“Under the Shadow”: Womanhood is More than Just Motherhood

Under the shadow was a beautiful horror movie that combined war, motherhood, and the supernatural. Set in Tehran, during the Iran-Iraq war, the story follows Shideh and her daughter Dorsa who’s building gets hit by a missile. Shideh then becomes convinced that the missile carried a Djinn, a Middle-Eastern malicious spirit, into the building and that Dorsa is the main target. Right from the beginning of the movie, we follow Shideh as she gets refused re entrance to her university after she had joined a political group who took violent routes of rebellion. We see that Shideh once had the opportunity to enter university as a medical student and was actually encouraged by her mother. This is important to note as not that many women usually enter medicine back in the 80’s and especially not for such a patriarchal society. It is then seen that Shideh has quite a few rights and her husband sees her as an equal. She has basic rights like driving, which is noted by a secondary character in the movie who points out she is the only woman in the whole building to drive.

Once Shideh arrives home, we get to see a fight with her husband. He believes that the war is becoming much too dangerous for them to stay in that city and Shideh refuses to leave her home because of rumors that say Tehran is the next target for attack. In the fight, her husband suggests that they should relocate to his family’s house, to which Shideh responds is unnecessary. She makes it a point to him that she can take care of her child and is a capable mother. With this fight, a lot of people might have assumed that she was a neglectful or selfish mother because she didn’t put her child’s safety above everything. However, later in the movie, you can very clearly see how much she’s willing to do for her child. Dorsa, the daughter, had a very strong emotional attachment to a doll and the Djinn stole the doll in order to keep them hostage. Dorsa refused to leave without it, and Shideh spent long periods of time searching for it, even putting her life in danger to make her child happy.

On the topic of her refusal to leave, her husband calls her stubborn and irresponsible. In some cases, you could say that if a man were to refuse to leave his home during war, he is strong and brave. However, for a woman in the same context, she is selfish and a bad mother. Her refusal is a huge act of bravery and she stays strong for her child the whole time even when there’s alarms of missile attacks and they must hide in the basement. However, once she feels the supernatural is dangerous and they must leave, they are the last ones left in the building; all of the other families left one by one throughout the movie. She faces these horrific things alone, protects her child, and fights the Djinn. In the end, she does leave to go live with her in-laws, but I truly do feel like she showed absolute bravery the whole time. Her refusing to leave her home was strength to me, not stubbornness. And at no point in the movie did I ever think: “Shideh is a bad mother”.

Although the supernatural is a strong part of the movie, it’s also a very important thing to note how the war affected the setting. Not only did it make it scarier, but we get to see a strong woman go through such tough times. When she was younger, she had joined a political group who wanted to revolt against the gouvernement. She believed it was patriotic and she should do something for her country which is why she stopped attending her medical school. This is so important because even though the execution of her actions weren’t the best, she still was patriotic which is something you usually only see portrayed on men. Her husband also leaves to join the army as it’s annual mandatory enrollment forces him to. We then see how much women also go through when they’re left with their families during war. The man may be protecting his country, but the woman needs to protect her children alone now.

Another important aspect of womanhood that was highlighted in this movie was female friendships. When Shideh comes home from her rejection into the college, she picks up Dorsa from a neighbor. This neighbor was an older woman who offered solace to Shideh more than once. Not only could Shideh entrust her with her daughter, but she could also talk to her when she felt scared in their apartment. When another air raid siren goes off and everyone is forced into the basement, you see this older motherly figure stand with Shideh and comfort her while Dorsa talks to the kids of the other families. When the grandfather of the Ebrahimi family gets a heart attack from the missile landing in front of him, the family goes to Shideh asking for her help since she had some medical knowledge. When Shideh fails to save him and they’re all sitting outside as they wait for police, medics and bomb agents to clean up the place, that neighbor comforts Shideh by telling her she tried her best and there was nothing more she could do. Overall, having that relationship with someone is probably one of the reasons why Shideh stayed so strong through everything and that is why female friendship is important.

