I understood that in his mind, Dad was fulfilling his social obligation as father and protector. He worried about my economic stability and, in a roundabout way, my happiness. Feminism and community activism had enabled me to understand these things as part of a prescribed role for women. At the same time, growing up in Kansas and coming to feminism here meant that I had to reconcile a number of different issues. I am a Muslim, first-generation Indian, feminist woman, studying in a largely homogeneous white, Christian community in Midwestern America. What sacrifices are necessary for me to retain my familial relationships as well as a sense of personal autonomy informed by Western feminism.
The feminist agenda in my community is centered on ending violence against women, fighting for queer rights and maintaining women’s reproductive choices. As such, the way that I initially became involved with this community was through community projects such as “Womyn Take Back the Night,” attending pride rallies and working at the local domestic violence shelter. I am often the only woman of color in feminist organizations and at feminist events. Despite having grown up in the Bible belt, it is difficult for me to relate to stories told by my closest friends of being raised on cattle ranches and farms, growing up Christian by default and experiencing the strict social norms of small, religious communities in rurla Kansas. Given the context of this community – a predominantly white, middle-class, college town – I have difficulty explaining that my feminism has to address issues like, “I should be able to wear both hijab and shorts if I chose to.” The enormity of our agenda leaves little room to debate issues equally important but applicable only to me, such as the meaning of veiling, arranged marriages versus dating and how the north-south divide uniquely disadvantages women in the developing world.
Almas Sayeed, “Chappals and Gym Shorts: An Indian Muslim Woman in the Land of Oz”, in Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism, Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman (eds), Seal Press 2002.