The Subaltern Has to Speak
By: Sana El Gharib
I opened my eyes into a very large and conservative family, and I lived among my uncles, aunts, and grandparents. I enjoyed my childhood and spent memorable times with my cousins who have been like brothers and sisters to me. However, I have always missed my father because he spends most of his time in another city due to work conditions.
In 2013, I got my baccalaureate degree for which I worked hard. I have been very competitive, and my efforts were on a par with the ambitious spirit I have had. I have drawn heartening plans for my educational career. I have had a strong feeling of excitement towards the future, and I always wanted to bring forth something significant and contribute in making some change.
When I got the baccalaureate certificate; I went hurriedly back home to cheer my parents. They have satisfied my expectations and showed me their feelings of pride and support. After all, I never thought that my father, who has always been encouraging me, was actually expecting me to stop, but he was completely melted in the big family’s traditions. Although he has never been narrow-minded, he couldn’t set himself apart from the patriarchal system run by male rule-makers in the family. He was caught between his natural softness and the influence of my uncles, specifically regarding the way they plan the destiny of every single girl in the family from cradle to grave. In fact, we, girls were all expected to wave the white flag, approximately at the age of eighteen, and compulsorily quit education in order to start considering marriage. Since my father was not utterly convinced, they made him believe that going to a university was not safe anyway because of the distance and that it would be better to give up the idea rather than to look for a solution. I couldn’t even have a chance to privately discuss the matter with my father. The big family’s restricted mind controlled everything, and when I tried to defend myself, I was viewed as disobedient, opinionated and strong-minded. They say we females do not have the right to speak when men speak because men know everything; they know our benefit and that is imprisoning ourselves at home waiting for our luck to pop up. They also say “get married so that you can get covered” s if we were born to remain naked until we get married.
Such ideas represent the patriarchal fixed values that are still strongly operating in Moroccan society. Women are always expected to sacrifice something, and it is even believed that they are biologically ready to patiently bear anything. Many go through traumatic experiences inherent from primitive constrictions of society but prefer to remain silent. Regarding my case, the reason that has made my female cousins accept their ‘pre-planned’ status is that they have been heartbreakingly injected with the idea that they are not qualified to choose for themselves. They are made to feel that they are lucky in comparison to their mothers who have never been at school. The aim is to make us females feel blessed since at least we could read and write, and for this we should be thankful and focus on what we were born to be slavish wives. In fact, I believe that marriage is a union of two equal people aiming to create a stable and bonded family based on giving and taking from both sides. It is an institution of love, support and acceptance. Accordingly, though getting married adds responsibilities to a woman’s life, it does not necessarily require giving up her education. Women are able to raise families and make a difference in society at the same time. Yet this understanding is still far-reached in our community where marriage is viewed as status, prestige, ego and competition. If your daughters all got married early, then you are the model of success celebrated by the public eye.
To make things worse, patriarchy agents tend to misuse religion to justify their deceptive practices and construct cultural codes based on mere fallacies. Furthermore, it has always been intended to intensify this confusion between Islamic teachings and all the constructed patriarchal norms that have for ages exploited our understanding through common practice and misrepresentation. Michel Foucault explained that “knowledge reflects power”; therefore, it is safe to say that the patriarchal system does not want us to pursue education or to be intellectual because the more we know the more we develop the ability to shake misconceptions. For instance, a little glimpse at Islamic history is sufficient to clearly demonstrate that the first verses revealed to the prophet Mohammed, peace and blessings be upon him, order people to seek knowledge, and hadith, explanation, of the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, confirms that the verses pertain to both men and women. Also, the prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, unhesitatingly accepted to marry his first wife Khadija, may Allah be pleased with her, when she was a flourishing businesswoman, and Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, was a scholar and one of the most extraordinary figures in Islamic history who reported more than 2000 hadith to man-kind and extensively contributed to establish woman’s rights, the fact that mirrors that religion, namely Islam, has never been against women’s education or work.
After all my unsuccessful attempts to convince my parents to allow me to go to English department in Agadir, I sank into depression and isolated myself from everybody. I could not swallow it. I thought there must be a way out. I knew something inside me would die if I surrendered. For this reason, I decided to go to Shariaa faculty and start studying there because it was not too far from the place where I lived. My parents could not say anything because it was all safe and that was what mattered the most for them. Thereby, others could not interfere anymore because I insisted on my decision, and it was also obvious that I was not interested in getting married at that time. My first year in Shariaa was like ‘Hell’. I had to study day and night to reach the required level because most of my colleagues were familiar with what we were studying and had already been students in traditional high schools. Besides, I started working and earning my own money, although not much and not regular, but It helped me to hang my hat on myself. There was an English class in the faculty, and I was obliged to attend it even though I did not want to show much enthusiasm because I was trying to forget and put up with my situation.
One day, my English professor asked me if I was interested in joining an English club that she and another professor had created, ‘Open to all’ club she said. I joined the club by chance, and I must admit that it was the best decision I made at the time. It was what brought me back closer to what I always wanted to do. Finding myself among people with whom I share the same love story helped me to overcome the feeling of disappointment and make use of the opportunities I have had. It has been the small world where I explored my personality and the miracle that has convinced my father that I was born to be different and decide for myself. I invited him to attend our activities and introduced him to the work I have been a part of. The feeling of pride that he has always been carrying for me indescribably blossomed when he talked to my professors and realized that I was one of the most brilliant students even though I had to undertake many responsibilities at same time. In 2016, my last year in Shariah faculty, I joyfully embraced the fruits of the tough challenges I had to undergo. My graduation year ended up in a celebratory tone, and I witnessed a turning point in my life. With my hard-earned BA and exceptional research, I have gained a rich package of experiences and memories.
Today, I am composing this humble piece of writing as a student in the English department. I finally managed to change the stream and open the door not only for myself but for my young sister as well. It is true that sometimes I feel that I have wasted too much time trying to prove something that still seems nonsense for ‘the big family’ or patriarchal community in general. However, it makes me feel satisfied when I constantly receive motivational messages from my father before making every small step towards achieving my goals. I am about to graduate and get my second BA, and the same feeling of excitement towards living a life of my choice is still pulsing in my innermost mind. To change a person’s mindset without losing him/her is certainly worth the long and tough journey. I realized I have made a great difference when I heard my father clarifying to my sister’s fiancé that his condition is to ‘never force his daughter to give up education after marriage’.