Let me set the scene.
I’m a twenty-something-year-old woman, married, no kids and I work in 9-5 and then some. I live with my husband, my in-laws and my brother in law. I come from a South Asian background where culture is often conflated with Islam. My brother-in-law is a couple years younger than me but behaves like a 16-year-old, with a PlayStation addiction and smelly room to match.
In fact, as I write this at 10 pm, I can hear the incessant noise of guns, no doubt he is playing one of his stupid games, which has meant that he is significantly stunted in his ability to communicate and be a functional human. I have to say I have a pretty pleasant mother-in-law. We don’t argue, we get on okay and our relationship is pleasant.
My mother-in-law, however, is in some ways a product of the patriarchy. While she has raised a God fearing, honest and strong man in my husband. The same cannot be said for my brother-in-law. She has internalised misogyny in a way that makes her relationship with her younger son one which communicates love through acts of service, no matter how begrudgingly these acts are carried out. He’s allowed to emerge from his cave and question why food hasn’t been cooked. If she is cooking something he won’t eat then she has to cook a separate meal for him too, and if she dare ask him to go to the shop to buy any produce for HIS meal, she’s met with a huff and a puff whilst also asking for money. The worst part is that he can actually cook, really well, but would rather the labour of his elderly mother and show ingratitude while he’s at it.
My brother-in-law is your typical Muslim boy who treats his mother with disgruntlement, you know the type I’m talking about, the type that feels entitled to the labour of his mother and feels in no way that he himself needs to contribute to the household, in any way. The type that often exhibits symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A disorder with a long-term pattern of abnormal behaviour which is characterised by exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration and lack of empathy.
My own mother has also internalised misogyny and often asks me why I don’t cook for my brother in law. When I go to see her she packs leftover food and tells me to give it to him, I jokingly call him her third child to which she scolds me. I’ve never really explained why I refuse to cook for him. I refuse to cook for him because men like him ruin the lives of women and are why jokes about women being in the kitchen exist. Misogyny is deeply rooted within our society and seems to sometimes root itself deeper in “ethnic” families. To cook for my brother in law is to play a part in creating a misogynistic being who sees women as nothing more than either sexual beings or service providers, his mother and me being the latter. How can I preach and fight for the rights of Muslim women whilst in my own house playing a part in cementing decade old tropes about women and their subservience?
As Muslim women we are often asked to play a part in such oppression because of the “greater reward from Allah”, but it is not my responsibility and nor my brother-in-law’s right to have me cook for him. For too long we have asked women to bend over backwards to accommodate for misogynistic behaviour because it feels easier to give in than to resist. For some, it may seem like I’m unnecessarily kicking up a fuss, but I believe that such behaviour of men is symptomatic of wider problems and ills in societies. Such a sense of entitlement that gives men delusions of grandeur is seen in our mosques and amongst institutions.
I believe the patriarchy is taken down through these small acts of resistance. If the Handmaid’s Tale taught us anything, resistance isn’t always large noble and public acts, sometimes they are these small pursuits of simply saying no. And if me not cooking for my brother-in-law doesn’t result in the patriarchy falling to pieces, the least it does is reclaim my time and preserve my mental health.
“Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.”
The Petty Muslimah documents how the patriarchy continues to stop women from living their best lives.