Picture this: a 17-year-old girl, in the midst of labour, in a mud hut in Pakistan. No one has told her anything about pregnancy and what it’s like to give birth, so when she goes into labour she isn’t exactly sure what is happening. There are no medical facilities nearby, and even if there are, no one knows how to access them. Soon a woman who delivers babies in the neighbourhood is by the teenager’s side and before she knows it, the girl is giving birth to a baby in the middle of the night.
If you look at statistics, that baby would most likely have grown up to be poverty stricken, just like her parents. Her mother, after all, was just a teenager who didn’t even complete school. Thankfully, the statistics are wrong in this case. You see that teenager was my grandmother. The baby was my mother. And here I am, writing this for you.
The journey our family has made from that start has been a big one. Who would have thought that the baby girl born to that poor teenager in Pakistan, who - just because of her gender - would have the odds stacked against her, would go on to become a Professor of Neuroscience, which is what my mum is.
It’s easy for feminism to forget such girls and to be centred around educated, middle-class, white women’s woes.
Her success and mine is pretty much all due to my grandmother. She had a goal in mind. She wanted to make sure that every one of her children would not only finish school, unlike her, but would go to university. She succeeded in this goal. Each one of her children has received at least a Bachelor’s degree, and most have a Masters or a PhD.
But there are many girls who don’t have the determination and support that my grandmother had. Not just in Pakistan, but in countries around the world, even in this country that we live in. It’s easy for feminism to forget such girls and to be centred around educated, middle-class, white women’s woes. But that unfortunately is very damaging to feminism itself.
The feminism that we see paraded around in mainstream circles, such as on our bookshelves, our TV screens and in the many public events taking place, is a feminism that specifically appeals to women from a Western background. I’m not saying that gender inequality, the pay gap, the amount of hours women spend on domestic chores compared to men, aren’t issues that confront us all, but they aren’t the only issues that should concern us.
Many women not just like my grandmother, but to an extent my mother, and women of minority backgrounds from my own generation and younger, are being left behind by feminism. And because they have been ignored by feminism, many of these women don’t call themselves feminists. Which is a shame because people like my grandmother are some of the best feminists I know.
For the most part white feminism wants many of us from migrant and minority backgrounds to overlook the pain and heartache the generations before us went through.
It’s too late now for me to go about convincing my grandmother she’s a feminist. She isn’t one for labels anyway. I’m just so grateful that she had the foresight to do what she did for not just her family but for the generations to come. But it’s not too late for the many women of minority backgrounds, and otherwise, who feel that feminism doesn’t speak for them. I want to convince them that it does. Feminism isn’t just for white, straight, educated women. It’s for those of us who have felt marginalised not just because of our gender, but because of our class, race, or sexual orientation.
For the most part white feminism wants many of us from migrant and minority backgrounds to overlook the pain and heartache the generations before us went through. They want us to focus on our lives now. But that can’t happen. I can’t ignore what my grandmother went through. And I can’t ignore the fact that countless women are still going through this. There are women who are discriminated against because of their class, for their sexual orientation, for being Indigenous, for being non-binary or transgender, for being sex workers. And if not them, their mothers were, or their grandmothers, or their ancestors. The pain runs deep and it leaves a mark not only on your DNA but how you perceive the world.
My grandmother will be proud that I have given her struggle a voice, because her struggle is not just hers alone. Her struggle is one shared by millions of women across the world, and it’s a struggle that continues today. It’s up to us to not only take on the causes that personally impact us, but also those that impact the many voiceless women around the world because the fight of the sisterhood won’t be won until all our sisters feel empowered.
Is Australia Sexist? premieres on SBS Australia, 4 December, 8.40pm, and will be available to stream at SBS On Demand.