Break the cycle
Raise your sons to respect and admire women
May 30, 2001
Thank you Azadeh for asking a question which reflects what is in the
hearts and minds of many young Iranian men and women in this country ["What have you to offer me?"].
I have thought long and hard about why it is that successful Iranian women
and men have trouble establishing mutually satisfying relationships.
I think both Iranian men and women suffer emotionally from this incompatibility.
Those who are able to establish healthy relationships are the lucky ones.
The many who don't, struggle with your question or eventually marry non-Iranians.
Let me offer my theory as to why our generation of Iranian women and men
are so incompatible.
I am making a generalization, and I think it's okay to do so since I
am qualifying it up front. I believe some generalizations can be useful
if they are based on a large enough group of people. I realize that not
everyone fits into this framework, and I accept that each Iranian family
is different and has its own value system. I also think there might be many
different variations of this framework.
Nonetheless, there is a strong cultural contradiction which exists in
the mainstream Iranian culture of male-female relationships. I think there
is a gaping contradiction in the rearing of Iranian children based on gender,
coupled with a contradiction with the values taught to them in America.
It is undeniable that American culture and society provide more rights
and opportunities for women. This is very important. It is unrealistic for
any woman to come here from Iran or from any other country for that matter
and not want to take advantage of her increased rights, her opportunities
in education and other forms of self-improvement. This adds to the confidence
and self-worth of that woman, and in turn, makes her a better person, a
better mother, and a better wife. This is the truth.
Education and self-development, especially of women -- because they are
mothers -- improve standards of living around the globe. On the whole, Iranians
have reached a level of social awareness to know this to be true. Any Iranian
family inside or outside of Iran who has a daughter will naturally promote
her development -- some more than others depending on their resources. If
they have the opportunity to send her abroad, they will, in a heartbeat.
The majority will push for her to get her B.A. More will push further for
her to continue on for a Masters. Others won't stop unless she's a doctor
or a Ph.D.
Iranian women have no problem achieving professionalism. They are bright
and hardworking. Growing up in America alone dictates progress and independence
for women. By the time she's 26, despite what Iranian culture says, the
professional Iranian woman gets unapproving looks from her professors, from
her colleagues, from her friends if she's still "living at home."
American culture simply doesn't accept this. There is a lot of pressure
on the Iranian woman to be an individual and to be successful. And so the
Iranian woman achieves professionalism. Yet, she is still to find a successful
Iranian man to marry.
For Iranian men, it's a different story. Success and a high level of
education are a must, as always. While achieving that, living in an open
and free society with liberated women offers increased opportunities for
Iranian men to satisfy their egos and sexual desires early in their youth,
without having to offer lifelong commitments. At home, little has changed
culturally for the Iranian boy. He is usually given special privileges,
more attention, and is raised with a false sense of pride about being a
While in college, he is told by his mother that the "liberated"
women he meets at parties and bars -- all of his girlfriends, Iranian, American,
Latina -- are all not "good" girls because they are too liberated.
Meanwhile, the good Iranian girl from the very good family above is at the
same college, studying for the same degree, and probably getting better
grades. She is also at the same party or bar when she's not studying.
So, this cultural clash causes many Iranian men to become confused and
unable to distinguish independently between right and wrong; what's right
in society is not right at home. But without restrictions, coupled by his
large ego and immaturity, he ends up abusing this freedom by emotionally
hurting himself and the women he dates -- whether consciously or unconsciously.
When the time comes for the boy to settle down, he fails at establishing
a healthy relationship with a modern Iranian woman he wants. He is forced
to retreat to those backward views about women his mother told him while
The typical Iranian mother will not consider a successful, liberated
Iranian woman a good wife for her son. That is the antithesis of the dutiful
Iranian wife, that is the woman mothers have nightmares about their sons
marrying -- the dreaded American woman! She wants the devoted, traditional,
and selfless Iranian woman as a wife for her son. One who will make sacrifices
for her son, one who strokes her son's large and fragile ego -- the ego
she worked so hard to form (which will later be his downfall).
The mother might even be deluded enough to think there exists an educated
American-raised Iranian girl who is traditional and self-sacrificing, brought
up with restrictions to ensure a degree of male dominance. But there won't
be, at least none that will be happy and can make him happy. None will put
up with her egomaniac, weak son. But what the Iranian mother fails to realize
is that America does not raise Iranian girls the way Iran does. (In fact,
Iran does not raise those imaginary girls either!)
She does not see the plain contradictions in front of her. That same
mother might even be promoting the development of her daughter whilst desperately
trying to control her freedom. She will send her away to college, but will
drive her crazy when she comes home on the weekends and wants to go out
with her friends or wants to have boyfriends. Her parents will fight her
when she wants to move out. They worry about her getting married one day.
But one way or another, society will impress liberty on their daughters
because that is a fundamental American value. It is inescapable. There is
no choice here.
Now this will happen in one of two ways: either through a normal and
more healthy route, or through a more dangerous and rebellious one, after
considerable suffering at home. But let's forget about what Iranian parents
say and how they act for a minute. They are a generation caught on the crossroad
of two severely clashing cultures. It is the indirect effect their mindframes
have on Iranian boys and girls which is by far more powerful in rendering
Most Iranian men and women, at least for some time, rebel against the
backward thinking and controlling aspect of their parents. Iranian men actually
like the successful and independent Iranian girls. Men date those interesting,
outgoing, successful and challenging Iranian women who are brave enough
to date them despite the warnings of their parents. Both Iranian women and
men want a marriage with a partner they can talk to, with whom they respect,
with whom they share the same interests, and with whom they meet themselves.
