must still justify why she must go out along with every intricate detail of who all she will meet, where she will be, and how long she'd be out for. Often times girls wouldn't even bother with the effort required to convince their parents to just meet a friend. It's something so banal yet so important, and we strip girls from it without even realizing the impact it has on the girl's self esteem and confidence, or the fact that we leave these girls devoid of any form of help they could've received from their friends through challenges in their personal or professional life.
B) Sorry You Can't Choose How You Want to Look
Growing up I was told how I ought to behave. My brothers were too of course. But you see, boys could get away with a lot because they were boys. Girls on the other hand have to learn a lot more responsibility from day one. And then people say girls tend to mature a lot sooner than boys. It's not biology. It's the society. It FORCES women to become mature a lot sooner than men. I digress. I was told how I ought to sit, how I ought to dress, how long the length of my hair should be, what kind of limited western clothing I could wear and under what special circumstances, etc. In fact, wearing jeans was like going to war. You really had to fight for an outfit. Again you might think this is so trivial and again here's a feminist blowing shit out of proportion. Here's a real life analogy that I'm sure MANY can relate to. When my brothers whined about how uncomfortable shalwar kameez was on Eid, my parents would let them change into jeans because they should be comfortable. But imagine if I decided to wear jeans on Eid! Oh hell no! A woman wearing jeans on Eid is to date considered an anomaly. You still see media portraying the vile female characters in jeans and the innocent ones in ONLY shalwar kamiz. That is the weight we give to dressing for women. It's not about who you are, it's about what you wear, and that is decided by the society, not you. Of course we don't want to consider how important dressing is to the self esteem of any individual, be it a boy or a girl. It's one of those things where an individual begins to learn who they want to be. The colors that will define them, the look that will give them the boost in their confidence that they need, or simply give them the level of comfort that they require. It's such a basic right yet it's remarkable how it's not even considered as such in our society. Instead, the girl is policed not only by her own family, but by the members of society around her just because they think it's their inherent right to put her in place.
C) Sorry You're So Indecisive
This is one aspect that REALLY makes me angry and laugh at the same time. From day one, we teach girls how they must learn to compromise, to be submissive, to embrace the fact that things will not go their own way and they might one day be displaced completely, but their life will go on. We tell girls what they need because they don't know better. Anything that THEY would want for themselves must be thoroughly fought for. You can't just TELL your parents that you're going for a summer road trip with your friends even if you're 25. Not as long as you're under their roof. Oh and let's not forget the classic line, 'Shaadi ke baad jo kerna hai ker lena', along with the paradoxical messaging of 'Shaadi ke baad jo husband kahe ga, in laws kahein ge, waisay hee kerna parhe ga'. At no point, do we give women the right to their own agency, the right to simply decide for themselves what they want to do and how. From the important things like their studies, their career, their mobility, their interactions, to subtle things like how they should make their hair, what color of lipstick is allowed, even to what the most appropriate way to laugh is. It's no surprise then that these girls grow up to become women who can neither speak up for themselves, nor make a decision when asked to make a choice. And when they're asked to make a decision on the most simplest of things like what they want to eat, or what their favorite color is, it's no wonder they can't decide. And that's the butt of most jokes for men, how indecisive this woman kind is. Hmmm, I really wonder why!
D) Sorry You've Been Taught to Apologize For Everything In Life
A woman must be willing to compromise. We see our moms do it, we see our aunts and grandmothers do it, and we are taught that it is the value we must hold close to our hearts if we want a happy home and a satisfied husband in the future. A good wife does not fight, she does not anger her husband who has been working hard all day, and she must do whatever is in her means to satisfy his needs. On top of it all, the false messaging in the name of religion teaching women that they ought to satisfy men's needs irrespective of what they want unless they want the angel's curse upon them all night, does not help either. Of course you find yourself apologizing for more than you should. You end up believing that everything IS indeed your fault. And since you've never really had a chance to tell yourself that you're good as you are, you also probably believe you're totally worthless and everything wrong that happens IS INFACT YOUR FAULT. I'm sorry you weren't taught to respect yourself more and see yourself for your true worth. I'm sorry that despite being in a violent home, being a victim of domestic abuse, you still think you probably deserve it all.