Blog 5: “Be a man!”

Kimmel describes the American manhood as being afraid of other men, and I couldn’t agree more. The fact that boys are taught from young ages to never be the weaker one just shows them there’s shame in being unmanly. Kids will fight to see who’s the sissy of the group and then shame that participant. Being one of the strongest also brings a sense of power. If the child cries, he’s a sissy. If the child runs back to his father crying, then he might also receive criticism from his father who was also raised with the same set of negative rules. It’s no surprise there’s always negative effects on the adult that stems from that childhood and no surprise that these rules continue on. Why would a father want his son to be such a sissy; wouldn’t he want him to toughen up and be a man. In adolescence, our peers will become the greatest influence to us and these same peers become “gender police”. Boys will be scared of being unmasked as feminine. A norm will be set down as to what’s tolerable and what’s not, and whatever doesn’t follow the norm will be judged. Arguably, the only way to fix the problem would be to rip out the roots of the problem: get rid of the imposition of these negative rules upon children.

Another root of the problem is simply the political system we live in and face every day. The patriarchy basically insists that men be the more dominant sex and basically overshadow women in many ways. It then gives this power to dominate “over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence” (Hooks 1) These ideas of dominance actually stem deeper than we think. For example, there’s the idea that God gave men the innate power to rule over women. The women should follow, not question. “They were taught that God was male. These teachings were reinforced in every institution they encountered– schools, courthouses, clubs, sport arenas, as well as churches. Embracing patriarchal thinking, like everyone else around them, they taught it to their children because it seemed like a “natural” way to organize life” (Hooks 1). If we just use a little bit more critical thinking and just reassess how much we want the patriarchy to be part of our lives, then maybe we wouldn’t have toxic masculinity.

Let’s face it, it took a while before homosexuality was accepted, but why is that? “Homophobia is the fear that other men will unmask us, emasculate us, reveal to us and the world that we do. not measure up, that we are not real men. We are afraid to let other men see that fear” (Kimmel 147). This is important to know as homophobia goes hand in hand with sexism. As a society, we have built very strict, sets of negative rules men must follow in order to be men. This always leads to an exaggeration of all the traditional rules of masculinity. If you open up about your feelings too much, it’s gay. If you take care of your appearances too much, you’re gay. If you don’t act sexual with women, you’re gay.”Our efforts to maintain a manly front cover everything we do. What we wear. How we talk. How we walk. What we eat. Every mannerism, every movement contains a coded gender language” (Kimmel 148). And with this thought process there’s always a fear of humiliation that forces men to stick to their gender roles and follow them almost blindly. It’s almost scary to know we’ve intertwined sexuality and gender, and it’s scarier that it won’t be untangled very easily even if it’s something necessary.

On another note, Kimmel points out that “manhood is equated with power—over women, over other men”(Kimmel 149) . Which explains why violence is the most evident marker of manhood according to Kimmel. Men are taught that they must be willing to fight or rather desire to fight. We’ve all heard that he must protect the family, therefore he should fight. However, power comes in all shapes and forms. It can also be seen through jobs and higher positions. It’s about a drive for domination, power and conquest. Once again, fear plays a factor. The more power, the more fear arises within the man. He’s scared of losing what he has. He’s scared of not being manly enough to keep his position. This is something we can work on: “Feminism as a set of theories both explains women’s fear of men and empowers women to confront it both publicly and privately” (Kimmel 149). So not only should men be aware of this problem, but women need to also show how much it affects them.

Blog 4

Jacky Vallée gave an amazing presentation about some misconceptions on evolution. There was debunking of certain arguments that we use to justify some power roles enforced with gender. These claims are sometimes used to justify a certain “human nature” such as men being the dominant ones in a couple or women are just here to procreate. These claims are usually enforced by a cultural narrative, one we twist to our liking. 

