The Shroud of Shame

 

This week’s blog post is a very difficult one to write. It’s only Tuesday, but after the events of yesterday (the Orlando shootings) I feel as though I’m ready for the weekend and a long lie down in a darkened room.

I should also say that this blog post does contain some content which may upset or unsettle some readers because of the topic I’m discussing. It’s one that I’ve never really blogged about, probably because it’s so personal, and one that many people don’t talk about.

Last night, I took part in a Twitter chat, held by SayftyCom, about child sexual abuse (CSA). The thought of someone harming a child in any way is enough for me to feel physical pain. And that’s just the thought of it happening.

Statistics from the Crimes Against Children Research Centre show that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys have been victims of child sexual abuse. In addition to this, an estimated 20% of adult women and 5-10% of adult men recalled an incident where they had experienced sexual abuse as a child.

When I read these statistics, and the stories of other people sharing their own stories of child sexual abuse, it felt like something had hit my heart hard enough to make me cry.

As a journalist, we’re exposed to some pretty horrible things (to put it lightly) and are expected to maintain a sense of professionalism and decorum while reporting or writing about horrific events. But this really got to me because of how close the topic is to me.

The discussion made me think deeply about this issue, and more importantly, how South Asians deal with incidents of child sexual abuse. It’s not something we hear, for rather obvious reasons, let alone discuss things like domestic violence,  in an open manner.

Dealing with something  as sensitive as child sexual abuse is understandably complex. For people who have experienced it, whenever they talk about it or think about it, it’s like reliving the trauma. What makes it even worse is when people don’t believe them, don’t take them seriously or shame them for happened.

And South Asians are notorious when it comes to shoving shame into each other, themselves and their children. Yes, that sounds harsh, but how many of us are overly familiar with the shroud of shame?

It’s one thing to shame someone for leading a double life, or having a secret partner – both of which are not valid reasons to shame someone, but it something quite altogether to shame someone for daring to speak about a trauma they faced as a child.

It is damaging on every level to shame someone  who dares to open their mouth and say: “I was raped as a child” and/or “I was sexually assaulted as a child in my own home by a relative.”

As a woman of South Asian descent, I can just about handle being shamed for not being slim enough, not being fair-skinned enough or having straight hair, but I draw the line at South Asians who shame/mock those who have been sexually abused.

On a superficial level, nearly every single person believes that they would never shame someone who’s experienced this. But shame manifests itself in different forms; some of which we aren’t even aware of. This includes asking why they didn’t fight back, why they didn’t tell someone straight away, not believing the victim, fearing that abused children will become abusers, saying things like: “Oh that sort of thing doesn’t happen in our culture” or asking them what type of clothing they wore when it happened.

When people think of sexual predators, paedophiles and abusers, they generally think of images of mad-eyed men with snarling faces, salivating jaws and deranged facial expressions.

We think of them as monsters; we categorise them as ‘the other’ so that it creates some sort of space between us and them. And we take refuge in that tiny bit of space and we sit in our ivory towers with a sense of smugness about ourselves. They are the monsters; we are the rational human beings.

But the truth is that within our human bodies, we have the choice to become monster, in the same way that we have the choice to listen with empathy  and to not judge to individuals when they speak up about childhood sexual abuse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dard:Fear

 

“The Lady From the Sea” – Edvard Munch. Image source: http://www.en.wahooart.com

 

Silence is gold. It’s not often that I find myself going into a period of silence, but for the last few years it’s something which has gradually happened for a number of reasons.

And in the last few months, it’s intensified (which explains why I haven’t been blogging as regularly as before).

I’ve been blogging about issues that many Asians, born and raised in Western countries, experience such as Islamophobia, colourism, Feminism, hair, culture vs assimilation etc. These are all topics which affect us on a daily basis because it is these experiences which eventually shape who we become, our outlook on the world and where we stand in it as individuals.

But the silence that I’ve been going into comes as a result of the observations that I’ve been making, the conversations I’ve been having with many Asian women and the literature that I’ve been reading.

There’s a lot of Feminist literature on the aspects of womanhood and social conformity which affects white women. And I say that because Feminism has generally been geared to benefit white women and has not always included the voices, stories and experiences that women of colour face.

Many of us turn to blogs, online magazines and conversations that we have with other Asian women to help us

But when it comes to understanding how this impacts Asian women (both in the Diaspora and the motherland) there isn’t much when it comes to academic literature. That itself is another issue altogether. Instead, many of us turn to blogs, online magazines and conversations that we have with other Asian women to help us.

All of which are extremely beneficial, but even then, that doesn’t fully help us. All we get is a temporary sense of relief from whatever it was bothering us. The root is not pulled out and discarded for good.

Last week, a very dear childhood friend of mine got engaged and it was a beautiful event. But all I heard from conversations around the table I was sat at were of worries, fears and concerns over whether or not they wanted to get married, what their families and communities would say etc.

I sat there, too, feeling a sense of worry mixed with shame. My own personal views on marriage are sadly distorted by my parents’ divorce, but I could relate to their worries as an Indian woman.

It added to the silent phase I’ve been in and a question I’ve had on my mind for many years. Why does it feel like Asian women are walking on eggshells all the time? It doesn’t matter whether we’re Diasporic Asians or from the motherland, it’s something which we all seem to have in common.

We’ve lived far too long in social silos and look what it is doing to Asian women.

