What Do You Deserve? Part 1
November 30, 2011 § 1 Comment
Our lives shrink and expand in direct proportion to what we think we deserve. Oprah says, “when you know better, you do better.” And, if I may add two cents to that, when you deserve better you are treated better.
When I talk about deserving, I’m not referring to popular notions of the word in our culture, i.e. “You deserve a pink sweater!” or “You deserve a vacation in Paris!” Deserving is something deeper; it is not material, though sometimes what we feel we deserve does get reflected in our wealth or livelihood.
Deserving, as a concept, is based on principles of love, equality, and inclusion. This is the foundation of all human rights movements, from the suffragettes to civil rights, to the end of apartheid, to legal reforms allowing for gay marriage. It may be that for 90% of our lives we grin and bare injustices –or worse yet, the discrimination– we experience with bitter acceptance, until that light bulb of deserving switches on! We cannot, under any circumstances, make changes in our lives, until we believe that we deserve the outcomes.
This is why, for me, feminism has always had an important spiritual component. By spiritual, I mean, there is something larger than me, something that existed before my culture and language, history and circumstances, that wants my equality and inclusion. It means that equality is my birthright and the foundation for my existence as a whole person; it means there is a greater good — a kind universe, perhaps — that wants the full flourishing of my personhood, talents, ideas, happiness, and contributions. This is a “vertical” relationship with life, rather than a “horizontal” relationship with our friends, family, culture, and history. What I mean is that at some point a person has to feel her own value within herself, regardless of what she is getting from the people around her.
Feminism for me is not about what men did or didn’t do, or about the differences between men and woman; it’s rather an internal inquiry into what I feel I deserve, and into the worth, purpose, and potential of my own life. From this inquiry, the next steps become clear. I try to work on myself in the hopes of a better world, rather than the other way around.
A woman will not end a relationship with an abusive partner because her friends or relatives tell her she “deserves better.” A woman will not feel beautiful simply because she is told so by her boyfriend and culture. And a person will never, ever, feel loved until she believes that she is loveable. What an amazing realisation! Inner transformation -a deeply felt sense of the right to exist — is the only path to true equality.
When I was living and working in Morocco for one year, I saw some instances of oppressed and physically and emotionally abused women on a scale that I had not seen before in my life; these images and encounters have haunted me since.
One woman’s story, in particular, stands out.
My friend and film subject, a female taxi driver named Zakia, one day took me driving into a poor “bidonville” (slum) on the outskirts of Casablana, so that I could see how people lived in different areas of the city. We had the chance to visit a woman there who had done some cleaning for Zakia over the years. She was desperately poor and lived in a shack constructed with found materials, which was surrounded by landfill. Her beautiful 17 year old daughter “Lara” (names have been changed) had just given birth to a perfect baby girl, though remained unwed, which is highly taboo in Moroccan culture. Lara would later be obligated by her family to marry the man who she had become pregnant from, even though she didn’t want to.
After I left Morocco from that first visit, I was contacted by a friend and told that shortly after their wedding, Lara’s new husband had beaten her so badly that she had been hospitalised for many days.
Coming out of the hospital, she was forced to move back in with him, as divorce is not widely accepted in her family and community, and her poverty was extreme.
I saw Lara about three years after our first encounter and she was a woman who, from what I saw, had transformed from a smiley and chubby-cheeked young mother, into a gaunt, shamed, and broken spirit.
No human being should ever have to experience such abuse of body and soul.
I send my love and my whole heart to Lara, I continue to grieve deeply for what she has gone through.
I offer these words in the hopes that one day all people might feel deserving of love, safety, protection, caring, equality, and trust, and that one day our governments, families, cultures and societies might reflect back to every one of us our inherent worthiness — it’s what we deserve.