The first argument people pitch into arguments about human nature is that “all societies have been dominated by men since the beginning of time”. So men would just be more competent at leadership. There’s this ideology behind that its adaptive for men to be more aggressive and dominant while women should be passive and dependent. Why do we need to question this kind of thinking? Because we don’t feel the need to question whether it’s true or not; we seem to just accept it since it’s usually at the back of our heads.  Truthfully, these misconceptions about these prehistoric people might have stemmed from the images we portray of human evolution. It’s always the man growing into a human. In a way, these images then reflect common social attitudes like men are stronger or innovators and women are supposed to be sexy and for the male gaze. I found this especially important to mention because it’s a metanarrative we just naturally and widely accept about why things are the way they are. 

Another misconception is that the man is the mighty hunter, and the female just gatherers the smaller game and plants. The problem with this thinking is that it doesn’t take in consideration the much more complex issue there was back in those prehistoric days. This glorification of the man for facing the bigger danger of getting meat has false origins. Meanwhile, the women did the “safe” work near the homes and just waited for the meat to come back. These ideas are based on 20th century middle class standards; the anthropological data shows much more complex scavenging. Humans rarely hunted and rather obtained their meat through shaving. Although men did contribute with some meat, we can’t just undermine the women contributing with a higher %of caloric intake from plant foods, small animals and fish. 

On another note, the idea that man is the innovator and the smart ones, and the women are just left waiting for them is not based on anything either. Through anthropological data, it was found that the first tools we made of perishable materials like wood or bones. The first containers were most likely containers as well. And if you think about it, there’s no way of knowing who made those tools in the first place. Interestingly enough, one of our closest relatives, chimps, mostly have the females teach. The mothers would use rocks to open nuts and then teach it to the younglings. So really, there is no proof that men were the first tool makers. 

So why is all of this important? To demonstrate that cooperation has always been the key element to the survival of offsprings and it’s not about who is the strongest or most dominant. Everyone played a role. Western societies just portray women as sexually and socially passive and men as aggressive leaders who are smarter and better. So maybe we should recheck what we value in our society and what images we have of the genders. 

Blog 4: Severn Cullis-Suzuki, the original Greta Thunberg

Severn Cullis-Suzuki, born on November 30th 1979, is best known for her amazing achievements as an environmental activist, speaker, television host and author. She’s spoken very freely about the environmental issues that press urgency for the world as well as urged viewers to act on it and define their values. Few know this, but she was the original Great Thunberg. In 1992, only 12 years old, Severn Cullis-Suzuki spoke openly about possibilities of averting future ecological disaster right after the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit occurred. After this, she was named “the girl who silenced the world for five minutes.”

In some ways, I identify with her since I’ve always had strong opinions about certain subjects like how mental illness should be taken more seriously and how toxic masculinity can stem from the unreasonable gender role that men should be “strong” and “rational”. I’ve openly talked about this in highschool and even did a full project on it that ended with a presentation of my research. I would also say that we’re quite different in certain ways; I’ve never been able to make much change or at least I don’t know if I’ve ever changed anyone’s perception of reality. This is why I find her so important and inspirational. To think that a child was brilliant and exceptional enough to silence the world for 5 minutes and make everyone think. I actually decided to write about her after watching a documentary she hosted about sea life and how spectacular it is. I find it amazing that she followed in her father’s steps to make this world better.

“Coming up here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election, or a few points on the stock market. I am here to speak for all generations to come,” she said in the famous speech. “In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see.” These will forever be words we will hear with new activists warning us about where we’re going. It’s time we listen to them and I think that’s why I admire Severn Cullis-Suzuki so much. She has nothing to hide, fights for what she believes in and fights for the world.

Quote from her original speech: https://youtu.be/oJJGuIZVfLM

Blog 3: Changing Cultures

The opening anecdote shows a French missionary astonished by the fact that women have so much power in an aboriginal society. It shows how our worldviews and cultures affect the roles of each gender for each society. In New France, for the Catholics, men had a god-given right to be the more powerful gender which gave them most, if not all, control on the women in their lives. That anecdote ends with the Jesuits telling the aboriginal man that men were the masters and in France, the women do not rule the husbands. This shows not only how colonization affected certain cultures with the arrival of new thoughts but also how we view our own worldviews as the “right” worldview more often than not.

