Women in “Meatless Days” by Sara Suleri Goodyear
It is apparent that women were exposed to oppression for centuries. The contradictions on the notion of woman’s place in the society probably started with Eve, who was created from Adam’s rib. Females were oppressed for long years; men-dominated society did not allow them to become a part of the academic world, undermining their labor and the general value within the community. Moreover, South women face these problems even in today’s world. It is worth mentioning that South females appreciate traditions and customs greatly, and inclination from these traditions may result in loss of honor for a woman (Sujatha).
In addition, women-migrants have to suffer the experience of being misunderstood, abandoned, and mistreated people (Sujatha 38). Meatless Days by Sara Suleri Goodyear narrates obstacles of postcolonial identities and the harshness of historical and cultural resettlement. The book has a particular interest in demonstrating females of Pakistan, the country of the author. It is essential to examine the representation of women in this book to put it in the broader social context and look at females through postcolonial feminism.
Women in the First Chapter of Meatless Days
In the first chapter of her book Meatless Days, Sara Suleri Goodyear claims that Pakistan is a country “where the concept of the woman was not really part of an available vocabulary” (Goodyear 1). It proves that Pakistan is a male-dominated society, where women are not perceived as genuine females. The author says that it is regular to treat women as servants (Goodyear). The author provides the reader with an understanding of the social context of Pakistan; women should have their place and be busy with ‘female’ matters. For instance, the mother is a typical social role in the patriarchal society, and Goodyear reveals the background of her life to prove it.
She states that her grandmother, Dadi, was married at the age of sixteen, and since that, she gave birth to many children. In addition to this, Dadi “could never exactly recall how many children she had borne” (Goodyear 2). Probably, children were the most significant responsibility for Pakistan females. According to the patriarchal structure, women must keep householding and bring up babies, even though it is the responsibility of the two parents.
It is possible to mention that women were deprived of independence in Pakistan. There might be a suggestion about limiting women’s perspectives to upbringing children and householding (Sujatha). It is why Goodyear writes about Dadi’s absence on the Pakistani Independence Day, which is on the fourteenth of August: Dadi was not among people who “unfurled flags and festivities” (Goodyear 2). Nobody knows if this woman wanted to join the event and celebrate the country’s independence; probably, Dadi could not identify with this freedom celebration, as she was deprived of any degree of autonomy.
The author also mentions the physical appearance of Dadi; she describes her as “wilted and froze into a perfect curve,” and her spine was similar to the “posture of a shrimp” (Goodyear 2). Probably, it is not the description of a happy woman; the reader grasps that Dadi has to suffer from multiple obstacles that make her look like a figure bent over by life’s burden. The author says that Dadi was a god-lover, and probably it happened because God is the only hope for this woman (Goodyear).
Moreover, Dadi finds consolation in food, which was her delight as God. Overall, religion and food became the two consents to which Dadi could apply; these notions soothed her complicated life. There is a suggestion that Dadi praised God because he is the only creature who would listen to her. The reader understands the social context of patriarchal society and imagines that the woman cannot appeal to the man with some request. Women within this frame are strong; they have to raise their children and suffer from insufficient support from males.
The relation towards women is seen in the discourse of Shahid, Dadi’s first grandson. In the first chapter, he called his sisters “wile” and “disgusting” females (Goodyear 7). However, the chapter “Excellent things in women” shows that Dadi is trying to defend the honor of women; she states that the world “lies beneath the feet of women” (Goodyear 7). It demonstrates Dadi’s belief in sex, commonly pronounced inferior to men in Pakistan.
Accordingly, Dadi has complicated relationships with her son, the father of Sara Suleri Goodyear. For example, even though they stopped talking to each other, they ‘created’ a particular game, pretending they did not see each other (Goodyear 7). It might be put in the broader sociological context when men prefer to stop noticing women and vice versa. These opposite genders are distant from each other even to a greater extend.
What is more, Dadi remained an unnoticed figure, a ghost, always near her grandkids, son, and other relatives. It is not observed that any family member appreciated Dadi, and simultaneously the reader does not follow a wrong attitude towards her. As she stayed unnoticed, she preferred not to notice some events herself; for example, “Dadi didn’t notice the war” (Goodyear 9). Dadi’s life was a “private space” in which nobody was allowed to intervene.
