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Something Borrowed, Something Blue
She limped to the stage to sit next to her decorated man, the man she married yestereve. I naively asked my aunt the reason behind her affluent cousin’s daughter’s limp as we watched the third day marriage ceremony video. The bride walked just fine a day ago, on her nikkah.
“What do you mean?” my aunt asked back.
“Why is she hurt? Look she cannot walk straight.”
My question was not answered, not even addressed. My mom walked out of the living room and into the kitchen. My younger aunt shot me one of those ‘this is not something appropriate to discuss’ side glances. After a few minutes of awkward silence, our attention returned to the screen as we watched two extravagantly dolled up women grab hold of the brides arms. They assisted her down the crowded aisle, walked her slowly towards the decorated man (did I mention under his shiny head adornment he appeared to be nearly twice her age). He did not look in his brides direction as she approached, he looked past her as she walked towards him, he was purposely oblivious to her painful struggle.
“Why isn’t he helping her?”
My aunt completely ignored my question this time and continued belaboring over the extravagance of the event. She pointed out notable figures in her cousins social circle, and named a few authority figures and key persons on the VIP list. I had very little knowledge of the people she spoke of. My attention didn’t leave the new bride’s contorted expression as she winced up the three steps and was finally on stage. The decorated man was not only unmoved, he did not acknowledge her presence as she sat down in the empty chair next to him.
“What is going on?” I blurted out loud.
My aunt huffed at my unnecessary, continuous interjections, and attempted a reply to silence me with an unapologetic ‘he is a Pakistani man.’ My frustration level was borderline manic at this point. Her statement to me was supposed to make some kind of sense, perhaps it was supposed to mean something, she thought she could provide a quick fix to my confusion by providing a useless definition to his blatant inaction. She incorrectly substantiated this man’s spousal incompetence. This was something I could not digest, an unbalanced debate followed; three culturally blinded older women against one youngin they deemed ‘culturally confused.’ My mom and her two sisters unleashed. A Pakistani man does not help, does not care, is not mindful. He does not feel your pain, he does not share your grief. He engages in physical relations with you because you are his wife and you are obliged to allow him to do as he pleases. That is your duty as his wife, to endure.
They were entirely serious in their proclamation of a woman’s role. To this I said they were wrong. I said it is not our duty to endure, it is not their right to expect this. Men can be gentle, men can be kind, men can be patient. They laughed at me, they told me my mentality was jumbled and misconstrued. They told me liberated thinking would only get me hurt with disappointment. My role models, my advocates, my female examples were lecturing me on submissiveness being the key to happiness. I was baffled, but more than that, my heart bled for them. Their survival was completely dependent on strength they individually produced out of nothing. They single-handedly created strength from life’s scraps, shavings and crumbs to combat life itself. The only thing they knew how to do was battle. The debate we had was mentally and emotionally exhausting. I could not believe that they actually believed marriage is defined by a man’s sexuality and unbalanced duties. A twisted, unabsolved ideology of male dominance should not be justified just because generations upon generations of women from this subcontinent were forced to endure a beating, or what I thought was a beating.
“She was not beaten,” my aunt was quick to correct me, “drunk grooms are aggressive in the bedroom.”
I stood up in disgust and disbelief.
“She’s limping because she was sexually defiled by her husband on their wedding night. Nothing about this is right. Absolutely nothing.”
If the sex is painful, she can tell him to stop. If he is hurting her, she does not have to endure just because she is his wife. Culture cannot declare this, religion does not encourage this. I think I was yelling my pointers. I could tell my mom was agitated at my word choices. She told me to stay quiet, not to utter such nonsense. She told me my language was inappropriate. I told her what was actually inappropriate was the fact that nobody wanted to speak of the fact that this young bride was sexually abused by this monster of a man. They told me it did not matter, that a husband was allowed to come at his wife in any manner he deemed fit. A wife cannot refuse her husband they told me, a wife cannot tell him to stop or to slow down. I felt defeated at this point, there was no altering their views, views set in stone, the weight of the stone they carried their entire lives, the weight of the stone they would take to their graves. Then it hit me, there was no altering not just because of generational backwardness, but because these women, these very important women, were probably victims of sexual discomfort and abuse themselves. Perhaps once, perhaps many times. I looked at them, watched the way their eyes avoided eachothers, how they looked to the ground. How they fell solemnly silent after fighting me on my stance.
I had to leave the dense air of that room and step away from the painful plausibility that something so utterly disgusting may have happened to my family by other members of my family. We cannot turn a blind eye to the fragility of relationships and emotions. Vile actions should not be legitimized by contractual signatures. Voices should not be hushed for fear of shameful finger pointing and whispers in the shadows. Bring out into the open that which is detestable. Unobstructed talks have to be part of the wedding process. A woman should be reminded of her aptitude, not told to remain subdued. Courage should be transferred as part her dowry. There is no greater wealth that patrilineage can provide than safeguarding a female’s self-worth. Give boys a lesson in manhood. Teach them that their strength is derived from a gentle heart and heedful mind. Show them how to grow within themselves in order to temperately attempt growing with someone else. Postnuptial sexual exploitation of women has to be addressed as rape, what unjustly happens in the bedroom should not remain hidden within the walls of the bedroom and buried under the floorboards. Men, stand up for your women. They are your mothers, your sisters, your daughters, your partners, your friends. Women, stand up for yourselves. You are the defining piece of your present, the entirety of your future.