Every indigenous group had economic activities that stemmed from what environment they lived in. However, most groups were hunter gatherers. The Mi’kmaw society were egalitarian, something found commonly in hunter gatherer groups. Very interestingly, they also had governmental structures that away laid beyond just the level of the individual. The Innu had a sexual division of labor even with food. Yet, these divisions played as complementary parties and both parts were essential for the group. The men hunted large game and the women, the smaller game, and yet its known that the women’s game provided more than half of the food supply for the community. I also found it really striking that both men and women had the right to become shamans. It’s very well known that the religious beliefs in animosity are strong in indigenous groups, and for women to hold the same influence as men in the domain of the supernatural and the natural shows how important and respected women have been for indigenous tribes.

Iroquoians not only matrilineal but also matrilocal. Men were expected to go and live with the families of their wives as the women were in charge of the longhouses and the distribution of food supplies among everyone. The more I read about these different ways of living, I noticed similarities and differences with our Western culture. Nowadays, some women still take care of the finances in their households even if the man might be the breadwinner. Sadly, it’s quite clear that our societies are very far from egalitarian, not only because of social class inequalities but also from gender inequalities being very present. A man and a woman might do the same high paying, prestigious job and yet the man will get paid more. Of course, women who’ve been following the more Western traditions have gained much more liberty and rights like voting, right to divorce, etc, but I truly believe we have along way to go. Women in the US now are facing troubles with the right to get legal abortion being under threat. Overall, I think we could learn a lot from indigenous tribes that don’t put women above men, but rather at the same level.

Blog 2: “Take the B out of LBGT!”

It’s no surprise that the LGBT community faces stigmas, hate crimes and other general negative attitudes and comments. In Britain, hate crimes committed against LGBT people have increased by 78% since 2013. We all know there’s external hate, but do you know of the internal issues some members face? Bisexuals sometimes face discrimination as they’re “too straight” for the community, and yet, they’re “too gay” for heterosexuals. This hatred is so present that it’s been classified as a phobia. I found this quote on Wikipedia: “Biphobia is aversion toward bisexuality and toward bisexual people as a social group or as individuals. It can take the form of denial that bisexuality is a genuine sexual orientation, or of negative stereotypes about people who are bisexual (such as the beliefs that they are promiscuous or dishonest). People of any sexual orientation can experience or perpetuate biphobia.”

This deludes people into believing that bisexuality is not real or that a person is just on the cuffs of either being gay or straight and “should choose”. The phobia itself can stem from people believing that sexuality should be monosexuals, meaning either homosexual or heterosexual. Others might see bisexuality as an equal attraction towards men and women which is sometimes just not the case! In my instance, I lean very heavily towards women and yet I’m still bisexual, not a lesbian. I even had an ex who couldn’t wrap her head around the fact that I was bisexual (one of the reasons why she’s an ex). Now we know, homophobia is still persistent but people sometimes have problems seeing that a bigger issue persists within the community. “Biphobia is common from the heterosexual community, but is frequently exhibited by gay and lesbian people as well, usually with the notion that bisexuals are able to escape oppression from heterosexuals by conforming to social expectations of opposite-gender sex and romance. This leaves some that identify as bisexual to be perceived as “not enough of either” or “not real.”An Australian study conducted by Roffee and Waling in 2016 established that bisexual people faced microaggressions, bullying, and other anti-social behaviors from people within the lesbian and gay community.” (From the same Wikipedia page)

