A friend and I recently were discussing how many stories written by modern women are continued fantastical versions of a real story. How they continue to endorse the need for a savior. How they have not helped with breaking the narrative. In fact, they further endorse the Cinderella stories because they show a modern day woman who is saved by chance or luck or men or other women. Very few women have channeled their inner bereft woman to create their happiness.
But it is also a valid argument that if women had to fight through the chaos themselves then why conform to society so much? If they had to fight on their own anyway, why not rebel and live a life of their own choice? It’s easier to live a life of choice. Or so I thought….
I used to think that choice is a great thing to have. That choice empowered us. It brought autonomy and agency. I thought anyone who didn’t have choice was doing themselves a disservice by not fighting for it.
Time proved facets of this ideology wrong. Choice is a privilege is what I learned. It is awarded through class privilege. It works through generational independence. Choice isn’t up to the oppressed to win. Choice is up to the powerful to afford everyone.
People frequently use words like “pro choice” and “anti choice” with a set system of ideas that each main ideology encompasses. Sometimes I wonder if we truly understand what being pro choice is. Or what being anti choice would be.
When I wrote my first novel, many questions were raised by the audience about the two female protagonists. Well, for starters, people insisted on calling Nighat an antagonist but I refuse to call her that. Victims of internalized misogyny aren’t antagonists if they perpetuate the cycle. However victims of internalized misogyny can be heroes if they end the cycle. It’s an issue of choice. But many women who face misogyny don’t get the choice. Those who go through it and come out with choice like Maha are the true heroes. They hold hope for everyone. They’re the truly drained-of-power women who come out the other end, whole and stronger. It’s rare but it happens.
Tanya, the other female protagonist besides Nighat, was actually the exact opposite of Nighat. She was a rich girl who took choice over and over. She was born empowered and she remained with a fair amount of power. Is it fair that some of us have more power to choose? Probably not but life isn’t fair.
As I was writing Tanya’s character many similarities emerged. She was a medical student much as I was once. She had a physician dad like I had. She had a mother who was educated enough to understand the concept of free will. But there was one stark difference! In the millennial Pakistan when I was growing up, I didn’t get the choice to be. This is probably why when someone asked if Tanya was based in me I wanted to tell them that nothing about my life or my parents’ is at all like Tanya’s. I had a life more like Maha’s. Dictated, strategized, planned to an inch of its existence and overall patriarchal.
I was another Disney Princess. I had the white picket fence that I lived in with my parents and three siblings. We had two career-oriented parents, a nuclear family system, highly motivated group of siblings and money. In the days when I was growing up, this was all you needed to be whoever you wanted to be.
I went to the best medical school in Karachi. I met some most eligible bachelors on dates that were set up for me. I lived a life of such bubble-vision that I’m surprised I can walk steadily on flat ground today.
Soon a prince came with the other glass slipper and I became his. Here started the second leg of my fairytale. I continued to have the choice of spending, studying, chasing a career and ultimately becoming an independent woman. Or so I thought…..
It didn’t take long for me to realize that lack of maternity leave, working while dealing with morning sickness, gender pay gap, workplace gender inequality, workplace inequity, stereotypical assumptions about my country and my religion, the significance of my skin color and workplace misogyny were real things. It didn’t take long to meet patriarchy again. It didn’t take long for patriarchy to put its boot on my neck again.
The glass slipper that I had worn with so much pleasure and even some arrogance got tighter. My privilege was taken from me. I became one with many female physicians in the United States of America who are fighting to have the choice of a family while working competitive careers, the choice to career-switch within medicine, the choice to own their destiny.
The fight continues but here’s what I want to say. The glass slipper shouldn’t have gotten tighter when oppression got to me. It shouldn’t have gotten uncomfortable when I sat in the hot seat. It shouldn’t have broken because someone’s kitchen got hot.
It should’ve gotten stiflingly small for my gigantic privileged feet when the first woman around me had asked for help and didn’t get it. When the first woman demanded for equality and was shushed. When the first woman died when she couldn’t get prenatal care. When the first woman didn’t get her first choice. The glass slipper should’ve gotten tighter a lot sooner.