Prisons of Love
“The neglect of women’s rights means the social and economic potential of half the population is underused,” said Michelle Bachelet, executive director of U.N. Women, U.N.’s new entity for gender equality and women’s empowerment, at its launch last week.
Poverty, inequality and violence plague women around the world every day. Many activists work hard to empower women, and the media has increased its coverage of these issues. But one root cause of the inequality and injustice is usually overlooked: love.
Society’s system of thought has transformed love from a gentle embrace to a sharp wire that holds women back and forbids them from moving as freely as men. Paradoxically, the same love that motivates families to protect their daughters also restricts them. My family is a prime example.
One day, when I returned from school, I heard a thunderous voice. My mother interrogated me about arriving home 15 minutes late. I dried up like a piece of wood and stammered that I had been playing with my friends and stopped at one’s house to drop off a math notebook. She gave me tea and sweets and explained why she had been upset.
“You are a piece of my heart,” she said. “I don’t want you to be harmed, so don’t go to your friends’ houses. It is dangerous – they might kidnap you!”
Suddenly, my younger brother leaped into our home like a red fire.
“Give me some tea!” he said. “I ran a lot and I am thirsty! You know, Mother, while I was playing in Mohamad’s garden, I ran all the way to Auntie Bassira’s house.”
My mom remained calm and did not interrogate him. I protested that she was treating us differently because of our genders. My brother was younger than me yet received more freedom.
“Indeed, he also should not go so far,” was all she said.
I then asked if I could ride my bicycle with my brother. Before she answered, he turned to me, his eyes black like Aglianico grapes.
“Mom, I don’t like people talking behind my sister’s back, so please tell her not to wear tight jeans and dresses on the street,” he said. “People will look at her, and I don’t want to play with her in front of my friends.”
I started to shout back, but my mom agreed with him.
“He is right dear,” my mom said. “Take care of yourself and be the way that other girls are.”
This afternoon taught me three things.
First, families limit their daughters’ freedom more than their sons’ freedom because they want to protect their daughters. After my mom’s advice, I never went out with friends or tasted the different flavors of life. But writer Oscar Wilde writes that mistakes can be positive.
“Some of the best lessons we ever learn are learned from past mistakes,” he wrote.
Just as families give their sons the freedom to experience different good and bad things, they should allow their daughters this same opportunity.
Second, families limit their daughters’ choices more than their sons’ choices because they want to shield their daughters from society’s judgment. They don’t realize that it would be better to empower their daughters to shape society instead of succumbing to it. My brother wanted me to wear clothes that would make others view me positively for my own good, but encouraging me to wear the clothes I like to wear would’ve empowered me instead of empowering society’s judgment of me.
Finally, families teach their daughters and sons different gender roles because they want to make them “proper” citizens. Although this practice is done out of love, it actually creates gender and inequality.
Therefore, I believe love imprisons women. To create free women, we, the future parents of a new generation should love our sons and daughters the same way. It is our families that form society, so if we behave with an informed and genuine consciousness, we can abolish any ideas that create inequality to enjoy an equal and peaceful society.
“There is no limit to what women can do,” Bachelet said at the U.N. Women launch.
Unless we limit them by loving daughters differently than sons.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 30 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most unheard regions of the world.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2011 Assignment: Op-Eds.