* The Wind In My Hair * and * I am Malala *

- Joyita Shaw

Patriarchy is ever growing and ever expanding menace. When the world started thinking that its grip is weakening, the #meToo movement started trending from West to East. The best products of the deep-rooted traditional patriarchy are countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arab, Iran, Bangladesh, and India and so on.  Despite the long battle fought by female suffragists, Malala Yousafzai was shot in her head in 2012. Malala, a teenage girl of Pakistan and her only fault was that she wanted to go to school like other boys of her age. On the other hand, Masih Alinejad, the writer of The wind in my Hair is living in exile in New York for raising her voice against the compulsory hijab in Iran. The present paper focuses on the rueful existence of women folk in Pakistan and Iran through the eyes of two extraordinary women, Masih Alinejad and Malala Yousafzai. The paper also reflects the counter-attack against all injustice meted to women by these two ordinary women in two extraordinary journeys.

The ongoing fight for the center:  A study of two memoirs, The Wind In My Hair and I am Malala
Patriarchy is ever growing and ever expanding menace. When the world started thinking that its grip is weakening, the #meToo movement started trending from West to East. This year, the Swedish Academy decided to skip the ceremony of announcing any winner for the Nobel Prize; the reason is ongoing controversy related to sexual assault. The best products of the deep-rooted traditional patriarchy are countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arab, Iran, Bangladesh, and India and so on.  From voting right to license for driving a car, Arabian women had to fight a long battle until recently for some basic human rights. Women in Iran cannot have the custody of their children after divorce, cannot hold important political position, cannot go abroad without her father’s or husband’s permission,  have no freedom of choice in dressing. In India, one woman in every second gets killed in the name of honor killing, or dowry and sometimes only because a girl child is unwanted in the male-centric society. Social security, malnutrition, illiteracy, body shaming, acid attack, unwanted pregnancy, gang rape, marital rape are some issues which yet to be taken into serious account by law in eastern countries. 

ye and foen after divorce and foIn 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft raised the issue of women’s education followed by a series of other advocates of women’s rights like Stuart Mill, Woolf, Simon de Beauvoir, and others. Despite the long battle fought by suffragists, Malala Yousafzai was shot in her head in 2012. Malala, a teenage girl of Pakistan and her only fault was that she wanted to go to school like other boys of her age. On the other hand, Masih Alinejad, the writer of The wind in my Hair is living in exile in New York for raising her voice against the compulsory hijab in Iran. She endured her father’s rage for refusing to wear Chador, jailed for writing against the Islamic republic, lost custody of her son after divorce, and compelled to leave her country for fighting for basic human rights.   The worst of every possibility for women’s survival has got expressed in Afghani novelist Khaled Hossein’s novels. Life is like a burning inferno for women in these countries. The present paper focuses on the rueful existence of women folk in Pakistan and Iran through the eyes of two extraordinary women, Masih Alinejad and Malala Yousafzai. The paper also reflects the counter-attack against all injustice meted to women by these two ordinary women in extraordinary journeys.

The word Freedom is a coveted word for most women in the family oriented societies of the east. “Freedom” is something which a woman must acquire and not inherited by birth; a highly priced object that depends on the whims and impulses of the male members of the family and society at large. Women’s narratives are expressions of self-knowledge, gendered experience, the assertion of feminine sensibility, confessions of innumerous struggle, suppression of dreams and sometimes refusal to stay subservient, seeking autonomy. The reasons are endless and intricate. In the recent past, the trend of writing memoirs has increased. As a subjective genre, memoir allows women to utilize the space to voice their protest being marginal. It is a form of literature, an assortment of life-shaping memories.

So what makes the two women of the present concern, one? What is the reason for all the fuss? What similarity exists between a burkha-clad woman and a working woman in a corporate office? Is there any familiarity between an actress of show business and with and an illiterate maidservant? What could bind the two women together in sisterhood, one who is struggling hard to manage her black chador, and the other, a teenage girl of Pakistan doubting her stars to get a basic education?  Is it simply the desire to get educated on Malala’s part or harmless act of letting one’s hair free in wind on part of Alienijad? Or these are the collective voice of thousands of women in every corner of the world, wishing to free themselves from the suffocating customs of patriarchy which always out to push them towards the margin?  

