(Re)discovering Beauty in the Ugliness of Life’s Chaos

Image

Over the last few years of my life, I have met many people. Some stayed and some left. However, in the passing of time, I have learned a few life-lessons to keep in my pocket for the long-haul. I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for the encounters that I’ve had and the experiences that I’ve been through. Sometimes life just seems too much of a mess to contend with, but there is beauty in it. Yes, I am saying that there is beauty in the mess of it all. 

I graduated only a few months ago in December 2013 with my degree. I was in total bliss. I knew I would quickly find a job that paid more than the part-time job I was relying on for sustenance. However, this was not the case. Not only this, but I was experiencing a crisis in my belief in God. This crisis drew me into a phase of questioning everything that I once knew was stable. I questioned everything from the existence of God to the issue of scripture being truly divine. I was dancing on egg-shells, but I didn’t care. I was at the crossroads. I was struggling to know God, myself and the world around me. I was dealing with financial-instabilities and family-problems. I was dying daily. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. I would frequently isolate myself from people. Some people would fight to stay in my life during this period of isolation, while others simply didn’t care. I don’t blame them. I was probably too far away from reality to even be contacted. 

Not only did I find this time of uncertainties troubling, but I had suitors in the midst of it all. These suitors never impressed me. They seemed to want the typical “perfect” Muslim-wife that would ‘cook, clean, obey’ them. I wasn’t going to stick around for this. Not only this, but the pressure of getting married by friends and the external Muslim community sent me further away. There would be the occasional, “You’re so beautiful. You’re young too. Why aren’t you married?”. I must admit that I was pushing hard for a good period of time to get married, but I never found contentment in this towards the last semester of school. I was still…young. I hardly knew what I really wanted. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I don’t think I did at that point. I knew that I could be the “perfect” Muslim wife for any man, but I don’t think I had come upon anyone that truly understood me. However, I did yearn for the Muslim-family that I would see at the Eids (twice a year celebration after Ramadan and during Hajj-season). I wasn’t raised in a Muslim-family and would practice Islam alone without anyone else. I wanted that, but I didn’t want to get pressured into just marrying any person. Furthermore, I started to question the institution of marriage. I didn’t like the fact that I would need my wali’s permission (guardian of the woman) to get married. I was perfectly capable of choosing my own spouse on my own terms. I thought that my guardian (father) would totally void my agency, my own voice. The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) certainly warned the men of the Muslim-community that a female’s permission is needed in order for any marriage to be valid. However, I was at odds with this when learning that I needed my guardian’s permission to marry a man. So, does my permission even matter if my father’s ‘no’ was good enough to stop a marriage? Yes, the purpose of the wali (guardian) is to check out the man’s credentials, his background, his income, his mental state, and etc. Some would even explain to me that a man knows another man. I’m not saying that marriage shouldn’t be a family-affair, but I most certainly am not going to give away my right to having a voice. Women have had their voice continuously stripped from them in history, through patriarchy, and in various communities. I will not have this happen to me. I will not bow down to a role that oppresses me. I will never teach my daughter(s) to succumb to a system that isolates her participation in her community, her society. As long as a man can determine and choose what is right for me then I should not expect to have a voice. Unfortunately, this view of mine’s may be in conflict of the Islamic-tradition, but I will maintain my stance on this. At the end of the day, this same woman will be with this man, romantically, sexually, mentally all throughout the marriage alone. There will not be anyone within their household day-in and day-out except for them. They will be the only ones determining solely the situation of their marriage. Sure, you will have arbitrators to help resolve marital-problems, but generally it will just be them. Not only this, but I have an issue of having a guardian. It is said that the woman’s guardianship transfers from her father to her husband. I’m sorry, but this is not the case for me. I will always maintain my own identity. This identity will not be compromised…at all. I am not a part of a business transaction. I am not to be passed off or transferred to. I will empower myself by denouncing this guardianship. I understand that some women are definitely okay with this and will delight in this. However, I am not one to delight in this. The role of the guardian is to: protect, provide, and maintain the woman. Now, once again…this is not for me. I will leave this for the next woman. The issue of a woman’s place just always give me chills. Brrrrrr! 