Perhaps, there can be many motives for this behavior, for instance, patriarchal oppression and failed attempts to receive independence in females. The female author often refers to her grandmother as “absorbed,” “abstracted,” as if she was interested exclusively in her inner thoughts (Goodyear 10). Even when Dadi died, Sara Suleri Goodyear claimed that “we all forgot to grieve” (Goodyear 19). It shows how transparent was the role of Dadi throughout the life of the author and her relatives. Every family member knew and saw her, but her death did not become the reason for lamentations.
It is also noticeable that women have to suffer their private tragedies without someone else’s help. For instance, the cleaner, Halima, gave birth to her child, who soon died in agonic suffering from meningitis (Goodyear 10). However, she had to return to her work a week after the tragedy, probably, because she realized that nobody would help her. The reader also sees no support throughout the chapter, especially support rendered by males. Females had to overcome their struggles independently, and perhaps, it became the only thing they did freely.
One more female figure in Meatless Days to discuss is Tillat, the older sister of Sara Suleri Goodyear. The author claims that she and Tillat cared for their younger siblings, but this care was compelled. “The children give us something, but they also took something away” – in this phrase, the female author dwelled on the parental role (Goodyear 9). It happened because of the absence of the father in the life of girls.
What is more, children “initiated a slight displacement of my mother” proves that Sara Suleri Goodyear and Tillat had to substitute the mother for their siblings (Goodyear 9). Accordingly, the author claims that she felt towards Tillat: “I had always behaved toward her as a contentious surrogate parent” (Goodyear 13). Probably, parents could not give all children proper treatment, upbringing, and an ability to discover the world with parental participation. It was relatively often for South children to take care of their younger brothers and sisters, depriving themselves of childhood. Thus, the responsibility for taking care of her sister was life amenability for the author.
Sara Suleri Goodyear and Postcolonial Feminism
It is essential to understand how Sala Suleri Goodyear commented on postcolonial feminism. In one of her works, she said postcolonial feminism was a notion that necessarily made the woman “a metaphor for the good” (Adhikary 93). It means that for the female author, feminism is about identifying a female with vitally ‘good’ traits. However, in Meatless Days, she undermines this notion, showing that women are not essentially linked to the good. Probably, ‘good’ means uncomplaining virtue and wisdom, which females should introduce to the world. Indeed, for Goodyear, a female is a multifaceted, complex personality who will not necessarily follow the canons of the ‘good.’
For instance, for the female author, being influenced by postcolonial feminist frames equals being virtuous. However, it is not what the reader sees in the chapter “Excellent things in women”; females possess not necessarily good features. For example, Dadi, who is capricious and secluded, creates a silent game with her son and spends the rest of her life in seclusion and slightest delights. The author’s mother seems to be not present in Sara Suleri Goodyear and her siblings; the children have to take responsibility for themselves and their younger sisters and brothers.
The author did not attempt to show women as obedient and silent creatures in the chapter “Excellent things in women” of her book Meatless Days. The author demonstrated the real-life burdens, which Pakistani females had to face and overcome. The reader sees that females in Meatless Days can speak; they can be disobedient, irritating, confusing, but still responsible for things happening in their lives. Mothers, who gave birth to their children to watch them dying, had to suffer their private tragedies and stay strong to continue living. Dadi, who closed the slightest possibility to enter her personal space, experiences life struggles in her way.
Simultaneously, the author herself and her sister had to forget about their childhood to bring up their younger sisters and brothers. It becomes apparent that the first chapter of Meatless Days depicts Pakistani women unadorned.
Adhikary, Ramesh Prasad. “Women under Patriarchy: A Postcolonial Feminist Critique of Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel.” European Scientific Journal ESJ, vol. 16, no. 14, 2020, pp.89-98. Crossref. Web.
Goodyear, Suleri Sara. Meatless Days. 1st ed., University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Sujatha, K. B. “Sara Suleri’s Meatless Days a Post-Colonial Woman’s Autobiography.” International Journal on Studies in English Language and Literature, vol. 5, no. 6, 2017, pp.38-40. Crossref. Web.