The gender politics of South Asia and the Middle East play a pivotal role in tightening the rope of Patriarchy around women; it has successfully managed to maintain the lower rank of women within the dominant discourse. It works politically, socially, and religiously as well as within a family as the lowest constituent of any state. In the of countries like Iran and Pakistan external forces, like America and Russia also play a key role in shaping the cultural history and gendered experiences.

To investigate any issue in its core, one must look back into political history as well as gender role within the history. Iran was not the way as it is now. Masih in her memoir, The Wind In My Hair, explains the history of Iran explicitly. She vividly narrates, how people were brainwashed in the name of religion and brought the end of the heydays of Iranian women. In 1976, “The Islamic revolution overthrew Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, ending more than two millennia of rules by Persian kings.” “So modern Iran is all about the ‘tension between secular tendencies of its population and the forced Islamification of the society.” (TWIMH-23).  Now, women In Iran are struggling against sharia law, violations of human rights and civil liberties. Masih describes the whole incident as a drawback to women born in so-called modern Iran as they feel that it is a state of disability. The people of Iran backed by women had also fought against Saha regime because they wanted a government free of corruption. However, revolution only shifted the power from one hand to another. Moreover, revolutionaries fooled people by using Islam to wage war against the earlier government, which eventually threw Iran quite backward. The history had other complex issues which reveal political interference of Britain and Russia during 1941. Yet the time was in favor of women who got modern, secular education, legal support in inheriting property and in divorce, drove cars, worked outside the home, voted in elections, run political offices and worked in the cabinet as well. It was a time when religious women wearing hijab and modern women without hijab co-exist side by side. Hence, history reveals the twist and turns of the events and their role in shaping the fate of women in the east. The oppressors justified their acts by misinterpreting religious texts, and altering history deliberately to benefit the chosen few. Tradition too works as an agency to keep the oppression intact.
In the memoir, I am Malala, Malala elucidates how politicians rewrote the history of Pakistan to present it to the world as the fortress of Islam. She exposes how in the fight of big powers like Russia and America, common Pakistanis were used by brainwashing them to get into a battle in the name of Jihad. To hold a strong sway, Taliban entered Swat Valley (the place where Malala belongs) and established their own rules which initially carried out in manipulating people in the name of Islam. Later Taliban revealed their true nature which succeeded in traumatizing people in the core of their hearts. The self-proclaimed protectors of Islam suffocated normal lives by recruiting moral polices to chastise anyone who refused to follow archaic rituals of Islam. The desire to retain the power was such that the Taliban did not even shudder to shoot Malala in her head, merely a school girl; because she was a threat, a voice of a rebel. However, Malala decided to stand up for her rights. Malala later became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. At the end of her memoir, Malala firmly articulated that, “Islam says every girl and every boy should go to school. In the Quran it is written, God wants us to have knowledge. (IAM- 263).

Education is one of the crucial factors that can change a person’s life. It not only enables one to be free from prejudices but makes one confident, self-sufficient and most importantly empowered. By banning girls’ access to school, the Taliban not only restricted the girls from asserting their identities but wanted to break the backbone of the culture. In the name of religion down the century, patriarchy has manipulated people to keep woman always on the margin. Denying education, modern facility, technology, freedom of choice in terms of clothing, male-centric society makes women weak, and subservient. By forcing early marriage, seeking slavery within the marriage, domesticity, and docility, not allowing property rights or custody of children are some of the strategies to keep the power of men intact. So when women like Alinejad and Malala start movements to pull the mask off from those who misuse power in the name of religion and tradition, the moralizers simply dismiss them as insignificant to be taken into account. Hence, Malala and Masih’s campaigns not only expose the follies within the system, but urge women to take stand for themselves by claiming their human rights. The hypocrisy of such people in power becomes ridiculous, when patriarchy represents itself as a protecting father, rather than condemning people who do not allow women to have what are their basic human rights. Even the laws of most countries which claim to be equal for all citizens only reveals to be on paper; as practice reveals altogether a shocking reality which not only allows men to get administrative privileges but also gives the upper hand to men in heterogeneous relations.

