Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 2, Issue 27, Tuesday January 4, 2005







Phenomenal woman

'Its in the click of my heels
the bend of my hair
the palm of my hand
the need of my care
Cause I'm a woman phenomenally
Phenomenal woman
That's me'

--- Maya Angelou

I think when Maya Angelou talks about 'Phenomenal Woman,' she is not talking about herself; perhaps she is referring to all women in general. Neither is she admiring her appearance, rather, she is advocating the beauty that lies within every woman.

We, the women of the 21st century have come a long way. We no longer wear subservient smiles and teach ourselves to hold back our thoughts and emotions; we no longer believe in the age old belief that marriage and giving birth are the only roles that we were meant to play; neither do we conform to leading our lives the way we wish to. Yes we have definitely come a long way, or have we?

Growing up in the intricate society of Dhaka, I soon realised that although my heart wanted me to go in one direction, my actions had to be refrained, my emotions held in check and my candid comments had to be censored so that I would not offend the older women in our society. My mother, being a great believer of free thoughts encouraged me to have my own and tried her best to shield me from a society which is all too critical of adolescent females. Yet even she would at times warn me and say, 'If she makes any comments that you don't like, try and hold on to your temper. What's the point in getting angry with someone who does not share your sentiments?' At times like these, I was most frustrated, for it made me realise that even Ammu subdued under the weight of society.

As I grew older and set my goals for life, the walls of rigidity were ever present. Any wrong moves, and a town full of eager tongues would start wagging. Staying out late or going to parties was unthinkable and the right to choose one's mate frowned upon. Ammu's most common answers were 'I am telling you all this for your own good.' I agreed with her to a certain extent and yet, I also felt that most of the rules were set up not for the protection of an innocent, but rather to stop the gossiping.

Now as I look back on those years I cannot help but smile. I thank my mother for not always caving into my whims, for always keeping my best interest at heart and for always believing in me and not the malice of others. The adult female within me prays for my mothers strength, for her integrity and for her inexhaustible patience when it comes to her family. She would often tell me that during her days a career was unthinkable; raising a family was given first priority and so my mother too conformed according to the wishes of her society and family. Yet even amidst the walls of her home she stood out in a shining way; she was our beacon. She took in the brunt of our youthful rebellion, held our hands during our times of crisis, mastered in soothing down family conflicts and emerged as a woman to be truly admired.

When people tell me that they find Ammu to be quite intimidating, I can't help but laugh out loud. In her small but well rounded frame and her dark piercing eyes lie a very gentle soul; cross it and you are done for, but prove yourself and you have a loyalty unlike any other. Now, I truly realise that although Ammu is not a jet setting businesswoman or a working woman, she is indeed a phenomenal woman for all the qualities that she possesses, for all the sacrifices she has made, and for always putting her family and loved ones before her. Hence, as a modern woman of today, I salute her and all housewives, wives and mothers, for truly they are phenomenal and outstanding; perhaps we should appreciate them more!

Women are built differently from men; they are thought to be softer, weaker; often their outer appearance is used for judging them, a problem seldom faced by men. Yet despite being called 'weak' we have the ability to suffer through nine months. The end result -- the birth of a child. When a child looks into their mother's eyes and smiles, no words can ever express the depth of feeling and love that passes between the two. It is a miracle and God has truly blessed women by endowing us with the gift of childbirth. Not merely a child, but a human being who will also grow to become, if not a Shakespeare, but certainly an integral part of society. A child is also another link to the parent's family, sustaining the chain of human continuation in this planet.

As women, we not only have to fight against the barriers of society or small mindedness, we have to work harder, prove ourselves time and time again. When we apply for an employment position we pray for a good environment so that our employers will view us not as a "woman", but as a worker and a colleague. We, as women, have to juggle through our careers, our families and our environment. Hence, I am convinced that God made women soft on the outside merely as an illusion to make men feel in control; in reality it is the female who comes out as the stronger of the two sexes.

It therefore leaves me distraught when I listen to stories of women hurting and abusing other women. Our common bond of sister hood is broken at times like these. We give in to our baser emotions of jealousy, greed and narrow mindedness. We forget ourselves and become the abusive selfish parent, the other woman out to destroy another woman's family, or the female who lacks integrity and is quick to compromise her morals. At times like these, I wonder if women realise that they are hurting not the 'male' but another just like themselves -- another wife, another daughter, another sister. In a country like ours, where illiteracy and ancient customs are dominant, we need to rise above and make other women realise that oppressing or terrorising their own sex is not the way to go. Rather, standing together and supporting one another will make us move ahead and create an indomitable force.

We do have a long way to go. We need to put our differences aside so that we can stand against our abusers and our oppressors. I am, however, optimistic and hopeful. As Maya Angelous says, we are truly 'phenomenal.' We simply need to realise that. Hence I end this piece with a smile, reminding myself of the many women pioneers that we should thank and many more who will continue to pave the path for us. On my part, I have decided to make a resolution that when I wake up in the morning and look at myself I will not worry about my appearance or what people will say -- I will instead smile back at the reflection and tell myself that I am blessed for being a mother, a sister, a daughter, a wife and an employee.

By Aliya F Khan-Munir

Reader's Chit

The curse of fashion

"A waist barely measuring 25 inches, shoulder length curved hair, and a perfectly curved body." Now if you think it's a description of a woman, you are absolutely wrong or so called "old-fashioned". This is the description of a large number of males you would see hanging around in Banani, Gulshan, Dhanmondi or even Mirpur. Wearing pants that might fall at any given moment and a T-shirt that barely fit their bodies, is the recent trend of the so called "male fashion" in Bangladesh.

A large number of boys are more concerned about their brand of hair gel rather than their grades in their final examination. A fatal condition such as anorexia is no longer limited to women, but now seems to be gripping the male population as well. Walking in a way as if their arms and legs might get detached at any moment is known as the "hunky dude" walk. Being fashionable is absolutely fine; we have to be fashionable in this modern world, but starving till we faint is not fashionable at all.

Who is to be blamed for this? Should we blame the cable network for promoting this unhealthy so called "fashion trend"? Well let alone Fashion TV, even looking at the trailer of Antara Mali's recent flick "Naach" it would seem that nothing more than the concept of "being anorexic is fashionable" for women is being promoted.

The lack of nutrition is creating some major drawbacks in the education acceleration of our students. They are suffering from poor academic performance, lack of concentration and sometimes even suicide when these young people are neglected and treated badly by their families because of poor academic performance.

Also the "muscle-man" image is on the move. The so called "body building gymnasiums" are growing in every corner of the city and it does not even take one week for these gyms to be filled up. Everyone wants to have that perfect body like Brad Pitt or John Abraham, so they can go out with beautiful girls. Some of these gymnasiums are not even being able to provide proper nutritional information.

A large number of our male population is spending nearly two to three hours in the gym to build that "perfect body," time that should be utilized for their studies. A large number of boys at a very early age of fifteen or sixteen are lifting weights, doing a lot of workout with weights which might not be suitable for them, and which can have a negative impact on their natural growth. These young people might not take sufficient food in fear of putting on any extra pounds.

So, it is good to be fashionable, even better to be modern, and best to be fit, but not at the cost of our health, our bright future or our precious lives. Fashion makes us beautiful but we should not go to extremely lengths, so that it becomes a curse for us.

By Erfan Haque


home | Issues | The Daily Star Home

2003 The Daily Star