For the last few years, I’ve increasingly noticed a flicker of self-doubt, a lack of self-belief and shame in the eyes of so many Asian women – regardless of faith, how progressive their families were  or where they were born. And when I hear their stories, it echoes so many that I’ve heard before or directly experienced myself.

Which leads me to repeat my question and ask another. Why does it feel like Asian women are walking on eggshells all the time? Why are always in an uneasy state of flux and tentatively walk through our lives?

We are simply never left to be ourselves, or alone in general. We never really to get to know who we are as an individual. This is essential because it’s about establishing ourselves as a woman before the tags, labels and cultural expectations.

But this doesn’t mean that we want to be abandoned: we just don’t have any space to do the latter physically, emotionally or mentally. It’s crucial to our wellbeing and spending time alone is not bad or something to be frowned upon.

Scores of us grow up seeing our mothers, grandmothers, aunts and other female relatives putting up with the most absurd social attitudes that erode their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. Why?

Because of dard: fear. Fear of being ostracised. Fear of becoming ‘that woman’ who has no respect for her culture. Fear of becoming unmarriable. Fear of losing the support of your family and loved ones: we’re brought up glued to our families. Fear of being alone. And this fear is not obvious; it’s so discreet and heavily embedded in our subconscious that we don’t even realise it.

To combat this, we come up with pathetic hashtags on social media to try and show a sense of solidarity and unity. None of that translates into real life. We talk about empowering Asian girls and women, without even knowing what empowerment looks like or even being  empowered ourselves.

It is always talk and no action: we do the latter for vanity and don’t realise that there are thousands of Asian women, including me, who can’t cope with these cultural expectations of what it means to be an Asian woman.

It’s us who gets to decide that because we make up our communities and our cultures: not outdated and toxic ways of thinking. And it is us who brings in the next generation. 

Support each other. Love one another and sincerely help each other. Write it out. Draw, paint, kick, cry, scream, listen to each other and – most importantly – listen to yourself. We’ve lived far too long in social silos and look what it is doing to Asian women.

Birthday Blog

happy birthday

Today is my birthday! I often talk about the growth, decline and return of my Inner Lion – click to read. Its impact and influence upon my younger self has made for several entertaining – and highly embarrassing – stories. Some are so cringey that they make my toes curl up and others just make me question the whole idea of children’s intentions. For obvious reasons, I have omitted names* from the following story.

I was in Year 3 at primary school and at the time, I was a bit of an easy target for bullies. A chubby, frizzy haired child with an impossible name to pronounce. I had a nemesis during my earlier years at school – his name was Fred*. He was in the year above and had a reputation for being a spiteful bully; calling girls names, punching other students and generally making life hell.

For a number of months, Fred had been making my life at school hell. It ranged from calling me a “Paki” to interesting versions of my name. I had cried in the girls toilets and told my teachers about it. Alas: nothing had worked. My dad had told me: “Ignore it and walk away. If they follow you, stand up for yourself.”

One afternoon, during lunch time, Fred had resumed his usual post of bullying me. Remembering what my dad had told me I immediately picked up my Thomas the Tank Engine lunchbox and walked away from him. Alas: this also did not work as Fred proceeded to hurl insults at me as he ran after me. In a corner of our playground, there was aIMG_1413bench next to a large bush with orange berries. I used to hang out there in my attempts to get away from Fred. I sat down, closed my eyes, said every prayer  my grandma had taught me and tried not to cry as Fred sat down next to me. He pinched my arm, pulled my hair and cruelly called me a “four-eyed-monster.” I opened my eyes, turned away from him and absently began picking the berries off the bush. Fred saw what I was doing and innocently asked: “What are you doing?”

A little smile crossed my childish face as I turned around with my left hand full of little orange berries. I looked at them and looked at Fred; a light bulb flashed. I cleared my throat and said. “Don’t you know what these are?”

Fred, none the wiser, said “No, why else would I ask Four-Eyes?” Usually that would have upset me, but I was on the cusp of hatching a plan and had become tipsy with power. I smiled at Fred and replied, “You know how I always have Smarties in my lunchbox? Well this is where I get the orange ones from.”

Fred gasped, “You’re lying!” I closed my eyes and slowly shook my head in the same way that my grandma did before she said something religious. I said, “I’m not. My dad owns a shop and this is where the Cadburys gets orange Smarties from.”

Before Fred protested, I held up my right hand and said “You’ll look stupid, everyone knows, but you’re more than welcome to ask them!” I stretched out my left arm with the orange berries glinting in the sunlight: “I wouldn’t lie.  I eat them all the time: here have one.” Fred looked at me suspiciously. Biting my tongue, I gave my most reassuring smile and gently nodded for him to take some. He gingerly took three and popped them into his mouth gruffly saying, “Thanks.”

I got up and left – I had no idea what the berries were but I knew they weren’t orange Smarties! I ran away high five-ing myself for my heroic behaviour. The next day Fred didn’t come into school. The day after he didn’t come into school. In fact, Fred didn’t come back to school for three weeks. The headmaster gave the entire school a special assembly on dangerous berries and plants! I remember being wracked with guilt when I saw Fred in the canteen – this was quickly overcome with delirious happiness as he turned pale and ignored me. A few days later, the large bush with the orange berries was cut down. But the best bit of all: Fred stopped bullying me.