Monday, August 16, 2010


Leaving a women's college-that reminds you every single day that women are changing the world, women need to fight for their fair share, women should be strong and confident, women need to help women-and then entering the "real world" is severely overrated. So much so that I needed to write about it. So much so that nobody bothers to voice the difference between that environment and the kind we are in back home. Although I am too tired of defending the choice to attend a women's college, I am going to expound on my favourite misunderstandings about the experience.

No, we are not all lesbians. And even if we are, it's really none of your business. In fact, if you are male and enjoy the idea of girl-on-girl action, please take a moment to relish the irony that women who like women are most likely not interested in you. Moreover, those women who do opt to be with other women do not make this choice out of "frustration", as delightfully egotistical men love to believe. On the contrary, finding men at a women's college is much easier than you would think; they turn up at the slightest hint of a party.

This brings me to the second myth: it is not like being in a nunnery. Though at times being locked up and forced to pray may have done wonders for our GPAs,it never actually happened, nor will it ever happen in any institution that prides itself on women's ability to make intelligent decisions. We did not have "house mothers" or nurses or wardens or whatever you may call them monitoring our every move. In fact, we had nobody but one another for wonderful, dependable company.

Wonderful, dependable company. Delightfully female company which did not end its sentences in question marks? You know, like we're not sure what we mean? Or we don't really mean what we say? Or we just think that being feminine requires a certain amount of uncertainty? That didn't happen very often, either. In fact, there were professors devoted to the cause of making sure that when you say something, you sound like you really mean it, because you have nothing to apologize for. Professors who were capable, accomplished women-not bra-burning feminists (coming to that one in just a minute)-or wonderful, enlightened men.

People should really get over the bra-burning image already. Honestly, why that should ever have been an issue in women's history is beyond my limited understanding. Bras are uncomfortable, maybe one woman and her friends did burn theirs. Why exactly should this symbolize an ideal which states, and very simply so, that women deserve equality? I'm not too sure either. I doubt anyone will ever figure out why braless-ness is such an enormous threat to the fabric of society, but my point is (and as a History major I feel the need to be specific) that bra-burning was never a popular activity amongst feminists, and even if it had been, an objection to it would have been completely irrelevant.

Lastly, and this is one I feel the need to constantly explain: receiving an education geared towards female empowerment does not mean we all nourish hopes of sterilising ourselves, abandoning the possibility of marriage and motherhood and shooting on sight every male CEO that gets paid 25 percent more than a woman in the same position. Nor does it mean that we all believe in or uphold the same ideals of feminism or femininity. What we do share, however, is the experience of having known what it is like, for a few years at least, for everything to be about us. We shared the education of learning from others how many ways there are to be successful, how many definitions we can give to equal rights, and how many ways there are to deny that being at a women's college was ever anything to regret.


Anonymous said...

For reasons I cannot quite point out I had/have been feeling utterly homesick/stressed and tired. So I decided to stumble the internet looking for blogs, videos, pictures by people from pakistani individuals that I could remotely relate to. And so amongst songs from Cheapmunks I stumbled upon your blog. And I have to say that I am utterly impressed and humbled by your writing and material. I can't remember the last time I read for hours without being distracted or feeling sleepy, reading in bed, on my phone, in class, at work (a part of me did not want to finish).
Aside from your very articulate and engaging writing style and your extremely intellectual insight into the various issues surrounding Karachi, Pakistan and the Pakisanis, but what really drove it home for me was of your experience as a pakistani girl with an amreekan college experience and degree. As cliche as it sounds but that hit the spot for me.
As a rising senior at a liberal arts college in the northeast, who has loved and is loving every second, every moment but has the nightmare of graduation looming around the corner, your blog really gave me the solace I needed.
I really enjoyed reading of your experiences at MOHO and all the feelings and responses you received after graduating and moving back home.
I find myself in the same position of defending the liberal arts education and my choice not to do medicine in Pakistan (shorter,less expensive, more lucrative JOB). But really kudos to you for defending your B.A history, now I wish I had studied history but them my mom might have not funded my education. But really liberal arts has been the best thing that has happened to me and in some corner of my arrogant brain I think my friends who went to england or big state schools for their professional degrees are just unfortunate. I remember when people were so confused as to why I wanted to 'do' arts when I had studied biology al my life. And also why I would go to an unheard of small college just because I wanted to go to america!?

I am sorry this post is turning our to be kind of a blog post but thank you for the inspiration!

I wish I could put together my thoughts as well as you but thank you so much for blogging. Frankly I'd love to read more stories of your experience at MOHO and after (what ever you feel is appropriate ;) ).

But reading through I was just curious about a few things;
why did you decide to go back to Pakistan right after graduation?
What do you think about Pakistani students abroad basically the idea of studying abroad?
What did you hope to do with a History degree?

and just a side note, you could be the next big female writer out of south Asia, so may be sip on some chai eat some chaat (i am not really making my homesickness easy on myself), sit on the porch with your lap top and while the pedestal fan blows your hair back, just WRITE till the maulvi on the microphone calls for fajar or the akhbaar wala comes by (which ever comes first)

tumhari behan

s.e. said...

Thanks for the encouragement Annonymous! I try to write as often as I can but you've motivated me to write some more :)
In response to your questions: There was never any doubt that I would go back to Pakistan right after graduation. I funded my own college education (mostly through generous financial aid but partly through loans and work-study) and the idea of graduating into a shitty US economy was extremely unappealing. I also had my very patient boyfriend of seven years waiting for me to finally finish and come home so we could earn some money and get married. I didn't want to miss out on seeing my youngest sibling growing up-he was still a toddler when I left for college. And finally, I was afraid that if I stayed, I would never return. I feel like that tends to happen in spite of our best intentions. All in all, I'm very happy I returned. I think studying abroad can be a great experience, but it's what you make of it that matters. A liberal arts education is incredible if you take advantage of all it offers, but then again I've seen people who go through it and come home as unenlightened as when they left. I guess that applies to everything though.
As for my History degree, I was hoping to go for a PhD one day. I had no idea what I would do right away, but I believe that if you sincerely love what you do, you find ways to make it work. There's also the plus that getting jobs is easier in Pakistan. Very fortunately for me, I'm working as a historical researcher/archivist and teacher here in Karachi, so I found my niche!
Hope that answers your queries, but a blog post on one of these things is coming up soon :D