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Break the cycle
Raise your sons to respect and admire women

May 30, 2001
The Iranian

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 man.

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 growing up.

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 them incompatible.

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 is real.

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.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Dokhi Fassihian


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