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Fathers and daughters
Our marginalizing view towards our young, unmarried daughters is at once a universal issue and also a very Iranian one

December 27, 2004

I have a great female friend who is in part the inspiration for this article. We talk about everything: religion, sex, family, and recently we've spent a lot of time talking about her future. She sees medical school, marriage, and children on the horizon, and I smile and nod my head, because she knows that I already know that about her.

I chide her and ask what she wants to do besides those inevitable certainties, and her eyes light up. She begins to talk, to really engage me, with plans for travel, different cities and countries, her own apartment, new experiences.

"When are you going to do all this?"

"I don't know," she says, and her eyes drop and she tries to smile. "After I'm married, I guess."

She knows it would make more sense to do all that before marriage came into the picture, and she would certainly like to be on her own for a while. This much is certain: she's not going to get that chance if she wants to maintain a relationship with her family. Her father doesn't even know that we are friends, and to him, there is only his house and her future husband's house: no travel, no being alone, nothing beyond what he imagines her to say, do, and be.

This kind of father has sired many daughters and has left them all to be raised in the same fashion. The mother understands her daughter's dilemma, but won't challenge the father's authority. She is a product of the same upbringing, practiced and perfected over generations in order to streamline dealing with "the other sex".

When I was younger, I saw this as a more traditional, conservative way of raising daughters, but as I've seen more examples transcending age and culture it has manifested itself for what it really is: poor parenting.

Sadly, the vast majority of Iranians still program their daughters rather than raising them, spending little time encouraging them to share their feelings and problems and making them believe that getting married young and having lots of sons is the only way to lead a worthwhile life.

A very realistic example of this, if one hasn't already heard of it in one's own family history, can be seen in Dariush Mehrjuhi's film "Leila", which is the story of a naïve, so-conditioned woman, who because of her inability to bear a son ends up convincing her husband to take a second wife at the request of his mother. One clearly sees that her sense of self-worth is defined by her usefulness to the men in her life, not by her own decisions and desires.

While nowadays the situation won't go as far as it went in Leila's case, the actual pressures put on the woman by family and society are very well illustrated in the film, as are the woman's own self-esteem issues, which come into play because of these societal expectations.

Our marginalizing view towards our young, unmarried daughters is at once a universal issue and also a very Iranian one, with ties to our economic, cultural, and religious history. However, to say that it is due to one cause in particular (Islam for instance) or that it is a fact of life in our culture would be a sophomoric argument to make.

Throughout the world, familial practices parallel those of Iranian culture in relation to the existence of the same narrow-minded attitude towards a woman's role in family and society. These cultures can differ in religion, language, and ethnicity: North Indian, Georgian, Mexican, and Puerto Rican, to name a few. This is a human problem that exists in every corner of the world, in every neighborhood, tax bracket, faith, and language.

We put so much stock into intelligence and modernity and pride ourselves on the strength of our family ties, and yet after thousands of years we still look at our model daughters as social investments and our independent ones as liabilities for the family reputation. Either way, there is an unwillingness to see and appreciate a daughter as an individual person who is capable of her own judgments and decisions.

In today's world, where the social and financial expectations on women have increased while their status in society has remained below that of men, this view has gone from backward and unfair to flat-out medieval, often accompanied by dire physical and emotional consequences.

Is it any surprise that the last time statistics were taken in Iran, the rate of suicide among young women were among the highest in the world? Is it any surprise that in the US most Iranian girls my age value their virginity and the mall above all else, including themselves? It isn't, if all their parents have ever done for them besides beating the same tired mantras into their heads is take them shopping.

The irony of the situation is that the oppressive, uninspired, and uninvolved parenting of our young daughters results in the very consequences that we guard against so neurotically. Casual, unprotected sex is at an all-time high in Iran, while in the US it is not at all uncommon for an Iranian girl to leave a fraternity basement the day after a party with more than one taste in her mouth.

Iranian parents need to face reality and comprehend that the only way to raise a healthy daughter here, in Iran, or anywhere is to make an effort to know and understand her and the world she deals with. More than that, parents need to start loving and appreciating their daughters as much as their sons. No one said that being a mother or father was easy, and hiding behind old practices and complacencies will not hide the product of bad parenting.

Maziar Shirazi is a junior at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. Features in

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Maziar Shirazi



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