Sustaining the Onslaught of ‘Footware’

Last week i shared an article on Twitter titled ‘Freedom of expression, a shape-shifting tool’ that listed some of the comments i had received in response to ‘This ‘free speech’? no thanks’ published earlier. This is the paragraph containing those comments:

‘After my response appeared on Straight.com, I was put in my place several times regarding my race, gender, skills and social status: ‘you, a person without any noteworthy accomplishments to her name… I wonder if your point has any validity to it whatsoever.’ ‘This writer has less than zero understanding of Western History, and how capitalist power and systemic racism work.’ ‘This is awful writing, I can’t believe this is considered a serious contribution to our public discourse around these issues’, ‘typical nauseating beyond far left viewpoints’. I also bagged various titles including dictator, ignorant, fascist, a Soviet-era speechwriter, but most agreed that I was someone who for sure was ungrateful for the rights she enjoys here in the ‘West’. And then: ‘What’s the daft woman’s alleged point?’ ‘the garbled word salad you wrote’, ‘What a load of tripe’.

As i was posting it, amid fresh comments and LIKES, i received the following message from Poet Jónína Kirton:

‘The things that people said to you @RafiqueFauzia made me want to cry, especially since I know you, love you & feel you are one of the most brilliant woman I know. They are WRONG… so wrong. I am not one to push guilt on others but they should really feel ashamed of themselves.’

First, my mind prompted me to chuckle, and i did, because it was as if i was caught red handed. I wasn’t feeling hurt, I was just dutifully responding to each comment the best i could while appreciating its literary merit or an interesting thought or to notice if the comment was based in elitism, racism, sexism, or whatism. Then the chuckle ended, and in one flash i was reminded of two instances that had happened a few months apart in Toronto in the 1990s. The first had occurred with my friend poet/publisher/activist Fahmida Riyaz (1946-2018) who was visiting from Karachi. I asked her how it was going over there, and she gave me a contemplative gaze, and in all seriousness said, Har qism ki jootiyan parri hain mujhe. Boot, fauji boot, pumpi, running shoes, hawai chappal, sandals, chotti airri, oonchi airri…: ‘I had all kinds of footware thrown at me. Boot, army boot, pumpi, running shoes, flip flops, sandals, short heel, high heel…’. The rest of the evening was spent on improving the list of footware that we had received on different occasions, and we experienced laughing fits going into tears and then back.

The second flashback was a visit from my friend author/educator/activist Rubya Mehdi, who was either on her way to Copenhagen from Lahore or had recently visited there. So, i asked her how did it go in Lahore, and without a moment’s hesitation, she said Uff, buhut jootay parray: ‘Uff, i took a lot of footware’, and that led to another evening of crazy laughter and tears.

After, i responded to Jónína:
‘You always touch something deeper with your words, @JoninaKirton. First, i had to inquire about my own feelings around them, and I was amazed to find that ‘hurt’ is not there, that in fact i enjoyed the ways of expression of most of them. Why? There’s another post in there.’

And, without giving it any more thought, i set out on the route that Jónína had pointed to. Why? Because i know her to be an instinctive healer of the self and others; check her tweet, it’s a tender message of strength encouraging me to proceed, if i needed to or wanted to. My tweet: ‘It has begun, i’m already telling you all about it. Thank you for creating this space for me to go over this- what can i say, sadness.’

As women in any part of the world, we take an incredible amount of verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual and physical abuse simply for being women. This abuse is doubled and tripled when some women disagree with certain familial, religious or social values and when they refuse to follow the dictates. Additional layers of abuse are added when women are anti-government or anti-state activists working for equality and fairness. The three women above, Fahmida, Rubya and myself were and are guilty on all three counts, and then some. Tangle it with class, caste, race, color, gender, ableism, ageism, and you may end up with a lot of abusive experiences. So much and so many and so fast that it would not be possible to process them all in real time. In fact, the way life happens and because it is painful and debilitating to process and confront abuse, a lot of it would remain unacknowledged, unmarked and unprocessed.

i’m not sure how Fahmida, Rubya, Jónína and other women i know, may have dealt with verbal abuse in the long term, but we all may have had to ‘thicken’ our skins enough to be able to throw the larger portion of it to the side. Throw it to the side instead of responding to it or to get drawn by it unless it was a tactic to do so. For my part, as a youth i had created a space just outside of myself to deposit all the indignities or the ‘footware’ thrown at me. I call it the Dome of Sadness, and it contains all the abuse i have suffered as a girl, a young woman, a woman; for being my kind of a writer, and, for being a certain kind of a person.

