Tanzim Hasan Sakib is the victim of a sexist culture
The first time I saw cricketer Tanzim Hasan Sakib's social media posts, I laughed incredulously at the inanity of his declarations: that a working woman ruins the family and society. Apparently, the poor young man forgot that his country was being run by a woman; that practically everything would stop if women refrained from working outside the home. What would happen to education if all female teachers dropped out? What would happen to the highest remittance earner – the readymade garment industry – if all the female garment workers went on strike? What would happen to patients if all the female nurses and doctors decided to stay home? What would happen to all the formal and informal sectors that are filled with women if, suddenly, they disappeared?
Of course, one should not be too harsh on a 20-year-old who probably grew up being exposed to patriarchal definitions of the role of women – definitions reinforced by some religious clerics, some of whom base their sermons on spewing hateful tirades against women. In a society where outdated cultural practices are confused with religious piety, it is hard for boys (and girls) to accept (enlightened) concepts that seem to contradict regressive ideas in the garb of religious diktats. Which is why I am no longer angry at this young man and am trying my best not to judge those men who actually lauded, instead of condemned, his misogynistic statements in the viral posts. In fact, I feel sorry for Tanzim, who obviously has a lot of potential as a cricketer, but as a young person has been shortchanged by the society he lives in. Tanzim – who said in a post that men marrying women who are used to "free-mixing at addas" would be depriving their children of a "modest" mother – is a victim of the toxic masculinity prevalent in his surroundings.
Reminding Tanzim and the ardent supporters of these posts that we are living in the 21st century, a time when women working is an integral part of development, that even the most revered prophet of Islam (PBUH) had married a working woman who had her own business, may prove to be futile. Prejudice, after all, precludes logic or reason, and conveniently ignores truth. Prejudice, moreover, is weaponised to brainwash human beings and control them. Religion, having the greatest influence on people, can be used and distorted to serve the purpose of certain groups to control and dominate others.
The biggest threat to patriarchy is women who have minds of their own, and therefore, they "must be controlled." And, of course, it is the men who must exercise this control over women's bodies, minds and movement; whether they are wives, sisters, daughters, daughters-in-law, or women in general. Even the idolised mothers are not spared from the shadow of control. Otherwise, heaven forbid, they will start thinking independently and believing that they should be treated as equal human beings. Worse, if they start going out of the house and working, the very structure of society will break down and men will be rendered powerless.
The fear of being emasculated is the driving force behind male chauvinism, which is unfortunately also internalised by many women who have been brainwashed by the system. Thus, women resign to giving up their education, their jobs, and their dreams in order to conform to the patriarchal society they live in. Usually, they don't have a choice. And when they become mothers they continue the legacy, turning their sons into entitled chauvinists who are then influenced by the male role models in their lives – fathers, older brothers, peers, religious clerics, and so on. The mothers of these entitled sons become mothers-in-law who unleash the legacy of patriarchy on their daughters-in-law – and the cycle goes on.
It is therefore hard to change people's mindsets, which have been formed through centuries of mind-control; mindsets that are allowed to flourish even while the tide of progress is rising. I will be audacious enough to say that, in Bangladesh, while women have moved forward and become active drivers of development, the mindsets of the majority have stayed stagnant or even regressed into the dark ages.
Women are not allowed to reach their potential because they are constantly held back by archaic, sexist cultural perspectives that have been blended into religious narratives, making them almost impossible to be phased out. So when a misguided sporting star chooses to post sexist views that demean working women, they get overwhelming endorsement from like-minded men.
If I were to make Tanzim realise just how inaccurate those posts are, I would tell him to look around him and see who these working women are. I would tell him about Noorjahan Begum, who worked for more than 50 years as a cook because she had to fend for herself and her children after her husband remarried when she was still a teen. I would tell him about Rashida, who worked as a day labourer for years after she was widowed and had to raise her four children. I would tell him about Chameli, who saved up money from working as a domestic worker and bought two cows so that her husband, a farmhand who often refuses to work, could work them in the fields and sell them during Eid to buy food for their two daughters. I would also let him know of the thousands of women garment workers, bankers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, NGO workers, caregivers, and women in almost every sector he can think of, who go to work not only to financially support their husbands, parents, children, and in-laws, but also because they are equal citizens of an independent country and have the right to choose to work or not to work.
Aasha Mehreen Amin is joint editor at The Daily Star.
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