On Freedom, Ideas of Feminism and Respectable Limitations

Ananke’s Empower Program Fellow, Zara Ahmed writes about challenging generational patriarchal norms as a dedication to Women’s History Month.
On Freedom, Ideas of Feminism and Respectable Limitations

It’s hard to explain to others what it’s like to go through life as a woman. I am constantly reminded of the obstacles and limitations that have been placed on me simply because of my gender. It’s not just the overt harassment and discrimination that I face on a daily basis, but also the subtle yet pervasive attitudes and norms that have been ingrained in our culture for generations.

Growing up in an urban middle-class family, I saw firsthand how these patriarchal norms operate in insidious ways. While I was fortunate enough to receive education and have some degree of freedom in how I presented myself, there were always “respectable limitations” that I had to adhere to, as determined by the expectations of my family and community.

Despite these constraints, I have always been drawn to the ideas of feminism. Learning about feminism has been a deeply transformative experience for me, as it has helped me understand not just the systemic inequalities women face, but also the ways in which I have internalized these attitudes and beliefs. But it’s not just about me. It’s about the countless women who have come before me, and who continue to struggle against these injustices every day. I think about my mother and my aunts, and the way that they have had to navigate a world that is often hostile to their very existence. I think about the ways in which they have been silenced, and how their voices have been ignored or dismissed by the men around them.

When I got my first job last year, it was a momentous occasion for me. Not just because it represented a step forward in my career, but because it helped me to understand the true importance of financial independence for women. Seeing the struggles of my female family members, who had to suppress their desires and sometimes even their basic rights, made me acutely aware of the barriers that women face due to financial constraints  in our society. It was a painful realization.

As I became more woke and enlightened about gender equality, I found myself struggling to balance my passion with the daily realities of living in a patriarchal society. Sometimes, I would consider myself being “too harsh or too outspoken or too demanding,” and I would worry that I was coming on too strong. There is a reason for it. Women are constantly being subjected to the leers and inappropriate comments of men, when they step outside. It’s a daily assault on our dignity and self-worth, and yet we are expected to simply tolerate it and move on. Patriarchy has instilled so much fear and placidity in us, and it teaches us to adjust to all conditions and tolerate harassment, verbal and physical abuse.

It pains me to acknowledge that some women themselves contribute to the perpetuation of patriarchy. Even after experiencing the struggles and biases imposed on them, some women still uphold the societal norms and venerate men and sons. It’s disheartening to see that they are not willing to make things easier for other women who face similar challenges.

We must start by standing up for each other, by lifting each other up and supporting each other in our struggles. We must celebrate the achievements of other women, and recognize that their success is our success too.

Despite all of this, I remain hopeful. I know that change is possible, even if it is slow and difficult. I believe we can make a difference by challenging these deeply ingrained attitudes and norms within our families and communities. It won’t be easy, and there will be times when I stumble or falter, but I know that I am not alone in this fight. Together, we can make a difference.

Photo by Molly Blackbird on Unsplash

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