Nonetheless, I will express the positive side(s) to these last few months. In trying to find my place in the world, I had entered into a close friendship/relationship with someone. I’m liberal. I started seeing another world outside of the one I was living.  I was treading on a path of: spirituality, love, lust, sexuality, education, identity, and etc. I happened to have stumbled upon another person, similar to myself, having questions about religion. I didn’t suspect that I would find answers in the midst of finding another person like me, confused. However, I did. In the poverty of my own life, I was spending most of my time reading about religion. I would stay consumed in religious-studies. I would visit my college to talk with professors about life. Yes, I am a bit…extreme. However, I was dying in this crisis of my life. I was broke. Starving for answers about God. On the fence about feminism. I was suffering a minor-depression. Nonetheless, I soon found a close companion to share some of the intimate parts of the pain I was struggling with internally. The simplicity of the friendship/relationship was the real beauty of it all. The occasional bilingual conversations in Spanish. The occasional meals at a local restaurant. The frequent bike-rides alone or in a group. The long conversations about: faith, poverty, dreams, sexuality, feminism, and problems. Very simple pleasures. Nothing expensive. Simply simple. I must admit that this quote is true:

“Living simply makes loving simple.”― Bell Hooks

I didn’t intend on engaging in a companionship, but I did. I would say that I regret doing this because this isn’t acceptable within the Islamic-tradition. However, I did engage in this. I certainly did grow from this encounter. Interestingly enough, I realized the importance of taking risks. 

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” — Anaïs Nin (The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 1: 1931-1934)

The world we live in is not black and white. It is not as simple as we may think. Its complicated. I’m sure someone that is reading this is shaking their little finger at me and threatening to forever label me as a ‘sinful’ and ‘impure’ woman. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Settle down. Life is what we make of it. In a time in my life when I wanted to just fold up under the covers and cry, I didn’t. I reveled on the beauty of what I had discovered at the most unlikely of times. I would frequently stay away from people because I was broke and didn’t have money, but with the friendship/relationship I was engaging in, I didn’t have to always have money. I learned that living doesn’t have to always mean spending. You are not what you own, can spend, and can display. I didn’t feel like going to another all-women’s party/gathering and putting on a front. I didn’t feel like putting on a prom-dress to just attend a dinner at another woman’s home. I’m not that shallow. Yes, I can isolate myself, but I am not shallow. There is this pretentious secret that happens too frequently for me. For many women, the whole women’s only scene is a battle-field. Women would dress up in ostentatious outfits that they would only wear once to show-off. I’m usually not at such events. For one, I’m not going to fake as if I have money by wearing something I may never wear again. Secondly, I can’t afford to go to a high-end restaurant every week. This is just my reality. I’ve experienced the whole ‘women’s only’ scene and do not find joy in it. If I know someone that isn’t into the whole ‘let’s-show-off-our-wealth’ then I will attend her gathering. 

Well, I definitely did go on a long rant there. Back to what I was saying, I didn’t have to contend with this reality when I was in this close relationship/friendship. I was me. Simply me. I didn’t have to dress-up or put on a front. I was simply Lauren. It was the simplicity that kept me in engaged. It was living simply to love simple. 

In the midst of it all, I experienced new places within my own backyard. I went to many places that I never knew existed in my city. I traveled to several places on my bicycle. I discovered new cultures. I experimented with various religions, philosophies and ideologies. I was confused, but awakened at the same time. I didn’t feel the pressure of getting married just for marriage-sake. I didn’t feel like I had to put on a mask to fit in. I was just taking my life day-by-day. I was and is broke as hell. There is no shame in that. However, I am living. Before, I was just existing. I was going about life in a routine. I started to see that we all are struggling with something. We aren’t perfect. We all are dying a death internally because of someone or something. We just have to find beauty in the midst of ugliness and chaos. 

“And sometimes I wonder, why we care so much about the way we look.
And the way we talk and the way we act and the clothes we bought, how much that cost.
Does it even really matter?
Cause if life is an up hill battle
We all tryna climb with the same ol’ ladder
In the same boat, with the same ol’ paddle
Why so shallow? I’m just asking
What’s the pattern to the madness
Everybody ain’t a number one draft pick
Most of us ain’t Hollywood actors” -B.O.B. “Both of Us”

 

Advertisements

“Blurred Lines” Revisited: The Robin Thicke Edition of Patriarchy

Image

 

Recently, I was at the park having a picnic and I heard the song “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke. Yes, I must admit that this song is old and played-out. However, I was immediately frustrated with the fact that this song is being blared at a party. Well, the song is about being at a party and intending to rape a woman because he knows that she “wants it”. Nevertheless, this woman never gave consent. This is troubling. As long as we recycle these patriarchal songs that promotes rape-culture then men and women will continue to think that it is okay to have ‘blurred-lines’ when the lines are clearly black and white. Rape is rape. We shouldn’t play with semantics here. This is serious. I don’t care what a woman wears, behaves or insinuates…if she doesn’t consent then it is rape. 

Patriarchy is a system of sexist oppression that must be countered by a change in how we think and act. It must be countered by men and women. Men must learn that there is no such thing as having a blurred line at a club, at a party or with a significant other. This is violence. Whenever a man insist on engaging sexually with a woman without her consent then this is rape. Rape is violence and assault. Anytime someone says, “Well, she asked for it” then we are hurting ourselves and women. Patriarchy doesn’t just harm women, but it harms men too. 

