A world without care is unsustainable. Without beauty, we would perish. I am not referring to its aesthetically pleasing expressions such as body shape, dress, and cosmetics. I’m referring to a strange concoction of gestures, mimics, scents, emotions, and actions, as well as the lovely sentiments they elicit in us. Womanhood maintains equilibrium in an often callous and harsh society. Kindness, honesty, sensuality, sensitivity, humility, and wisdom are all brought by it. All of those are necessary for our survival. It gives men’s activities significance and motivates other women to nurture love.

Womanhood is a combination of a strong spirit and a delicate disposition.
Womanhood is self-assurance shown in elegance.
Womanhood is a true source of fragility and weakness.
Womanhood is characterized by an endearing smile and a twinkle in the eyes.
Womanhood is defined by empathy and sensitivity to one’s own and others’ feelings.
Womanhood is characterized by intense emotions and hope for a brighter future.

However, there are some women who do not respect or value the lives of other women. Within the unequal split of power between men and women are patriarchal bargains, in which women create coping mechanisms and methods to maximize security, well-being, and power within the harsh restrictions of patriarchal institutions, thereby oppressing other women. A close family member experience that shook me to the core and I decided to write about it.

“Z” was married into an average household in Lahore. Prior to the wedding, the MIL/SIL was exceedingly kind and quiet, but it was only thereafter they began to reveal their real personalities. Z’s description of her confinement after her marriage horrified me to my core. When Z married, her mother-in-law insisted on her parents taking her back home for six months immediately after the wedding, when she discovered Z lacked experience in domestic responsibilities.

Whenever the subject of wealth or dowry came up, she proudly informed Z that her friends had taken the families on travels to build and deepen connections prior to the wedding ceremonies. She’d claim that other people had their daughters’ bathrooms re-modeled at their in-laws, but Z’s parents did nothing for her.

She was accused of performing “jadoo” on her husband and other family members. She was accused of using the house’s “bijli,” “pani,” and “gas.” She was insulted for eating before her husband arrived, claiming that “khana jhoota ho jata ha.” She was compelled to consult a doctor without her permission for a child. She wasn’t allowed to come downstairs before a certain time to cook, eat, or even drink water. She wasn’t allowed to use the bathroom until her husband returned downstairs, fearful that she might narrate/share daily events with him behind closed doors. Z was given expired medication (thankfully she didn’t take) despite the fact that MIL is typically quite conscientious about the expiration dates of kitchen supplies.

I was left dumbfounded when Z revealed that her mother-in-law had stated “log balo se pakar k baho ko ghar se nikaltey hain, hum ne to abhi yeh nahi kia tumhare sath.” I had always believed that a woman’s heart should be kind, but what I was hearing was quite the contrary. Z was a working woman who juggled domestic responsibilities with a 9–5 job but was never offered a glass of water or tea to drink since she was expected to cook and use the kitchen within the allotted time. Even a 5-minute delay would be intolerable, since she would be informed that their dinner was delayed due to her. This is one example of how a woman treats another woman. We see more and more examples of female toxicity every day through news, social media and friends. Females struggling to get control over one another…

The list goes on and on, but the dilemma is women are capable of doing all of this. Ultimately, it was too much for Z to endure that her marriage finally came apart, and the two ladies (MIL and SIL) made no attempt to alleviate the issue or salvage the marriage during this time. It seemed as if everything was going according to their plan. Those two females have scarred Z’s heart for life.

“I wish that more women realized that helping another woman win, cheering her on, praying for her, or sharing a resource with her does not take away from the blessings coming to them. In fact, the more you give, the more you receive. Empowering women doesn’t come from selfishness but rather from selflessness.” – Selene Kinder

Women are compassionate, kind, and caring, but Z’s experience was so traumatic for both her and me. We hear so many narratives how women were the root of disasters; whether it a household manner or in a business context. A lady capable of destroying someone just because some “shadi ki rasmein” did not live up to her expectations? If a lady in her sixties and her next-door neighbor talks badly of her “ikhlaq”, it reflects poorly on her whole life if one woman cannot respect another woman of this age. Having a PhD, piles of books in the home, or debates about recent book readings does not make someone educated; the true measure of education is how you treat someone as a “human.”

Z should have defended herself; she should have ensured that certain limits were not breached, but she did not. Despite her knowledge, she persisted in her honest desire to make her relationship work, but it could not have lasted in the poisonous environment. In today’s times, when you can videotape, record anything and share it on social media as evidence of atrocities, Z did not do that. She has trust in her Allah and believes she will be rewarded for her “sabr”. Today, Z is prospering; she is genuinely lucky to be out of that poisonous place and its harmful inhabitants.

Showing kindness and forgiveness requires bravery. One should not assume that someone is weak because they do not talk in front of you. They remain quiet out of respect and seniority, and although being aware of every act and game, they choose not to respond.

“Empowered women empower women” is a strong saying attributed to an unknown source that has been widely repeated. It is so popular because it is brief and straightforward, but conveys a strong message. It suggests that women may help one another by asserting their own authority and taking action in their own lives so let us put an end to this vicious power cycle. Allow women to be recognized for their efforts and achievements. Praise women publicly for their accomplishments – at work, in their personal lives, and even in informal contexts. Never speak ill of other women, gossip about them, or put them under the bus. If you have constructive criticism for another woman, deliver it directly and politely to her. Communicate with her, not about her. If you’ve previously “made it,” avoid accidentally hazing other women by subjecting them to the same difficulties you had throughout your life.

As hurtful as female competition might be, it accounts for a significant portion of intimate relationships. If you are powerless to improve your circumstances, do not drag others down with you. Contribute to each other’s growth and support amid this craziness, because we are all one!

  • Maimoona Waseem is an LSE Alumni. She hopes to make a positive contribution to society by using her writing skills.

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