Recently, FToI authors received a letter from a reader: a young lady living in Iran. The letter was sincere and moving and reminded me of my own concerns and fears a few years back.
Her name is Monika. She is a university student, living in one of the major cities in Iran, in a well-educated family. She is, however, frustrated and confused by the perspective of her future life and the traditions imposed on women mostly in form of the seemingly inevitable matrimony.
When you are 20, and you live in Iran, everybody around you starts talking about marriage! Your parents normally say that you should finish your higher education first so that you can better decide for your own life.
Indeed, as you become more educated, more independent, and more self-determined, with every single success, you are able to identify your potentials better and strengthen your personality. For the first time in your life, at the university, you are directly competing with young men. You realize that you are no less than them, and you can even excel them all. You develop your own view of life, try to re-define good/bad and right/wrong for yourself, identify what makes you happy and start planning for your happy future which does not necessary require to be married. Yet, marriage talk becomes more serious as your parents get calls from possible future husbands! It just doesn’t feel right.
When you look around, you see all male-dominant families. You see working mothers being pressured under the burden of working full time and being in charge of the housework. After all, it has always been the wife’s duty! You see working women leaving the workforce as they can not tolerate the pressure, becoming even more dependent on their husbands. You see them losing their social life, and missing their identity. Is that the life that you really want?
Well, maybe you can find a loving understanding husband, an intellect who believes that it takes two persons to build a fabulous life. Or maybe you “think” you find one, but after a few years you realize you were mistaken. Then you decide to get a divorce, but he doesn’t want to let you go. The law supports him: “A woman can only get a divorce with her husband’s consent or with valid grounds (husband’s insanity, addiction, etc.)”. Men, on the other hand are allowed to divorce their wives without any valid grounds. You, determined to avoid such a disaster, think that the only way is to get to know your partner very well before marriage, and your parents seem to agree. One important problem is that any friendship or relationship with the opposite sex is prohibited by the law, unless you are engaged or your relationship is recognized by the religious authorities. Furthermore, even if you survive with the unlawful behavior, after a couple of months your parents become insanely worried usually because a neighbor or a distant relative has spotted you together and has questioned your mother if you are getting married. According to your parents, this path only leads to getting emotionally involved with him and being hurt, or even physically abused; it is your “reputation” at stake!
What kind of a relationship can live through such circumstances and how can you trust your feelings under such a pressure? You should find ways to deal with your parents, your neighbors, and even law enforcement officials, to think clearly and not to get confused or delusional by anxiety, and to make a right choice. It consumes all your energy to the extent that you find yourself skipping classes, and not caring about your professional career just to “know” someone. It is a truly vicious circle which leaves you confused, helpless and exhausted. As Monika described in her email, marriage which is considered the holiest happening in one’s life looks like a gloomy suffering to you. There is no way you can accept such a miserable life!
I decided to write this article just to let Monika know that I share her concerns and worries. I understand when she says: “I can not risk…I want to live my own life without getting married…[because] I might fall in love with someone and I would goof”. I know how unreasonable it is to choose a life partner with a very limited chance of knowing him. I know how confusing this situation is and how difficult it is to resist the traditions you don’t believe in. Nonetheless, I wanted her to know that she is not at all helpless and vulnerable.
I am married and I love my life because I chose it. I believed in myself and my discretion, took full responsibility and reminded myself that nothing could go wrong that I was not able to fix. I decided not to be afraid of making mistakes, not to let anyone choose my husband and lead my own life. I decided to be courageous for myself, for my dreams and for my beliefs. I asked for equal rights and opportunities and I tried (and will try forever) my hardest to achieve it. I believe the time has come for Iranian women to re-define marriage especially because the new generation of Iranian men is more willing to accept their wives as their loving partners and friends. If there is any discrimination or inequality, it is our responsibility to put an end to it. I believe that despite our male-favored culture, there are Iranian men who will support their partners encouraging them, cherishing their success, and comforting them in failures. Let’s face it, women are no victim anymore. They should not be.