SPEAK UP: Patriarchy and Pakistani Girl Problems (i.e. Living a Lie)

Every time a guy tells you
what you can or can’t be,
Because you grew up
believing in patriarchy

You get tense, you get angry,
you want to fight
You don’t wanna lose any more
years of your life

But you’re scared to speak up,
You’re conditioned to agree
You’re trying to find your voice
And how to be free

So you say one word
But take two words back,
A step in the right direction
‘Til your inner girl feels lack

You’re bold and reserved,
Conflicted all inside
You want to make waves
But then you run and hide

So you give up on trying,
You feel like you can’t win
You resign your voice
To a life within

But then it creeps out,
Because your truth can’t hide
If you never speak up
You’ll be living a lie.

Today is the International #DayOfTheGirl – a day the United Nations dedicated to recognizing the unique challenges girls face around the world. I wrote this poem – tentatively titled Living a Lie – from the perspective of a Pakistani-American girl in her 30s who is only now learning to shed decades of cultural conditioning. I imagine it’s a feeling girls of all ages, Pakistani or not, can relate to – especially if they grew up in communities that embraced patriarchal values.

I felt it truly captured everything that it meant to be…Khanflicted.

(You know, the girl raised by a Pakistani mother and an American television.)

I had written it last week – and the minute I wrote it, I felt like it was something truly special. In fact, I spent time yesterday contemplating when/how/if I’d share it, as it felt so…truthful, so real, the most “me” of any poem I’ve written as of late (or rather, the most consistent as far as emotional truth – there are a lot of poems written that capture TSwift-level love and angst that will likely never get shared.)

Not even 24 hours after wondering how to share it, I hop on Instagram early this morning and discover (courtesy of a Salma Hayek post) that today is a special day for girls, and in turn the perfect annual “day” to post it on Facebook – a day that truly captures the essence of the poem.

That essence being, the struggle of the “girl” label for those that don’t always want to conform to certain culture’s traditional definition of what a “girl” is supposed to be — as far as speaking up is concerned.

And yet…who still tends to conform, because she was raised to be obedient, a good Pakistani girl.

So…she doesn’t speak up. Or she tries…but then hesitates. Speaks – but just 50%. She doesn’t want anyone mad at her. And she just tells herself, “Just be kind of there. Don’t use all your voice” – even if she has something worth saying.

Because when she tries – oftentimes, she gets put in her place.

It’s the struggle I had with an ex-boss who, when I tried to defend myself after inaccurate assumptions, aggressively said “But, but, but, but!…For once I would just like Samia to just say ‘okay.’ Just sit there, and listen. Don’t talk back.

Or perhaps it’s not about speaking at all  – perhaps she experiences something so traumatic, she can’t utter a single word.

The shock leaves her…speechless (whether it’s her first ever 12 hour-silence as she processes the reality of a core wound being triggered…or two years of telling no one what really happened in a breakup to save face for him…or an almost-6-year-silence after being raped, as was the case for a very young and mute Maya Angelou.)

And it’s not just about her speaking or not speaking – it’s also about what they’re speaking – specifically, when they’re speaking about what she should or shouldn’t do.

A struggle girls have had with all sorts of authority figures.

Telling her what to wear. Who to hang out with. What she should do with her career or her social media or whatever – maybe because they care, but more likely because they care about how SHE reflects THEM.

It’s image.

Not heart.

And truthfully – as a Pakistani girl – it isn’t even always a guy who is instilling the “obedient” messaging at an early age, a mentality your own subconscious then adopts. It can even be your mom, if said-mother is traditional and connected to the patriarchal values of her culture.

[My mom, though I love her, definitely used the following phrases during my developmental years: Speak softly, lower your voice, don’t wear that, no one will marry you if you do that, don’t be hanging out too much, etc. Translation: don’t be YOU.]

It’s interesting that a girl like me – one who had made a career off of using her voice on-camera – would be so hesitant to use it in important situations. And it’s not that I don’t use it. I just…hold back. I give 50% – not 100% of my truth.

But alas – that is part of the conflict that is my life story. (Well – not anymore, I hope. Recognizing a problem is the first step in overcoming it, right? Or at least having awareness to consciously decide if it’s a moment where you want to speak or not, versus just choosing not to out of fear.)

Anyway. I could explore this further but, I have things to take care. Perhaps the “girl” label will be examined more another time. This is just a quick reflection on the importance of women using their voice if they choose to, if they feel that they have something worth saying. There is no right or wrong way to be – if being vocal isn’t your thing, it should never be forced.

But, don’t live a lie. If you do have something to say, speak your truth. Be direct. Don’t dim your light just so someone else can shine. If they want to shine, shine together – if they think your light needs to be dimmed just so their light can shine, then they don’t really have much brightness to begin with.

(And yes, writing the preceding line totally resulted in Rihanna & Jay-Z’s “Umbrella” getting stuck in my head. “When the sun shine, we shine together // Told you I’ll be here forever//Said I’ll always be your friend // Took an oath, I’ma stick it out to the end.” I love you, Riri.)

Recommended Listening: Christina Aguilera – Voice Within

Now in a world where innocence is quickly claimed
It’s so hard to stand your ground when you’re so afraid
No one reaches out a hand for you to hold
When you look outside, look inside to your soul
When there’s no one else, look inside yourself
Like your oldest friend, just trust the voice within

(This was the song I was singing on repeat while walking through the neighborhood before writing this piece – my ritual – the idea being to encourage girls to trust their voice within. After writing, I was in a sudden state of angst – thinking about moments when I betrayed myself and didn’t speak – and switched it up, opting for No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak.” It’s a great song, but real talk, the poem is supposed to be inspiring and uplifting, angst isn’t my vibe or intention for this post. So in full transparency, this recommended listening is my Monday AM edit after Inner Chiropractor kicked in. And I totally see how ironic this is given last week’s post was about sticking with your original creative vision. Oops. Baby steps, guys. Enjoy. I’ll see you guys next week. -💜SK)

P.S. This blog’s featured photo was taken at one of my favorite places, The Chai Spot, a place I absolutely love in Sedona, AZ. What makes it extra special, given the subject of my writing, is that it was opened by a Pakistani girl named Khalida Brohi. It’s MORE than just a cafe and clothing shop; it’s a social enterprise focused on peace-building between the East and West (to represent her own love story with someone outside her village), as well as the socio-economic empowerment of women and education of children in Pakistan. It just represents so much of what I believe in (aside from just my love of chai…since 50% of proceeds go to education in Pakistan, it’s how you justify spending $6 on chai even though it’s like 5 rupees in Karachi.) Anyway. The owner has done a TED Talk and written a memoir herself. She’s a like-minded soul and I highly recommend visiting (they also have a spot in Manhattan for my East Coast friends.)


START THE JOURNEY FROM BLOG #1: Am I Too Scared To Start Things?

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Email Samia Khan directly!