Not Afraid to Speak Up
“Brother, how much?” asked Shamayla,* pointing at the packet of biscuits she had purchased from the tea-stall owner who was standing about two feet away.
“Don’t scream! Let me do it,” Shamayla’s father rebuked her instantly. “It is not befitting for a woman to be loud,” he continued.
When I listened to Shamayla, I could identify with her. In one instance, I had an online encounter with a man who was simply not habituated to people speaking up. As I finally decided to speak up, he pulled out of the public conversation, clearly agitated. He began to contact me privately via Facebook messages and phone calls, stating that he would never “argue” with me again.
In a similar situation, I found myself virtually speaking to a man who had doubts over a woman’s ability and willingness to compete alongside men in sports. I took the position that we must not place abstract limits on a woman’s capacity and that we must encourage women to make their own informed choices. Although he accepted my stance in the end, he seemed quite offended as if by speaking up, I had launched a personal attack on him.
Too often, women are labeled as “argumentative,” “easily irritable,” “bossy,” and “loud” simply for asserting their opinions and for exercising their basic rights to speak up. It is not uncommon to find men gas-lighting with endearing terms and putting words into the mouths of women that the latter did not utter or imply even remotely. Here’s a classic humorous example.
Mr. ABC: “Oh dear, why are you taking it so personally and getting angry?”
Ms. XYZ: “I want to clarify that I’m genuinely not angry and I’m definitely not carrying any ill-feelings towards you.”
Mr. ABC: “Oh you are apparently very angry.”
Ms. XYZ: “Please allow me to speak for myself. I reiterate and reassure you that I am not angry.”
Mr. ABC: “Don’t take everything so negatively…”
Ms. XYZ: “I guess you are typing in the wrong chat window!”
Another example would be when people are constantly pitying Muslim women for being “brainwashed” or “oppressed” and are dictating a generalized “appropriate” lifestyle for Muslim women, undermining their rights to speak up for themselves.
While it is a social stigma for women to be outspoken, it is widely considered masculine to not only speak (at times, even on behalf of women), but also to lose temper. “Not family-oriented” is a common stereotype associated with women who choose to respectfully challenge misogyny. If anger and aggression are harmful characteristics, they must be perceived as such for both the sexes.
When women come out in hordes on the streets to protest, they are mostly ignored or derided, if acknowledged at all. “Who says women’s rights is non-existent? Look at all the women protesting on streets!” cynics say. It is doubly unfair when policemen interrupt women halfway and signal men to speak up instead.
Through this piece, I demand that:
1. We realize that each woman is in the best position to narrate how she feels and what she finds suitable for herself, without being influenced by any other man or woman (as long as her decisions are not life-threatening or peace-disruptive);
2. We listen to women when they speak and not silence them deliberately;
3. We believe that women are in full control of their emotions and words, and that they have the necessary presence of mind to articulate their true selves;
4. We see online conversations as just that, and not accuse women of “arguing” when all they are doing – like their male counterparts – is participating actively.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.