A Little Respect

English was not my first language. It’s true that I was born in Marston Green but I don’t recall leaving the house much as a small child so there was probably no use for it. Any memories I have or what I understand to be memories are spoken in another language, the Mirpuri dialect my mother spoke. But as soon as I started nursery the memories very suddenly change and I remember giggling at my white reception class teacher for employing two Punjabi phrases every teacher needs when dealing with little ones; “line bunaow” make a line, and “chup kar” be silent. There were a large number of us without English as our first language but personally, my grasp of English has never held me back.

I’ve always been fascinated by the way words translate cross language and how so much of what we mean when we say a word is reliant on how it makes us feel. Certain words lack gravity in some cultures whereas in others they are taboo. Words like ‘cunt’ and ‘Paki’ for example. On a very basic level, these two words say very different things to British and American people, cunt being somewhat acceptable in Britain due to its overuse and Paki in America because their Asians are oriental. It doesn’t have the same gut wrenching impact as it does over here but then I became aware of how ‘cunt’ made my American (and some British) Twitter friends feel. I cannot knowingly use this word around people who are affected by it. I have to think of better words.

I have this focus on language because it is so important to understand the way it makes us feel and how it shapes our ideas. Language everywhere in the patriarchy is designed to make us feel a certain way. It controls us. It maintains the status quo. Take the word ‘Izzat’ for example. It means honour, respect, personal worth to some. I would push ego in there too. It’s a reflection of one’s self worth, and suggests the person has a reputation that needs protecting. The women in the family carry the burden of Izzat, although it is a thing shared by all those in the unit. As a child, I was often commanded to speak with Izzat, with respect, as were my siblings, whether male or female. But Izzat came to mean another thing too. For a while I believed it had something to do with the physical act of getting naked because of when it was said. The family sat round watching the latest Bollywood hit and then the villain would tear the starlet’s clothes from her. Amidst the scramble for the remote whilst we little ones cowered behind cushions, I was accustomed to hearing the phrase “Izzat looti”. Stole her honour. Stole her respect? Self-respect? Whose respect? Whose honour? What was I missing from behind my safety guard? Of course Bollywood cinema was heavily censored so I never understood what it was until I became a young teenager myself. Then I guess the older women would speak about it to give us some idea of what to expect. Cringing with shame they’d share stories about women who had been raped. But then the word changed in meaning again. This time it was being used in conversations about young girls running away from home. The families they’d leave had no Izzat left; their fathers too shame faced to lift their eyes from the ground.

This word Izzat has many layers and is not as simple as a foreign practice incomprehensible to the civilised West. It expresses many feelings and ties that are not dissimilar to our white brethren. Izzat or honour as the West refer to it is an emotion felt by the person in possession of it. This is usually men. 70% of the world’s population experiences violence and/or sexual abuse at the hands of the patriarchy. Perpetrators justify their actions by using a variety of excuses. At one time the defence “she made me do it” would have probably got you a pat on the back from the local police as they left you to resolve your own “domestic” (translate: not public, nothing to do with us) but with changing attitudes towards accountability and an understanding of power and control dynamics, better education and training for public authorities, we no longer buy that crap. Or at least there are some who don’t.

We are struggling to identify abuse and inappropriate behaviour because of racism. Physically harming a person, regardless of the excuses the perpetrators dream up is unacceptable in all its forms. When a white man knocks back 10 Stellas and beats his wife/girlfriend for winking at another man, he is responding from his own bruised ego, his own honour. He feels he has been disrespected and the only way to claw back respect is by force. Every action has a reaction and fear in the victim can be interpreted as respect by the perpetrator. How is this different to brown men abusing brown women? It isn’t. It is merely used as an excuse to avoid helping often the most vulnerable and marginalised women in our society. Because racism.

Whether in the East or West, women are property. They are required to adhere to a strict code of conduct. Deviating from this results in coercive force to intimidate the woman into behaving in the way patriarchy sees fit. Now, whether this comes in the form of forced marriage or alienating a woman from her friends, the intention is power and control. They are essentially the same. The only difference is the way in which we view colour. Black/brown, they are already viewed with suspicion. Throw in a cultural practice that is not unlike our own a century or two ago (and really, how old are the former colonies? In their infancy) and you have an unknown entity threatening the very fabric of our society. It’s a creeping Shariah. The fear this evokes in people is not a gender issue but one of race.

We can only move forward once they acknowledge this.

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37 comments

  1. Very well said. Young men and women are better aware of what is allowable dating behavior than those of us growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. And it does go back to increased understandings by parents and in turn taught to their children. Respect is taught at home and in schools.

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  2. Reblogged this on liftingtheveilinfo and commented:
    Recently, we asked one of our followers on Twitter (Sam Ambreen) to write a post about “honour killings” and their perception in the media as a whole.
    This piece was originally posted on Sam Ambreen’s blog and has been reposted with permission.

