Growing up in a South East Asian country was a great experience. It also was confusing because the double standard is real. And there’s a double standard for almost everything.
I was raised to think that excessive make up was wrong.
But women then wondered if I was happy when I didn’t put any make up on the morning after my wedding.
It became more confusing. I was raised to think that precocious girls were going to get raped or coerced into bad things just because they knew so much more about life.
But then I was married off to a stranger and I wished I had been precocious. It would’ve saved me from some abuse at the hands of other women after I got married.
I was always told that strangers shouldn’t be engaged in a conversation or even eye contact.
I was married to a stranger. We were both strangers to each other. All merits of arranged marriages aside, the process of knowing a stranger as your significant other/better half/ life partner is slow and sometimes, bewildering.
My parents’ favorite celebrities were Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Audrey Hepburn, Elvis Presley and Rekha.
They raised me to not even consider entertainment as a career. I didn’t want to be an entertainer but would’ve liked the option available.
In conservative Pakistan, show business is for academic failures. Successful and smart people do other things.
I went to a school where we were taught Shakespeare and his heady love stories. Before I was thirteen I had read almost all of Shakespeare’s romantic work, some very explicit in its double entendres. I had teachers who didn’t hold back when expecting us to write about his work like was his due. Needless to say, what some people submitted was high level English writings with a slightly erotic edge. Teachers went gaga over these “out of the box” thinkers and writers. Those who didn’t see any glory in romantic love at 12 and 13 years of age always scored low on tests because of how they boringly interpreted these stories.
But then I had this rule where I couldn’t be friends with boys without teachers reporting to my parents about how all my friends were boys in unsavory terms .
The confusion that they subjected us to was messing with our perception of right or wrong and it became a way of life.
My school was very strict about following the “uniform”. No one, no girl particularly, could deviate from it. We didn’t have a dupatta, the traditional garb that Pakistani women wear to cover their chests as per Islamic guidelines. We couldn’t cover our chests while at school. At home, I couldn’t be found without a dupatta after I hit puberty. Each morning as I carried my bag into the bus I felt oddly naked. My cousins who went to my school too, in an act of rebellion, decided to cover their chests with dupattas. They were threatened with expulsion. And my aunt told her daughters to shove it.
Agency over body? What’s that? My cousins were called precocious and the teachers openly called them shameless for even discussing that they’d like to cover their breasts in accordance with Islam in a country which is called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. According to the teachers, “Why are they thinking about their breasts when they should be focusing on other things in school?” Talk about answering an adolescent’s questions about agency, rights over how they want to display or not their bodies and how to find their place in the world!
People who create double standards are powerful people like politicians, teachers, religious leaders, social activists, celebrities, philanthropists. How can a school child go up against the system made by powerful adults? My cousins took their dupattas off while at school.
Boys were allowed more. Way more. Why do people act so surprised when women accept patriarchy as a way of life? Most of us haven’t known anything else. While the girls were asked to comply with the atrocity that the uniform was, the teachers found it endearing that guys were rolling their sleeves up, unbuttoning their shirts down to their navels during recess and slipping love cards in girls’ bags. They were creating the very system of social injustice. Men were getting a pass at setting the sexual tone. Men were getting a pass at initiating relationships. Men were facilitated in creating a double standard.
Not all of my friends conformed though. One got married during college to her high school boyfriend. Yes! Despite the uniform and the restrictive thinking and the double standard, many millennials broke free. She got married, had three children in four years, realized that high school sweethearts can be douches too, got divorced and raised all kids on her own. She never got married again because people didn’t want a woman with three kids and an ex-husband. Her ex-husband is on his third marriage, despite having five kids and two ex-wives. Did someone scream double standard? I hear you!
Another one never married. She had a brief relationship with a woman that her Pakistani parents didn’t approve of because Islam doesn’t allow homosexuality. My friend isn’t a homosexual though. In her parents’ abusive marriage she saw a side to a man that only represented power and its abuse . Men lost all attraction to her after she and her mother were victims of domestic violence for decades until she escaped to college. Men scared her.
Some got married to men of their parents’ choice. Men who were vetted out and investigated. Some of them still had broken marriages, infidelity, financial abuse, domestic violence, in-law abuse.
None of my friends who were smarter than their age, who knew their body more than I did, who had had a relationship or two before they got married, have bad marriages or horror stories to tell anymore than my friends who were more like me.
They’re all just as successful as I am. They have happy marriages despite past relationships. They are making money even though many didn’t complete any professional education.
Their life is exactly like mine. Except the double standard. They never lived it. And because they didn’t live it, because they defied it, went against it, uplifted other women on the way up, they have no double standards themselves. Because they touched my life like they did, they have shown me how to live above biases and false ideas of how women should be. And because they have never endorsed the duality of our social faces, they have only one face. That face is the truest face of all humans.