My grandmother if you met her, would not come across as a feminist or a champion of women. She covers her face in public, she has nothing resembling an education or a career, and the thing everyone in her circle knows her for best, is keeping an immaculate home. So why is it that today, on international women’s day, I find myself thinking of her and not any icon or female champion?
It’s because I know her from the inside and her life in my opinion is worthy of celebration. We are all undoubtedly products of our time and my grandmother is a product of a very patriarchal time in a very patriarchal society. She was raised in a mid twentieth century Pakistani household, one of three sisters ruled over by both a powerful father and a headstrong older brother in a time and place where female infanticide was still practiced. She never went to school, she was instead taught how to cook and clean and be a respectable meek woman as was the standard of her world. At age sixteen she was married to my grandfather and moved into his family home shared with her new in-laws. Does this all sound terribly dark and oppressive to you? It sure did to me and I told my grandmother so, but when she tells the stories of her life never once have I seen tragedy in her eyes, only humour and a complete lack of victim-hood.
At first I felt sorry on her behalf, pitying her for not having had the opportunities in life that we all now take for granted and it was only later that I realised her life is a tale of immense strength and resolve. Despite her origins she became the leader of her family, running every detail of her household like a CEO. My grandfather was the breadwinner but my grandma wears the pants in the house which is hilarious to me especially because my grandmother would take offence to the idea of wearing pants. She raised four children to being strong, confident and exemplary adults. She made decisions for her husband that allowed her family to thrive and be stable. She held everything together when my grandfather was jailed and threatened with a murder charge as intimidation for a land grab. She did it all in a society that told her she was not capable.
In an environment where all of her peers frowned upon it, she supported my mother to marry someone of her own choosing, and did it not with hushes and behind closed doors, but by throwing a wedding the magnitude of which was a challenge to anybody wanting to dare judge her daughter. She welcomed my father, an orphan since the age of six, into her family and became his mother too, trusting, supporting and encouraging him even when he was financially forced to take her daughter and grandchild away to a foreign land. She faced breast cancer and throughout her treatment refused to let any of us overseas realise what she was going through for fear that we would sacrifice our lives to go back to her. She is the strongest woman I know.
I am not a feminist because I read a book that convinced me or an argument that moved me, I am one because powerful women raised me. How can I possibly believe that women are not equal when my grandparents stand together and everyone looks to my grandma for instructions rather than the 6’3” hulk of a man standing next to her. Her rather un-grand example of a life has shown me that while facing an unfavorably skewed world – women are strong, powerful and simply amazing. Even today if an unfortunate rat should make the fatal error of trespassing in her pantry – this incredible, life hardened, arranged married teen bride, with eight grand kids and one surviving boob, will grab a broom handle, roll up her sleeves, and tell everyone to stand out of her way.
Grandma demonstrated one thing,
women do not need men’s help,
they need us to stand out of the way,
and watch in awe,
as they do awesome things.
Happy International Women’s Day to all.