Advice to Fathers: Teach your Girls to Fight
By M. Azam
I grew up as the eldest of four girls in a Muslim South Asian immigrant family. ‘Gender’ has always forcefully been at the nexus of my self-identity and social consciousness. From a very young age, I grappled with cultural restrictions, biases, and over-sheltering due to the fact that I am female. In some ways my Baba (father) is a product of the prevalent ideology. Paradoxically, he is also a kick-ass feminist who vehemently did not want his girls to limit themselves and to reach for the moon, as in literally, by becoming astronauts (he’s sort of a space fanatic).
Baba fostered a tough ‘can-do’ attitude in all of us. This is poignantly illustrated by a lecture I received from him when I was in the 4th grade emphasizing that if someone were to throw a punch at me, I had to fight back. This was atypical advice for a 9-year old, non-aggressive, glitter makers and ‘Hello Kitty’ obsessed girl. But, it worked. Soon after this talk, I ended up in a skirmish with red-headed Ronald as we walked back from school. He kept kicking into the heels of my shoes, despite my insistent pleas for him to stop. Then the moment came: I turned around, looked him square in the eye and called him “freckle-juice.” I should add that Ronald was slightly geeky, very skinny and, well, very freckled. Also, we were at the age were the girls typically were taller than the guys.
I was the tallest in my class.
I’m guessing it was for this reason that although Ronald did not retaliate, his accompanying friend, Brianna, closer to my physique, did. Before I knew it the kids surrounding us started chanting ‘fight, fight, fight.’ It was on. Brianna and I took our places. I put my fist up and tried to remember the moves I learned in karate class. She swung at me. I put out a strong kick. The crowd grew bigger as more of the kids in the south Los Angeles apartment complex came out. More punching. A few minutes later, Brianna ran back to her home. They tried to dispute who won. But, I saw it as obvious. Hey, I was still standing. I played it cool. No need for wild celebration. That was too easy, I thought to myself. With that, I went home with a smug smile on my face.
The little Indian girl got skill. Bring it. Now, I’m not the confrontational type. Really, more of a peace lover. But, that moment lives within me forever. It’s given me guts. It’s true, I’m very much in favor of kindness, compassion, and diplomacy. Easy-going to the point that I might have you fooled. However, when the moment to stand up and speak out comes….like the time when all of the other kids in the playground were alienating Arlene from four-square, or when I felt that the housemaids in India was getting an unfair deal, or a brazen client walked into the health clinic which I worked at and started strongly insulting the volunteers…or moments closer to home, I raise my voice. Loud. Sorry, Baba, I never made it to NASA. But, thanks to you, I know that when the moment comes to fight….I fight back. Like every girl should.