Wednesday, May 4, 2011

On being a good girl.

My mother always told me to “duduk diam” (lit. to sit and keep quiet) as a child when there were adults around. Since I liked to talk a lot and had a phase of saying “what the hell” when I was five years old, my mother was exasperated.

For example, when I was twelve years old and had to have my photo taken for a newspaper, my mother told me to “be nice” to the photographer - I should listen, follow instructions and especially not talk back to him while he was doing his job. Here, the message I received about being a ‘good’ girl was to be quiet and to do as I was told.

When I went on my first date at the age of fifteen, my mother (plus countless religious teachers) told me that I should not hold hands or hug boys. This has roots in some interpretations of Islamic law that claim the nullification of ablution and the promotion of sexual desires if members of the opposite sex touch, without specifying the nature of the physical contact. 

Another interpretation claims the presence of the ‘devil’ as the third person when a man and woman are alone together. The message I received about ‘proper’ dating was to date a man, but not be alone with him, nor have any physical contact. 

In religious classes, the promotion of ‘contact-less’ dating (if dating was seen as allowed by the religious teacher in the first place) was framed in the dangers of physical contact. This was seen as the slippery slope to premarital sex, which is forbidden in Islam because of the possible consequent social problems. 

I was taught that it was important for both women and men to “guard their chastity/modesty” i.e. remain virgins until and practise fidelity in marriage (I was forbidden from using tampons because it was considered it a menstrual product for married women i.e. those who already had sex.). 

However, modesty as a value was seen as more important for women than men, because of various reasons like “innate beauty” or women’s stronger ability to tempt men into committing sinful acts.

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