The same ideas of putting marriage before career are honed into the heads of each new generation of women by women of earlier generations. As long as women don’t speak out, the problem will not stop, and women will continue to follow the path defined for them by society.
When a young girl goes into a gathering of Muslim women, does she come out learning more about the beauty of Islam or does she walk out with a better understanding of the cultural stereotypes she must fit into? Young girls are constantly being told, usually in a very subtle manner, that their value depends on how tall, slim, fair, shy and submissive they are. If they are in the medical profession or married to someone in the medical field, then their worth is increased. As a result, a great societal pressure is put on young women to be someone that they may not even want to be. Worse than this is the fact that these same concepts seem to emerge generation after generation. Thus, the question must be asked: where does this pressure come from?
Women, at a very early age, understand their cultural gender role and their limits. They are well aware of the characteristics that they must possess in order to get a husband that will make other women’s heads turn. Becoming too career-oriented could jeopardize their marriage prospects, and as a result, turn them into the talk of other women. Thus, most women give up their dreams and aspirations in order to fit into society’s ideas of the perfect woman. To them, the comfort of societal acceptance is better than the pain of pursuing one’s dreams followed by rejection. They strive hard to fit into the ideal description, and when things fail, great emotional pain usually ensues.
As young women get older, they give birth to young girls. Once again, the same ideas are honed into the heads of this next generation of women by women of earlier generations. Consequently, the succeeding generation of women become victims of the same stereotypes that were once felt by their mothers, and the aunties in the community. Many women, once again, live their lives with certain limits and aunties continue to glorify these women. They don’t understand that anything is wrong, because society never pointed it out as a problem. Although there are women who may want to speak out against it, they don’t for fear of being called, “independent”, “dominating”, “liberal American”, “career-oriented” or as “a part of them“. Yet, as long as women don’t speak out, the problem will not stop, and women will continue to follow the path defined for them by society.
Fortunately, in recent years, there is greater awareness of this cyclical dilemma. Women of the present generation are gradually beginning to understand that they have the ability to make decisions and fulfill their dreams, and have the skills to advance society. More importantly, they recognize that they have not been created to function as dolls or robots. Hence, women are increasingly becoming active members in their communities. They are taking leading positions in top organizations, governments, businesses and hospitals. This is crucial, because without women working to their full potential, society, and this Ummah, can not function to its greatest potential. As such society can not progress to its peak. Despite the current improvement, the struggle to remove cultural stereotypes must continue. Women must be developed so that they can look past these stereotypes and instead focus on their strengths so that they may have a more functional role.
Perhaps a part of this development, is understanding the roots cultural stereotypes, against women, and their being passed down throughout the generations, by women. Although this is an endeavor that must involve the input of women themselves, an analysis can begin here. The Muslim community, particularly women, is arguably very engrossed in the idea of marriage. Women love to talk about marriage, getting their children married, getting themselves married, finding the right spouse, what constitutes a good spouse, and the list goes on. Because marriage has become the focus, great energy is put into forming it. As a matter of fact, it has become almost like an amusement for many people. They love to talk about it and entertain themselves with it. And with entertainment comes praise and criticism. Thus the girls who fit into the cultural stereotypes are commended, and those who do not, are reproached. This latter statement may ignite some anger; however it is also pertinent to understand where these women are coming from.
Many women have been raised solely for the purpose of marriage, and it is very difficult for them to think beyond that. From a very early age they were told how to act and look in order to get into the right family and be a good wife. Perhaps marriage is all they truly know and value. Perhaps women of the present generation must support these women and help them to move forward. Perhaps the reason why they pass along these cyclical stereotypes is because they do not know much beyond them. Furthermore, it is possible, that a mother, who instills false cultural values into her daughter, is only doing it out of love. Maybe she fears that her daughter will get hurt if she does not fall into an acceptable category.
Regardless of what the reason is, women are indeed the ones who pass along the same cultural stereotypes generation after generation. It is of the utmost importance that these negative ideas do not get passed along again. The focus must change from marriage to developing the strengths of women. For some this may be taking a more active role in society; for others it may be being a wife and mother, and yet, for others it may be a combination of both. Regardless, the trend of passing down stereotypes must come to a stop, but it can only happen through understanding on both sides. Women who stereotype must realize that it is not possible, or beneficial, for every single woman to fall under the same category. At the same time, women who are able to think past the stereotypes, must understand where the former are coming from. By doing this, it is possible that the vicious cycle of stereotypes against women may come to an end.
Farrah Hossain is a Jersey-based electrical engineer.