Misogyny at home in South Asia

Am I home? 
Yet I find myself disjointed. 
What is a place that rips off my … 
The horror that open air cannot be accessed without permission 
Permission denied 
The demons outside my four walls that jeer, leer  
And boil my core 
If home is where I burn, then where do I breathe? 

Amidst a whirlpool of emotions, juxtaposed desires and an array of questions, I decided to take a year off from college to regroup, travel and acquire some professional experience. But that meant going home to Bangladesh first. And I had my problems with that.

Dhaka is my home, yet a vivid imagination had lent me a different imagination of how a home is meant to be. Being in a Mount Holyoke for three years had essentially let out all the free birds Dhaka had caged inside for years before. I began to feel claustrophobic, and I knew exactly why. It was because misogyny was shamelessly imprinted in the culture–my culture. As South Asian culture is quite family-centric, I began to look at people I loved as caricatures depicting women-are-weak.

So many South Asian families experience misogyny blending into the standard household management technique–patriarchy.  Allow me to illustrate–as a girl I am not supposed to stay out till late, stay out for too many hours, opine too “aggressively.” As a girl, my desire of imagining middle-class women’s emancipation is laugh-worthy. I don’t mean to vent my anger against this sort of misogyny. Rather capture the voice of members of the class I most closely interact with i.e. the middle-class and upper middle-class women who are required to filter their desired endeavors. And to expose how returning home affects hundred of abroad-educated students compelled to return. 

Family sticks out as the most important deterrent to shaking this status quo, and ironically is responsible for the secret agony of unfulfilled dreams of so many women. Instead of the role of family and home is to vacuum–clean the “dirt” of women’s dreams. Despite the exponential increase in female enrollment in education in Bangladesh, their course of life is still mediated by decision-makers outside themselves. The anxiety to have to deal with the qualms that will inevitably surface upon the mention of an “un-womanly” endeavor prevents these women from ever voicing what they would like to do–travel, cycle around the border, photograph streets, ask questions to pedestrians, be a professional athlete, stay out late to see the Classical Music festival complete, etc. Are they preposterous demands? I think not.

One of the most painful ways misogyny is manifested at home is eve-teasing. Eve teasing is a euphemism used in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan for public sexual harassment, street harassment or molestation of women by men. It is a form of sexual aggression, that ranges in severity from sexually suggestive remarks, inadvertent brushing in public places, catcalls, to outright groping. Many feminists and voluntary organizations have suggested that eve-teasing refers to the temptress nature of Eve, placing responsibility on the woman as a tease. When I walk down the streets, men gawk at me. These men ogle at passing woman like they could undress them shamelessly with their leering eyes. Women clutch on to their shawls with heads down to block out the leering and, in some cases, jeering.

Where walking in the streets continue to be a problem for women, education statistics are not a satisfactory indication of development in this case–qualitative support for the education offered must also be in place. And in this way I continue to spot ways I can get involved to improve things “when I grow up.” Here is how Mount Holyoke taught me well. This is what the gap year is helping me to realize deeply–that I cannot soar without connecting to my disjointed roots. My blood boils, and I have found the momentary solution to the claustrophobia–by staying defiant of misogyny.

(Written for Mount Holyoke News)

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