jdeena

Never settle for what is…come tomorrow it will be what was

Month: January, 2014

Personification of a Female

I’m obsessed with social media. At any point of the day, you can find me with my phone in my hand, scrolling through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Some may call is obsessive, but I hardly ever watch TV and so I get all my news from articles posted by the local police, weather, and news stations.

So it’s no surprise that on a daily basis, I see posts made by friends on these sites that tend to irk me a little. For instance, the other day I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a mother post a picture of her daughter baking a cake and then washing the dishes. Underneath the picture was the caption: “future housewife in training.” My stomach roiled at the phrase. The girl was no more that 7 or 8 years old. Already, her mother was conditioning her to be a housewife. It unsettled me.

Why? Because we are still, as a society, giving girls the impression that they need to be good at cooking and cleaning so that they can be a good wife and mother, or else she is worth very little. Why not teach her to be an entrepreneur and give her the encouragement to start a lemonade stand? Or teach her about leadership and give her the tools to start a group with her friends that comes up with ways to help in society? Maybe you think I’m being dramatic, but it seems that all we do from the time a girl is born, is mold her into the future wife and mother you expect her to become.

Not all girls are meant to get married. Some may not have kids. Yet if this is what we continue to drill into their young, impressionable minds as they grow, they will reach adulthood and feel that if they do not adhere to these roles, they must be defective somehow. Women are meant to be more than just mothers and wives. They can contribute so much more to society if you would just let them. And while women can have a family and work, the stigma that surrounds a working mother makes her feel that she is selfish for wanting to do something for herself by working when she has children at home. I have heard it time and time again from a multitude of people: society and the values we used to hold dear have gone downhill because there is no mother at home, cementing these values and making sure the kids are brought up right. However, the blame should not be placed on the women; men have just as much responsibility in raising the kids as women do.

Too often we blame the woman for all that is wrong in society. Take rape for example. Women are taught to dress a certain way to fit into society, and when they are attacked by a rapist, they are told it is because the way they dress. Society has yet to take a stand against men and tell them that it doesn’t matter how a woman dresses; it gives them no right to rape them. The woman is told that she was raped because she brought it on, which leads to years of self-doubt and loathing. Men are now the superior gender in her eyes because as a female, she brought this upon herself. Just look at women overseas who are used as pawns in mens’ patriarchal games. A woman in India is raped by a man who was cheated by her brother as a punishment to the brother for his unprofessional business etiquette. Now that the woman is deemed impure by society’s standards, her brother will kill her in order to save the family’s honor. It is devastating and atrocious to see women used like this all over the world. And here we are in America, holding our daughters back from advancing by teaching them at a young age to be good housewives.

There is a balance. A woman can be successful and a great mother/wife. I will never think that any of my married friends are less than intelligent or accomplished. I can only imagine how hard being a mother is. I have seen enough glimpses of that life to know that it is not for me. But please, mothers, teach your daughters to be strong, independent, and successful women. It is the only way to truly secure their future. While marrying a great guy can give security, that security is fleeting. What will stay with a girl throughout her life will be the value that you invest her; value that no one will ever be able to take away.

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We Have a Suitor!

The four most dreaded words in a 30-something Arab female’s life are:

“You have a suitor.”

Now, growing up in the US always gave me mixed feelings when it came to suitors. On the one hand, you feel a sense of 1800’s flattery that a man whom you don’t know yet has heard of you and your beauty and requests the honor of coming to see you. On the other hand, it also makes you feel like cattle, waiting on display for the farmer to come around, check your physical appearance, and deem you fit or not to produce milk. I know I may be exaggerating a bit (at least in regards to US customs) but really how can anyone feel comfortable in such a situation? It makes me feel like I have to be on my best behavior since the guy and I will spend time talking within a group made up of our families, and then when we are given the opportunity to go to the other room and talk it’s like a rapid-fire interview with the questions pertaining only to marriage and kids:

“How many kids do you want?”

“Will you work after having kids?”

“How soon do you want kids after we are married?” (I’m thinking: “…after we are married?” Dude…I just met you.)

“What’s your ideal length of an engagement?”

And so on. I usually tune out, make up ridiculous answers (like, “I don’t want kids,” “I’d rather adopt,” “A two year engagement is ideal.” I do everything in my power to try and steer the guy away from ever wanting to see me again. But no matter how hard I try, they always call back the next day wanting to see me again. WHY GOD WHY?

The reason for this reminiscent blog is because I heard these same four dreaded words yesterday afternoon.

