Entitle Single Women their space-1

Entitle Single Women their space

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Entitle Single Women their space-1We need to come to terms with the reality that women in our society can also be independent, and can earn an honest livelihood, choose a partner, as long as she fulfills these. The idea of freedom, the agency of choice must rest with the woman unquestionably.

By Nazarul Islam

Single women in the country of our origin, be it Bangladesh, India or Pakistan—are often looked at as aberrations, and as direct threats to patriarchal systems that encourage them to marry and ‘settle’ well before the mid-30s. A woman in her late twenties, single by choice, is inadvertently assumed to not have been able to find a partner, rather than being genuinely selective about it, or choosing to stay single for as long as she pleases.

There is an assumption in our own  culture, that a woman is entitled to her ‘own’ home, the space where she prefers to call  the shots only after her marriage. It is assumed as though, marriage itself is a license to privacy and space, since the home she shares with her parents doesn’t encourage or entitle her that autonomy.

The systems are that of the authoritarian figures, in this case, the parents, where the woman sharing that space, is a part and must conform to those systems. ‘Tum shaadi karo aur apne ghar mein jo chahe karo’ (Tumi biyeh koro, tar pore nijher  bashaey ja iccha koray, tai koro) straddles two deeply problematic notions.

One that a woman’s home becomes her own only once she marries. As deeply problematic as ‘settling’, which for a woman means latching on to a man and finding anchorage only then. The second is the concept of autonomy and choice.

That she can exercise her will for the smallest to the largest decisions only when she is in a conformist space of a married household. The idea of privacy within a shared space with parents is novel, and almost amounts to disrespect when demanded.

Entitle Single Women their spaceAs the numbers of single women have swelled in societies of our entire Indian subcontinent, it is imperative to understand that many would share their home spaces with parents. And, as of now, economic realities are ensuring this. If not, rented accommodations do not provide homes to single women with ease either. There are questions asked, aspersions cast, and evaluation of her ‘character’, again from deeply patriarchal ideas of morality.

In that world, these kinds of jibes are made sexist, demeaning and  aim to reduce the identity of a woman to be incomplete before the socially accepted ideas of marriage. When contested, and privacy demanded, the demand is often viewed as an act of rebellion, with parents assuming that the ‘freedoms’ they ‘give’ are not adequate.

Who decides what is freedom, and what authority do these figures have to ‘give’ freedom? Both these notions are singular and tie back to diffused patriarchy. Where, within the now expanded patriarchal framework (thanks to thousands of women fighting innumerable battles), the ideas of freedoms that are socially acceptable still conform to the idea of relaxed patriarchal constructs.

We need to come to terms with the reality that women in our society can also be independent, and can earn an honest livelihood, choose a partner, as long as she fulfills these. The idea of freedom, the agency of choice must rest with the woman unquestionably.

The very idea that a woman can be autonomous about the decisions of living in her own space over taking phone calls, choosing to drink, choosing to smoke, choosing to have male friends over are still viewed with suspicion.

The woman in her mid-30s transforms to that of a daughter. As one who must wake up to help in the kitchen on time, as one who must keep her room, her space, her abode and her own self,  presentable at all hours. Before any of these are justified as ideas of ‘adjustments’, what is critical to be questioned is that if the ideas are laced with patriarchal expectations? When sharing house space, adjustments are a given. Are they to be different, simply on the basis of gender? Therefore, are they to be treated with discrimination on that basis?

A look at men, or perhaps, having the expectation that they must move out (whether economically viable) because they have grown up, is also a patriarchal thought. However, men moving out and their expectations of privacy are met often with reverence, for women this is met with suspicion and unhappiness.

Home is a safe space for everyone. And a woman choosing to lead her life needs to be entitled, the same respect. So why should single women not be entitled for recognition, and be facilitated with a space that she buys or owns? Do we encourage the same levels of freedom and privacy for men as we do for women?

A woman can and must take care of her parents, and yet should she not be entitled to the same levels of autonomy within the households of those parents? Should refusal, demands for privacy be viewed as acts of disrespect? It is imperative for fights against patriarchy to be won within the home.

Those battles are often the hardest to fight, but also the most necessary, for the single woman to reclaim her space.

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About the Author                     

Nazarul IslamThe Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.