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  3. Definitely well written. I see the difference in my parents as well as the adults within that generation. As much as I don’t understand how some men can handle women like property, I just don’t understand it when women will just sit there and take it. Now a days, they wouldn’t stand for it, but i just don’t understand why the older generations do. Like you said, it’s a race thing, its a generation thing. it’s just the way it was back in the day but we are, at least i hope we are, learning what respect is and to respect and honor others. Even as an Asian american I still don’t understand the relationship between my mom and dad as my dad will do nothing and yet my mom will do the cleaning, the cooking and the working; and yet she doesn’t complain one bit.

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    1. Patriarchy is so entrenched that we cannot blame our mothers/grandmothers for actively participating in the system. They had no choice. Anyway, I guess we were at critical mass and exploded, I dunno about you but I won’t stand for any ill treatment. I’m prepared to fight it if I have to. Anyway, I’m sure the liberation of white women had something to do with us younger generations and our need for equality. Even if they did leave us behind.

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      1. I mean as a guy I can’t stand it either. But its still out there is what makes me cringe and somewhat disappointed considering how far we think we’ve gotten. There are still girls out who think its ok because the guy “loves her” or some bullshit like that or since he does something nice here and there its not a regular thing.
        As a guy it irritates the hell out of me. Maybe its because i have a sister and i’d probably kill her boyfriend before he could try something like that, but i guess society hasnt really gotten as far as we would like :/

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  4. Well written post, I can really relate to a lot of this. I was brought up in a similar way, with the ‘izzat’ thing and the ‘brown’ thing, and it’s easy to see as an adult how much of this influences our parents decisions, and how it’s made us question our parents values and behaviours. I dunno, feels like a hard struggle to get away from those pre-conceptions, but I’d like to think we’re getting there!

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  5. I am always amazed at how little I know about other cultures. I expect women to be treated well and as equals and hearing differently has always caused me great discomfort. I have two daughter and one granddaughter. Hearing rape as a “common possibility” throws chills down my spine. Your work opens eyes and this is necessary in a cruel world which I thought did not exist but now find that it is everywhere.

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    1. I’m glad that you’re learning. I would say that rape culture transcends ethnic culture. It is not that ‘they’ have a problem, WE have a global epidemic. Through my work as an independent domestic violence advocate I came across women from all cultures, all the colours and the abuses they suffered were essentially the same, only the methods differ.

      It’s difficult to consider but many women don’t talk about their violations. In fact, when most women are taught the definition of rape, it involves physical violence and is perpetrated by a stranger. 1 in 7 British women will be raped by their boyfriends/partners. Many more will suffer at the hands of friends/family members. This is rape culture. This is what we don’t talk about. How many times have you heard people define rape this year? It should be a matter of consent, non consensual sex should be termed rape but it isn’t. We bully our survivors into submission; we ask them what they wore and their sexual history. Why does it matter?

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      1. The subject gets me queasy and that is good. I can not understand why a man would get pleasure from rape. Sex and love are beautiful when two people are trying to please each other. Other than that it confounds me when you take the feelings out of it. I do not understand why a person would think it beautiful to beat a person into submission other than the beast coming out and damning the man who perpetrates the deed. Certainly God would not wish this and it should be a commandment on Moses Slate that Thou Shall Not RAPE.

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  6. wonderful, thank you for the respect you write with.
    Your mention of language reminds me of the song Blame it on the Tetons by Josh Ritter
    “Language is the liquid
    That we’re all dissolved in
    Great for solving problems
    After it creates a problem”

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  7. Brilliantly written! Victimization carries a stigma, whether we wish to admit it or not. It knows no color boundaries, and sadly, in certain forms, no gender boundaries, either.

    Voices are necessary, and yours is amazing. We must encourage the silent to speak, and the injured to stand.

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  8. Dear Sam, Well thought-out words, and how true your points are! I certainly identify with your argument. Respect should be colour and gender blind; everyone deserves respect and a measure of dignity, for even the Creator dignified and endowed us all with His marvelous and amazing qualities and attributes, like love, wisdom and justice.

    Sadly, domestic violence and abuses are disturbingly common and are worldwide epidemics, crossing cultural, economic, and social groups. Zahra, 15- years old, quoted in the magazine GEO, French edition, painfully admitted: “When I see how women are treated, I really don’t want to become one.” Such admission reveals a grim reality—worldwide, violence, abuses and discrimination affect girls and women throughout their lives. Consider this excerpt from the Awake! Magazine. It reveals the odds against women.

    • Gender discrimination. In Asia, most parents prefer boys to girls. A 2011 UN report estimates that in that part of the world, nearly 134 million women are missing from the population as a result of abortion, infanticide, and neglect.
    • Education. Worldwide, women and girls make up two thirds of those who had less than four years of schooling.
    • Sexual harassment. Over 2.6 billion women live in countries where marital rape is still not considered a crime.
    • Health. In developing countries, about every two minutes, a woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth complications as a result of the lack of basic medical care.
    • Property rights. Although women cultivate more than half the world’s crops, in many countries they have no legal right to own property or inherit land.

