27th August 2012 - 7 mins read
If you haven’t read Mona El Tahawy’s “Why Do They Hate Us?” article in FP, I suggest you do so immediately. While the article gained a lot of criticism and support alike, I admired one thing about Mona’s article: It drew attention to a societal problem of gender imbalance long ignored and underrated.
Today I write you on a personal level. While Mona’s article addressed crucial women’s issues on a government and societal level, I address you on an individual level. Society is made up of individuals, and to expect change around us, it must begin with us first. Before we ask those around us how they are abusing us, we need to ask: Are we leading to our own downfall?
Before I write this, I should say that in no way, shape or form do I mean any offense with this piece. Nor am I directing it to anyone in particular. In fact, I say “we” and “us” to include myself as the first person I ask these questions to. I repeat: This article is not intended to sound condescending to anyone, and I apologize if it comes off like that.
There’s no doubt in my mind that women seem to be getting the bad end of the stick in our society. I would never deny that. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we bring it upon ourselves. In my last post, I wrote about types of women I see around me and whether they qualified as victims or bitches. And in this post, I’ll be talking about some of the steps we as women can take to create a better standard of living for ourselves that can hopefully be imitated and duplicated in our environment.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good ladies. It’s in our nature. But I look at some of the standards of beauty out there today and it’s frightening. If women aren’t selling their bodies, they’re ruining them. I can’t believe the things out there sold for and used by women that I see. Why do we need anti-aging creams? Who came up with the idea in the first place that women aren’t allowed to age, which mind you, is a completely biological process? The thought itself scares me to death - that a woman in her prime, in her twenties, starts coating her face and neck with mountains of exorbitantly expensive creams just to avoid wrinkles forty years down the line. It’s not only unnatural, but completely unnecessary. With today’s beautification processes of plucking, tweezing, waxing, bleaching, suctioning, plumping, powdering, drying, straightening, spraying, dying, squeezing, folding and only God knows what else, I’m surprised women have any of their real skin, hair and nails left. It’s a miracle! While I reiterate again that there’s nothing wrong with a woman attending to her beauty, there’s gotta be a line somewhere. Magazine and movie starts are photoshopped and airbrushed into oblivion. And to expect everyday women to look like that is not only absurdly ridiculous, but derogatory to women. If you don’t want to be treated like a Barbie doll, don’t spend every waking moment of your life trying to look like one (And PS, that’s a real thing - some woman actually spent piles of money to be surgically altered into the human Barbie - look it up).
It’s a word that everyone seems to throw around so easily, but no one can really say what it stands for. Financial independence is a given, but more important is emotional independence.
Let me start with financial independence because it’s the easier one to tackle. Before you even think it, I know what you’re going to say. How can a woman raise children and work full-time? I’m not even going to talk about the many women I know who are doing both. Instead, I’ll talk about alternative options that you can work towards. The first and best option is to leverage your passion into a small-scale start-up business that you can run from the comfort of your own home. In today’s time, with the miracles of technology, it’s easier than ever. Like fashion? Get some materials, find a good tailor and run a business entirely on Facebook. Design, upload, send orders. Simple. Other options for out-of-home businesses are bakeries, freelance writing, translation, research and so on. If you’re able to leave the house, you can teach at a nursery or do administrative work. Better yet, find a good company that will let you work part-time or during morning hours. When your children are nursing, they need your undivided attention, yes. But after that, especially once they’ve gone to nurseries or schools, you should get back on track. And if you’re worried about the children being raised in a good environment, more and more studies every day are proving that when children come from a dual-income household, they are entitled to a higher quality of living. This way, you are also easing up the pressure on your husband to work longer hours or take out loans to meet a certain financial standard. The extra time he’ll have on his hands will allow him to spend more quality time with his children. The point is not how much money you make, it’s about having something to call your own. If not for self-fulfillment, then as a back-up plan in case you end up on your own. You may not end up being the CEO of your firm, because let’s face it - not everyone gets everything in the world - but you’ll always have you in the marriage, your family and society. And I cannot emphasize enough how important this is.
