By Laxmi Parmeswar MA, MS, LPC
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March is Women’s History Month. Instead of celebrating the legacies of extraordinary and controversial women like Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, Benazir Bhutto, Mother Theresa, Nancy Raegan, Princess Diana, Indira Gandhi, Audrey Hepburn, Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Angela Merkel and so on, I am more intrigued by the stories and successes of nameless everyday women of today!
Contemporary women are complicated and to paint us with one broad brushstroke would be minimizing our global impact, downplaying our legitimate power and ignoring our collective voice. While common myths (like women in general are a woman’s worst enemy, women are too soft, or too fickle, we always make great mothers, we are weak, we are too strong, too conniving, too naive, we are always against wars or guns, etc, etc ) serve little or no purpose and are not useful In understanding or empowering women. Generalizations of anecdotal experiences about women by both men and women are as accurate as the world believing that Hillary Rodham Clinton would win the 2016 US Presidential elections! It’s also dangerous because what really happened was shocking, unpredicted and defied conventional wisdom. More than a year later, the world is still reeling from it and historians will record this moment in time as a defining period for women- politically, sociologically, psychologically and culturally.
The global “me too” movement is complex and has gained traction in the hearts and minds of women throughout the world. Our resolve in wanting to be heard is inspiring. While western women showcase it with relative ease and entitlement, a Muslim woman in Kuwait or an Indian woman in Chennai is more nuanced and subtle in her identification with it. The awareness of ‘me too’ is palpable and appears to have triggered a raw, gut-driven emotion in countless women worldwide. And that’s what makes it unprecedented and powerful!
I met Rukhshana in the ladies room at an airport lounge in Kuwait. She was traveling to Beirut with her younger sister and infant daughter. The few minutes we spent talking and grooming together connected us in ways similar to two friends having coffee in a Stamford, Connecticut Cafe! My lipstick shade and smile caught her attention and thus began a conversation- sharing perspectives about her full hijab and stylish clothes underneath, her travel nightmares when she traveled to the west amidst a snowstorm a few years ago and her impactful life in Dubai! She’s a teacher, the one profession that I deeply care about and respect. Teachers create the next generation; they are powerful in developing or destroying minds, nurturing or negating spirits and healing or harming hearts!
Although I’m not sure where Rukhshana falls in that spectrum, her defining demeanor, purposeful stride and our conversational connectedness showed me glimpses of a woman who lives life on her terms, who is in touch with her inner self and who is probably shaping young minds in a responsible manner. We didn’t exchange contact information but she made an impression.
I wonder about her life story as a Muslim woman, living as one, her perfect and accented English, her childhood, her family, her wounds, her adult relationships, the men in her life, her approach to mothering a daughter, her decision to continue covering herself in what seems so restrictive. BUT IS IT? And does it really matter? Is it any different from wearing a rich tapestry of fashionable and revealing garments from different cultures? Is it a personal choice - or is it a choice-less religious-cultural conformity imposed on Muslim women?
And if it does symbolize the subjugation of women; is it any different from gender stereotyping and countless examples of subjugation, conditioning and unfair socio-cultural demands placed on ALL women throughout the world? What about salary disparity for the same jobs in the West, alive and well in contemporary times- as evidenced by recent news reports in Hollywood, in multinational Corporations and at the very heart of western and other cultures?
Let me not fall into the trap of an “either-or” argument with respect to gender equality, and recognize a more apt conjunction like “AND”!!!!! The traditional feminism movement has been unable to draw young millennials as previous generations and forces us to have a deeper and bolder conversation about gender identity, roles, rights and responsibilities.
Cheers to the average trail blazing women of today as we pause to celebrate another March as women’s history month!