Today’s post is a very special feature from our partner organization Thinking Beyond Borders. TBB is a gap year program committed to changing learning in to action. The authors of this post, Allison Aaronson, Georgina Walker, and Katherine Abram, clearly embody TBB’s mission to address critical global issues.
These three young women on their gap year in India have been striving to understand the influence of education on women’s lives. They have contemplated the social standing of women around them and reflected on their own experiences as educated women from the United States. Allison, Georgina and Katherine conducted interviews with Indian women of various socio-economic backgrounds and compiled a set of fictionalized personal accounts of the effect of women’s education. Each story, whether of an Indian or American girl, depicts these student’s understanding of challenges facing the world today.
The authors have crossed many international borders to get where they are today, but more importantly they have stepped over the borders of their comfort zones. They are seeking out meaningful relationships to discover a common ground. These humble stories illustrate true empathy, curiosity, and respect. What follows below are brief excerpts from each of their short stories. We hope you enjoy and take the time to read the full work of these incredible young women’s: I Am No Bird.
Your education, my father said, your education is the most important tool you have. I am lucky. My father has paid for my school, my tutors, my books. And I am going to be a doctor, some day. “A wise man needs no other weapon than his mind,” my father recited often, echoing through my memories of childhood. And so I believed. My education was my talisman, a warm spot, tucked beneath my coat, which allowed me to look the men in the eyes that stared on the streets as I walked alone to school. That allowed me a small, secret smile when those who did not know me or my family well exchanged knowing looks and indulgent simpers when I voiced my intention to work full time after marriage. My education would save me from a life of dull routine, a life of busy work and preening, a life lived in fear of leaving my house after dark… A wise man needs no other weapon than his mind, but I am not a man.
I didn’t raise my hand. We were learning about the women’s rights movement, and my teacher had instructed us to raise our hands if we identified as feminists. Not a single student raised her hand. Some argued that there was no need for feminism, as the women’s movement had reached its end. “Sexism is no longer an issue,” they proclaimed, “women already have equality.” I knew this to be false… I also knew myself to be a feminist. I was convinced that women lack social equality and that this is an urgent issue requiring public attention. I had no intentions of being subservient or of being seen as a body, and I planned on pursing a career and feared that sexist hiring would interfere with my ambitions. I was a feminist in every sense of the word, yet the word scared me… I didn’t raise my hand.
Marriage is a surrender, condemnation to continue the life I have led thus far. Once, I thought things might be different. In school I learned many things. I learned about brushing my teeth, the letters of the English alphabet, squares, diamonds, numbers, addition, and the names of body parts. I learned enough to say the word “no,” but not enough to use it.
The first time I met Vishal, I did not understand why he had come. Everyone was very serious. I did not know what to do with Vishal, so I suggested we take a walk. When we returned the adults seemed very satisfied. “You two are to be married,” they announced, and that was that.
They are coming to collect my dowery, and father is very grim. I’m glad Father doesn’t have to pay too much to find a husband for me, but I would have liked to wait until I am eighteen to become married. All I can think of is the word “no.”
I was asked to express my thoughts on my own insecurities regarding inequality. “I am a girl growing up in a society where I have a choice. I have a choice to be whomever I choose, but there is pressure to make the right one. What would it mean if I chose to be a stay at home mom like my mother was? Would I be letting down my sex if I chose not to partake in the professional world?”
Two weeks later my quote was stripped down and beaten by a senior girl who thought “Yes, you would be letting down your sex if you were to choose not to work.” She thought it was the weak choice. She had called my insecurity weak.
She thought women who did not work because they chose to take care of their families were an enemy of the feminist cause. That somehow they were letting down everything women had fought for. I thought the feminist movement was to give women a choice in how to live their lives, a voice in matters that were seen as above women’s pay grade. I thought it was to give us the respect that for so many years had been absent.
A Good Wife
“A good wife is a smart wife.” That mantra haunted Priyha not only within the conversations that echo in her home but throughout society. Nobody expected her to contribute something unique and original to the world. The only expectation of Priyha was to become an asset to her family – and future husband. To prove herself worthy in the world that she was born into – a male dominated universe. Oh! …She knew she was smart, and despite her mother’s opposition to this, had a clear perspective of where she stood in the world. She knew that she could make something of herself beyond the homestead life the heroines that inspired the text in her books. But how?
Priyha had a privileged life to be so educated. It seemed as though things would continue to improve, but still, the world’s view of how much of a role women played was backwards because, at the end of the day, Priyha’s father or husband would make the final call. What is the point of her education if all she was expected to do was keep house and husband?