When Daniel and I first got married, our friend Scott hired us to work in the call center (and for that, we are forever in his debt). The work itself was intriguing and even fulfilling, but the pseudo-cubicle, headset and productivity reports stole bits of my soul each shift. On the first day of training, I met a girl whose name I can’t even remember. She was Somalian, and during the first week we had some of the most intriguing conversations, mostly about her. I was a newlywed, and although she was younger than me, she’d been a wife for far longer. She told me many stories about her growing up years. In hushed tones, she told me about her female circumcision and that of all her friends as small girls in her homeland. She tried to explain the intricacies of her Old World marriage in this New World, of the oppression in her home with a husband who loved her as a man might love his hired whore, seeing her as not a woman, a person, a soul, but as a vagina, a uterus, and a servant.
This week I am reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, a book whose cover and title would never have compelled me to take an interest were it not for my book club. By page 28 I was texting my friends telling them I HATE THIS BOOK! There was no consolation in their responses Just wait . . . it only gets worse. Great, so I’m stuck reading this book about foot-binding (the description of which made me taste bile) and the role of women in 19th century China that sounds like my personal description of hell. “Raising a girl and marrying her off is like building a fancy road for others to use.”
We marry into new families, go to our husbands sight unseen, do bed business with them as total strangers, and submit to the demands of our mothers-in-law. If we are lucky, we have sons and secure our positions in our husbands’ homes. If not, we are faced with the scorn of our mothers-in-law, the ridicule of our husbands’ concubines, and the disappointed faces of our daughters. . . .there is little we can do to change our fate. We live at the whim and pleasure of others . . . .
Throw in a little genital mutilation and you’ve got modern day Africa. Take away the cohabiting with the in-laws and you’ve got the marriage of any one of your friends or neighbors. These women were faced with lives of little more than sex and service; they lived lives of unworthiness, lives of never being known (the lucky few might be paired as “old-sames,” an emotional friendship that lasted throughout their lives), lives of deferring and submitting in the most fucked-up sense of the word. And I’m only half-way through the book.
This book is painful for me; everything in me is gearing up for a book-burning. I rarely encounter this sort of frustration. Normally I’m irritated over a style preference issue or just crap writing. But it’s not the book; it’s the story, the history–the present. It makes me feel ill. Everything in me–EVERYTHING IN ME–REJECTS this commonly-held belief the world over that it is ever–EVER–appropriate to subjugate or mutilate someone else, whether that is in their physical person, in their mind, or in the gentle soul within them. And yet we watch it happen every day. We let it happen. We make it happen. God, forgive.
*That over-emphasized statement at the end is meant only to be a personal statement; feel free to read into it any other implications your personal worldview lends.