Now, on to emotional independence. Many people tend to assume that women are the weaker gender and incapable of standing on their own without a man. And yes, it is true that humans are born to love and be loved in their nature. I would never deny that. But there’s a difference between needing it to survive, and wanting it in your life. There is nothing wrong with the latter, but the former can be destructive. First, it makes you vulnerable, which gives the other person a chance to abuse you emotionally and uphold the power balance in your relationship. Second, it makes you desperate. It makes you settle for less than what you want or deserve, and makes you give in to your weakness of dependence on someone else. As someone who is financially independent and has been for years, I’ll tell you that it’s really, really easy. But emotional independence is tough and I struggle with it every single day. Let’s face it, from the moment we are born, we are bombarded with messages of love from the media, Hallmark cards and society. We are taught to believe that as women, our only purpose is to find a man and cling on to him for dear life. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on our time, energy and efforts on finding another, and not enough on finding ourselves. Not enough at all. But if you learn to find that emotional independence, you’ll always be true to yourself, even in a relationship. And in your romantic life, that is the most important strength of all. Emotional independence means being able to recognize that when someone is wrong for you, you have the strength to walk away. It means that you will not continue accepting men who are wrong for you only out of desperation. But it doesn’t happen overnight; it is a lifelong process.
Knowing your rights:
So you’ve got your independence, now what? You’re up against a challenge. Both with yourself and your society. And in order to succeed at both challenges, it’s important to know your rights and the tools at your disposal to help you stay strong. First, don’t let anyone deny you your right to choice. Freedom of choice doesn’t mean you go out and do whatever the hell you want without caring for the consequences. In fact, it is the opposite. It is knowing that with your choices come consequences that you are capable of acknowledging and handling. So what choices do you have? You have the choice to work. Don’t neglect your children of course to follow your career, but don’t neglect your career for your children either. You are entitled to the choice of both. If you are getting married, make sure you discuss this thoroughly and in boring details with your husband-to-be until you both figure out a solution that works. This is your right. Second, you have a choice to get married or stay single, and the right to choose the man you want to spend the rest of your life with. Now, I’m not saying rebel against your family and throw them in the garbage if they refuse your man of choice. What I’m saying is that it is your right to insist on and fight for the person you want to be with. Don’t give up on the first no. And even more important, never ever ever marry someone you do not want to marry. It’s nice to do what your parents want, but it’s even better to save yourself, your potential husband and kids from a lifetime of misery. Saying no when it comes to marriage is a basic human right that no society, culture or religion can dispute. And it’s absolutely imperative that you uphold this right. If and when you do decide to get married, do it on your terms. Ladies, when you sign a marriage contract, you have the free hand right to dictate whatever terms of marriage you please. This includes the right to divorce and the right to leave him if he cheats on you or takes a second wife. It can also go down to the last detail of who gets the kids in case of a split and where you both would live. This is equivalent to a prenuptual agreement in Western cultures and it protects you in case you and your husband don’t agree down the line. I know it’s not a pleasant situation, and most Arab men would take it as a blow to their pride, but in our time, it is crucial. The last thing you want is to be stuck in a miserable, abusive marriage with no way out. I seriously cannot emphasize enough how important it is to know your marital and societal rights. Read, research and talk to people until you’re comfortable. And in your discussion with your husband-to-be, talk about everything. What are you going to do with your finances? How do you want to raise your kids? What kind of wedding do you want? And when you go back to your families, put your foot down. They may want an extravagant wedding of 500 guests, and you and your husband may want a small ceremony of twenty guests. Insist until you get your way because when it comes to a wedding, it is between you and your husband. No one else.
This article is only scratching the surface of change. But the first pillar of change is always to change yourself first, then expect society to accept it. And l hope we can all find a little strength to do so.
Kisses and hugs,