Urdu term ‘jootay parrna’ means ‘footware lashing’ and it is used for verbal abuse, ‘mild’ assaults, and ‘light’ physical battery- the three things most South Asian children become aware of early on as these are the three most used method of disciplining them. The English terms, ‘shoeing’ or ‘shoe throwing’ do not quite express the ‘cultural’ significance of ‘footware lashing’ where it means one or all of the following:
Mild swear words: declaring humans in question as belonging to and/or originating from nonhuman species, especially dogs/bitches, donkeys, and owls.
Medium swear words: a vast canon pointing to and highlighting individual physical attributes such as ‘four eyes’, ‘one-legged’, ‘one-armed’, ‘stick’, ‘fatso’, ‘trans’, ‘no-eyes’, ‘boy-nor-girl’.
Hot swear words: declare women, young women, even girl children, to be whores, sluts and prostitutes while men, young men, even boy children, are accused of fucking their mothers, sisters, daughters, etc.
Name calling and Character assassination: constitutes Hate Speech that levels serious allegations of religious, sexual, social or political wrongdoing leading to violence.
Non-life-threatening battery, physical abuse and assaults with or without  make-shift weapon; slaps, kicks, punches, hair-pulling, baton charges, lashes, burns, acid throwing…

Please note, the abuses listed above are not the products of any of the South Asian cultures but of patriarchy. Similar themes run through all languages and cultures of the world. And this reminds me of a space where for some time, it was possible to view South Asian Muslim culture-specific verbal abuse in one place- Author Salman Rushdie’s page on Facebook where everyone could express themselves freely about the alleged blasphemous content of one of his novels. ‘The unreason, intolerance, violence, bigotry, threats, and the filthiest verbal abuse- it was all there.’ But we can’t view it anymore, it was discontinued in the 2010s.

Most of the Footware lashing i have received is hidden, and that’s what Jónína Kirton encourages me to address, to take the time to see the part where years of abuse is stored- the part that i think is situated outside of myself. In her tweet, she tosses a warm, soft and colorful shawl at me to get me on my way. There can’t be a better time for it.

The Dome of Sadness had no door, i had to dig one to get in. So much clutter! There was about 34 years of Canadian racism, over two years of British racism in Britain, decades of British racism in Pakistan. Racism mixed with Islamophobia and misogyny, the extent of which came out to me when i was filling out a form last year for a research project on Islamophobia. Extreme prejudice experienced from some white editors over the years. Barriers to employment. Unpleasant family situations, abusive men, in-laws, gossip-lovers. Character assassination in Pakistan, abuse received on the streets of Lahore. The dome was full of all kinds of insulting words and cruel thoughts, spoken, written, published. Violent actions, gestures, body language. Photos, videos, audios, detailed flashbacks. Images, paintings, drawings. Poems, prose. High piles of mixed media. Some marked, some unmarked. But looking at each, i knew what it was about. It was about something that i had already endured and i had already survived. It can teach me somethings and it can increase my understanding but it can not harm me anymore.

Well, this is a belief i have though it may not be entirely true. What i find here cannot harm me in the ways that were intended perhaps by the abuser, but it can still harm me in other ways. In case of unmarked abusive incidents, for example, it can harm me to suddenly find or accept that it was abuse(!), and in certain cases, it can exact a cost from me in the present.

As well, in many ways human mind is its own free bird, it can reach branches and tress that one may not want to get to, for example, to instances of my own abusive attitudes, behaviors and actions toward others. A tough reckoning, tougher than taking abuse itself, it is to acknowledge that i am guilty of abusing others too.

So, the somewhat perilous adventure has begun and i have been wandering around here for the past few days. On my way out right now, i am going to rename it as ‘Abuse Registration Office – Shipping’, and in the coming days, i’ll work at it.

I know, its a boring title and the place looks like a huge warehouse but inside… don’t bet on it.

Fauzia Rafique
July 27, 2020
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