Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wanting Mor: Is This Freedom?

Wanting Mor
Ruhksana Khan
Groundwood Books

After reading Zetta Eliott’s review of Wanting Mor and reading another mention of the book at GA Novelty, I thought, Once again, a book I’ve read and enjoyed and not reviewed. I’m writing now though because Zetta and I have divergent views on the book. We’re both feminists and we share a lot of the same views but this time, we see culture and faith differently.

Wanting Mor is akin to a Cinderella set in Afghanistan based on a true events in 2001. There is no prince but there is maturation and freedom though I think in this book, it's not freedom in the way many of us would define it. I see women making choices and exerting themselves while Zetta questions why women willingly embrace restrictions placed on them by their religion and culture. Like Zetta, I’m very interested to learn how teen girls would interpret this story. There are great comments and observations at Fledgling. Do check them out.

I read this and like Doret, I see Jameela in the context of her circumstances and culture. I think the writer gives an honest and realistic, and in a modern setting by the way a view of how some Muslim women see themselves. I prefer this to a version that is more aligned with my Western views. This is Kabul after the Taliban and during an established US presence.

I concede Jameela is judgmental towards other women, but she does mature. She comes to love and care for her friend who does not share her conservative values or adherence to their religion. Jameela also breaks from her father and chooses an alternative life as a single, employed woman. Jameela chooses her destiny.

I see Jameela and her religious views very much in the way I know Christians have very different views of what it means to be Christian. Many follow Christianity but we all do not interpret our faith and live our lives the same way, and among ourselves we are judgmental. There are many of us who are Christian, but we are also pro-choice, we reject homophobia and we are Democratic and Republican. I think Khan presents different shades of culture and faith, a view of women who live in a Muslim country and how they unapologetically live and practice and reject it, too. I think this story reflects how some women see themselves. That is valuable to see.

Jameela emulates the strongest, most positive figure in her life. Her mother believed in modesty but that didn't mean her mother believed in abuse or that she didn't think for herself. She married a non-practicing Muslim but she didn't abandon her faith. She did not live as her husband did. Mor believed and practiced what mattered most to her and that is empowering.

I think that if we're going to use our own measuring stick for what it means to be empowered then we inevitably are going to find others coming up short often.
Many of us have rejected parts of our mother's thinking and living but many of these same women were also the strongest women we knew and we drew on their strength. Sometimes we saw how limiting a woman's life could be and we were steadfast in having a different life.

In much of the multicultural literature I read, I discover girls and women who find ways to exert themselves within the context of their culture and circumstances. They find purpose, love and happiness within what they know and I find that empowering. And as undesirable as we may find some customs, there are women who find comfort and joy in their traditions. Jameela liked how she looked in the mirror. She also liked being free of being looked at. There was no reason to cover her lip after the surgery but she felt wearing the burka was her way of choosing who and when others had access to her.

I don’t think it serves us to think women have to reject culture or religion completely in order to live a life a woman finds fulfilling. And I can respect and celebrate a life a woman chooses for herself in spite of finding aspects of that life personally objectionable.

I read Wanting Mor for Women Unbound and J. Kaye’s 2010 Young Adult Challenge. I also think this fits Social Justice: Religious Freedom. I encourage you to read this book. You might also be interested in Climbing The Stairs and Beneath My Mother’s Feet. These are stories about girls growing up in traditional, conservative cultures yet they make breaks as well.

What are your thoughts about the restrictions or freedom of culture and faith? Have you read stories that elicit similar conflicts for you?


Michelle (su[shu]) said...

I haven't read this book. But I liked your thoughts on it, especially where you say that women don't necessarily have to reject culture or religion to live a life they find fulfilling.

Sometimes I've been led to wonder if it's more difficult for a woman to want to live conservatively, as opposed to what we call 'modern'. What some of us see as 'restrictions' imposed upon women through religion, may not be 'restrictions' to those women. Like the burqa, for example. So many people see it as a restriction imposed upon women, and constantly insist that they don't don the burqa. But these very same women have to fight against our preconceived idea of 'modern' and 'freedom', because it is actually their choice and decision to wear the burqa.

I guess, to sort of make the above paragraph make some sort of sense.. It's demeaning to impose upon women certain dress codes and what they can or can't reveal. But it is equally insulting to insist that all women think wearing the burqa is restrictive, as if women didn't have a mind of their own to decide on how they want to practice their own faith.

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

It's so interesting to see different opinions on the same book, since I just recently read Zetta's take on it, which was very different from yours. lol, now I feel like I should get moving on reading my library copy of this novel... But the exploration of women's roles and religion is firing my curiousity over this book more and more. =D Anyhow, excellent review! =D

MissAttitude said...

I agree with Ah Yuan, I love reading your different views on this book between you, Zetta, Doret and Edi. I really need to read this book, but it may have to wait till February. we'll see. I think faith and customs can be a way of freedom since we are free to believe what we want and follow the customs (in the US at least). But books like this and Does My Head Look Big in This? help me understand why Muslim women make the choices they do, to wear the burka and follow traditions that can seem to be demeaning. Also, I agree that empowerment can mean different things to differetn people. Great review!

BTW, my open letter to Bloomsbury is now up. It's probably not very eloquent, but it's heartfelt at least :)

Care said...

A thought-provoking post - I'm off to read your link to a divergent view.

Care said...

A thought-provoking post - I'm off to read your link to a divergent view.

Jessie Carty said...

i think when people become idealistic, they sometimes forget others do not share their specific ideals. i'll honor anyone who does what they feel makes their life well as long as it harms no one else. many of my family members are of the mennonite faith. some choose to wear a head covering in church. some do not. what i appreciate about their decision is that they thought it out, it was not someone telling them they had to which is the key to freedom.

excellent review and discussion.

TheEnglishist said...

Have not read the book, but love, love, love this review.

Jade said...

What a great review! You've raised some really interesting points here, especially about finding freedom within a specific cultural context. The book sounds like a really interesting read.