The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


    June 7, 1999

    No man can understand

I read today's cover story, "The woman we wanted to be" with interest. Laleh Khalili is a thoughtful, thought-provoking writer whose imagery is lovely and easily grasped. As a regular reader of your magazine, who just happens to be a zan-e aamrikaie married to one of your countrymen, what I can say is that the angst expressed by Ms. Khalili's essay is more the angst of Woman -- not just the Iranian woman.

Her longings are the longings of women in general -- just the names are changed. Only a woman can understand the tides that rush in and cover the shore and then draw the sand back out into deep ocean as they go diving back to sea; these are the desires of Woman. No man can understand what it is to be a woman and sacrifice self to the extent that a woman does (particularly if she is a mother). No man can understand -- completely -- the war of desires within a woman.

The desire to be happily committed/resigned to being "only" a mother; the desire to become "all" that she has in her to become. We women recognize that being a mother is a high and holy honor, truly the "hardest job" -- and that is not meant in the condescending, patronizing way it is usually doled out to women here in America -- yet it is disdained by the cultural attitudes toward motherhood (in the U.S.) and held down by the cultural attitudes toward women (in Iran).

It is a constant battle to understand the self, to delve deep and ask ourselves what matters most. To break out of cultural expectations and find out what our own expectations of ourselves are. Women feel this confusion around the world--but it is only when our "consciousness is raised" that we have to enter the fray of battle within our own thoughts.

Before we "know better", we don't ever bring up those longings; what would we do with them once we recognized them? We don't allow our feelings to really come out. We never have to suppress our desires, our longings, push them down, tell them to be quiet and stop confusing us. It is only when we bring them out and look at them, like a box of odds and ends that must be sorted, that we have to make decisions about what it means to be a woman.

And even then, the answers come in paradoxical sets. Beautiful, but intelligent. Sweet, but clever. Yielding, but fiercely protective. Submissive, but fully alive. Quiet, but opinionated. Goal oriented, but living in the moment. In the end, we must choose what matters most. And for most of us, what matters most is what lasts longest--love. And giving up ourselves for others, our husbands, our children, our parents, our friends. In giving, we are blessed and made full. In hoarding for ourselves, we end up in an empty room surrounded by our accomplishments.

Thank you for a well-written glimpse into the secret mind of a woman. May our similarities unite us and our differences only enhance the experience of living together on planet earth. After all, at some level, the experience Ms. Khalili describes so aptly, is the experience of being human.

Walking away with "yearning under my skin", I am,

Sincerely yours,

Nancy Elami

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