Two years ago I confided to a close friend that another reason I wasn’t ready to return home was because I wasn’t ready to return to the inevitable cultural, religious and societal fold that defines, or so they believe, my value and definition as a woman. “No matter how far I wander and how high I leap, these matter very little. At the end of the day, what matters more is always, always, whether I am a wife, mother – married, a man by my side.”
A year ago, I spent summer at home experiencing exactly this, as yet another relative clucked their tongue when I told them I’m off to graduate school for a second degree. With concerned expressions, they’d ask, “But when are you going to settle down and get married?” or “Do you at least already have a boyfriend?” At that time I was still entertaining the notion of a PhD, and they worried not over my potential thesis topics, rather whether the added years would effectively lower the price tag I never even knew I had on me. Forget too, the challenges I won over in securing funding to transform this from a mere pipe dream, which I’d just relayed to them not seconds ago.
A few days shy to the end of summer break, I confided to my mentor the frustration and anger I felt towards a system that is futile to wage a war against. “It’s like a box,” I said, “This box that insists I fit and mold myself within its four walls. Regardless how badly I want to fight against it or attempt to prove a point, I keep being reminded that even the strongest women in my life caved in.” My whole body shook; I was angry, really angry. Unfazed, she responded simply with, “Get out of that box!” Five words – I carry them with me now and always, because they remind me that I have a choice.
This summer I’ve tasked myself to attempt to experiment different insights and viewpoints. Could it be that I’m looking at this all wrong; skewed angles? Two days ago it occurred to me that maybe I had it all wrong when I urged strong women not to settle for less than what they deserve. I’d shared this on my personal Facebook, in response to the following words by author Anaïs Nin:
I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.
It occurred to me that maybe it’s not the women I should have called out to, rather the men. In my dominantly patriarchal society where the views and depths of men are undeniably weighed more heavily and still significantly influence the perspectives that the women have, maybe it’s the men, not the women, I should’ve given more thoughts about. Maybe it’s to them that I ought to implore and ask that they man up and re-define the measures of a man, so that strong men become the new norm, the rule, and no longer the exception.
I look forward to the day when an Asian society like mine, hopefully mine, will at last look at its strong women and not label them tigresses, iron ladies and the like, rather women – all women, just that. Exactly that.