I have been a feminist my whole life. I was a feminist for having been born a girl, brown, Muslim and surviving. The legend has it that the midwife’s neighbor’s aunt told my uncle who then told his wife who told my mother that she had a brown girl because God was punishing her.
I, however, was absolutely gorgeous.
I was feminist at the age of 6. It was a family vacation, it was a beach in Karachi, Pakistan and aunty yelled “Take the girl inside, she will get too dark.” The girl, me, ran away as the baby sitter came to grab her. I ran to the water, and stood on one of those rocks and I let the glorious sun kiss my brown body making it browner as I bathed in nature’s glory.
I was a feminist at the age of 10. Mama said let’s go to the salon and let’s get facials. The inner me squealed, as I thought this was a girl’s date (I watched too much 90s tv shows). The lady at the salon looked and my white Punjabi mother and then looked at her brown child and wondered whether that child had been cooked in the oven for too long. (I was born premature by the way, besides the point). Anyway, the salon lady sat me down on one of those high chairs, started mixing some things. It started with a nice massage, then a face wash, and then the lady brought out this white mixture of all things hell. The lady started painting my face with it. At first my eyes started to sting and as she continued, my face burned. With each brush stroke that her wrinkled brown hands made on my smooth brown face, she took away 10 years’ worth of self-love.
“Mama it burns”
“Baby that’s normal”
“Mama I don’t want to”
“Baby, your cousin did it too and she looks so beautiful”
Was I not beautiful?
. . . “tell your daughter to stop crying, its ruining the bleach”
I needed a feminist.
I needed a feminist at the age of 11, as I smothered my face with “fairness” creams, and cursed at the mirror.
I needed a feminist at the age of 12 when I lifted my hands to make dua, asking Allah to make me white.
I needed a feminist as I held my breath at the age of 13 hoping I would die.
I needed a feminist at the age of 14 as I put ice inside my shirt, hoping to catch a cold so that I wouldn’t have to go see him. I needed a feminist to tell me that what that man did to me was not my fault.
I needed a feminist when I didn’t speak up, when I did not say a word, when I sat there in my silence that could have never saved me.
I needed a feminist at the age of 15, as I watched blood drip down my arm onto the bathroom sink as the voices faded away. I needed a feminist at 2 am on May 20th 2013, I needed one to tell me that I was not a mere piece of flesh. That I did not need him, or him, or him. That I deserved to live.
I needed one to tell me I was whole. I needed one to tell me that I was woman and remind me that I create all that there is.
“I am woman. I am woman. I am woman.”
I am glory in itself.
So when it comes to “Why feminism?” The answer is simple, feminism is survival. You see, it’s not something we as women came up with just so we could have something to talk about. It isn’t meant to be a school of academia, or a topic of class discussion. It isn’t jargon for liberal academic elitist. It isn’t supposed to be a word that men use to get laid. It isn’t there so you could sound smart when it comes to having “proper discourse around gender and inequality.”
It is down and dirty and it is survival. Feminism is survival.
We as women live it. We breath it. We wake up every day and we are feminists so we could survive. We drown in patriarchy ever second of every single day and feminism is our oxygen tank.
And we need to breathe.
Somedays I wake up in the middle of the night, and I write odes to my younger self. I tuck it away in my diary, I wrap my hands around myself. I apologize to the mirror. And I thank all the women, all the feminists who saved me.
Feminism saved me.