Has anyone asked you: “Do your parents know what you are reading?”
Soniah Kamal has been asked this question and she recreates the experience of reading forbidden books in her essay Girls from Good Families. Reading used to be an act of rebellion and still is in some parts of the world.
One day in the late 1990s after I’d married and moved to the U.S., I was reading a short story in a literary journal when I came upon the word “vagina.” I slammed the journal down. My stomach churned, my cheeks flushed, I was dizzy. My reaction perplexed me. After all, a vagina is simply a female body part, so why was I mortified? Iqbal’s genie, who I’d thought long excised, seemed to have only been buried and now leapt to life. I decided I was going to write through my discomfort and shame and battle both the genie’s censorship as well as my self-censorship by writing a story with “vagina” in the very first sentence. And so was birthed Papa’s Girl, a story set in the brothels of Bangkok, where a young boy is witness to his father’s dallying with a child prostitute and is consequently traumatized for life. It eventually appeared in the anthology A Letter from India.
If reading is an evil, then what of writing? It definitely is if you are writing about sex. Kamal’s story makes you think about women the trophies and the honor of their families vs the women who sit down at their table to write chic lit, dick lit or quick lit. Writing in that sense becomes a political act as not every woman can click her keys like E.L.James. Many times women have to agonize over writing about home truths. It may be the twenty first century in some parts of the world, but darkness looms where women play mute spectator more often than not.