Colombo Telegraph

A Letter To My Daughter

By Thisuri Wanniarachchi

Thisuri Wanniarachchi

The world may seem so big, and it is, but don’t let anyone make you feel small. We are not here to stay; billions of people came before us and will keep coming long after we are gone and the world will ‎keep on spinning. But while we are here, remember to change a few things, or at least die trying. It’s rough out here for you than it will be for your brother. And I’m so sorry. I’m going to try to give you everything you’ll ever ask for, but I can’t promise you that there won’t be days when you will feel so deprived just because you were born a woman. They will have so much to say to you, about how you should look, about how you should feel, about what you can and cannot do with your body. The world is full of ugly double-standards. Don’t give in.In the midst of all that chaos, I know you will want to give up and try to fit in, but hold on to who you are. We are born with the privilege of the ability to be blind to injustice. Most remain blind to it their whole lives, it’s the convenient thing to do. But not you, you will learn to see the world for what it truly is.

Travel the world, learn what it is like to live as an ethnic minority. Learn the pedagogy of the oppressed. You are not alone, there are many like us, like women, many different communities out there who get marginalized just because they were born to a political minority. Learn from their strength. Forgive history, but never forget it. ‎Know that more often than not, history repeats itself.

Always remember that the term “tradition” is a very dangerous one. Question it persistently. It has acted as a roof for many conservative, oppressive values since time unknown. Slavery was once tradition. White supremacy is often justified by tradition. In our country, it is also tradition that has always held back women. It is tradition that restricted women to the kitchen. When women want to dress the way they prefer they are told they shouldn’t, as it goes against tradition.When we Sinhalese shamelessly played “Mey Sinhala Apagey Ratai” on loudspeakers in cities where all communities lived, we saw nothing wrong in it. “It’s a traditional song,” we said. When men want to love men, and women want to love women, they get furious. “How dare they? They are disrespecting tradition.” When women give their man a dowry in order to get married, that is in no way derogatory on the value of the woman, it’s tradition. When women take their husband’s name after marriage, it’s not in anyway saying that the woman has to lose the identity she’s grown up with her entire life to please the man, it’s tradition.

You still haven’t even heard the most dangerous part about tradition: it convinces the oppressed that tradition is a good thing, that it is sacred: it is ‘what makes us who we are.’ For instance in our country and many others around the world, women are taught to appreciate their traditional role in the household, to take pride in their cooking and housekeeping skills, in being “the good wife.” Women, too, are often taught to feel the need to defend the acts of men, performed solely to feed their sense of entitlement. They laugh it off and often defend such acts saying “it’s just a fun tradition.” It is because, as oppressive and divisive as tradition is, it applies to the whole society in the form of the blinding term ‘culture.’ Don’t get me wrong, it applies to different communities (political minorities v. majorities) differently, but it applies to the entire society as a whole, creating a false sense of inclusion. We humans are weak; we want to hold on to that false sense of comfort. The world is a cold, lonely place, and tradition gives our vulnerable selves warmth. In a world that is constantly changing we find comfort in the consistency and familiarity that tradition provides.

How did tradition become this omniscient God who knows it all and gets to decide what is good for us? Remember when I said history often repeats itself? Tradition is a product of history. Our history was built on oppression and inequality, and history is more often than not, written by oppressors and generation after generation, the oppressed have been educated to respect the oppressors and respect tradition. So don’t be surprised when women conveniently turn a blind eye to patriarchy. Just like men can support gender equality women can support patriarchy.

I wanted you to know this because it will help you understand what is to come. Whenever you question patriarchy, hell will break loose. Disrupting existing traditions requires strength. And being my daughter, I’m sure you’ll have it. They will tell you that you are offending them by disrespecting age old traditions. They will tell you that you are deluded,that “not everything is about gender.” They will feel so threatened and get so irrationally angry. They will threaten to “make you unrecognizable” with acid attacks. Ironic, isn’t it, that whenever they find a woman threatening they think that hurting our physical image would stop us? But don’t be surprised, most of them will only see you for the curves on your body and your face. When they hear you speak things they do not want to hear, they wouldn’t be able to resist. Their reactions would be quite the sight, like animals in a circus. They will work day and night to find ways to tell you that you are wrong. Be watchful: different people deal with their insecurity of losing the grip on tradition in different ways. Some will do it furiously and some will just mansplain to you calmly. In the thick of it, no matter how passionate and angry things make you, stay above the fray and always treat others the way you would like to be treated. Never resort to personal attacks. Topple the game, not the players.

I want to build you a world where you will be treated equally, where my son and my daughter will have equal opportunity. I want my son to be called a great leader, a go-getter, and tough as much as my I don’t want my daughter to be called bossy, pushy, a bitch for doing exactly the same. I want my son to be cheered for his achievements as much as I don’t want my daughter to be hated for being successful. I want you to be born to world where you can speak your mind and not be threatened with acid for doing it, I don’t think that’s too much to ask for. But we are so far behind and I’m afraid you’ll have a lot of work left on your plate. But, you might be able to have the pleasure of building that world for your daughter. And the day you decide to, I hope you read this.

*Thisuri Wanniarachchi, 21, is the author of novels The Terrorist’s Daughter and Colombo Streets. She is Sri Lanka’s youngest State Literary Award winner and the world’s youngest national nominee to the prestigious Iowa International Writers’ Program. She is currently an undergraduate student and full scholar of Bennington College studying Political Economy and Education Reform.

Back to Home page