Dear Abbu, Thanks for the Feminism

I just read this fictional open letter written by a Pakistani daughter to her father. His blatant sexism has made her into a strong and proud woman today. Everything he did to try and bring her down has only ended up giving her more self worth, or so she writes.

I’ve read a lot of pieces like these: reactionary columns about the obscene sexism and misogyny that does exist in our culture. So I wanted to write my own. About my real father and the real things he did that made me into the real person I am today.

Dear Abbu,

Thank you for raising me like you did. I know it wasn’t easy; when you have three daughters, people invariably ask you this: “but, don’t you want a son?!”, as if the lack of one is a mark of humiliation. Thank you for always politely and firmly saying, no.

Thank you for my name. You named me, you said, after a heroine you read about and fell in love with, in one of the Urdu novels you were always poring over. Her name was Nayab and she was headstrong, impulsive, loud, courageous, impossible and intelligent. A real ball-buster, you said. Ah baba, that is who I’ve grown up to be.

Thank you for listening to my childhood problems. You’re the only one who knows when Zara and I fought about something inconsequential and you’re who I came to for advice. You asked me to call up my friends and talk it through and I did. When I was six and ten and now, at 22. I still do it.

Thank you for guiding me through my awkward teenage years. I remember once when I was 13, I started crying in the middle of the mall. You panicked.

I told you, “I don’t look beautiful. Why didn’t God make me pretty?”

And you stopped dead in the center of the atrium, took my face in your hands and said, “You’re the most beautiful girl in the world.”

And I never doubted it again. To be fair, I had a startlingly thick unibrow, an awkward coltish face and no breasts to speak of. I thought I’d been kicked off the beauty train unlike all the models in all the magazines. Never again.

Thank you for buying me books. I remember once when I was upset because I’d read all my Enid Blyton stories and needed something new. You walked out to the bookstore nearby, wrapped up in your overcoat, in freezing December, and brought back two new books. Baba, I have never loved anyone more than I loved you then.

Thank you for reading all of my angsty poetry and short stories. You’re the first person I bring my written work to. I used to be embarrassed when you’d share my poems with your friends and put them up on the walls of our house. You still tell people, “my daughter will be a famous writer one day” and I believe you, baba, I believe you. Because you believed me.

Thank you for my self esteem. Whenever I walk into the room, you tell me you have never seen a more beautiful person anywhere. I see people now, whose self worth depends solely on what other people tell them. Mine never had to, because you built me strong. You built me right.

Thank you for everywhere I’ve been. Haye baba, I remember when you told me, “don’t settle for anything till you’ve seen the world,” and I haven’t. You sent me to India by myself when I was 11, then San Francisco, then New York, then Dallas, then Chicago, then London, then Beijing, then Dubai, then Montreal, then Paris, then Minneapolis. And you’re always asking me to do more, be more, go more places. Thanks to you, I’ve learned how to travel by myself and navigate whole cities in two days.

And, thank you for letting me know that my self-worth does not lie in men’s hands.

I have some Pakistani guy friends who on the surface appear to be educated, polished, but now and then, let slip horribly sexist remarks that I balk at. I’ve been told to not wear sleeveless clothing, that there’s a problem with my makeup, my breasts, my butt and how all of these are just so out there. I’ve been told I’m not the right kind of Pakistani girl, because I travel alone, because I do not wear a dupatta, because I do not apologise for myself. None of this has ever mattered to me. Baba, you’ve taught me how to tune out nonsense sexism very well.

Baba, how can I ever thank you enough for telling me I can’t even consider marriage until I have started to make enough money to keep myself happy and comfortable? I remember when you told me to never stop working, even if I marry a millionaire. You want me to want my dreams.

And I know, when it’s all said and done, and I have my book published, there will be no one prouder than you.

So thank you, abbu, for making me into the unapologetically loud, ridiculous, well read, career driven headstrong woman that you did.

Whenever a man (especially a Pakistani one) or a woman even, tells me “you’re not like any of the other Pakistani girls I know,” I glow with pride. Even if they mean it as an insult. Because baba, in a country often overwhelmed by grossly sexist attitudes, you’ve raised me to be me. Unapologetically. Thank you.

Love, Nayab.


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