My phone rings, and it says “Fetoosh” on the screen (which is my parent’s restaurant.)

Me: “Hello”

Mom: “What are you doing?”

Me: “Hanging around the house, reading, watching TV.”

Mom: “You have a suitor.” (Yup, just like that…no preliminary build-up.)

Me: “Umm…” Silence.

Mom: “Jinan! Don’t start that!”

Me: Silence. (I still don’t know what to say. It’s been three years since we’ve had this issue.)

Mom: “Ayman led him to us. He’s 40, lives in Ottowa, Canada and is working on his PhD. He’s tall and built….you know what I mean? Not fat, but wide…like built.” (She really did say all this, just in Arabic. I’m translating word for word.)

Me: “Ok, FINE.” (I am ready to scream)

Mom: “I wanted to make sure you agreed before we had him come down to see you.”

Me: “NO! I don’t even know this guy. I’m not having him come see me if I don’t even like him. Give him my email first and we’ll talk that way.”

Mom: (Probably overjoyed that I agreed at all) “Okay, okay we’ll tell him.”

Me: Hangs up phone and bursts into tears.

Ok. I know that isn’t the most appropriate way to react to this. But seriously….I felt like I was ambushed. Just recently I was telling a friend how my parents have given up on setting me up and have focused on my younger sister’s upcoming nuptials. Guess I was wrong. Here they were scheming behind my back this whole time.

So now what? I’ve said before that I hate setups. What am I supposed to do when the guy emails me? I could be myself, and miracle of miracles he could actually like me. Or I could just pretend to be the typical Arab girl and answer all the questions in the way he expects me to. I know that he could end up being a great guy. I know that this could be the chance my entire life’s hardships has led me to. But the pessimist in me refuses to believe that.

It is so unfair that we have to endure these incidents in the 21st century. All I wanted was to meet the man of my dreams, become best friends, then fall in love. I don’t know if I will ever be able to see a relationship blossom from a setup for myself. I know what my parents are thinking: I’ll be 32 in a few months, and if I meet someone now I could be married by (if not before) my 33rd birthday. Even writing out these numbers and seeing them on my computer screen just now can’t seem to register with the person living inside me. I just don’t feel this age and I’m afraid I never will and therefore will stay single until one day I wake up, 50 and alone (but still looking 30!).

Sigh. Here goes nothing.

Understanding Love

A couple of weeks ago I came across an account on Twitter called “Love, Inshallah.” I think one of my friends retweeted one of their tweets. Anyways, it seemed interesting and so I clicked on it. Turns out, it was a good thing I did. “Love, Inshallah” is actually a book written by two talented authors: Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi. They took the stories of 25 American Muslim women and published them in one book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading the book, but I know that I had never expected to relate so much to the women in it.

I had expected the usually sugar-coated versions of love stories. However, these stories were so raw in the sense that they delved into the subject of sex and cross-religious relationships openly. For the first time in my life I felt like I was not alone in my struggle to find love. Some of the stories mirrored my own so specifically that I found myself crying without realizing I was doing so. The women in this book (as well as the authors) risked a lot in order to honestly tell their stories, and I appreciate it so much.

It’s not a secret that I have refused the idea of marriage. I was raised in a typical Muslim household, with the emphasis on no dating and allowing my parents to help me choose my mate. As I grew more independent, the idea of a traditional courtship held no appeal to me, and I couldn’t imagine meeting my husband in such a controlled and formalized setting. I wanted to be able to meet the guy on my own and then fall in love. It’s what every girl dreams of, right?

However, I have not been lucky in love. It may be that I am a difficult person in the way that I demand things done a certain way. I am not traditional by any means when it comes to relationships, whether you are Muslim or not. I believe both the man and woman need to still retain an independent life away from the other while married so as not to lose themselves in each other. I see too many women who give up their hobbies and goals in order to be someone’s “wife” and I cannot bring myself to do the same. It may be selfish, but to me, my hobbies and interests are who I am; they make me the person that I am and to take them away will strip me of my identity.

Because of my non-traditional views, I have always been seen as the rebellious one. Everyone has a comment to contribute when I bring up my ideas. I sometimes feel so much like a pariah that I try and convince myself to just get married and do what everyone else did…that it won’t be so bad. But then my mind thinks of the unforeseen obstacles down the line and I recoil as quickly as I approached the idea. I just don’t see it for me…at least not in the traditional sense. So I’ve floated along, alone in my thoughts, until I read “Love, Inshallah”.

