Thursday, August 05, 2010

It's just not right

There are a lot of fucked up things in this world, and most of the time there is not much you can do about it. Today, I heard something that really grated me.

I was making conversation with an academically brilliant student in my AS Biology class about her plans for varsity next year. She happens to be from Pakistan and, at some point, her equally brilliant sister joined the conversation.

Frame of reference: both sisters are stunningly beautiful, with flawless skin, long hair, big eyes, long eye-lashes to cry for and fantastic outspoken personalities. Both do alarmingly well with an otherwise challenging syllabus, for the most part, across the board in both sciences and humanities.

But here's the crux - it's not going to do them one iota of good.

Their dad is taking them back to Pakistan at the end of the year, and has made it clear that while he will pay for them to graduate tertiary education, they should then expect a short-term future of a job chosen by him for them ONLY until a marriage can be arranged for them; and then a long-term future of tending to their husband and in-laws every need without complaint; babies and housework. Full-stop.

Ambitions be damned, he has shown them a Westernised society in South Africa for the past three years, where girls (for the most part - traditional black culture aside where attitudes about relationships are sometimes equally fucked-up) are allowed to choose love/education/careers that THEY want.

Now, one sister is slightly darker-skinned and (I'm guessing) around a size 12. She is shunned by her aunties as too fat and too dark. Despite her amazing looks, brilliant mind and wonderful sense of humour, she is apparently viewed as common and difficult to marry off. Ironically, she has resigned herself to the fact of what her future holds, marrying whatever man will take her, because of her innate belief that she will be able to make the best of the circumstances.

Her sister, on the other hand, is light-skinned and (again, guessing) around a size 8. She is doted upon by her aunties and is seen as the favourite for whatever she wants. Ironically, she wants none of it. She finds the attitudes of Pakistani men to be deplorable, with their need to control their wives in servitude and their in-laws ruling your every move. She wants more out of life, but doesn't know how to move out from the boundaries of her culture to get it...and it is so sad.

They went on to explain that women who are unmarried in Pakistan very often end up going insane, and that the men (who shun them for not marrying) will then take advantage of them sexually when their faculties fail. Likewise, for those women who cannot stand the abuse from husbands whose demands no longer scare them and end up divorcing, an equally disturbing future lies in wait (in my student's words: "The men demand sex in the marriage, and the women are legally bound to give it. As they age, the women don't give in as much to the men's demands, so the men get frustrated and start hitting the women. If women complain, they are beaten. If they divorce, only the women are shunned by their communities AND their families. The men are free to remarry.")

Excuse me but WHAT THE FUCK?!

At this point in the conversation, looking at these two talented, beautiful young women standing in front of me that have so much potential to do whatever they want, I promptly burst out crying (granted, I would usually get angry on their behalf, but I'm feeling sick so instead I cry).
The one sister gave me a hug, the other apologised for making me cry.
I looked at her with disbelief and said: "I'm the one who is sorry...that those are the futures you've been given to look forward to despite wanting more out of your lives".

So I did the only thing I could when faced with such a phenomenal cultural divide: told the sister resigned to marry that I'd pray she'd end up with a GOOD man for a husband, and encouraged the outraged sister to seek out full scholarships/ sponsorship by applying to universities BEFORE leaving South Africa.

At the end of the day, you can't fight a culture or their deeply held beliefs (which is why wars started on ideals wishing to change these things rarely succeed). Instead, it has to be an insurrection from within the culture, which stems the tide of change.


Koek! said...

Supremely fucked up and very depressing. I will say a little (agnostic) prayer for them both... I suppose the lesson here is for us to appreciate the freedom and opportunities available to us and not take them for granted.

Kempt said...

After living overseas (south east asia) for two years, and experiencing their "better life next time" frame of reference.. I'm behind you. It's heartbreaking.

Marisa said...

Wow, that is horrendous. Cannot imagine what it must be like to be in those women's shoes.

Juanita said...

Thanks for your comments on this one, ladies. I'm glad it struck a chord with you too.