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Uyghur Women & Memetjan Semet’s film “Dad, I Love You”

A few weeks ago when talking to a Uyghur acquaintance he told me: “One the biggest problems among Uyghurs today is the rate of divorce. I think it is as high as 70 percent. Most of it is the fault of women. They have misunderstood what women’s equality is all about. They think that it means that they should be equal to men in every way; or that men should be just like them. They try to control men, stop them from going to bars. They order men to do housework, and then spend all of their money. They don’t understand that that is not their place. If they would be encouraging to men, than men would never cheat on them.”

When I mentioned this conversation to the filmmaker Memetjan Semet he said: “That’s not true. The main reason people get divorced is because of men. Many men don’t understand just how difficult and stressful women’s work can be. They have to take care of the household, cook, clean and take care of their children. And they never get paid for any of this. The men go outside the home to make a living so they get the most recognition and then think that they have a more important role in society. If someone tells me that the problem of men cheating on their wives is the result of ‘women not being welcoming and submissive’ to their husbands, I would tell him right to his face that it is his attitude toward women that is the real problem. A real man and a real Muslim would never talk like that.”

Unfortunately Memetjan’s perspective is rare among urban Uyghur men. Many smart, well-educated Uyghur men fail to see the ways in which gender inequality is being produced. It is precisely because of this lack of awareness that Memetjan made a new film titled “Dad, I Love You” (English subtitles). Set in Ürümchi, the film shows us how urban fathers and husbands sometimes fail to prioritize their time in a way that supports their family. Using a realist (if, at the end, slightly melodramatic) narrative it shows us how men often don’t listen to what their children and wives are telling them. It shows us the effects of this domestic misfunction.

Memetjan said: “These days in the city more and more people are getting divorced. One of the main reasons for this is that men are spending more and more time away from the family. Men might say that it is the result of a misunderstanding of feminism and women’s rights, but actually it comes from the kinds of work urban men are doing and the kind of income that this produces. My feeling is that it is actually quite rare to find people getting divorced in the countryside. Most farming families get married for life. Their life revolves around the world of the farm, and they really don’t have the money to go to bars and meet mistresses. Of course, sometimes women are also at fault; they aren’t satisfied with what they have and so on, but I really feel that most of the problems in Uyghur families comes from a lack of real respect for women.”

Another thing Memetjan was trying to address was the tendency in Uyghur society to privilege the position of mothers over wives and children. His critique was particularly pointed at short films such as “With Me” which also centers on urban Uyghur domestic tension, but portrays the wife in the family as a dissatisfied, privileged city girl who fails to respect the bond her husband has with his mother. In the end, the wife abandons the family and her young child and goes back to her parents’ home.

As Memetjan said: “I had a teacher who told me that it is never good to compare your wife to your mother. Nothing good will ever come of a mother asking her son who he loves more. There is a story that we often discuss about a man who sees both his mother and his wife drowning in a river and has to decide which one he will save.  This is just a stupid idea. That is what that film ‘With Me’ is about. Actually it reflects perfectly the way wives are treated by their husbands; how they so often have a voice that isn’t heard in a marriage. The problem with the film is that it reinforces these power dynamics, rather than giving voice to a wife’s perspective. The teacher who told me never to ask those sorts of questions was not someone I would call a feminist. It is just that when she sees a problem like that, she thinks rationally about how it can be fixed. She is not just saying that because she thinks women are always right. She is saying it because it is the proper way to address this particular problem.”

Memetjan’s film “Dad, I Love You” has received over 100,000 views since it was released a few weeks ago. Filmmakers across the country have commented on the narrative construction, the realistic use of dialogue and how that it shows the deftness of Memetjan’s direction. Some viewers complain that there is not enough music in it, that the tension building moments of reflection that begin the movie are too long. But overwhelmingly the feedback from viewers has been positive. Particularly from female viewers.


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  2. Shërin Chüsh says

    The Holy Qu’ran indicates muslims that Erler ayallardin bir derije artuqluqqa ige (in Uyghur), which as you know literally means men are a degree above women. The script has been translated in two different ways, generally speaking, either literally or with extra annotations. Some muslims often blame the so-called attackers of the Islam religion for misunderstanding this sentence on the ground that it actually means, as they claim noisily, men are a degree “of responsibility” above women. Responsibility and authority, or power, are comparable. When you claim that men are a degree of responsibility above women, you are saying that men are a degree of authority, or power, above women. Why? ‘Cuz Allah says so. There are always problems with the Abrahamic religions, but not with Muslims, who are also part of human beings being confined by so many ridiculous creeds or doctrines.

    • Mohamed says

      Hi, indeed the verse has “some” translations as you have stated ; but there are other translations that defines the world “Alrijaal” as non gender based and rather as a word in Arabic that only means he or she who assumes responsibility ; hence the verse that states ” Alrijaal gawamuon ala alnisaa” means those (male or female) who are more prepared and able to assume responsibility are to be responsible for those who are late (or misfortune) in degrees of assuming responsibility in a household.

      meaning if a woman has more education, more money, more wisdom then she is the one who is leading the houshold and this is just a statement of equilibrium of male-female relationships.

      now to abide to an academic traditions I must state that this is a contemporary translation of the verse however the linguistics roots for it are not :

      The word Nisaa which can mean multiple things (often used to mean “women” ) is defined here as “what comes late”

      The word Alrijaal which often used to describe “men” is being defined here as he or she who is responsible – and there are multiple instances where the word has been used in a non-gender basis

      I should also clarify that this is a theoretical debate and this translation has no grounds in society of course – fact – , now in my opinion that is because Islam or any other religion has nothing to do with it – maybe in shaping and providing color to human traditions – but this is an issue of power, hierarchy, fear, socioeconomic and geographical backgrounds of human groups – the mistreatment of women in human societies is not something unique to a particular culture, that being said I am not trying to excuse Muslim societies – whom are very diverse within themselves and can not be lumped together -. In fact as a Muslim, I am always disheartened because we have a responsibility to continuously improve over selves and this calls to continuous reflections of our lives and rejections of traditions, the essence of the story of Islam is rejection of traditions and historical inheritance – but we don’t reflect and we don’t think about the words we recite everyday.

      All in All, thanks for a great article and a great comment – I don’t know how I missed this website

      Mohamed – Ottawa, ON

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