It’s no secret that misogyny is within the very fabric of our societies. As women, we feel as though we are being watched over. We have to assess our surroundings and if we want respect, we act according to their norms, customs and values. We’re left confused and anxious because if we don’t calibrate our moral compasses with the norms of another individual, or society, we are unfairly targeted and shamed. It gets scarier knowing that the vast majority of the shaming happens behind our backs.
It’s even more perplexing when we find ourselves in a situation in which we are subject to the insecurity of others. For example, there could a particular person who may have a son that drinks, smokes and doesn’t believe in God. The parent of the son could be religious and would deep down condemn the actions of their son, but would not outwardly oppose him. So to compensate, the parent would focus on other girls and the daughters of others, as objects of honour and shame.
الْخَبِيثَاتُ لِلْخَبِيثِينَ وَالْخَبِيثُونَ لِلْخَبِيثَاتِ ۖ وَالطَّيِّبَاتُ لِلطَّيِّبِينَ وَالطَّيِّبُونَ لِلطَّيِّبَاتِ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ مُبَرَّءُونَ مِمَّا يَقُولُونَ ۖ لَهُمْ مَغْفِرَةٌ وَرِزْقٌ كَرِيمٌ
Bad women are for bad men, and bad men are for bad women; and pure women are for pure men, and pure men are for pure women. They are free from the slanderer’s accusations; for them there shall be forgiveness and honorable provision from Allah.
The holy Quran – Surat An-Nur, Verse/aya 26.
The aya is crystal clear. The problem with the way it is interpreted many times is that people think it’s a flat out promise from God, implying the people we have in our lives are a reflection of God’s opinions of our actions. It isn’t; it’s a warning from God, telling us to stay around good people.
The previous verses in the chapter were defending Aisha (RA), the wife of the Prophet Mohammed (SAW) when she was accused of committing adultery and was ostracised from her community. The verse that I just quoted is a follow up of God defending her against the rumours flying against her. Ultimately, it was revealed as a form of advice for Aisha (RA) and to all humans who would then find themselves being accused and shamed the way she was.
The underlying message is we do not need to conform, nor impress. If bad people around you talk about you, stay away from them, not just if you’re innocent. Even if you slip up and make a mistake, you do not deserve to be reminded about it and punished for it constantly. We’re all human and we’ve all screwed up.
If someone has malicious intentions, there’s no need to prove yourself. Stay away and surround yourself with good people who forgive, motivate you to do good and elevate you.
The problem is, this is easier said than done and not only because we don’t always know who our real friends are. Because the shaming of women is normalised, we often subconsciously try to conform to their neurotic demands. We allow their norms to define who we are and we have been conditioned to accept their opinions of ourselves. Even if we’re doing nothing wrong, we have it ingrained that no matter how erratic or hypocritical they may be, the morals of others should define our behaviour and that they have a right to shame us accordingly.
In our culture, a man could drink, smoke and do all of the impermissible things under the sun and his mother (for the sake of embodying my point, of course fathers do this too) may not say a word to him. She may even go above not condemning him and would even full on accept his lifestyle. That’s between the mother, the son and God. No one has a right to speak about them. The problem is, however, is when the mother accepts her son’s lifestyle, but holds her daughters, or the daughters of others to account.
She would not condemn her son for having a girlfriend, or for drinking, but would condemn his girlfriend for being a girlfriend and would condemn a girl who drinks with her son. It doesn’t stop there. Usually, when this particular type of mother or auntie possess such attitudes, it’s as a result of an inferiority complex, which means her judging, double standards and hypocrisy know no limits.
She could speak to the mothers of girls who have done nothing wrong and belittle them and their parenting. She could make innocent girls or women feel disgusted by themselves, for no reason at all. How? By creating a bubble of her own scattered norms, which are derivative from her own double standards and facilitated by structural misogyny.
These attitudes must be directly resisted. We must make a conscious effort to unlearn the culture of shame that society has forced us to internalise. We must trust our own judgement and moral outlook. This doesn’t necessarily mean fighting every auntie that speaks ill of us. That gets tiring. The battle is an internal one that focuses on self love, self trust and the dismissal of nonsense. She is wrong, not you. She is wrong for talking about you, twisting your innocent actions or dwelling on your mistakes. We must refract, not reflect on the negativity of others.
Maybe at times you would want to, or even need to get into confrontations. When you feel it is right, don’t shy away. For the most part, rather than fighting everyone head on, simply ignore them. Do what you want and follow your own moral compass. Ignore and isolate those who shame you, even if it is almost everyone in your community. Don’t feel the need to justify your actions, or to impress them. Be yourself and don’t allow yourself to be a victim of the insecurity and hypocrisy of others. Only when you stop caring is when you find true contentment and peace and is when you’re secure enough to only allow those who truly wish you well and accept you for who you are to be a part of your life.