Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Actually, I'm his mum."

It's been a whirlwind few months since the big move back to Singapore. It's had its pros and cons, but mostly I am very glad to be back. As a Kiwi friend once said, "Singaporeans always miss Singapore, right?"

My posts have been rather depressing of late -- the cons of moving back. One of the reasons I wanted to come back was to feel a sense of a Muslim community again. Back in NL, I had cobbled together a motley group of Muslim friends, which I was and still am very grateful for. In retrospect, I realise that I should not expect myself to be able to integrate seamlessly back here -- I've changed so much as a Muslim and as a person that the Sunni Shafii mainstream is not really an Islam I am 100% comfortable with anymore. Listening to people talk about how men should only marry women who can bear children is extremely triggering.

(I can't imagine being able to articulate that only just 5 or 6 years ago, which is when all my questioning started.)

Being a mum to 17 month old now, I've changed so much. While I already had to learn to put aside other people's opinions because of many of my feminist-social-justice beliefs, I definitely give even less consideration now -- in short, IDGAF. My priority is to advocate for my kid.

Staying in a neighbourhood with many White foreigners is also creating its own series of misconceptions. Because many of their kids are cared for by live-in Filipina oIndonesian migrant domestic workers white women assume I am also a domestic worker. Never mind that Nootje is practically a carbon copy of me (when compared to his dad at least). When he is near me my Brownness is enhanced. Especially if I'm out and about in my Tshirts and jeans/shorts as opposed to a fancier skirt or blouse, with makeup or accessories.

The privilege of being able to groom myself into socially acceptable femininity every day (or any day) is what distinguishes me from migrant working women. They only get Sundays (their day off) to dress up as they like. This counts for women who wear hijab as well, as the headscarf functions as a marker of urban modernity. If I wore hijab and presentable clothes at the playground, I would not be mistaken for an Indonesian or a Filipina. Hijabi migrants might be allowed a simple 'instant' hijab on trips to the supermarket, but only on Sundays can they go all out with their outfits.

Having had the last few months to process all this, and now that I am aware of how I fit into this intersection of race, gender and migrant status, what do I do?

The 'me' of 10 years ago would have detested being mistaken for a 'maid'. Her choice to wear hijab would have been partly influenced by this (not the only or the most important factor, but a factor nonetheless).

The 'me' today? IDGAF. I dress in what makes me comfortable in the heat, considering my need to safely cycle and run after, carry and breastfeed Nootje. When I'm in the mood, I take the opportunity to educate the adults and children who assume I am Nootje's 'maid', 'auntie' or 'bibik' simply because I have brown skin, plain clothes, a plain (and very Javanese) face, and I sit on the bench watching him at the playground instead of constantly following him around (aka "helicopter parenting", a fun post for another day).

When I'm not in the mood, I simply say, in the coolest tone I can muster and witness the offending adult flush with embarassment: "Actually, I'm his mum."

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