The Pink
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The Pink

Suffering is the Thread that Binds Women of the World Together

Women are not strong if what they are doing is enduring hardship without hope for a way out of it — they are simply suffering.

Photo by JEFERSON GOMES on Unsplash https://unsplash.com/photos/KSoibTNlh58?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink

I read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee recently and one of the things that spoke to me the most in the book was how much suffering the women had to endure. It reminded me of the role women played in the Biafran War as told by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun.

One similarity in both stories is that the women had to take care of their children, their families, and their husbands’ relatives when their husbands were killed or wounded in the war. And, they must bear this weight without complaint because like Min Jin Lee emphasised in multiple chapters of the book: “It is a woman’s lot to suffer.”

One thing that unites women all over the world, that transcends language, religious beliefs, race, skin colour, shapes, and sizes is Suffering. Although for women of colour, there is the added disadvantage of racism.

Looking into Pachinko when Sunja is impregnated as a teenager by a man almost old enough to be her father. This is a very common thing among sexual predators, where older men go after teenage girls, using the excuse, ‘she looks mature for her age.

Sunja almost resolves to bear the shame of her pregnancy as an unwed mother alone until another man offers to marry her and cover her shame. It is all too similar to the African society where pregnant teenagers and single mothers are shamed because they have no man beside them.

The world judges women harshly for improprieties — and even accidents. It is wrong but it is the way this sinful world works…”

This quote from the book aptly portrays just how unjust the world is towards women. A lot of women suffer the consequences of mistakes committed by men and are burdened with the sole responsibility to clean up the mess that these men contributed to making.

Also, like Sunja and her mother, many African women work themselves to the bones to make life comfortable for their families at the expense of their health and most times happiness. They do not know better because the world has taught them that this is the role they were born to play in life. They are expected to want happiness later in life and draw said happiness from the successes of their children.

There’s also the issue of barrenness, seen in Khyunghee, Sunja’s sister-in-law who feels indebted to her husband because he stayed with her despite her inability to have children. Compare this to African women who skip from one religious’ institution to another in search of the ‘fruit of the womb’ when their husbands would not even consent to a medical check-up.

It would not be right to wrap up this article without discussing internalised misogyny. When Sunja finally comes to reject the word ‘suffering’ because she could not understand why it’s a woman’s lot to suffer — in the writer’s words, the word ‘Suffering’ made Sunja sick. But then, her mother blames her for all her misfortune, especially getting pregnant out of wedlock and tells her to consider herself fortunate to have found a man to marry her and take away her shame.

How many times have women being told by their mothers to be grateful to their husbands because without them they wouldn’t have a life, to obey their husbands, to bear their suffering, and be tolerant of their bad behaviour because that is the duty of a good woman? How many times have girls been told to keep their virtue and their virginity, while boys are allowed to do whatever because ‘boys will be boys? How many times have women been shamed by other women because they dared to leave a terrible marriage?

We all have varying degrees of internalised misogyny because we grew up hearing, seeing and living in a patriarchal world specially designed to suit men but as Sunja did in the book, we must all reject the concept of suffering being a woman’s lot. We must stop glorifying women’s suffering, we must stop patronizing the oppression of women by calling women who endure suffering ‘strong women’.

Women are not strong if what they are doing is enduring hardship without hope for a way out of it — they are simply suffering.

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