But What About Her Story?

By Hammad Ali

What are we missing out on, when we deny someone their potential?

The year was 2000. I had recently finished my O level exams, and felt like I had a little time on my hands to waste as I saw fit, and along with some friends, spent a large chunk of our days roaming the streets of Dhanmondi and sampling the street food that Dhaka should be more famous for. It was one of those times when a poster caught our eyes one day. It was for International Women’s Day, and said, “Imagine a world without women.” Being teenagers, we found the idea distressing, even if for the wrong reasons. Looking back, I still find the idea distressing, but because I realize what a grim world that would be.

I often remark to my peers that if you look back at your younger self, and do not cringe at some of your words, beliefs, and actions, it might actually be bad news. On the bright side, maybe you were born perfect. Far more likely, though, is that you have not done the work of growing. Nevertheless, I take pride in saying that it never occurred to me that my female friends are lesser than me in any way. If anything, my female friends, my sisters, and my mother, of blessed memory, made it amply clear to me that the safety, security, and happiness I achieve in life, rests in no small part on their roles in my life. I have been through some dark times, and I have made it out because of the mix of love, empathy, and the demands on me to do better than they provided.

But there is one big reason why I will never understand why anyone, or perhaps I should say any man, would want women to not have the same rights and opportunities that they enjoy. In fact, this same reason also baffles me as to why anyone would think denying opportunities based on gender, race, or any other identity marker, is a good idea. I have to admit, with not much shame, that I have a very high opinion of myself. And it seems to me, if I wish to hold on to these opinions, I must do everything I can to make sure that everything that has come my way I was able to earn through my own merits.

For most of history, most professional opportunities were denied to women and members of visible minorities. Many communities had exclusive access to opportunities, and privileges that made it even easier for them to make the most of those opportunities. When I read, for instance, of some politician in history that worked brutally long hours and helped his nation achieve greatness, I think we should also be told about how this legend was being supported by the women of his family, possibly no less brilliant, but denied most of the same opportunities, and relegated to homemaking. Is it likely that Thomas Jefferson was the finest mind to ever enter politics, and yet, that his mother, or his sisters if he had any, were any lesser? Denied the same opportunities, for sure. But their sacrifices, their hard work, is what enabled Jefferson to spend his hours on forming a brand-new idea of government and state, one that survives to this day. More to my point though, was Thomas Jefferson the finest mind of his generation, or just the finest white male mind of his generation?

That is what bothers me, about history, and about our present. When we deny rights to someone, when we deny them opportunities, I believe we are communicating something we believe not just about them, but also about ourselves. Contrary to the mainstream idea, I do not feel we are acting out of the superiority complex that we are better, but rather insecurity that we are lesser. That if we made the playing field level, we would not be able to keep up with the other – be it women, minorities, or anyone we for any reason consider the other.

There are many, far better, far more altruistic reasons to never deny anyone the same rights and opportunities we desire for ourselves. There are entire works of philosophy that talk about how our endorsement of any idea is only valid if we would approve of it being a universal law. However, there are also entire works of social sciences that talk about how if we wish to convince someone, we must appeal to the benefits they stand to gain from coming to an agreement with us. Call it an appeal to rationality, or a manifestation of the far more morally subjective notion of realpolitik. This is why I am not giving the many other, far morally superior, arguments about how men should do everything they can to ensure that women have the same rights and opportunities they want for themselves. I am not going to appeal to anyone about how they must have loved ones who are women, because that makes it sound like you should only care for those you know.

I am appealing here, one man to the men of the world, to your ego. Your sense of pride, and dignity. When you deny women the same opportunities that you have, is it because you are scared you will not be able to keep up? Does a world where women can, and choose, to do it all, concern you so much because you are simply the best man for your job, not the best person for it? If you wish to look back at your life and be able to tell yourself that you deserved everything you attained in life, do you not owe it to your peace of mind to make sure that no one else was denied any of those opportunities simply because they were not your gender or race?

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