I’m at a convention for engineers. These are all Pakistani women. With their nice Chanel and Hermes bags. They look wealthy. Age is defied by them. When you have money, age is a fleeting worry until the next time you sit in the plastic surgeon’s chair.
Their husbands are with them too. It’s a family retreat. We are all supposed to be here with our families.
Family? For a married Pakistani woman that always means her husband and any kids that she can bring. Actually, for all married women this is what it means. Family…. A word that could carry the world in it has such limited meaning for a woman that it has become suffocating.
I look around. My husband has already made friends with some other husbands. My best friend is coming too. She texted me,
“I’ll be late. He doesn’t wanna be there”.
I stare at the screen. Her husband is a jerk, I know. I don’t text back. She’d see that I’ve read her message.
I try to mingle. I have been such an introvert always that social gatherings shake my system violently. I was counting on my friend to be here before me but if anything, her social situation is even worse than mine. No! She’s not an introvert. She’s just married to a man who doesn’t quit the patriarch act even in places where most men do a fake act of feminism and alliance.
Soon the program starts. Women get up on the podium and make speeches. I’m not really listening. This crap about gender pay gap and gender equality and having more Hollywood superhero representation of women has never been my jam. I can’t identify with these problems. Maybe some women can but I can’t. These aren’t my problems. I don’t want twenty-five cents more than my male counterpart every hour to feel better about myself. I’d like it more actually if he stopped making jokes about the color of my skin or my modest clothing. That’s what I really care about but I know that it’s such a personal problem that no feminist movement would find much room in itself for this type of inane trouble.
I lean against the wall and watch my husband chatting the night away. It’s surprising that he has so much to say to strangers. At home he barely talks.
I’ve read many marriage manuals. I’ve also gone to therapy. The first year was with him. Then the therapist declared us cured. I realized after a month of quitting therapy that I needed to talk to someone so now I give five hundred bucks to my therapist just so I can talk to someone about how I grew up all wrong.
It’s not his fault, I’ve been told. We weren’t paired correctly, my parents assume. And even if we were, we probably didn’t put in the work in our early years to make this marriage successful, my friends with better husbands point out. Something must have happened. Everyone says marriage is work. Ha! If I knew that I would’ve never gotten married. I already had tons of work. A woman in a patriarchy is never without work. She’s always working.
I look at the women who have better husbands. What’s better about them, I wonder! That they hold their hands when they’re stepping out? Or they open the door to the car when their wife is getting in? Or they smile paternalistically when their wife makes a joke?
I have all that too. I guess your marriage is only as good as you assume. I don’t assume much so mine is bad.
My therapist is a brown woman. She tells me that brown men are introverts and their love language is sex. I sometimes listen and sometimes laugh out loud. If their love language was sex, they’d have sex like their wife wanted it. Their own version of sex and intimacy is just another leaf out of the playbook of patriarchy.
I told her I’m an introvert too. She rejected this idea. According to her, women can’t be introverted or they don’t go places. Guess despite all her claims of being a champion of women she is still going to be my lady patriarch. What a waste!
My friend enters. Disheveled, distracted, weatherbeaten. Followed by her husband. Tall, handsome, charismatic. All heads turned. Most people wanted to see what an ordinary-looking woman was doing with an exceptionally good looking guy.
Ah! Family. Marriage. Togetherness. Bliss. Goals.
Her life is anything but. The abuse that her soul goes through everyday is hard to explain. She earns more than her husband so no gender pay-gap problems there. She is walking hand in hand with him like an equal. Her eyes are dead but they have been for years. She had long, luscious hair many years ago but now has a few strands of strategically placed hair that is also turning grey.
Marriage is working for him. Not so much for her.
Her eyes find me. In a sea of strangers, two sisters can sense each other. The pain is so strong that it has its own vibration. Women like us have become those creatures that respond to seismic signals and gravitate towards each other. We can’t hide our truth from each other either. There aren’t many stories that we have written of our pain except in quiet moments of soul-burning existential apocalypses.
Their aren’t many accounts of the woman who apparently has it all but actually she doesn’t have any of it. What’s important to her is so insignificant to the capitalist world around her that her story has lost all truth or relevance. We can’t say what keeps us awake because what else do we want? We should be thankful as per the marriage, relationship and life gurus. The brown immigrant woman should be happy for making a name in a foreign world, the great West, the place where dreams become reality. The lessons of fortitude and gratitude are thrust in our faces over and over like we don’t have them inscribed on the insides of our flesh already.
No woman on the podium is happily married but she pretends to be. Women listening to them are sitting next to half-attentive men whose eyes rove over the bodies of other women around them shamelessly. There is open cavorting because the truth is lost in facts and the facts tell a story of gender inequality. My truth doesn’t make facts or any figures and neither does my friend’s. When you are not a part of the story, you don’t matter. If your story comes out, modern polite people who have learned social ways of empathy and compassion, empathize and sympathize. They tell you to talk to someone. You tell them you’re seeing a therapist. They smile knowingly. There you go, they say, your family is complete. Don’t you love having a therapist who can help with your communication and interpersonal conflicts? Don’t you love having a neutral voice?
I’m glad I’m an introvert. Because if I wasn’t I’d ask the women who are giving long speeches about what I want and what every woman wants how to douse myself in a cold shower so cold that my soul becomes numb too. I’d ask her ways to become more than an equal, become a woman. I’d ask why I am expected to follow a program, first of patriarchy and then of other women who think they know more than me of what I want and need. I’d ask her who writes stories of women like me. Does anyone? Probably not! My story is so boring with so many immigrant, brown, working elements that it’s just not pathetic enough to be told. It’s also not glamorous enough to be retold. It’s just that tacit story of my own personal feminism that no loud feminist finds feministic enough to tell.