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Tahmima Anam’s story

  • Published at 05:13 pm July 6th, 2017
  • Last updated at 05:22 pm July 6th, 2017
Tahmima Anam’s story
I have read a few of Tahmima Anam’s columns before, but never got to read any of her novels or short stories. “Garments” is her first story that I have read. Apparently, the story is being criticised on Facebook. When something is vehemently criticised, truth be told, my curiosity is piqued even further. Criticise when a woman writes, when a woman dresses, when a woman paints. I want to know what all this criticism is about. To this date, I have never found an actual reason behind such criticisms. I literally trembled after reading the story. How extraordinary! I myself have been writing stories about the sorrows and tribulations of women since the 1980s. I too have been vehemently criticised for that. My novel, Nimontron (Invitation), tells the story of the miserable life of an adolescent Sheela who was tricked by her lover and gang-raped eventually. And the critics criticised; they wrinkled their nose and labelled it as porn. In another novel, Shodh (Revenge), I have shown how Jhumur takes revenge on her husband because he suspected she was having an extra-marital affair with someone. Critics blasted at me for this one as well, saying this novel too had explicit portrayal of female sexuality. In Bhromor Koiyo Giya (The Bee has Left), a woman, finding her husband suffering from erectile dysfunction, divorces him, and later, she will check on a man's potency by sleeping with him before she considers marrying him. Men disapproved of it all the same, terming it porn. The patriarchal society of Bangladesh doesn’t want any woman to write stories or novels about a woman’s sexuality. Men in this society think: Women do not possess any sexuality, and even if they do, they shouldn’t. Even if they have it, they should keep it hidden. Stories or novels should not be written about it. And if anyone does write on the topic of sexuality, it should be men – men and men only. Modesty is not for men; so they have the freedom to write about sexual desires or feelings – these are men’s properties. They will express it. Women are not even supposed to have them, let alone express! Men will use women to quench their sexual desires. Men will be active and women passive. Essentially, sexuality is owned by men. Women are only required to give birth to and raise children. If anyone steps out of this boundary, she is shameless – a whore.
In my opinion, the people who are speaking against Tahmima Anam are insecure misogynists. This misogyny or male insecurity is only a symptom of the disease that is patriarchy. Until society gets rid of this malady, the symptoms will remain.
If this is the mentality we have, then it is no wonder that people will be denouncing Tahmima’s story. Tahmima’s “Garments” is a story about the helplessness of women – how they are forced to become sexual objects to men and how they are oppressed. Such is the life of Bangladeshi women. This is their reality. Almost every woman – regardless of her social class and level of education – is vulnerable. They are forced to become a man’s sexual object, even if the man is impotent. All women are subject to physical and mental oppression by men. Write about the love and devotion of a woman, then it is perfectly alright. Mention how that woman sacrificed her life to prove her love for a man, and it’s admirable. Write about a woman starving to feed her children, and it’s laudable. But if any woman does not want to bear with this tyranny, if any woman wants to leave her husband, even an oppressive one, you will not like it. You will only be angered if a woman fights back and screams against this suppression. If a woman writes about women’s sexuality and even if she is awarded abroad for that story, you’ll still continue to censure her. This is not our culture, you will say. In your culture women will keep their mouths shut, she will not speak out, she will never express her sexual desires. Thus the stories that feature such women are stories that misrepresent your culture. But a woman growing up in your culture can rebel, whether you like it or not. If Tahmima Anam was Tahmim Anam, if she were a man, there probably would not be as much criticism. Only a woman can understand a woman’s suffering. A man can never portray it as accurately as a woman can. In this male dominated society only a woman busy with her husband, domestic life and kids is a good woman. But if any woman says she will not bear with this oppression, if she refuses to be a sexual object for males, if she refuses to share the bed with an impotent man – even if that man is her husband – men are left astounded. Men fear if their lovers or wives are confident, his master-slave relationship will be disrupted. Men who oppress women suffer from severe insecurity. In my opinion, the people who are speaking against Tahmima Anam are insecure misogynists. This misogyny or male insecurity is only a symptom of the disease that is patriarchy. Until society gets rid of this malady, the symptoms will remain. People are saying garment workers are not so helpless that they will have to marry to rent a house. They have the availability of messes. That may be right. But Tahmima did not write a fact based prose, she wrote a story. And stories use imagination. Even so, I will say the poverty-stricken, powerless women of Bangladesh are often forced to wed aged, married, mentally or physically handicapped, infertile men just so they can survive. The women in Tahmima Anam’s story are forced to marry in order to rent a room. But among them, one woman does not want to tolerate the cruelty of an impotent husband. So she rebels silently – by thinking of her sexuality when she is alone. That is why misogynists do not like this woman or the author who wrote about this woman. But I want Tahmima not to be afraid of criticism, or to bow down in the face of these criticisms. I want her to continue telling women’s secret stories. All these times, men have been telling these stories. But they have been lying. Now, women should be the storytellers. Let them speak the truth.
Taslima Nasrin is a Bangladeshi fiction writer who has been in exile for over two decades now for her strong criticism of religious fundamentalists.