“Dominator culture teaches all of us that the core of our identity is defined by the will to dominate and control others. We are taught that this will to dominate is more biologically hardwired in males than in females. In actuality, dominator culture teaches us that we are all natural-born killers but that males are more able to realize the predator role. In the dominator model the pursuit of external power, the ability to manipulate and control others, is what matters most. When culture is based on a dominator model, not only will it be violent but it will frame all relationships as power struggles.” 
― Bell Hooks

In patriarchy, men are taught to dominate because it is told to them that this is intrinsically a part of them biologically. In looking at this quote by bell hooks, it is important to think about this in regards to the song by Robin Thicke. What is it reinforcing? What is it saying about the institution of patriarchy? Why is this dominator culture celebrated? How do we combat this culture of violence and oppression?

So, I believe it would serve us better to view the lyrics. You can easily go on YouTube and watch the video that accompanies the lyrics, but I like focusing on the lyrics. I think people can sometimes get too caught up in the music and not necessarily the lyrics. Hopefully, this song can be a conversation-starter within social-circles, families, organizations and etc. Maybe watch the video too. 

“Blurred Lines” by: Robin Thicke
(feat. T.I. & Pharrell Williams)

[Intro: Pharrell]
Everybody get up
Everybody get up
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

[Verse 1: Robin Thicke]
If you can’t hear what I’m trying to say
If you can’t read from the same page
Maybe I’m going deaf,
Maybe I’m going blind
Maybe I’m out of my mind
[Pharrell:] Everybody get up

[Pre-chorus: Robin Thicke]
OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal, baby, it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
You don’t need no papers
Hey, hey, hey
That man is not your maker

[Chorus: Robin Thicke]
And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me
[Pharrell:] Everybody get up

[Verse 2: Robin Thicke]
What do they make dreams for
When you got them jeans on
What do we need steam for
You the hottest bitch in this place
I feel so lucky
Hey, hey, hey
You wanna hug me
Hey, hey, hey
What rhymes with hug me?
Hey, hey, hey

[Pre-chorus: Robin Thicke]
OK now he was close, tried to domesticate you
But you’re an animal, baby it’s in your nature
Just let me liberate you
Hey, hey, hey
You don’t need no papers
Hey, hey, hey
That man is not your maker
Hey, hey, hey

[Chorus: Robin Thicke]
And that’s why I’m gon’ take a good girl
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
[Pharrell:] Everybody get up
I hate these blurred lines
I know you want it
I hate them lines
I know you want it
I hate them lines
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

[Verse 3: T.I.]
One thing I ask of you
Let me be the one you back that ass to
Go, from Malibu, to Paris, boo
Yeah, I had a bitch, but she ain’t bad as you
So hit me up when you pass through
I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two
Swag on, even when you dress casual
I mean it’s almost unbearable
In a hundred years not dare, would I
Pull a Pharside let you pass me by
Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you
He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that
So I just watch and wait for you to salute
But you didn’t pick
Not many women can refuse this pimpin’
I’m a nice guy, but don’t get it if you get with me

[Bridge: Robin Thicke]
Shake the vibe, get down, get up
Do it like it hurt, like it hurt
What you don’t like work?

[Pre-chorus: Robin Thicke]
Baby can you breathe? I got this from Jamaica
It always works for me, Dakota to Decatur, uh huh
No more pretending
Hey, hey, hey
Cause now you winning
Hey, hey, hey
Here’s our beginning

[Chorus: Robin Thicke]
I always wanted a good girl
(Pharrell: Everybody get up)
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
You’re a good girl
Can’t let it get past me
You’re far from plastic
Talk about getting blasted
I hate these blurred lines
(Pharrell: Everybody get up)
I know you want it
I know you want it
I know you want it
But you’re a good girl
The way you grab me
Must wanna get nasty
Go ahead, get at me

[Outro: Pharrell]
Everybody get up
Everybody get up
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey
Hey, hey, hey

 

Minor Literature #2: Feminist Theory from Margin to Center by: bell hooks

This is a far-fetch for me in categorizing feminism with Minor-Literature, but I will go forth in proving how this particular book could be defined as Minor-Literature.

