Bahar M. Jaberi
I hoisted myself up in my seat. The discussion around me was becoming more interesting and the television program was getting more tiresome. Somehow the conversation was diverted toward the role of women in Iran versus the role of women who had moved to the United States. What was the role of women before and how it has changed in recent years.
My mother was saying that when we were in Iran, she could work if she wanted to, but there was no reason to. She enjoyed planning and cooking meals, cleaning the house, and tending to us.
Along with my mother, thousands of other women were interested in being home-makers, each for their own special reasons.
Most women stayed home because traditionally that is what women did. Women had no professional skills or education to work alongside the men. And, well, if they had any aspirations, their efforts were squashed. Before the revolution and the rise of the Islamic fundamentalism and the Islamic Republic, women were getting themselves educated, obtaining professional degrees, shedding the stereotypical role in society. In turn the society was being remade.
A lot of those professional women with their professional degrees chose to stay home and take care of their children once they arrived. An example was my aunt who had a masters degree in business or something similar. She stayed home to have children. At a party, a cynical (and obviously jealous) relative once said, "Poor E.; with all of her education she has to stay home and babysit. What a waste."
There was an embarrassing silence.
Thus, my aunt retorted: "First of all I chose to stay home, I don't have to stay home; second, nothing is lost. My children have an educated role model."
Things changed when families began to move to the United States. The men who had professional jobs back in Iran found themselves unable to find a professional job with the same caliber. That meant less money to support the family.
The women had to go and find jobs to supplement their household's income. Among the women I know here in the U.S. at least 95 percent of them work. First because they are working age women, second because they need to work. The other five percent who don't work are elderly women who are being supported by their children.
As this trend grows, the role of women in the family changes also. Women have more decision-making powers in the household. Since they bring in the bacon also, so to speak, they can decide how it will be cooked.
Some Iranian men will have to revise their attitudes about their working wives. First, they need to stop thinking of themselves as failures, because for one reason or another they are unable to provide for their families single-handedly. Second, they need to come to grasp with the reality that women are able minded and bodied members of the society.
I used to know an Iranian couple. They were both going to school studying for engineering degrees. The man once told me, "I'm never going to let S. work. Her place is in the house to take care of our children." I looked at him and smiled because I thought he was only joking.
But he was very serious, and he said he was serious. They both graduated, and when time came to look for a job in their fields; she was able to get one a lot faster than him because of equal opportunity employment laws.
She is still employed and I don't see any complaints from his side.
Sometimes people need to let go of their stubbornness and take a fresh look around them. The world is changing and I say we should change with it. It's for the better.