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A Woman’s Right to Exist: “I Hope it’s a Girl”

Janet Ruhe-Schoen | Apr 14, 2015

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Janet Ruhe-Schoen | Apr 14, 2015

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

I am. I exist. Alive. I am here by divine right, my human right.

She’s examining the different kinds of packaging for sale in the post office. She’s a young pregnant woman with long, glamorous dreads. An older woman, about my age, standing in back of me in line, reaches out to tap her arm and she turns. Big eyes, big smile, big hello, big hug, warm greetings, rapid conversation. Then, as the new mom starts for the door, the older woman asks, “So what is it, a girl or a boy?” The new mom says, “I don’t know. I’ll find out tomorrow. I hope it’s a girl.”

“Well that’s something I like to hear,” the older woman remarks to me. (We never met before, but I’ve been leaning into the conversation.)

“Me too,” I said.

“I work with girls, many of whom are pregnant, and they all say they want boys. Boys are ‘easier’ than girls, they say. Boys are ‘better.’”

“Yeah, that’s the cliche. I’ve had a girl and a boy, and neither of them is ‘easy.’ And both of them are ‘better!’”

“I hear you. I’ve got a daughter and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

In sweet agreement we arrive at the counter, post our packages and go our ways, wishing the world could feel as we do.

Mother-and-daughter-in-IndiaBut, on the whole, the world does not share our sentiments, and, seemingly, except in some dim matriarchal era that no one believes really happened, the world never has. See, for just one example, the article Not Without Our Daughters published Jan. 26, 2015 by ipsnews.net.

Infanticide. Gendercide. Child labor. Slavery. These traditions are thousands of years old in many places—India and China, for example—and nowhere near fading away.

Or, try this link: plan-international.org to find out why 1 in 5 girls around the world is denied an education. Click “Girl Facts” on the right side of the page for more details.

I could continue listing sites, but any interested party can Google “domestic violence,” “forced marriage,” or another relevant search term and get a brainfull, and a heartfull.

Try “honor killings” for example. (See hbv-awareness.com for starters.) So-called honor killing is an ancient practice, and is still practiced today. Families murder their own daughters for desecrating their honor by refusing arranged marriage, for daring to write poetry, for loving someone taboo, for converting to another faith. These killings are covered up because of the shame of being kin to the victim. It’s better that she never existed.

Within many cultures, a woman does not enjoy an unconditional right to life. Her right to life is conditioned on her obedience to hidebound traditions and expectations.

Tahirih Qurratu’l-Ayn, the 19th Century Iranian ecstatic mystic poet, broke norms by claiming male freedoms. She divorced the husband she’d been forced to marry when she was 14. She left home and travelled, intent on her mission to teach her new faith and promote women’s education. Most notably, in 1848 at a religious conference where she was the only woman among some 80 men, she stood unveiled before her brothers-in-faith. By rending the veil she was finally face-to-face with them, and she lifted her voice to proclaim a new age of human oneness. She gained great fame as a poet-saint. She was revered—and reviled. When her ex-husband’s machinations and her staunch beliefs finally resulted in her execution, she was strangled by night in a walled garden, her body thrown into a pit and covered with stones. Snuffed. Hidden. Secret. An ‘honor’ killing. Before she died she reportedly told the Minister of War, “You can kill me as soon as you like, but you cannot stop the emancipation of women.”

For 10 years I researched and wrote her story, published in 2011 as Rejoice in My Gladness: The Life of Tahirih. But I’ve lived Tahirih’s story since I was born, simply by virtue of being a woman in a world that denied her right to exist, and continues to deny women the right to exist. One in three women world-wide suffer domestic violence. I have. Tahirih did. Have you? Domestic violence occurs in all cultures, all classes, among people of all levels of education; it occurs despite professed religious or philosophical views condoning or condemning it. See this Mar. 9, 2015 New York Times article: U.N. Finds Alarmingly High Levels of Violence Against Women.

Mysogyny. Hatred of women. An engrained prejudice against women. It doesn’t only afflict men. Many women are misogynous, self-hating. “Boys are ‘easier’ than girls,” they say. “Boys are ‘better.’”

I believe the roots of misogyny reach down, down, down through layers of human earth to a foul, sulfurous well in which we deny our inherent unity and oneness. That unholy well contaminates all of us, men and women both. The first step for many of us women is to examine ourselves for self-hatred and exercise daily vigilance to fight it, to win out over it.

This new consciousness of the full humanity of women can start a chain reaction of liberation and lead to powerful affirmative actions. See the stories of women freeing themselves on the Tahirih Justice Center’s website, tahirih.org, and note the story of how the center itself came about.

“I hope it’s a girl.” A revolutionary sentiment. A healing sentiment. I don’t know who or where that young mother is, that I saw in the post office, but I do hope she’s carrying a girl, and that she will imbue that girl with the joy of being alive and being female. Fingers crossed.

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