Book Review: Growing up Perempuan

The synopsis says it all, “Growing up as a woman is hard. Growing up as a woman in the Muslim community is harder.” Growing up Perempuan (as a woman) is an anthology written by Muslim women in Singapore. The women of this book suffered under suffocating patriarchal impositions, domestic and sexual violence, infertility, societal expectations, workplace discrimination, spiritual abuse, polygamy and dysfunctional family bonds. It was personally difficult for me to read this book in a single seating, only because the stories are heavy and hit too close to home. It made me wonder: “is this the state of my sisters today?”

Unlike the first book, Growing up Perempuan allowed writers to interview women who would not possibly have the necessary skills, tools or social capital to write their own stories. It allowed readers to listen to the stories of people from different segments and stratas of our society providing diversity in terms of class, age, and literacy skills. Workshops were also conducted for teenagers at shelters, allowing them to take back their narrative. These stories were honestly, my favorites.

These stories of violence against women, in all its forms, are commonplace in our society. We tend to speak of it from a distance as if it only happens to a rare few. However, this book tells us otherwise. Women from different classes, generations, occupations, ages, go through the same violations in different forms and in varying degrees. Patriarchy has stolen so much from women. It has denied us of freedom, personal safety, and agency.

As Muslim women, we are also part of the racial minority in Singapore. We understand the forces that keep us quiet: islamophobia from the outside, and the patriarchy within. We self-censor, and contain our fight within sanctuaries where we can exercise agency and resist sexism. Spaces where our stories are free from being used as political tools or vilified are few and far between. Growing up Perempuan provided that space for women to speak their truths without fear of social punishments.

These stories are not idiosyncratic and anomalous in nature. They are the consequences of a capitalist country that is unsympathetic to the poor. They are a result of a culture/religion that has prioritized male thinkers and voices as what passes as fundamental paradigms in how we structure our lives. They are the byproduct of a history of patriarchal implementations and articulations that has slowly robbed women of their full humanity, dignity and agency.

Audre Lorde once wrote “your silence will not protect you.” And very often, there will be no one fighting in your corner but yourself. So who wins when we don’t speak? Not us.

This book is us speaking. And it is time to listen. Ultimately, I hope this book galvanizes you to demand change, to challenge the status quo.

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