I was about 10 when I decided what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a journalist. It was my destiny. I would grow up and get paid to write for people. And I’d write books too. Lots of them. So simple. Oh, to be 10 again! As it turned out life wasn’t the smooth path to professional writing that I’d anticipated. Somewhere along the line I lost track of who I was and by the time I needed to make those all important decisions about subjects, exams, and university, my earlier career aspirations seemed painfully unrealistic.
There were a couple of reasons why my plans for international journalistic success *snort* were scuppered. I had a breakdown that spanned my A Levels; I didn’t realise this at the time, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. I understand now that the panic attacks and hiding away to cry in the toilets most days weren’t just teenage angst. In being forced to convert to a very strict form of Islam I’d had my identity stripped from me, and I felt like I was suffocating. As well as this I only had a small parameter of choice with regards to subjects – Islam (of course), teaching and medicine were viewed as acceptable options by those pulling the strings in my life, but most other subjects were seen as a dangerous distraction from god. This made the year or so before going to university an emotionally fraught time. I was frightened someone would put their foot down at the last minute and forbid me from going and I knew it was my one opportunity to escape the religious control. So I did what I had to do, I manipulated my patriarchy by studying for a degree I wouldn’t have chosen had I the freedom to make choices. It was a necessary inconvenience to achieve the autonomy I so desperately needed. I did a degree in Islamic Studies, Arabic and English Literature (although I gave up the Arabic in my third year: utterly hopeless) and then a diploma in International Relations.
I loved the English and a lot of the political and sociological modules, but the rest I found arduous. If I’d had the clarity and the freedom I would have done gender studies and journalism, or something along that vein. Writing has always given me a giddy high, and analysing gender inequalities was my coping mechanism during the years of religious misogyny. 12 years on from graduating and I’m more passionate than ever about feminism and writing, and I still harbour the rather whimsical dream of being a writer when I ‘grow up’. But at 33, with a career and two young children, I’m bound by responsibilities that make my dream a little impractical. So I blog. It kills 2 birds with one stone – it sates my burning desire to write, if only temporarily, and it allows me to learn more about feminism.
Blogging has triggered so many epiphany moments. Since I started tapping away on WordPress I’ve realised I have a voice, that I’m entitled to feel anger and that it can be a constructive emotion, that I’m not as hopelessly dim as I thought I was, and that women like me can make a difference. My experiences mean I connect with certain feminist concerns, like ‘honour’ crime and religious patriarchy, more than others. But I realise that my experience is only one in a sea of inequality suffered by women, and the beauty of blogging is how much it teaches me about others. There are so many inspiring people online (women like Glosswitch, Sarah Ditum, Jasvinder Sanghera, Raquel Saraswati, Maha, Huma and Mona Eltahawy) who’ve opened my eyes to sexism and the potential for emancipation, and after years of questioning my own worth and the legitimacy of my pain their words validate my anger and encourage me to believe that I can bring about change.
I hope that one day I’ll get the opportunity to write ‘properly’. I turn a bit green with envy each time I’m on Twitter – I’m pretty sure 75% of the people I follow have either written for newspapers or had a book published – but I’m also inspired and motivated by the success of other women. I have a book burning away in my mind that I’m desperate to write, but it’s only since I’ve had an online presence that I’ve felt I could make it happen. After speaking to a publisher at Britmums Live this year I’m more ready than ever to start writing about my past – the forced conversion, the religious misogyny, the disownment, and the piecing together of my new identity. It’s a story that needs to be told. It hurt me so much, but now I’m free, and I’ll be freer still when my words fill up those pages and can encourage some other poor soul who feels as trapped and hopeless as I did. But until the book really starts to come together I’ll continue to blog, because every time I write a post like this I feel like I’m chipping away at the patriarchy that took away my agency and manipulated my choices. These words are my feminist resistance.
Reimagining my Reality: Writing my way to freedom after institutionalised religion. This blog is an extension of my reimagined reality, a reality that transcends the religious and cultural sexism of my past. (@reimaginingme)