How my Pakistani husband became a feminist. (The story according to me, M's version coming soon...)
On my second date with M, he said some things that really made me think this guy might be a caveman. I can't remember all of them, but I do remember asking him about his brothers and sister. His sister was in medical school in Karachi at the time, and I don't know how it came up but he mentioned something about her not being allowed to drive or walk to school by herself, and not even being able to take the bus to school by herself. At my horror-stricken face, he tried to explain further but as more and more justifications spewed forth, I remember thinking more and more "uh-oh, I don't think this is the guy for me."
He was never anything but a perfect gentleman to me, though, so I couldn't really match these two things in my mind. He brought me flowers, held open doors, called when he said he would, and was always - always - polite, kind and respectful. How could he hold such backward notions about women needing men to restrict their freedoms in order protect their innocence and honor? I just didn't get it.
These topics came up in our discussions A LOT, too. I was, at that time, finishing up college and would within the next year enroll in courses like Philosophy of Feminism, Topics in Feminist Literature, Philosophy of Race, Class & Gender and Gender & Religion. These things were swirling in my head, I was reading a lot of books on the subject matter both in class and for leisure. I was also reading books like Arranged Marriage and Interpreter of Maladies and Culture Shock! Pakistan in an effort to gain any kind of knowledge about M's history, and all these books were fodder for more discussions with M. I would always bring something with me to talk to M about. I would even read aloud some passages.
One theme that remained constant was that I was always asking about how these issues affected his mother and sister, the only women in his life he had any kind of intimate closeness. In Pakistan, especially in families like my husband's, there can be a lot of separation between female and male. As a result, M said he hadn't really had to think about women's issues before in his life. Talking about his mother and his sister in this way seemed to really engage him in these conversations.
One day, after seeing a college production of The Vagina Monologues, I searched for a production of the play in the city M lived in, bought tickets, and begged him to go with me. He was not thrilled but willing to humor me, I guees. So one day in February when M and I had known each other for six months, we went to see that play. Afterward, he said certain parts had been really eye-opening and even wanted to talk about them on the phone later. HE instigated those conversations.
It was a few days after the play that I realized that a lot of M's views about gender and women's issues had begun to change, and that me was man enough to stand up for what he believed in.
One of his friends (one of them), T, had gotten wind of where M had been and asked him about the play - stifling his laughs as he spoke in an obvious attempt to ridicule M. M didn't even blink, told that guy how much he'd enjoyed the play and asked T just exactly what his problem was. T backed down in an instant, and I looked at M stunned. I hadn't been expecting that and I saw M in a different light after that.
It would be a while before M would call himself a feminist though; after we were married. He had begun working and had made friends with a few coworkers. A few of those coworkers proved to be very influential in M's life (and thereby mine) and M credits one of the for inspiring him to be a great father, and I credit another one, Greg, for finally convincing him to label himself as a feminist.
One day during a discussion about how feminism has become a bad word, M said he wasn't a feminist. Shocked, I tried to explain to him exactly why he WAS, in fact, a feminist - but he wasn't hearing any of it. We had just had a dinner with Greg and his wife and discussed a book that Greg and I had both read that in part dealt with some women's issues. M had been a part of that discussion too, and in trying to explain to M why he was a feminist I said "WHAT are you talking about? What about that dinner with Greg and talking about that book! Greg is a feminist, you know!"
The next work day M asked Greg "Are you a feminist?" Greg thought for a second and said that he was (Whew!!) and hearing that somehow alleviated whatever reluctance M felt about it.
Now he had no problem telling anyone who's around; He's a feminist and he's proud of it. Now it seems like he's some champion of women's rights because now HE'S the one who is always refusing to let these topics drop. Sometimes I have to tell him he should stop talking because a room has become silent and people's eyes have glazed over.