Sitting at a temple watching my beloved Guru perform puja (prayers) on a statue of Goddess Narayani (“universal mother”, symbol of wisdom, abundance and strength) on a lotus-shaped stage, it dawned on me, I have, for as long as I could remember, always rejected my femininity.
I grew up in a relatively socially liberal family. My mother had for long been a women’s right activist. My father repeatedly affirmed he considers my younger brothers and me equal. Theoretically it sounded splendid. Practically, I never really saw I was treated equally, often in over-consideration of the socially conservative society we live in. This left me feeling quite frustrated.
At the age of 12 I found myself diving in the rich, dense books of Nawal El Saadawi, a renowned Egyptian feminist writer and activist. Page after page she told devastating stories about oppressed women and men, brutal inequality and sexual abuse. Her stories reflected how gravely inequality was prevalent among all, even the so-called elite and educated. Her books were my bible and although I don’t anymore adopt such extreme views as she carries, she is probably the reason I almost never wear make-up. Her ideas and stories made me view the world drastically differently, and I began perceiving many acts by women as submissive and many by men as oppressive. I developed a highly sensitive sexism-sensor and refused all expectations of me acting like a submissive female, the biggest of which was marriage.
As a result, I spent my early teenage years being quite aggressive and trying to walk and pose like a boy and the other half of my teenagehood breaking as many social rules and taboos as possible, doing exactly what I wanted in an act of roaring rebellion against all attempts of gender oppression. I was angry. I was furious at society.
I had a love-hate relationship with fellow girls. I loved the fun and intimacy with my female friends, but was repulsed by all acts of weakness, submission and superficiality. I had a love-fear relationship with boys. I loved freedom and openness with my male companions, but was unknowingly afraid they would think of me as weak, stupid and emotional, being a “lesser” sex.
Dating a hardcore communist for 7 years didn’t help either. There was a constant struggle, within myself more than anything else, to be the woman I yearned to be in that intimate relationship. Getting married was perceived as submissive and shameful. Often self-suppressing my emotions and avoiding expressing them was the norm until bursts of explosions happened every now and then, and until it ended.
There I was - absolutely free yet utterly confused about finding a balance between embracing myself, with all my thoughts, emotions, needs and desires, most of which I directly or subtly thought were weak and shameful, on one hand and being “strong”, independant and “collected” on the other.
One door opens to the other, one heart connects to another and I find myself listening to lectures by Waleed Hashim, Reiki Jin Kei Do and EnerSense Master and an expert in interpersonal relationships and romantic love. He tells tales about how we all are made of both feminine and masculine energy, how for most of us we are dominated by one and not the other, though by a distorted version of it, and how both energies are neither “good” nor “bad” and neither “strong” nor “weak”; living with them at peace is merely a matter of keeping the energy balanced within us and allowing it to be and act with love and for love.
However, it is difficult for me to look at myself in the mirror, wearing this sleeveless top or that short dress, letting my afro wild and loose, with my tiny feet and slender cheek bones, with my strong and (generally) rarely suppressed opinions, with my love for singing, dancing and cooking and my insistence to get things done on my own, after all the stories I have been through and all the strong feminist stances I took and the loving yogic thoughts I expressed, it is difficult after all these years to stare into the deep oceans of my sparkling, curious eyes and say,
“I love the feminine in me as much as I love the masculine in me. I fully understand that neither are good nor bad. I fully understand that I am made up of both and it no longer matters which I am dominated by. I love how my masculinity inspires me to get things done, to be practical and to assume responsibility when required. I love how my femininity inspires me to take a break when needed, to comfort people but also be taken care of, to express my thoughts and feelings unashamedly and allow my tears to flow as often as they would like for whatever reason it may be. It doesn’t matter what I wear, I fully love and respect myself. It doesn’t matter what people see, it is merely a reflection of their own selves. I embrace my desire to love and be loved. I embrace my need to feel independent. I embrace my desire to be carried and nurtured. I embrace my desire to be married and have my own home with a loving and compassionate partner.”
It is difficult to say at first, but it can be seen, it can be said, it has been said and it will be said over and over again until the lies that spread in the back of my head wash away. I refuse to walk around the rest of my life feeling like part of me is broken, shameful and ugly. I am fed up acting out of fear of being hurt or judged. I am ready to embrace my perfection whatever it may be. I am ready for love. My arms are open. My mind is open. My heart is open.
Amal - Nov 2015