In 2012 Malala redefined who I was. Ever since the sixth grade I had been turning the idea of identity in my head like a revolving door. I often reflected on what it meant to be a Pakistani-American Muslim. Somewhere between the head garb and the skinny jeans I lost sight of who I was. Nonetheless, I had grandiose aspirations. I would become the first veiled Muslim Supreme Court Justice, an author, and a TV personality: everything imaginable was in the palm of my hands. And then CNN interrupted with breaking news of a Pakistani Muslim girl who was shot in the face by a member of the Taliban extremist group for pursuing an education. And that girl became me.
Anytime I identified my origin as the minuscule country of Pakistan I would receive puzzled or indifferent stares. I did not exist. That is until Malala brought Pakistan to the covers of mainstream newspapers in 2012. Before I am misunderstood let me clarify, Malala is a hero. She has overcome tremendous amounts of adversity, has become a renowned champion for women’s education and a voice for the silent in countries like Pakistan. But she became my voice too. Malala has been the only significant media personality recognized to have Pakistani origins. So she became the voice for not only the women struggling against oppression in countries like Pakistan but also for women like me, American women, studying in Universities, exercising their rights to the fullest extent. As much as I respect and revere Malala, we are not by any means the same person. Nonetheless, I cannot help but feel as though when any employer or professional sees me in my veil, they simultaneously see the face of a Pakistani girl from a village who was shot in the face for pursuing an education. Thus, my perspective of feminism is one that differs immensely from a woman like Malala’s.
To me feminism means being viewed as an equal to not only men but other women who may dress and believe differently than me. Feminism means I am given the same opportunities as other men and women with aptitude proportional to mine. Feminism means that I am regarded with the same value and respect as other women and men. Feminism means that I am not deindividualized as a result of the experience of a single woman who happens to share the same roots as me. Feminism to me, as a Pakistani-American Muslim, means being treated as if I have the same potential and am entitled to the same respect as any other individual be he/she a man or woman, Caucasian or Pakistani, from New York City or the village of Mingora, Pakistan. I stand, hand in hand, with women like Malala knowing full well that despite our overlapping backgrounds, we are distinct individuals who are all fighting for the same overarching cause: equality. I am not Malala, I am Tooba Hussain, and I am a feminist.