There’s no point in online feminism if it’s not intersectional

Since we’re looking for the least privileged woman in the world I’d like to nominate my mother. True, she lives here in the West and has never gone hungry (well, at least for no more than a coupla days) but I think she’s somewhere near the bottom and a good a place as any to start.

My mother was born in a village in Kashmir. She was the fourth of 10 children and 1 of 8 girls. Her father was a community doctor and so earned a reasonable enough wage but with that many children they were never what we might think of as well off. So much so that Granddad worked hard to save enough money so that he could give his daughters a decent enough dowry. The plan was to marry them off as soon as they hit puberty thus lessening the burden on the family as a whole.

She was barely 16 when she was packed onto a plane ready to begin her new life in Great Britain. She had barely enough of an education so that she could read letters sent to her in Urdu by her mother, my nan. She was just a child. But one my grandparents couldn’t afford to feed. And so she was palmed off on the first willing man to take her on. My father was 10 years her senior and didn’t want to get married. Or at least he did, but not to her. He was in love with a woman of mixed heritage and his mother, my paternal gran was determined it wouldn’t happen, she hadn’t brought her boys to this new land only for them to mix it up. She and my grandfather had a way of ensuring their children did as they were told, mainly through violence and coercion. My great grandparents had been Muslim scholars, feared and revered by the community in Pakistan. They had a reputation to protect and this came at any cost. My grandparents were the product of an extremely insular and strict manifestation of Islamism. As a child I heard my paternal great grandmother was beaten to death barely a few months after the birth of my granddad’s younger brother. This, because she had sat on her brother’s bed, whilst he lay recovering from an illness. It was too much for great granddad’s male ego and honour. “That’s just the way they did things” was the reply I got when I protested my family legacy through tears. “I’ll show them,” is the mantra I’ve had my whole life. I will be a feminist for all my foremothers; I will take back what was stolen from the women who came before me. A life, namely. An education. Bodily autonomy. Sexual freedom.

But my mother, now divorced and estranged from me, still suffers. We don’t speak because I am alien to her. From a very young age, I believed my emancipation would come from allying myself with the white feminist. I wanted what they had. As a very small child this meant the freedom to dress as I wish and associate with boys. That’s as far as my struggle got through my teens. But as I got older, I continued to behave as my white peers did and this widened the gap between my mother’s hopes for me (she really wanted me to be an air hostess) and my desires for equal rights in a man’s world. She won’t speak to me because she is afraid of what I have become. She won’t give me the opportunity to explain I did this for her.

As soon as I was old enough to hit the men back (15), I dragged my mother away from the community she knew and set into motion the process to divorce her from my father. During this time, I gullibly confirmed to the white workers who were trying to house us in temporary accommodation that the men in my family were savages, bringing with them the patriarchal controls they had back home. When fleeing domestic violence the local authority has an ‘interim duty to accommodate’ and as I rolled out the reasons we were presenting as such, it suddenly dawned on me, I was lucky to be alive. Domestic abuse, child sexual abuse, poverty, homelessness, religious/cultural demons, immigration issues (read racism), disability, isolation, self-harm, eating disorders.. This was not an exhaustive list but my small family had been victim to them all. Sure, I had internet access at the time but I didn’t see it as a privilege, more of a necessary escape. That’s a very silly thing to say Sadie. And it is your privilege that allows you to think like that.

I wish my life had been a little easier. I wish my mother had the right to an education so that she was self-sufficient and might have kicked my dad to the kerb with her dignity intact. But she didn’t. After 20 years of unfaltering duty, irrespective of the abuse she suffered, my father granted her a divorce and gave her £6000 for the trouble. That’s how much she was worth in the end. Her body ravaged by pregnancies she did not consent to, her children traumatised and displaced. She put the miserly amount he’d afforded her towards my younger sister’s nuptials. Because, despite the living hell she’d endured, she was still afraid the community would judge her for her unmarried daughters. This is also where I fell short in my duties as a daughter.  I don’t believe in marriage and who could blame me? But my mother doesn’t see it like that. The patriarchy has controlled her life since forever and although she suffered as a result of it, it still governs her thoughts, she doesn’t know any better.

If I’m a bit mean, frankly, it’s because I’m fed up. Suzanne Moore blocked me on Twitter a little while ago. I can’t even remember what for but I was reminded of it when I tried to RT the fuck outta her tweet asking for James Delingpole to admit he’s a misogynist cock. I joked that it was a shame because even though I had my issues with her, united we would stand in the face of patriarchy. I’m assuming it got back to her because later on that evening I was able to RT with abandon. Why couldn’t Sadie Smith leave well alone? By writing her piece all she’s done is pander to patriarchy. Hell, she even admits to wanting to behave like a misogynist. How is that EVER ok Sandie?

Could it be that privilege allows you some control? The privilege of having a voice or a face that fits so that you can use a platform whichever way you want. “Feminism is not bullying and beating up other women.” Haven’t you done exactly that, Sadie?

As a result of my life, I take pills. There are the ones that keep me on an even keel and the ones that work directly on my spinal cord and brain. When I accused Mary Beard of racism, I was horrified and immediately apologised, but I was made an example of when privilege politics go wrong. I’d unwittingly caught the tail end of a Twitter storm and was held up as an example of ‘stupid’ intersectional feminists using the race card at will. I wish I had the privilege of a clear, sharp mind. I wish I could pick the days when the fog takes over; I could plan my life a bit easier.

If I’m mean or angry, couldn’t you at least try to understand why? That’s what we intersectional feminists do. We understand that some of the stuff that happens in life has profound and lasting effects on people. None of us ask to be born for if we did, I’m sure we’d all tick the white cis gendered box. Nobody would choose an existence where you are overlooked/beaten/murdered for the colour of your skin, or choose to be disabled or *trans.

It’s just how we were born and all we mean to ask is, why am I not as worthy as you?

11 comments

  1. I wrote a comment in three versions and backspace deleted them all, because it was really hard to articulate how good this is. Very honest, very frank. A window into a real (and repetitive) issue that Asian Families go through with repercussions and all. Reflective. Hard to read. Painful.

  2. Thank you all for your comments. I feel I should put a permanent trigger warning next to the blog header as it always heavy stuff :/

    Mary, it’s ok to make mistakes as long as we learn from them and that’s what I will always try to do. Thank you for reading :)

    1. This piece was incredibly inspirational. Well done for kicking out at the patriarchy with such strength; you make the world better for all of us by doing so.
      I have just started a blog and would invite you to check out a post entitled What They Tell You, at http://karladhiya.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/what-they-tell-you/
      Although I do not feel as strong and tough as you right now, I hope that there are ways in which you can relate to the ramifications of this flavour of patriarchy on other families.

  3. Hi Sam. I have enormous respect for you as a writer, as a strong, courageous, intelligent woman and as a loving daughter. This was a particularly moving post. Thank you.

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