My parents made the decision to leave the Islamic Republic of Iran specifically because they wanted their daughters to grow up free. And by freedom, I mean the freedom to ride bicycles, the freedom to wear shorts, to swim in public pools and to play on the beach, the freedom to speak with boys, the freedom to speak our minds, the freedom to choose our careers, the freedom to succeed in life without the specific barriers created by an oppressive patriarchal hegemony, both in the public and private sphere.
So, twenty-five years after their immigration, my younger sister is on a path to pursue her PhD in psychology and I am a teacher and a writer. We chose our occupations with no other hindrance than too many options. We were both allowed to leave home and attend the best universities in America. We had boyfriends. We traveled the world. When we graduated, we were the masters of our own lives, choosing where to live and how to live.
Today, we are economically independent, living in our own large, tastefully decorated apartment north of Wilshire and we are looking to invest in our first income property. However, there is a strange lack of recognition of our accomplishments and our independence from the young men and women in our social circle who have recently immigrated from Iran. These people, in their own right, are forging a path towards the daunting American dream.
It has happened at several gatherings where they have taken it upon themselves to point out the fact that neither my sister, nor I are married. Indeed, this is the “butt end” of numerous jokes and collective laughter at our expense. And though my sister and I are a hybrid of Iranian culture and US culture, and, hence, raised in an environment where our choices are the norm, their mockery is still a source of pain for us.
However, this does not deter this particular group from taking it upon themselves to mark our marital status as a source of our public shame and to turn it into a spectacle.
My sister and I belong to a generation of Iranian American women who were brought as girl children by their parents to this country specifically in order to escape the cultural prejudices against women. We were raised with the philosophy that a woman is allowed to forge and create her existence and identity with the same privilege and determination as a man.
Hence, in our twenties, when a person is in the crux of identity development, we were not so focused on landing a husband to validate ourselves with the status of ‘wife”, as we were determined to pursue our education, to hone our talents, to travel and learn, to meet people and to focus on our own personal growth. I am a thirty year-old woman and very successful in my life.
My sister, likewise, is twenty-seven and quite accomplished. So why the cultural stigma? The jokes?
The laughter against our marital status as though we have somehow failed in life? I am not sure how to answer these questions. It is not the older generation, the old guard of culture, that judges us, but the generation of thirty-year-olds, educated young professionals who have, indeed, been influenced by “Western” culture and who have been exposed to the challenges against the classical concept of gender roles.
And it is not just the men, alone, who judge, but also their wives. Is it, perhaps, because they were raised to believe that a woman’s totality is through marriage? Is it, perhaps, a threat to the masculinity and ego of the men that we are two women who are economically, physically and emotionally independent without husbands?As I said, my sister and I are sensitive to this issue.
Of course we value the creation of family, but in its due time, when all the factors are to our favor and we are ready to make that move in our lives. And my answer to the men who see us as an anomaly? Perhaps we are strange creatures, but we are strong, we are beautiful and we are happy.
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