A Word from the Editor-in-Chief
When I started this editorial, I was in the middle of writing a short story titled â€˜Through the Crucibleâ€™, though it took me a few days to understand just what the crucible was, and who (or what) was passing through it. The story, like most stories worth pursuing, unspooled a series pf questions Iâ€™d been internally battling for years and this piece felt like the result, the kettle screaming its fucking lid off, ready to spill over. Each of them tied into the nature of marriage and its accouterments, versus choosing to remain single and successfully ridding oneself of the stigma. Itâ€™s important to add that culture plays no part in this â€“ the argument against singlehood is uniquely universal, or of a womanâ€™s successfully managing lifeâ€™s currents without a man on her arm, in spheres as diverse as politics to the entertainment industry, to literature, to everyday you-and-me social life.
In â€˜The Great Escapeâ€™,[i] Katie Roiphe argues that divorcÃ©es are thought of as poor, incapacitated creatures, suddenly unable to fend for themselves now that they are no longer under the protection of a man. “I donâ€™t think we are nearly as quick to assume that divorced men are falling into a life of despondency”, she writes. “We assume they will marry again, and until they do, we assume theyâ€™re fine.” No matter how many speeches are made in the defense of women â€“ their rights, their liberties and their accomplishments â€“ we seem reluctant to see a woman as anything too much more than a damsel in distress who needs rescuing from herself, binding her into a marital contract where, as Elif Batumen argues in the New Yorker, her â€œcarefully created and manicured identities were never the point; the point was for it all to be sacrificed to children and to men.â€ [ii] The pressures of procreating soon after marriage is acutely felt in Pakistan where, if you risk being married in your late twenties or â€œGod forbidâ€, in your thirties, youâ€™re battling the biological clock that is surely drying up your eggs inside your aging, decrepit, soon to be hostile uterus. Wait too long, in other words, and you might never be a mother. Marriage, distilled into its basest and most distinct strain across all cultures and religions boils down to this almost pathological need to have children, never mind if it isnâ€™t what the woman wants â€“ and not all women want to be mothers â€“ she (and her husband or her partner, as the case may be) must take one for the team and feed the Beast of Social Whim.
As a Muslim, I firmly believe that marriage is one half of my faith, primarily for the reasons it was espoused to begin with: to prevent sexual indiscretions, but that in itself is a sticky slope. Are Muslim women better off married unhappily so long as they are â€œsavedâ€ from â€œsinâ€? The marital age in Pakistan is anywhere from 18 to 24. If youâ€™re 25 and single, youâ€™ve got something to worry about, but thereâ€™s â€œstill timeâ€ to â€œfixâ€ the situation. But if you are, God forbid, 30 or thereabouts, itâ€™s â€œjaldi shadi karo takay bachay paida karsakoâ€.[iii] Iâ€™m not saying that there arenâ€™t hundreds of women out there who have been waiting to get married, but a vast majority of us â€œhave gotten pickyâ€, opting for singlehood and the accomplishment of individual goals that threaten to be consumed by a conscious coupling, designed to facilitate children.
And thatâ€™s important: the creation of oneâ€™s own space in a marriage, the understanding by both partners that the other is an individual in their own right with their own needs, desires and dreams not necessarily entwined with a â€œweâ€. Of course, that isnâ€™t to say that their shared goals as a couple arenâ€™t as important, or shouldnâ€™t factor into the equation, but space to develop oneâ€™s own individual identity away from coupledom is just as important, and plays a significant role in both oneâ€™s own sense of self and the health of a marriage.
So what am I saying? Am I advocating against getting married or against having children? To put it simply, Iâ€™m arguing for the importance of individualism, of not serving as the sacrificial lamb being led to the slaughter by a pervasive groupthink that evaluates your femininity based on how well you rear your children, stuck as we all are, in the Middle Ages. Iâ€™m saying if youâ€™re going to get married, do it for the right reasons and not as a way of â€œshutting everyone upâ€. If you want kids, have them and if somewhere very deep down you canâ€™t say it aloud yet that you donâ€™t, well thatâ€™s perfectly alright. Our lives are our own. It is infinitely better for your child to believe they were wanted as opposed to thinking they popped out in the midst of their motherâ€™s conscious reawakening.
The crucible in my story was social opinion and the judgment it confers on anything considered divergent from mainstream thought, from sexual preference to procreation. Our lives are built upon passing through our own unique crucibles; the trick is whether you allow the experience to shape you or choose to shape your own experience, thereby changing the direction of the tide for others.
[i] From â€˜In Praise of Messy Lives: Essaysâ€™, Roiphe, Katie; The Dial Press, 2012
[iii] Loosely translated from the Urdu into â€œhurry up and get married so you can have children.â€