    Since many incidents go unreported, no doubt the situation is worse than statistics reveal. Sadly, like you admitted, women erroneously believe that they are to blame and they are ashamed to admit that they are being abused.

    Just recently, a friend of my wife was both physically and sexually assaulted by a guy who broke into her room early in the morning. Leaving her with a swollen face, cuts and bruises all over her body as a result of hours of struggling with the rapist, my wife and I, as well as other well-meaning friends, called for police investigation and prosecution of the case, but she and her family objected. It was obvious they were afraid of the publicity this would create and the seeming stigmatization she would eventually have to contend with.

    Finally, although a person might have grown up in a violent atmosphere and become violent himself/herself, they are not to be excused from their behavior.

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  9. Reblogged this on Ekweozor Mishael and commented:
    Dear Sam, Well thought-out words, and how true your points are! I certainly identify with your argument. Respect should be colour and gender blind; everyone deserves respect and a measure of dignity, for even the Creator dignified and endowed us all with His marvelous and amazing qualities and attributes, like love, wisdom and justice.

    Sadly, domestic violence and abuses are disturbingly common and are worldwide epidemics, crossing cultural, economic, and social groups. Zahra, 15- years old, quoted in the magazine GEO, French edition, painfully admitted: “When I see how women are treated, I really don’t want to become one.” Such admission reveals a grim reality—worldwide, violence, abuses and discrimination affect girls and women throughout their lives. Consider this excerpt from the Awake! Magazine. It reveals the odds against women.

    • Gender discrimination. In Asia, most parents prefer boys to girls. A 2011 UN report estimates that in that part of the world, nearly 134 million women are missing from the population as a result of abortion, infanticide, and neglect.
    • Education. Worldwide, women and girls make up two thirds of those who had less than four years of schooling.
    • Sexual harassment. Over 2.6 billion women live in countries where marital rape is still not considered a crime.
    • Health. In developing countries, about every two minutes, a woman dies from pregnancy or childbirth complications as a result of the lack of basic medical care.
    • Property rights. Although women cultivate more than half the world’s crops, in many countries they have no legal right to own property or inherit land.

    Since many incidents go unreported, no doubt the situation is worse than statistics reveal. Sadly, like you admitted, women erroneously believe that they are to blame and they are ashamed to admit that they are being abused.

    Just recently, a friend of my wife was both physically and sexually assaulted by a guy who broke into her room early in the morning. Leaving her with a swollen face, cuts and bruises all over her body as a result of hours of struggling with the rapist, my wife and I, as well as other well-meaning friends, called for police investigation and prosecution of the case, but she and her family objected. It was obvious they were afraid of the publicity this would create and the seeming stigmatization she would eventually have to contend with.

    Finally, although a person might have grown up in a violent atmosphere and become violent himself/herself, they are not to be excused from their behavior.

    Like

  10. Good article! I don’t know why people judge a person by their appearance.
    suppose when they see a white woman they think tat she s good in everything, but when they look at a black/brown woman they think that she s not capable of anything and that she s not pretty.. And i don’t know what men get in raping a girl..
    Its a pretty good article! thanks for freshly pressing it!

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  11. Excellent points. This is a topic that must be discussed in various forums including the classroom. Language defines us. The power of words is amazing and you are a master of thought and words. Thanks for the post.

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  12. I do think no matter the culture women seem to be in danger. So commonly objectified for sexuality it is sad that men, and even some women, will not look at a woman as a person. One of the largest unseen crimes of the day is human trafficking. It has gotten so terrible in America yet our politician’s would like to sweep it under the rug instead of face the issue at hand. It is also a huge world wide issue. I do not think women will see the end of this sort of thing. It saddens me, but I know that as awareness begins perhaps less people will be as heavily effected. I love how you mention different words have different types of weight in cultures and people. Words are so important and powerful. It is like magic-even in sharing your words you have reshaped the perspective of others. Thank you for your insight and congratulations on being freshly pressed! Well deserved

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  13. Very well said. Words can take on a meaning of their own and can reflect the triumphs or horrors of the culture they reflect.
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed 🙂

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  14. Sometimes I think women should create their own language. A sign language, so that even when they are required to be silent by their culture, they would still be able to sing.

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  15. I loved how you portrayed the word izzat, it does have more meaning to it then any of its English translations.
    But the flaw comes where most men give their own definitions to the word. Where husbands think protecting their wives “izzat” is not just important rather it gives them right to man handle them. Curse them, Doubt them. As I have grown up, I have developed a love hate relationship with this word.
    But then I come across men who understand what the word asks for and let you have it, its those moments that I am always counting on!!

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