But sadly, few of these relationships work out. Most of the time, it ends
because the Iranian man mistreats the Iranian woman. Now this sounds like
a gross and biased generalization. I'll elaborate in a minute.
Then the Iranian woman dumps the man. If the man decides he loves her
and wants her back and it's too late, his ego shatters into a million pieces.
If this happens more than once to an Iranian man, he'll never recover. An
Iranian man without his ego is like a chicken withouts its head. And so,
he must get the ego back. In order to put the ego back together he must
retreat to the mindframe of the mother. He must deal with the pain.
An Iranian man with this upbringing is a very weak man in the Western
world. The Iranian girl is able to walk away easier from an abusive relationship
in America because her identity is less intertwined with his, and her reputation
less damaged as a result of leaving him as it might have been in Iran. It
is painful for her as well, but she is stronger here, and she must leave
him to maintain her self-respect.
But let us explore why the Iranian man treats the Iranian woman badly
to begin with. Again, I think it's an important generalization that a lot
of Iranian men and women will agree with. Most of the time, the man who
has been force-fed an empty pride since birth carries around a large ego,
too large for the United States. He will not be compatible with a strongminded
woman who is unwilling to compromise her fundamental values for his ego.
It'll be especially difficult for him if she's Iranian because she is
part of the culture which assigns a lesser status to the woman. He will
most likely feel inferior leading to a sense of insecurity and ultimately,
destructive behavior. He is raised to think that to be a man means he is
superior to women, physically, intellectually, financially, emotionally.
If he is proven wrong, if he is the weaker in anyway, he will not survive
the relationship and will leave a path of destruction in its wake.
Because of the way Iranian men are raised, they suffer the most from
insecurity in the face of independent-minded women. So, the real reason
why Iranian men and women are incompatible is that Iranian men are brought
up with values which are inconsistent with American social values and social
rules. However subtle, chauvinism's stubborn resistance in the value structure
of Iranian homes is the reason why Iranian men have an inferiority complex
when faced with modern successful Iranian women. Whether they really are
inferior is not the issue; it is the intense insecurity felt by them which
What is key here is that Iranian girls will undoubtedly absorb the benefits
of the women's rights movement in this country, no matter how hard their
parents try to filter it or soften its effects. The reason is simple: liberty
and equality are guaranteed to them legally; they are socially and morally
dictated to them. If society has given your little girl a toy that your
little boy has had all along, doesn't your little girl want to keep it?
Should you or can you force it out of her hands? And how will it affect
your children later when they try to mate and marry in a society which legally
and socially promotes equality? It will naturally put both at a disadvantage.
The most important lesson which must be learned by Iranian parents is
to realize that the current way they are raising their children sows the
seeds for an invisible but deeply imbedded culture clash between women and
men in American society. It is driving a wedge between Iranian men and women
who want to be together; it is not bringing them closer together. Iranian
parents cannot blindly import an old culture to a new land. By planting
the seeds of chauvinism in their families, they create men who are at odds
with the society they live in. They create men who need to be with a partner
they can dominate.
Unfortunately, these men won't find those women here. Desperation will
cause them to try to find those women in Iran. When the chosen Green Card
wives come over to America, a fast-forward empowerment will take their new
husbands for a loop. Iranian women in Iran are far more aggressive, ambitious,
and goal-oriented than many realize. They have just as much experience in
relationships as any other women. Key is their world-class ability to deceive,
their survival having depended on it from childhood. These women have years
of oppression to make up for quickly. Marriage is a tool to leave Iran and
they use it so.
No society and no nation can morally afford to tolerate chauvinism. Iranian
parents should embrace those values of American culture which are morally
right and healthy, such as gender equity. In order to adopt this value into
our culture, we have to think deeply about what it means. We have to take
a macro view of gender relations. In this I mean, the way we rear girls
AND boys must change.
First, understand that you are living in a different society which requires
that similar values and standards be placed on your daughters' and sons'
lives. Want for your daughter what you want for your son, whether it's education,
money, beauty. Invest in them equally! Raise them with the same values,
with the same standards, with the same restrictions, with the same opportunities,
as truly equal individuals. Stop viewing the power dynamics of marriage
as a zero-sum game, i.e. the more influence your son has, the less his wife
has, the happier he will be.
Most importantly, stop raising sons with a sense of privilege for being
men, stop rewarding them for being men. It will bite them later if you do!
And if you do, realize that in effect, you are punishing and demoralizing
your daughters for being women. Realize that you are instilling an empty
pride in your son which will only be shattered in the modern world, leaving
him a hollow, helpless, weak man with little hope for a mutually satisfying
relationship with any woman of real substance.
Instead, to parents, I say, break this cycle of chauvinism. Raise your
sons from a young age to be men, not cowards. Raise them to respect and
admire women, ALL women, and inspire real confidence in them as equal individuals
(not as men!) alongside women. Show them respect for women by welcoming
their girlfriends, showing their girlfriends nothing but respect in your
home, whether you think they are right for him or not!
Treat your daughter with respect and raise her with the exact same values
and standards as you raise him. A man will only learn how to respect women
from watching how his family views and treats women. I cannot emphasize
this strongly enough. It is only when a man has deep respect for women will
he have the confidence necessary to make a woman truly happy in his life.
A dream of every modern man.