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
she's not going to get that chance if she wants to maintain
a relationship with her family. Her father doesn't even
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
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
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
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
women were among the highest in the world? Is it any surprise
that in the US most Iranian girls my age value their virginity
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
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
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 iranian.com