It’s easy to forget that we live in one culture, in one country, out of thousands that exist worldwide. We don’t often remember that millions of women and girls are being raised in patriarchal, religious cultures, and that they accept the fact that they must cover their bodies, go out only with a male chaperon, or accept the fact that they are denied education as a general rule. There are many activists trying to change much of this, and bring reform to regions dominated by female suppression, but still. In so much of the world, women are seen as, and see themselves as, second class citizens, if they are even considered citizens at all.
I think of my daughter running free, without clothes on, in the neighbor’s yard. I think about the fact that she is being raised by two women (myself and my mother), both of whom live without men, do not depend on men to live the way we want to live, own property, vote, and achieved the degree of education to which we aspired. I think of my child being told to go into the “girls” restroom, not the “boys” restroom, but in all other cases having no idea that she should think of herself as either a boy or a girl. She will not be asked to do different chores than a boy would. She will not receive a different education than a son of mine would receive. She will not be told that to be “good” or “acceptable”, she must act a certain way (other than polite or kind), or dress a certain way, or submit to anyone in particular. She is praised by the adults in her life for standing up for herself, she is taught to say NO when she doesn’t want to be touched or held, and she is allowed to say no to many other things that she does not like or want, in an effort to teach her that to be strong-willed, persistent, and independent is to be successful. She will not disappoint her family someday by chasing after her own dreams. She does not have to uphold anyone else’s honor or fear banishment or being disowned.
After finishing Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a controversial feminist activist, I was struck by how differently my daughter grows up from her peers around much of the world. Our value system is certainly not dominant worldwide. She will have to learn to be articulate, dignified, and kind in order to stand her ground in our global society. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is all of those things, and whatever you may think of her religious criticisms, she is certainly a hero in the sense that she politely but firmly refuses to accept any system that oppresses women. I watch her on shows and in interviews with something approaching awe. Her debates are insightful and thought-provoking, and yes, offensive to some religious practitioners. I’m not sure I’ve even formulated solid opinions about some of her stances, but I do know that she has given me a deeper awareness of what it means to raise a daughter the way I’m raising her.
I do think the freedom that M experiences on a daily basis, and throughout her lifetime, is a precious gift that all women should have. I’m proud of living in a society that allows women to be strong and independent. It would break my heart to live in a place where, in order to keep my child safe, I would have to force her to sacrifice small pieces of her freedom and dignity (much like teaching our black sons to kow-tow to police).
So, as controversial as Ali may be in both liberal and conservative circles, I highly recommend reading Infidel. Whatever opinions you end up holding, your mind will be opened by her memoir.