The fact that there are 25 different women in the book is great because it gives you 25 different stories on love. We all know that love is not the same for every person. Each of us values something different. Some may want an unconditional love. Some may want an all-consuming love. Even some may want less love- such as an arrangement as a second wife. I used to judge the women who were second, third, or fourth wives, but now I know that some of them simply want a marriage- just not everyday lol. Being a second wife gives you the freedom to still be independent while married (although I still don’t think I’d ever do it myself.)

So stop trying to fit women and their love into a box. Society places such emphasis on the “right” kinds of love: chasteness, reserved, shy, etc….when in reality Muslim women are just like any other woman out there. We all want to be swept off our feet; we want romantic nights and special dinners. Being Muslim does not mean the absence of emotion. Yet when we admit that we feel these things we are labeled and made to feel ashamed. Why?

Reading this book has given me a perspective that I now feel more comfortable and confident in expressing my beliefs. Whereas I was once leery of being the outcast, I can now proudly hold true to my beliefs without fear of being categorized as a bitter, lonely singleton. I am a smart, driven woman who just happens to be single. It’s not a crime. And when my love is ready to find me, it’ll know where to look.

Unlabeled

I have been away for a while….so sorry! My break from school has been filled with work, holiday gatherings, work, a snowpocalypse, and more work. So glad to be able to have a chance to sit and just BREATHE.

Today’s topic is one I deal with regularly with the guys in my culture. It seems that as a girl who wears hijab (a hijabi, if you will), guys view us differently than Muslim girls who do not wear it. Hmmm. Ok. This can be good or bad. I have had a lot of guys that I’ve met over the years tell me that I’m the first hijabi they’ve talked to or hung out with, and they are uncomfortable at first. Then they realize that- gasp!- I’m an actual PERSON underneath the hijab and they forget all the discomfort. But here is what I don’t get: WHY do guys feel that way? Why is it that hijabis are seen differently and therefore are unapproachable?

Well, I asked a guy recently that same question when he admitted that he wasn’t being himself in our conversations because I was a hijabi and there were “limits” to what we could discuss. I met this guy a couple months ago and we’ve been getting to know each other slowly. He lives in Canada and so we usually text more than anything. The other day we were texting back and forth and at one point the conversation stalled. I asked him what the problem was and he said that since I was a hijabi he couldn’t say what was on his mind.

Is it wrong that I felt offended? In his defense, he said that he was taught that hijabis are more devout and so he had to be reserved around them. His whole life, that was what he was told and so he grew up with that mentality. He didn’t feel uncomfortable talking to me overall, but just couldn’t be his complete self. So I told him that I was not offended by much and to be open with me, as this is the only way we can move forward. It took some convincing but he finally opened up.

Yet after our conversation ended, I stayed up thinking about what he said. How hijabis are more devout. And while you can argue that wearing a scarf is a big, public step in announcing your faith, it needs to be said that how devout a person may or may not be is not determined by a piece of cloth covering their hair. I was offended initially by his comment- not because of his generalization about me- but because he categorized all non-hijabis as being less devout by process of elimination. And that upset me because I know many women who do not cover and are actually more devout than I am.

So again, what is it with the image of hijabis always being tied into the perfect image of a Muslim woman? It is so unfair to place that burden on someone. We are all human, and we all make mistakes. To label a woman more devout because she wears hijab will automatically make her seem like a terrible person if she- God forbid!- makes a mistake once in a while. Wearing hijab does not give room for assumptions, such as we are less fun, deserve more respect than a non-hijabi, or that we are unapproachable. I am Jinan. I am a Muslim American woman who happens to wear hijab. At this point in my life, it is NOT for religious reasons. I started wearing it for that purpose, but over the years it has evolved into a part of my identity. It is who I am.

Put me next to one of my many friends who do not wear hijab, and you will see no personality differences. In fact, I am a lot more outgoing and risky than my non-hijabi friends. It’s just ME. Wearing the hijab does not mean that I need to fit myself into a mold so that everyone else is comfortable. I used to think that a long time ago which is why I was always conflicted about who I was. The beauty of our religion is that it allows us to be individuals and God sees our faith within our hearts. We don’t have to prove it to anyone else but Him.

So, the next time you see a hijabi, please don’t treat her like a leper. We are not less of a person because we cover, nor are we MORE of a person. We are just like everyone else in this world; trying to find a way to be ourselves amidst a society set on labels.