by Hira F. Uddin
In light of the severe sexual and physical violence against young girls, more women are becoming comfortable with the idea of a male-free world. Perhaps women can finally extract the splinter of fear and caution embedded in their psyche. No longer having to speed-walk home from bus stops or illegally order mace online, women can inactivate their “rape-senses” the same way Spiderman’s “spidey-senses” would serve no purpose in a spider-free world. Even if you’ve never consciously thought to yourself, “my rape-senses are tingling”, because you felt you were being followed to your car or apartment building, women know exactly what that trigger of panic feels like.
All comic-book associations aside, there is a group of women who have suffered so badly from the actions of men within their community that they formed a village exclusive to women. What troubles me is that many people attribute the success of this women-only collective to the absence of men; not
the presence of strong-willed women. It is true that the Umoja women’s village in Kenya was born from the reality of physical violence and sexual assault against women. Nevertheless, it has grown into a personified vision of the phrase, “enough is enough”. Enough women were silenced; enough aggressors went unpunished.
It is the bond of sisterhood among these women that has elevated their self-worth beyond a level their aggressors can reach. This foundation of principles to stand up and speak against the evils that occur not only against oneself, but that of one’s fellow sister in womanhood is what has made the Umoja village well-built inside-out. It is the linkage of their dedication to surround themselves in a safe space within their community that speaks volumes of strength outward. These women are each other’s reminders to educate themselves, financially sustain themselves, and collectively support their initiative. Point being, the way women treat other women deserves a share of that weight.
Let’s dust the eye-shadow off our eyes and view examples of “girl on girl” passive aggressiveness. Exhibit a: the “no-makeup” photos girls have recently embraced due to Instagram. Not only has this app revolutionized the way we take pictures, but also the way we initiate new verbs into the English
language (i.e. “instagrammed” or “instagramming”). Girls post pictures of themselves with the caption “no makeup” and the “you’re-uglier games” commence. It’s easier for mean girls to criticize their Facebook friends for taking advantage of the filters Instagram offers to aesthetically enhance pictures. That is the benefit of the app after all, so why the negativity for using it purposefully?
The subject of mean girls segways nicely to exhibit b: the Mean Girls movie. This film resonated with so many young women that there was need for a sequel. The deeper issue is we have all felt small in some physical or social aspect to other girls at some point. There was high demand for a sequel because we find endless ways to compete and compare ourselves with other women; although in the end, we defeat ourselves as a collective and silence our voices another notch.
Another disturbing example is exhibit c: the cover page of a magazine with a model smiling in a bikini with manure spread all over her body. I must have missed the memo that animal dung is attractive and a substitute for sunscreen. As if female bodies weren’t already being labeled expendable, ill-preserved, and for sale, we cross all boundaries of self-respect and equate ourselves visually with dung. Please think about that for a moment.
The solution is not to blame the magazine or photographer. The solution is not to dream of a male-free world; that would be an injustice to all the dutiful fathers out there, like mine, who taught me to speak the productive ideas of my mind and never sell my self-respect for a worldly price. The solution is to ask ourselves what we as women will and will not stand for. If one woman is willing to roll around in animal dung, this conveys that our self-respect equals waste and should be treated as such. The dilemma is that via print advertising and social media, companies send reductionist messages about what women are and as a result, there is a disconnect with how women should be treated. Women want to be educators and intellectuals, but we are not going to get there while one of us associates herself with dung and the next generation of girls glorifies that act.
If we want to be closer to living in a world where women are not abused or exploited, we have to redefine our self-worth. We cannot associate womanhood with the phrase, “sugar, spice, and everything nice.” No. Our existence cannot be reduced to items we find in our pantry. We cannot build
a woman out of a mixing bowl and then bake cupcakes with the leftover batter. Our experience is more meaningful than that. We must be invested in our cause enough to speak and teach with substance. I say we embrace the phrase “fight like a girl” and fight with our collective values in one hand and our individual experiences in the other to knockout this brutality.
Sister Hira Uddin is currently a student at New York University.