The struggle whose foundation was laid by Marry Wollstonecraft in 1792 continues even in the twenty-first century. She was the one who pressed for the education of woman, demanding equality of status in any marriage. Mill later demanded equal opportunity for women by allowing them to participate in the workforce so to benefit humanity with the greater good. Helena Cixous also urged to use writing to write about female bodies. Feminist consciousness always existed in the east but remained scattered. During the 1980s, Chandra Mohan Talpade and Spivak questioned Western feminism through their path-breaking texts and pressed the need to look at the issues faced by women of different ethnicity individually which was a welcoming change within the general perception. The story of Alinejad and Malala are two recent examples that narrate the tale of the multifarious face of patriarchy in operation. The network is at once complex and multi-layered. Religious extremism, archaic mindset, political tension, war, gender role, nationalism, colonial and anti-colonial history of a nation, all play a pivotal role in gender construction.

Masih and Malala at present are living in exile in fear of execution. They are thrice removed from the center as women, belonging to east and colored women within the completely different culture in the west. Their aim is to seek freedom of choice on a different level, but ultimately mirrors the desire to claim the center. Malala who got shot in her head for only wishing to be educated, refuses to be known to the world as a victim of the Terrorism but as a girl who stood for education. Masih Alinejad as the face of the modern Iranian women stands without her headscarf, asserting her freedom of choice. Her campaign has stirred the whole Iran urging women to allow wind to pass through their hair.

The stories of the two women, Malala and Alinejad give a horrific account of women’s lives. Both scribble their trajectory since the day they were born. Their birth was not celebrated affairs in their respected countries and communities. While growing up, they were conscious of the disparity in treatment within the family as well as society. The restriction imposed by the society while growing up and the domesticity imposed since adolescence, which imprinted the social hierarchy of men has been candidly confessed. The strategy of Taliban and Islamic republic’s dispersion to de-center women are captured in denying any kind of modernization of the society, especially of the women as ignorance of people only can allow the power to remain intact. The systematic strategy to wipe out the presence of women from the public sphere gets exposed again and again in their narratives.

Alinejad recounts her horrific experience being a woman in Iran as the compulsory hijab got imposed on her once she turned seven. She writes how her hair was kept hostage for 30 years; she even thought her hair being alien to the rest of her body and the very tradition got imprinted in her psyche in such a way that she could not initially take out her headscarf, even when she was outside of Iran. The thick layers of various body cover forced to be worn by Iranian women itself is so taxing and suffocating that the very idea of stepping out of the house becomes a Herculean job. She questions the duality of the society as, why it’s only women who need to wear hijab? Why not men?  She goes further on speaking against the terrors of moral policies in Iran who not only impose fines on women who refuse to follow the strict hijab but also hand down severe punishment for disobedience. Her story has resonance in most of the countries of east including Pakistan.

