I’ve been thinking recently of something people say in Arabic by way of congratulations to the mother of a baby girl. After the customary well wishes, they often say “tshofeeha aroosa inshalla”, loosely translated into “May you see her become a bride”. I’m not sure who recently said this to me, or why it stuck to my subconscious so tenaciously like barnacles on the side of a ship. All I know is that a few nights of restless sleeping made it bubble up to the surface unbidden, as one of the many things about our culture that never cease to amaze and irritate me, leaving a stale aftertaste in the roof of my mouth that I must wash out with something stronger than water. Alcohol is out of the question, so a diatribe it is. Or perhaps, recently watching The Handmaid’s Tale with my husband put me in the mood for a rant. My mind can be a savage thing when deprived of sleep for a number of days. Having said that, I will try to keep the vitriol to a minimum.
This seemingly innocuous but loaded expression is a symbol of our culture’s obsession with putting a woman in her place. As it so happens, her place is in the kitchen, preferably barefoot and pregnant, for Marriage is the penultimate happiness and aspiration of a woman’s life. All roads must lead to her being someone’s wife and the mother of a brood of children, thereby fulfilling her biological destiny, her only destiny. We don’t utter such nonsense in regards to a boy. On the contrary, our blessings and well wishes consist of success in his life and endeavors, the insinuation being professional success is so much more important to a man than a woman. I’ve often observed that if our society is a male-centric one, it’s not the men who are solely to blame, women are just as complicit. They allowed this to happen, they facilitated it, championed and applauded it, leaving a veritable mess in their wake, the pieces of their lives that we have to pick up. And bitterness. Quiet, insidious, bitterness at being short-changed, as they mindlessly passed down archaic customs to the next generation, along with questions that they didn’t have the answers to, because they never thought to ask them in the first place. Often times, religion serves to check society’s lunatic tendencies. But, alas, in Middle Eastern societies, tradition is King. Religion is an afterthought.
Yes, I want to see my daughter become a bride and all that jazz…eventually. But there are so many things I want for her before she walks down that aisle….so many things I want for her even more than that white dress.
I want to see her succeed in her studies and in her professional career. I want to see her maybe run her own business one day, at the very least, run her own life, like a boss. I want to see her live in a place that she loves, as the mistress of her own house, one she bought and paid for, rather than one she inherited through marriage. I want travel and adventure for her. I want sisters for her, by blood but also by choice, through meaningful friendships with other women. It was that bond that sometimes helped me get through. I want her to know the quiet joy of creating something, anything, with her own two hands. I want her to be surrounded by books and music and nature.
I want her to trust men because she has a wonderful father (and perhaps male siblings one day). I want her to know that her family will always have her back even when the world forsakes her, but that no sacrifice will be asked of her for the sake of family that wouldn’t be required of her brothers as well. I hope to never put those chains on her. I want her to view men as equals, never as superiors, not even as benefactors. I hope to teach her never to dumb herself down or dim her light just to inflate a man’s ego (potential husband or not). I want to teach her that a real man will never seek to suppress her ambitions. On the contrary, he will elevate them, put them on a pedestal, not just by a word or praise here and there, but with actual, real, meaningful support. He will cheer her on, be her backbone, and push her to get back up when she’s down. He will be in her corner always, because he knows that her success is his success. I was told once as I was about to meet some guy that I shouldn’t talk about politics so much lest he become intimidated by my intelligence. Really…I’m not even kidding. This is the “advice” I was given growing up. These words, however, will die with me. Instead, I will tell my daughter, “Speak, discuss, argue and debate. Show him and the world what your beautiful mind is made of. If he can’t handle it, well then, in the immortal words of Beyonce, ‘tell him, boy, bye.'”
Do I want those things for her more than making a shrine of her life to some man and his family within the confines of marriage? Yes I do. Don’t get me wrong, marriage is a wonderful thing, when done right. But that shouldn’t be the pinnacle of her achievements. Yes, I want love for her, I want children for her, I want her to know the feeling of the world falling away as she holds her baby in her arms. But I also want her to have unshakable faith in herself, a complete independence of the mind and spirit. Take away everything…family, friends, love…and she still has herself, her “self”. That is the one thing she should never abdicate.
But to hell with what society wants for her, or even what I want for her. (I must be wary of projecting for the sake of living vicariously through her my own unrealized dreams). I don’t know what kind of world she will inherit, or whether that glass ceiling will ever be crashed, (Hilary Clinton as the almost first female President of the United States, notwithstanding). Ultimately, I hope to teach her to be kind to others but also to herself. Of course, I want to protect her but I also want her to have the courage to define happiness on her own terms, to chart the course of her life with her own hands, free from manipulations and maneuverings, free from my voice, or anyone else’s voice inside her head telling her otherwise. Whether that journey involves professional success, or domestic bliss is her decision, because this is it, she has one life to live, there is no second act.
This is how I want to love her, this is how I hope to raise her.