My mother, a conservative Muslim Pakistani-Canadian immigrant settler, has never really opposed anything I wanted to do with my life. She gave me incredible freedom, considering her own upbringing and beliefs. There is one issue, however, on which she doesn’t seem to agree with me: she repeatedly asks when I’m getting married.
I have mastered the skill of ambiguous answers. In response, I would ask things such as, “What about my degree? I haven’t even graduated yet.” Of course, she has often matter-of-factly told me that I can always go back to school afterward. One day, tired of the whole routine, I asked, “Would you still ask me that if I was your son?”
Her hesitation in response told me all I needed to know.
I first learned of intersectionality when my philosophy professor introduced me to Kimberlé Crenshaw, who argued that systems of oppression interact with each other rather than operate in a vacuum. She put forth the radical notion that feminist movements and anti-racist movements have paradoxically marginalized women of color, whose unique experiences include living in patriarchal societies as well as white dominant ones.
The irony was not lost on me that a white male had brought me to the brink of self-recognition. That same week, my history TA was leading a discussion on women’s role in the human rights movement. The discussion led to racial minorities’ rights as compared to women’s rights movements. I quickly put my hand up and burst out talking. I detailed the fact that systems of oppression are not mutually exclusive. I explained that I, being one of the few minority women in the room, felt constantly ignored and put off because I didn’t belong to the larger picture. It all came pouring out in an embarrassing word vomit — again, to a white male.
One day, tired of the whole routine, I asked, “Would you still ask me that if I was your son?” Her hesitation in response told me all I needed to know.”
Being a Faculty of Arts student, there is ample opportunity to discuss social issues and to analyze women’s roles in countless societies. I have a substantive stake in the society I live in now and how, as a woman, I can improve it. Something that always hinders me is the fact that these discussions seem immensely constricted. Almost always, I hear peers and professors say “in the liberal Western world.” This phrase always stings slightly. Being an immigrant settler myself and growing up in a Western society, I cannot help but define that phrase in contrast to the East and to Pakistan.
According to the 2013 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum, the worst countries for gender inequality are in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Pakistan ranks as the second worst country for female equality. A Pakistani woman is raped every two hours in the country and one is gang-raped every eight hours. Pakistani women fill only five percent of leadership positions because of ingrained cultural norms imposed by their families, husbands and in-laws. Domestic abuse is not even recognized by law enforcement authorities as a criminal act, and many instances is not even reported because of weak societal and legal support for female victims. It’s easy to ignore these issues, but we have to be aware that they travel to our communities just as people do.
Being a Pakistani-Canadian immigrant, I carry the baggage of my country with me.
Intersectionality, specifically the crossover between gender and race, represents the voice of the truly and radically oppressed women, and counters oppression that travels across oceans to manifest itself in our society. It reminds me that women are being brutally raped, killed and tortured every day in their own households by their own family under the mask of cultural, religious and moral righteousness. It reminds me how my mother is a product of her own sexist society and how she is only doing what she believes is best for me, based on narrowly defined views she was given about the role of women. I began to understand how she is a part of a system of female oppression that has travelled to the West.
When I find myself on the precipice of two worlds, which have equal claims on my identity and are equally responsible for why I feel marginalized on a daily basis, intersectionality allows for reconciliation between the two halves of myself that have made me feel so torn. I have found a much better platform on which to stand so I can now start building the relationships I need, with family and with society, to begin understanding and rectifying the injustices of the past.