Monday, June 1, 2020

The Best Thing A Girl Can Be In This World, Is A Beautiful Fool

I read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald sometime in 2013. I loved the book and I loved the movie. It was a beautiful story and at the time, I was still a naive little girl with fire in her veins. I was just discovering what kind of person I wanted to be and at the time, I had recently found a word for the kind of woman I was and it was feminist. For me, feminism is an obvious choice for every woman. I couldn't be anyone or anything else, coming from where I was coming from.

The Hausa society, like most societies out there (including the supposed deplorable "western" societies), is not an egalitarian society. The intellectual Hausa man (and woman) would like to make you believe the society is one that is not misogynistic. That in fact, is an Islamic society that gives women their rights as stipulated within the boundaries of shari'a. Unfortunately, that is not true. The Hausa society is one of the worst societies to be a woman in. It is bubbling with toxic patriarchy that is not hard to see, even when peeping from outside. There are so many unjust gender roles that guide who a woman should be and what she can and can't do (most times, unislamic biases) which do not in any way or form apply to men. If there is any more inegalitarian, misogynistic, and unaccommodating of feminist intellectual thought society, I do not know about it (or rather, do not know enough to comment about it) as I am only familiar with my own reality.

In Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan says to her friends, Nick and Jordan what she hopes for her daughter.
"I hope she'll be a fool—that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool. "

At the time, I thought of Daisy herself to be a fool. The character, beautifully played by Carrie Mulligan embodied Fitzgerald's idea of a woman with foolish aspirations. It was a weakness for me, to wish such an unfair aspiration for one's daughter.  The older I got, the more I saw life through the eyes of Daisy. If you have read the book, you will know Daisy is a woman whose entire story revolves around a man (or two men...or one man...depending on how you read the book). The naive feminist in me couldn't bring myself to not read Daisy's character without admonition and judgment. A lot has happened and a lot has changed and most of all, I have grown up and Daisy might have been onto something.

It will be dishonest of us to talk about our realities without acknowledging how our personal stories affect and shape who we are and how the thoughts that fester in our brains got there. Ideas are seeds that grow. To separate my experiences from my story would be a dishonest starting point.
I was raised in a family of women. I have 3 fierce sisters (one older and two younger) and one brother. I was not raised in a community of women who asserted themselves and chased big goals. I did not have around me, any woman who lived the life I wanted to have for myself. If anything, I wanted to be far away from all the women I knew. I did not know any woman who worked in a big office or held a big position outside of the home (and even within the home they are often second class officers). It all seemed a weakness to me. 
Little did I know the patriarchy does not make sense and what seemed to me like weakness was in fact, something else, something that runs deeper than I could ever understand in one lifetime. Oppression is systematic and it is ingrained deep into our society. It is easier to surrender at the beginning of a battle that you know is already lost. I always thought, because I went to University and had the freedom to choose my career path as a teenager, that I could separate myself from toxic patriarchy. As I like to think my father a self-made intellectual, I believed I could be separated from his own primal upbringing which includes an ideology of male ownership (or guardianship) over women. Now I wonder if my circumstance would be different if I have had 3 brothers and one sister instead. 

Today I see Daisy for a compassionate mother. How could she not wish for her daughter to be a beautiful fool? A beautiful silent fool. A disappearing fool. A fool who would marry a rich man and silently accept the role society has carved out for her (errmmm sign me up). An easy life. How could she not want to protect her daughter from the curse of wanting more for herself? That I think is mercy. For those of us unfortunate enough to want freedom and a voice, I will be honest with myself and all of us, we are in for a life of misery.