A woman’s body is a symbol of sin, object of weakness. A body as a site shame which must be concealed rather than be celebrated. Masih’s story is a collective story of the rueful condition of women under the Islamic republic. Alienijad’s early marriage, her imprisonment for political writings, her struggle to find a job, divorce, losing custody of her son, her exile, the White Wednesday movement,  death threats from extremists all candidly reflects the apt-mirror of Iranian society. Iranian authority, even tried to fool people by showing fake news of   Alienijad’s rape in London, intending the need of hijab in the public domain to avoid rape and sexual assault. Malala had a different, yet similar kind of struggle where her valley was a site of the battlefield between common masses and the Taliban. The result was only destruction, mass killing and fractured childhood of many. Her story lay bore a shocking reality of female maladies under Taliban rule. Girls were denied education, any kind of entertainment, had to observe segregation from boys, strict restriction of certain dress code, forced to be married to terrorists, used as sex slaves. Though, Malala, a mere teenage girl decided to revolt. Her memoir challenges the conservatives who spread the false rumor that educating woman is un-Islamic. Malala writes the irony of the situation as the Taliban wants female teachers in girls’ school but do not allow women to receive an education. Her story is about a struggle of a daughter as well as of a father who believed in gender equality and the need for education for a better future of a country. Malala continues to fight for women’s education. She refuses to bow down to Taliban who threatens her every day with death threats; eventually her battle against death and miraculous survival unites the whole world against Terrorism. By taking up writing, Malala and Alinejad challenge the dominant structure, questions censorship, and demand equal opportunities.

Religion is one’s personal faith. However, in post-modern society, it has reduced into a systematic following of some stagnant rituals; and today, more than anything a medium of repression. There is no single reason why women lost the center or why men always wish to hold the center. Why women in east lacked unified movement, unlike the West? One reason could be women themselves who instead of standing for each other mostly take the side of men and carry the patriarchal oppression. Another could be the lack of self-importance as eastern society puts family first rather than individual. Others could be illiteracy, financial dependence and so on.

The struggle to get the center will continue in women’s part and the latest addition to fighting back is #meToo movement that has opened a new debate exposing the raw face of hardcore patriarchy of the east. Alinejad and Malala are two catalysts seeking change among several who are questioning the complex net woven by patriarchy to keep women in a subordinate state through various ongoing malpractices. Malala and Alinejad with their bold inks do not seek any sympathy. They just wish to get the support of the world by attracting the attention towards their society where they are no better than mere cattle. They want to expose the miserable state they live in. They do not want to accept defeat without fighting. And the result is the tremendous support that they are getting not only from their countries but from the whole world.

Today, women activists in east are uniting to build resistance against the patriarchal mindset, to not only free themselves but also men who are equally pained by such construction. In the wake of globalization the concept of family, gender relations, traditional notions have undergone a drastic change. The counter attack has already started because modern women are not ready to be second class citizens. It’s time to accept the change as women cannot be the angel in the house always; they are not objects of men’s prey either. Women have learned to say no to resist de-centering. They want to assert themselves and determine to create a society where they can realize their dreams. So men need to come out in support of women because no society can truly progress without all its members’ effort. In addition, religious reforms are required to include women in the mainstream.  To wind up, I am quoting few lines from The Wind In My Hair where Alinejad writes her mother’s words which echo the fight of women demanding equal rights suitably, “If they lock the front door, go in through the back door. If the doors are barred, go through the window. If they shut the windows, climb in through the chimney. Never let them lock you out. Always try to get in.” (TWIMH-156).

Work Cited
Alinejad, Masih. The wind in my hair:  my fight for freedom in modern Iran. London: Virago Press. 2018. Print.
Banerjee, Sudeshna. ed. Indian Women: Post Colonial context.Kolkata: Academic Publication.2010. Print.
Jain, Jasbir. ed. Growing up as a woman writer. New Delhi : Sahitya Akademi. 2007. Print.
Yousafzai, Malala. I Am Malala; The girl who stood up for education and shot by Taliban. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. 2013. Print.

About Dr. Joyita Shaw

·         Dr. Joyita Shaw is a guest lecturer of Bidhan Chandra College, Department of English, and West Bengal, India. She has recently finished her doctoral research from Banaras Hindu University, India. Her areas of interest are Short Fiction, Women’s Writings, Diaspora Writings, Indian Writings in English, and Gender Studies. She has presented papers in various conferences and seminars across the country. She writes poetry in English as well as in Bengali. Her poems have gotten published in some reputed magazines and journals. Her research articles related to women’s writings have gotten published in several international journals. Her email id is joyitashaw603@gmail.com.

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