Note: This post is more in an essay-style; the style with which I’m most comfortable.
I met a woman yesterday I had never met before. She had come to collect her child and we chatted for less than an hour over a cup of tea. She is Arab and very sweet. Initially we talked about children and their school but once I brought her tea, the conversation became more about her life. She seemed constantly tired and even complained that her legs hurt all the time. She talked non-stop about how she is pressurized by family and society to have more children when she can’t even raise the two she has already. She complained about her mother-in-law more than once, even mimicked her. Throughout that conversation I had very little to add except for an occasional nod and “oh, really? That’s bad.” And then she said something that caught my attention. She mentioned briefly that her mother never encouraged her to enjoy every moment of her childhood and allowed her to act grown-up prematurely. That time was lost. She was married off at fifteen and so although our children are of the same age and she looks older than me, she is actually quite a few years younger than me. There was a faint sadness in her voice when she said that. That sadness could only be detected by another woman.
That is the thing about women – we may love our men, but when it comes to understanding the pain of a woman, our men almost always fail us. From period cramps or a hurt ego to a divorce or miscarriage, it is a woman who understands the pain of another woman even if she has never had period cramps herself or never went through the agony of miscarriage. Yet a man who obviously can’t go through either kind of pain still fails to show the kind of sympathy required in those delicate moments. Is it as simple as women having higher emotional intelligence? Is this why in I am Sam, Sam’s lawyer is a woman and all the people who testify on his side are women?
So I kept thinking about it after she left and realised that while her and I shared nothing in common and if we are to meet again there would be more awkward silences and nods, it is not shopping together or talking or even sharing recipes that bring women together; women bond immediately through sharing pain. It is that moment when one woman detects misery from the subtle drop in the tone of voice or the sinking of the eyes of another woman, that a link is created and women who fail to either detect or ignore the anger or hurt of another woman lack a very common gift. They are thus often called ‘cold’ and even ‘cruel.’
This is why I think Islamic feminism is necessary and was inevitable. I had asked once why you all want to belong to a group when most of you live in liberal countries that give women many rights, often even equal rights to men, and you all commented that even if you don’t have to go through the pain yourself you wish to stand up for the rights of women who are less fortunate than you. Women are empathic creatures; I think that is why feminists stand up for the rights of gays and those women and men who are oppressed. Yet this is a gift that is rarely mentioned in many patriarchal scriptures. We hear about men’s strength and courage and intelligence and bravery and their ability to maintain the classic stiff upper-lip, but what about women’s superior emotional intelligence? Perhaps that is why many people don’t like feminists … because while women have higher EQ, we also know how and when to filter it and channel it. Feminists while bonding strongly with other women, can chastise men firmly – something the latter are still not used to. And while most men don’t want to be told how to treat their women, they also don’t want outside sympathy/empathy for their women from other women because women gain strength from unity.
I wanted to share these thoughts with you – women and men who read this blog; wanted to thank you for caring whenever you have cared for others; and wanted to let you know that I appreciate you for appreciating others – women and men, straight and gay, Muslim and non-Muslim.
If you have any comments/thoughts/opinions, please share. I would particularly like to know why you think Islamic Feminism as a movement and an organization of Muslim women is important for the unity and well-being of Muslim women in the 21st Century.