The Patriarchy is nothing but a system of control. Everywhere, within the boundaries of the Hausa community, there is someone telling a woman to be silent, attempting to control her, hide her, make her less of a person. If it is not the father, then it is the father figure or the male scholar or the husband. The moment a female gets married, the major advice she is given is to obey and honor her husband who is the head and she well...the anus. Marriage has become an institution of oppression and toxic patriarchy. Too many women are in unhappy marriages today because they are afraid to leave. Mathematically, a woman's strength is directly proportional to how much disrespect she can accept, silently. Polygyny has become a tool used to punish and subdue women. A man's self-worth on the other equation is directly proportional to how many women he can control at home. Young girls and old women are being raped and murdered daily while simultaneously getting shamed and bullied into silence. Yet, the Hausa community has the audacity to feign surprise at the seemingly climbing rate of divorce. Young women are growing up to know they want a better bargain than their mothers and grandmothers, young women are rescinding the silence of their mothers. Young women are understanding that financial freedom is the key to mental liberation. Women have been robbed of their confidence for years, so much so that where does one go from there? What happened to marriage as a partnership where both spouses honor and respect one another? Women have been made to believe that they are incapable of knowing who they are and what they want without the guidance of egotistical men. I paraphrase Dr. Shehnaz Zindebad here where she says, in her youtube vlog on Islam and gender: The idea that women are emotional and to be emotional is believed, in the case of women, to be a bad thing, is what makes women illogical and inferior to men. This is used as a basis for a lot of society's oppression towards women. The patriarchy accuses women of being so inherently jealous (whilst ignoring the fact that male jealousy is often a very violent and threatening thing) whereas, male jealousy is very much validated within the patriarchy that laws are written to honor and protect male jealousy. In all societies everywhere, men are allowed to control women exclusively to protect their jealousy. How could one wish to not be a fool when knowing all of this and demanding the freedom to choose, to break free from the shackles of a system of control, and to have a voice is an endless fight? A lifelong fight.

I would like to say this is a situation that is only prevalent within the less educated echelons of the community but it is not. The educated intellectuals are only so evolved and in tune with the egalitarian ethos until their egos flair and they are faced with a powerful and assertive woman. Then they begin to ask where her male guardian is. Or begin to spew words like "I have one like you at home" meaning they have a wife whom they oppress at home or who does not even know she is being oppressed. Women like Amina J Mohammed are looked upon with a questioning gaze that asks where her male guardian is and how she was "allowed" to get to where she is. Words like "allow" and "permit" are the primary language that surrounds the institution of marriage ala patriarchy. It may seem like it is protection for women but really it is not. It is simply oppression.
Even within our institutionalized religions, women are said to be inferior and "lesser people" although, within the Islamic context, the Qur'an says to choose the mother three times before the father. It is suffocating and overwhelming when you know your rights and demand them but keep getting robbed and punished for demanding and asserting it. There doesn't seem to be a way out. Only fools do not know their rights and so do not know to demand them.

The Egyptian feminist writer, Mona Eltahawy said: 'To the girls of the middle east, Be immodest, rebel, disobey, and know you deserve to be free' and I agree with her to an extent. Women cannot politely demand to be heard as it does not work. The only way a woman's voice would be heard is if she vehemently refuses to shut up. If you cannot be the fool that Daisy hopes her daughter to be, then one could choose to rebel like Mona advises. Regardless, the patriarchy would still have no respect for the fool or the rebel. In its eyes, both are secondary humans who have to fight for their right to exist as full humans with the capacity for independent thought. Both are subject to being treated as children who are incapable of making rational choices. Isn't it infuriating and sickening that the patriarchy gives the male child authority over the mother? Isn't it unjust that female children's confidence is always kicked down while male children's confidence is nurtured and encouraged?
Realistic feelings of confidence and positive self-esteem affect how you think and act, how you feel about others, and how successful you are in life. Parents' attitudes are crucial to children's feelings about themselves, particularly in children's early years. When parents provide acceptance, children (girls) receive a solid foundation for good feelings about themselves. If one or both parents are excessively critical or demanding, or if they are overprotective and discourage moves toward independence, children (girls) may come to believe they are incapable, inadequate, or inferior. I use girls in bracket because male children do not face the stifling of independence at the level that females do. Lack of confidence prevents women from being assertive and reaching great heights and that is the primary ingredient for raising a fool.

I wish foolishness could set women free but to be very honest with you, that is simply burying one's head in the sand. Was Daisy successful in raising her daughter, Pamela to be a fool? Did Pamela end up having an easier life (doubtful)? I have no clue.  I'll have to wake F. Scott Fitzgerald from his eternal slumber to ask him for the second part of the book.


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