I feel that denying that this is an issue is more harmful, and I could even say deadlier than we think. I found an article from The Guardian that discusses this problem. “Research now shows how destructive shame can be. The Adverse Childhood Experience study led by Dr Vincent Felitti showed that the greater number of extreme negative experiences a child has, the greater the chance they will develop mental health problems in adulthood. The study showed the most damaging experience was not incest, as expected, but “recurrent chronic humiliation” – in other words, if you invalidate and criticise children over and over, you’ll dramatically increase the chance they’ll develop self-destructive mental health problems in adulthood.” I even read an interesting article written by Them that discusses the discrimination bisexuals can face coming from lesbians and gays. “Bisexual women, in particular, have it hard — at least when it comes to desirability within the LGBTQ+ community. Lesbian women and communities are notorious for rejecting bisexual women as potential friends and as sexual and romantic partners due to stereotypes that bisexual women are untrustworthy, unreliable, incapable of monogamy, disease carriers, and “sleeping with the enemy.” Bisexual men are also stigmatized by gay men to some extent, but given gay men’s lesser cultural emphasis on monogamy and greater interest in casual sex, bisexual men’s desirability is less affected by these stereotypes, and may even be bolstered by gay men’s preference for masculinity (which is perceived as higher among bisexual guys). This “double stigma” takes a toll on the wellbeing of bisexual people, with bisexual women in particular reporting more mood and anxiety disorders, substance use, and other mental and physical health issues compared to gay and lesbian folks.” Insane, right? How can a community that was created as a haven for every sexuality and gender that’s out of the norm now exclude its own members?

Manpreet Singh


Them. (2018) A New Study Explains Why Many Lesbians Are Biased Against Bisexual Women. Retrieved from https://www.them.us/story/study-explains-lesbian-bias-against- bisexual-women

Wikipedia. (2018) Biphobia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biphobia

Stonewall. (2017) Hate crime against LGBT people in Britain increases by 78 per cent since 2013. https://www.stonewall.org.uk/news/hate-crime-against-lgbt-people- britain-increases-78-cent-2013

The Guardian (2018) Self-loathing among gay people is nothing new. We’re overwhelmed by it. Retreived from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/08/self-loathing- gay-people-shame

Blog 1: What One Word Can Mean to Different People: Feminism

Everyone seems to have different interpretation of that word. Some use feminism as an insult, others use it to empower not only themselves but also others around them, man or woman. Jessica Valenti and Bell Hooks both point out very quickly the stigma that arises with the use of that word. The stereotypical ideas of feminism are equally as bad with sayings like feminists are all ugly and hairy lesbians. Both authors mention that feminism should not be associated to movements that are consistently negative or radical; the point is not to be anti-man. Hooks even states that this movement should not be confused for a bunch of angry women wanting to be like men; you’ve missed the point if that’s your conclusion of feminism. Jessica Valenti even mentions that feminism is to show you there’s nothing wrong with you as a woman. The empowerment comes from feeling good about yourself and not letting others tell you how to behave and be.

“The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl. The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl. Being a woman is the ultimate insult.” That’s one of my favorite passages from Jessica Valenti’s work because I never realized how much this applies to me and to everyone around me. See, as girls, my best friends and I often call each other insults that only relate to women. The reasoning behind it is simple, we as women took what insults are thrown at us and make them apart of our culture so outsiders simply can’t hurt us with them. But I never realized that certain traits of toxic masculinity can be easily solved if we just stopped treating women like they didn’t deserve respect. This just makes it even more obvious that feminism is not outdated and very much so still relevant to us today. The statement also proves even more that men can also be feminist if they just recognize how much we undermine women so easily. Putting everything I’ve known and read so far, I’d like to define feminism as a movement anyone can partake in that recognizes women as equals to men, moves towards the goal of reaching true quality and fully supports every woman.

To learn more about these two authors, I decided to search them on Google. Just by writing Bell Hooks name, I immediately find an article published about her claiming she paved the way for inter sectional feminism. To see how a colored woman who identifies as “queer-pas-gay” talk about gender politics so passionately truly is empowering. As for Jessica Valenti I found out that she’s a journalist who doesn’t hold back and one of her works Why Have Kids? really has me intrigued, and makes me appreciate her writings about feminism a bit more.