#OurTimeisNow and gender-agnostic thinking

Saba Karim Khan argues that #Timesup is a classic case of 'us' versus 'them'

#OurTimeisNow and gender-agnostic thinking
Just before Christmas, I was at a café on the university campus where I work, when the cashier asked me if I had finally delivered my second baby. I am a regular there and so, the staff was up-to-date on my birth chart. As I vehemently responded in the affirmative, her immediate follow-up was, “Boy?” No other option was presented and so, I voluntarily fed her the unsavory news: “No, we’ve had another daughter.”

“You should have had a boy this time, you need a boy,” she lamented.

The hat trick was complete. On two previous occasions, exchanges with uncanny similarity occurred. Once, during my pregnancy, as I dropped off our elder daughter at nursery, a woman felt the pressing urge to ask, “boy or girl?” The pattern repeated and this time the response was, “Girl? Again?” I waited for the “tsk” but she disappointed. The second encounter was at a spa, as I indulged in post-natal respite, when the therapist interrupted. We completed the “son, daughter” condolence chant and without a hint of hesitation, she remarked, “I have a boy and a girl. I’m so lucky. My family is complete.”

The café was the third time in the last six months that I was confronted with the temptation of hitting someone who I didn’t know very well, very hard in their face. That was the old me: livid, jaded and vulnerable, every so often, wounded.

A few days after returning from the hospital, holding our second baby in my arms, my mind transported itself to the anguish expressed by these women. I cannot deny the deep sense of pathos that overwhelmed me, as I imagined how our daughter might feel if she understood these reactions. Fury clouded my judgment then and I didn’t understand that those moments had been micro epiphanies, instilling in me the realization that my daughter, unlike me, was likely to feel little except “challenged”, much like in a game of truth or dare and “humored”, at the unmistakable disappointment loosely showered upon us.
What remains less understood is that women, who unapologetically belittle womanhood, instead of rallying as a unified force, are equally culpable

“Challenged” because the diminishing faith of those women, in one of their own, must be accepted as a dare and proven faulty. “Humored” at the irony, for despite the resounding virality of #metoo and #timeisup campaigns, which are foaming at the mouth across social media platforms, it is not just men whose time should be up. That men exacerbate inequality is no secret. What remains less understood is that women, who unapologetically belittle womanhood, instead of rallying as a unified force, are equally culpable. It is hardly surprising, then, that we leave a colossal cavity in the world, in our spaces and human connections, one that is readily filled by men.

As our daughter hit the three-month mark, my emotions began to pivot less on sorrow, male bashing and the wallowing need for a victim vote. The question that simmered instead was: where do I lie on the spectrum of overall human coexistence and synchronicity of the sexes and how must it be achieved? Mine is a much more Minecraft approach, one that hinges on shaping society with the voices of all orientations. I believe we must have men and women as a coalition, not a divorce. That is the only path to coexistence and co-creation.

To me, #Timesup, while offering determination, adopts a defensive, threatening tone, a classic case of “us” versus “them”, continuing to define our journey to freedom in juxtaposition to the opposite sex, while alienating “all” men. When will we be able to express ourselves in a male-agnostic way, one that doesn’t place the status of men as the benchmark to aspire towards?

For fruitful coexistence, #timeisup needs to morph into #timeisnow, so that men, while accountable for their deeds, don’t have to be pushed off their seats to make space for us. Instead, we should collectively capitalize on the present and let our inventive, gender-agnostic feats dictate the way to memorable eulogies.

As part of an experiential learning course, we recently made students listen to Oprah’s Golden Globes acceptance speech, which undoubtedly resonated worldwide. Whilst it offered its “goosebump” moments, it made me wonder about making the leap from rhetoric to revolution. Whether she leveraged the opportunity to progress a potential Presidential vote is less consequential; what counts is how it might translate into unleashing worthwhile opportunities in the smallest of towns and villages, for all genders alike, putting to rest the final howls of the “exploited”.

Whether it is through building an app that offers virtual support to victims of sexual harassment, joining a protest, setting up an online community, “call to action” graffiti, initiating a circle of gender-agnostic empowerers, writing a note offering empathy to a friend who felt exploited (irrespective of gender), allowing daughters to pursue aeronautical engineering and sons to paint, or sharing intellect and art, in any shape or form in order to spark a conversation, taking action is what becomes crucial. Inexcusable are those who offer little save lethargic lip-service, with the sole intent of jumping on to the proverbial #metoo bandwagon. There is no such thing as “too little” when it comes to doing and we all need to do more.

My husband and I often talk about the journey of raising daughters, one we have recently embarked on, in a place frantically trying to fit the template of a world city, through importing everything off the shelf. While they will be wedged here in the tussle between rootedness and global citizenship, oscillating between choosing high street brands and luxury retail therapy, navigating the local versus expat trajectories and battling an empowered sense of self, pitted directly against the wisdom of crowds, our inevitable hope is that if nothing more, they grow up to “be kind, curious and brave,” equipped to face a black swan but also to walk a mile in the shoes of another, in this hyper-individualist world.

Recently, a speaker at a guest lecture I attended on mindfulness shared a quote that resonated deeply, one that I hope to pen to our daughters someday: “Most men and women lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their grave with the song still in them.” He asked us to each write our “song”. In the past couple of years, our lives have transformed in so many realms all at once that it has been dizzying, not least of all because of the birth of our two, relatively brand-new daughters. Amidst the mayhem of balancing motherhood with a career, an entrepreneurial experiment and life, the one thing that has revealed itself, remaining unshakably etched in my mind has been the discovery of my evolving song: “To tell stories of fire and of ice, in the voices of the many, not the few, the hushed, not the bullies, exploring ways we’re connected beyond gender and belief, ushering the onslaught of a curious, kind and brave chapter of the world.”

I would never want for our daughters to discard the next few decades cursing misfortune or men. I want us to meet the lady at the café, offer her a smile and wish her well, comfortable in the knowledge that our family will be complete, not by producing sons or daughters, but by striking lifelong bonds without borders, and that we are at the positive extreme of the human coexistence spectrum. I believe we largely create our own serendipity and hence we must own it, without relying on solely disparaging any “other” - that is why, for me, #timeisnotup instead, #ourtimeisnow and #timeisheretostay.

The writer is an associate instructor in Social Sciences at the NYU Abu Dhabi campus