I was exposed to feminism in high-school and found it empowering, but only to an extent. I was taught that feminism was a fight for women’s rights and for equality. It was a move to end sexism. However, the packaging of feminism at this point was geared towards White, upper-class women that were seeking to move outside of the home into the work-place. Unfortunately, this first-wave form of feminism didn’t speak or relate to all women. In putting this into perspective, bell hooks stated in “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center” that Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” “ignored the existence of all non-white women and poor White women. She did not tell readers whether it was more fulfilling to be a maid, a babysitter, a factory worker, a clerk, or a prostitute, than to be a leisure class housewife” (2). Additionally, hooks stated that “she made her plight and the plight of white women like herself synonymous with a condition affecting all American women. In so doing, she deflected attention away from her classism, her racism, her sexist attitudes towards the masses of American women” (2).

Additionally, hooks further breaks down the issue that many Americans have with in defining feminism. Hooks stated that “most people in the United States think of feminism or the more commonly used term “women’s lib” as a movement that aims to make women the social equals of men. This broad definition, popularized by the media and mainstream segments of the movement, raises problematic questions. Since men are not equals in white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal class structure, which men do women want to be equal to? Do women share a common vision of what equality means? Implicit in this simplistic definition of women’s liberation is a dismissal of race and class as factors that, in conjunction with sexism, determine the extent to which an individual will be discriminated against, exploited, or oppressed. Bourgeois white women interested in women’s rights issues have been satisfied with simple definitions for obvious reasons. Rhetorically placing themselves in the same social category as oppressed women, they were not anxious to call attention to race and class privilege” (18).

bell hooks described feminism as “the struggle to end sexist oppression. Its aim is not to benefit solely any specific group of women, any particular race or class of women. It does not privilege women over men. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all of our lives. Most importantly, feminism is neither a lifestyle nor a ready-made identity or role one can step into” (26).

In reading this text, I was being told that my experience(s) as a Black American woman was just as relevant as a White woman’s experience(s). In high-school, I was only being taught about first-wave feminism that benefited upper-class White women. Unfortunately, my Women Studies’ teacher would seek to apply this one form of feminism to various cultures all across the world. She would have us watch documentaries over women-suffrage (which excluded women of color), women from the Middle East, and the roles of women throughout history. However, the class was purely centered around this Western, White upper-class form of feminism which excluded women of color and poor White-women.

Fortunately, I was exposed to Black feminist and writer, Dr. bell hooks. In a way, bell hooks is my favorite feminist of all times. She connects the dots and doesn’t just say that feminism is about sexism. No, she looks at feminism through various lenses in order for individuals to grasp the inter-connectedness of: racism, sexism, patriarchy, and imperialism. She looks at how all of these factors affects the topic of feminism and the way we think about it. It is not just about women/men fighting against sexism. It is much deeper. It is about seeing how various classes and various racial-groups are struggling/dealing with capitalism/colonialism/racism/sexism. So, bell hooks stated very bluntly that “we have to constantly critique imperialist white supremacist patriarchal culture because it is normalized by mass media and rendered unproblematic.”

She is unwrapping feminism in a way that it can no longer be packaged up with upper-class White women in mind. She is reconstructing feminism and forcing people to see the intersectionality of: race, sex, power, and money. For many people, feminism is simply about fighting sexism. However, bell hooks would argue that this isn’t good enough because every women will not have the same struggles. The upper-class White American woman will not have the same experiences as poor women living in rural Brazil. This is and will not be the case because there are factors affecting the experiences of these women’s lives.

So, the thing about bell hooks that I love is her complexity. She breaks down the way we view things and how mass-media influences us. Furthermore, she makes this complexity so easy to understand that you could quickly see how all of the dots connect to one another. I remember going to the Women Studies’ Department at my university and asking about Black feminism and being told that I should contact the Black Studies’ Department for information about this particular form of feminism. This really stirred something up in me. I didn’t understand why the Women Studies’ Department didn’t have various views/perspectives of feminism present within their department. They ARE responsible for educating women and men on women’s rights. However, there is still this one form of feminism that they insist on being most important. I guess the plight of women of color aren’t as important as a White woman’s plight towards equality. I still believe that Black feminism is marginalized and “to be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body”. So, I learned from that experience that there is still racism happening in feminism. I will not be okay with this nor tolerate it, so watch out because women of color are wanting their voices to be heard. Let me back up for a bit! When I was directed to go to the Black Studies’ department, I was in utter dismay. This was the one place that women on campus would totally believe could serve them. However, this institutionalize marginalization of women of color experiences is just ridiculous. I wanted to scream. I couldn’t believe my ears when I was told that a department that focuses on women didn’t have the resources available to help all women. As the title of hooks’ book reads “From Margin to Center,” she is truly trying to take the experiences of women of color and place it in the center. It isn’t about being marginalized anymore. No, it is about acknowledgement. It is about being heard.

In short, bell hooks is definitely a feminist that everyone should read on, see in person, and study. Her works will blow you away! It will definitely open your eyes up to feminism in a new and fresh way. You will not be disappointed!