E) Sorry For Taking Away Your Voice
You've been told what you can and cannot do your entire life. You've been told that your father, brother or husband will decide your fate and every little thing concerning your life. I'm sorry you've grown up or are growing up as someone who was never allowed to choose what you wanted to do for yourself. I'm sorry you have to fight for every right and perhaps now you've decided not to bother with it all anymore. Or you think that it's what you deserve, as a woman, to have someone else tell you what you should be allowed and shouldn't be allowed. And now you don't feel like raising your own voice because hey, what's the point anyway.
F) Sorry for Gauging Your Worth on the Basis of How Soon You Get Committed
It's heartbreaking how most girls see their worth not on the basis of their achievements, their talents and all the awesomeness that makes them who they are, but rather on how soon they get engaged or tie the knot with someone, anyone. We teach girls that the purpose of their lives is to get married and to have children and that is literally all they aspire to once they're a bit older. When their friends start getting married and they're still not even close to being committed to someone, they start questioning their worth. They don't see their achievements, educational or professional, or the fact that they are doing so much with their lives. They don't even believe that they could live a perfectly happy life on their own without needing a man in their lives. In fact, they're totally willing to leave everything, their career, their degree, their families, and friends all for the sake of one husband.
G) Sorry We Keep Telling You You're Just Not 'GOOD ENOUGH'
The television media and now the digital media, all keep reinforcing the messages of the fashion industry, that as a woman you will never be good enough. You're not beautiful until you've got the latest makeup collection, or you're a size zero. A lack of diversity in the models we see means majority of the girls end up hating their own body. They grow up being critical of everything on their body and literally cannot think of a single aspect of their physical being that they love. It's ridiculous but not surprising but all too common. I was looking at my photos from two years ago. I have a whole batch of unedited pictures that I never touched because back then I thought I looked fat, or my nose looked too big, etc. While going through them today, I was just admiring how pretty I looked in every single one and remembered exactly how I felt two years ago. So what changed? Me! In these last two years I have learnt to appreciate myself more and be comfortable with myself. I have learnt to love my body for what it is and it has been truly liberating. The way I see life has become different, along with how healthy my mental health has been. Unfortunately, most girls and women are still stuck in the rut where they undervalue their bodies, their features and basically every aspect of their physical self. I'm sorry we live in a society that makes you think like that on a daily basis.
BUT KNOW THAT ALL IS NOT LOST!
Like I mentioned earlier, we've already progressed to an age where young girls are already aware of their weaknesses and are willing to improve themselves through whatever opportunity that is available to them. This is the generation that has the potential to change how THIS society is functioning right now. These are the girls/women who are entering the socio-economic space and claiming them slowly and steadily. They might still be getting many setbacks, but they're not willing to back off. Imagine when they raise their children, and if they do it right, we'd actually be seeing a completely different mindset of the Pakistani society. From being the one that killed the self esteem of young girls before they could even hit puberty, we could be seeing one where women would be standing tall and proud right next to their male peers, competing with them on an equal level field. It doesn't just have to be a dream. Katra Katra ker ke darya banta hai and I personally believe that for every empowered girl, we'll be seeing an impact on easily 4-5 individuals around her. Through my journey of empowerment, I was able to shape the values of not just myself, but my parents, my siblings, and even my friends. You don't realize how much power you hold once you have your own voice and you know what you need to do with it. So stand tall my fellow sisters. THIS IS OUR AGE! Let's get out there! Do whatever it takes to empower yourself. Do it not just for yourself, but for the generations that will depend on you. It's not a privilege, it's your responsibility. And I can tell you one thing for sure, you CAN do it!
Sign up for the upcoming Super Session on 'Confidence Building - Self Esteem' on Thursday 28th Sep, here.