In my Sociology of Sex and Gender class in summer 2009, my teacher asked us to share some of the discriminations we have encountered as women, men, both, or neither. Although I was the second person to go, I asked if I could go last to see what the other students had to say or how they defined and experienced discrimination in 21st century America. As I listened to stories about males preferring “feminine” movies or cars to masculine ones and being judged for their preference and about females being considered “bitchy” for wanting to be leaders, and other similar stories, I was reminded of the burdens that the Pukhtun woman brings to her Pukhtun family and to her Pakistani/Pashtun society as a female. Consider the following.
You. Your mother. Your mother has always told you stories of how her mother- and sisters-in-law tortured her all her life, stole her income from her, forced her to do housework, treated her as though she were the most lowest of earth's creatures, accused her constantly of things they knew she'd never do, insulted her for giving birth to a daughter (or daughterssss), forcing her to starve the daughters almost to death until your father found out you were being starved and put an end to the insanity. Your father. A man. Your mother's mother-in-law. A woman. Your mother's sisters-in-law. Women. All women. Women against women. Frustrated, angry, angry with something they really can't put their hands on.
Then imagine the constant arguments you and your mother have upon discovering that you are pregnant. And your mother goes shopping for clothes for the baby -- but seeks only boys' clothes. And you remind her that the baby can be a boy or a girl, so she should be looking for both, that there's a 50% chance it can be a girl. And your mother shuts you up by yelling, “God forbid it’s a girl!” and you scream back, saying, “I hope it’s a girl! Oh, how I hope it’s a girl, mom! I will fast for a whole month in gratitude to God if it’s a girl!” in this extreme anger that results in your mom’s crying, begging you to retract your vow and you crying and yelling, “Why, mom, why do you hate me and yourself? I’m a woman! You’re a woman! Maryam [mother of Jesus] was a woman!" And your mother reminds you of the tortures she lived through with her mother- and sisters-in-law because she gave birth to daughters -- because a woman can never, never, ever have enough sons and her every daughter is a burden, a torture, an insult. Your mother tells you that a Pakistani, that a Pukhtun mother’s worst fear is that her daughters will be married one day to men who may or may not treat them with respect and in a household where in-laws will most likely belittle them, put a complete end to her potentials, strip her of her right to be, pluck every sense of spirit out of her soul. And you quietly ask your mother in this constipated voice, “But why should her in-laws treat her any better when her own mother violates her right to being by regretting giving birth to her, wishing she had given birth to a son instead, by crying and by contemplating ways of getting rid of her? Why should any girl be married to a man who will respect her when her own mother, the one who gave her life, disrespects her, regrets her?" And your mother cries to you telling you that you do not understand the nuances of these things, that you will understand only when you are cursed with a daughter as well. And you respond: “Ohh, mom … you have no idea how desperately I want to give birth to at least one daughter in my life so I can teach her how to fight the cruelty that begins from the day she’s born! And I will celebrate her birth with the same lavishness the society expects mothers to celebrate their sons' births! And your mother secretly prays that your never get a daughter. And you, you swear, you swear with all your heart and all your passion that you will do this and much more, that you will love your daughters and your sons equally, that you will not hinder any of your own kids from reaching their highest potential because of their gender, that you will prove society wrong in thinking that a woman is a curse, an insult, a burden on society. Millennia later, and we humans still haven't figured out how to acknowledge women's existence as equally important to society and civilization as that of men's.
 There is a Hindi song that’s a plea to God/god not to make “us” (women) daughters in our next life after we have been reincarnated. It is based on the story of a courtesan from perhaps the 16th century who is kidnapped as a child and sold into a brothel where she eventually becomes the lover and the beloved of a regular visitor. He later betrays her, after which she attempts to return to her family – only to hear her mother and brother calling her a prostitute and closing the door on her, denying her entrance to her home. And this song plays, revealing her miseries as a woman – as a daughter, as a courtesan, as a lover, betrayed by everyone from God to her parents to her lover to society. It can be heard in Hindi with clips from the movie (Umrao Jaan, 2006) here.