My double life…..

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.

9 Comments

  1. Spiritual or Truth seeking journey is very subjective in nature. There are some things in life, which must be experienced at personal level. to know them. Therefore, we can only share general concepts or feelings, but the actual reality has to be discovered and experienced by the person himself or herself. I have been engaged in this journey for a very long time and still struggling. I think I will continue to struggle till my last breath because it is such an enticing and beautiful journey that it must never end. And I do not want it to end since it has given me the best reason to stay engaged with life. Now, this feeling is again a subjective matter. Anyway, may we all find the Truth about our existence and our Creator before we leave this planet. Enough for now.

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  2. I agree with it in general. And it applies to Muslims or religion just like it applies to anything that we follow with a conviction in life. I have led a largely “liberal-appearing” life but would still see myself as spiritual and religious. Conviction to the cause changes perspective.

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  3. Thank you for sharing your insights. I think I have been misunderstood. God or religion is not bad at all, in fact, the most precious thing one may have in this life. All I was trying to say is: Unless one searches for Truth or God, one is bound to be victim of religious traditions. The most enlightened person in this world would be the one who has consciously discovered and established connection with God. He or she would be the most accommodative and loving person one would come across. So, if we see hatred in the name of faith, that means those people are not following God, rather something else. Again, I would emphasize; unless we establish a conscious bond with our Creator, we are not following God. And if you do a kind of survey on these lines, as I keep doing for myself, you will find very very few people, who have given sufficient thought to this matter and have in fact established a bond with their Creator. Hatred and faith cannot coexist. Therefore, wherever we find hatred, faith will not be there. Makes sense?

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  4. I don’t think following a religion is akin to being stuck in the dark ages. I don’t think so at all. There are many liberal religious people. There are many conservative millennials. Unfortunately Gen Z is facing a dilemma in how it is trying to assimilate and own cultures because first generation didn’t think culture was important. I don’t think culture was as important in the USA when I was growing up. Everyone was trying to be the same person. Diversity just very recently became the it thing and for good reasons.

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  5. I’m a Muslim so I’ve had these conversations with many people. I have taken a lot of interest in Islam since I was young and have had great insights from my parents and established scholars. I think Islam is a straightforward enough religion but like every school of thought has had interpretations. Having a double standard isn’t due to being a Muslim, or a certain race or a certain sexual orientation. It’s due to an inner fear that a straightforward, one-face-only approach won’t work because in general, society expects us to live a double life. Like you said! There is a certain preconceived notion about why people migrate. While economics may be a reason, economics anywhere isn’t so amazingly different that the people who truly have the potential to migrate would choose that as a reason. As a physician I would’ve been making the same in Pakistan. But would I be working with the same technology and research? Probably not! So there are many reasons to pursue a different horizon.
    Islam is alive in my mind and actually prohibits openly from living a double life. Unfortunately South East Asia has a long history of borrowed traditions and feigned culture and that bites us badly in the ass.

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  6. Forgot to add that the second and third generations usually merge very well in the United States since they grow up in a different environment. I know some people indoctrinate their next generations, which may keep them in dark ages for a little more, but ultimately after another one or two generations, that indoctrination usually does not work. As stated earlier, you will find very very few people in the first generation who change radically. Most of them are just stuck in dark ages.

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  7. I think the main reason as to why the first generation people coming from any country cannot or do not change is: They come to the United States for economic reasons primarily and therefore have not much interest in intellectual change. They come with a genetic make up which has been conditioned for a long time. Furthermore, not many people like you are really wanting to develop intellectually. The mind make up in Europe (USA essentially an extension of Europe) took centuries to change after intellectuals started challenging the then existing norms. It is a very long process. The sad part is that many developing countries in general are not really interested in this process, in particular Muslims, who are victims of their own faith, which has been completely distorted by their religious class for centuries. I came across a very interesting lady Muslim progressive, who said, “Islam died the day Prophet died”. I can certainly appreciate her comment. I think that appears very true. The people who do not embrace any philosophy consciously can never understand it. I think that is perhaps the reason the Muslims may not come out of their self created mess because I do not find any interest in them to know their faith consciously. I know there are exceptions, but in general the situation is not promising at all. Europe was able to come out of their mess when they challenged their well entrenched religious people. It was a very difficult journey but thankfully commonsense prevailed over illogical faith. I think it is the same situation with Muslims all over the world. Hope it makes sense.

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  8. With respectful disagreement, this is written by a person who grew up for a part of her life in Pakistan. She did the rest of the growing up in the USA. And sadly, the double standard is the same and sometimes worse because we don’t expect it from the “more cultured”.

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  9. Interesting analysis. I think that is perhaps the main reason that developing countries are not making desirable progress. A society must be honest to itself before they can begin the journey of progress.

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