Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Microwaves, Humility and Gender Roles

So I was thinking about Ms. S’s visit to me yesterday and the different things I learned about her. Interestingly, she does not have a college degree, or even a high school one, she told me regretfully. It was marriage and child for her, but she has been attending Adult School (which apparently, they have all over Iran) to get her high school diploma. She’s taking exams nowadays, 5 total, and she hopes to go to college to study psychology. Her goal is to get a PhD eventually. Very cool.

She also happens to be on her own while her husband is away on Hajj for a month in Mecca. She doesn’t know how to drive and she’s running the household and taking care of her son all on her own.

It seems a common thing here, amongst these ladies anyway. They married young, had children and did the domestic thing, but they still find time to attend school and earn degrees, oftentimes while pregnant or nursing or taking care of youngsters. They also tend to have to manage on their own as their husbands travel frequently for sabbaticals or courses abroad or pilgrimages. It seems almost everyone is gone for Hajj for a month around this time.

As I was explaining to her about my effort to cook near mealtimes because I want the food to be hot and I don’t have a microwave or enough pots to heat it up afterwards, I discovered that Ms. S also doesn’t own a microwave and never has. She laughed as she said they lead a simple life. Interesting, since her husband is the head of the language center at Mofid, and he’s fluent in English too

I feel bad for whining about my lack of electrical appliances when people here live that everyday and happily so. Many of these faculty families live in 2 bedroom apartments and have several children. The Elahis for example, 7 people total in a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment for 6 years. Although now 3 of the sons are off at university and one's graduating high school this year. Still, it's amazing.

In so many ways, Iran reminds me of a typical developing nation, and yet it seems so much more similar to America in other ways. In many cultures, especially in Muslim countries, being domestic is still the woman’s role (one could argue that by and large, that exists in America too, but you know what I mean), and while I see that here too, the men all still do their share of stuff around the house. From cooking, to taking care of the kids while the wives are at school or work and other “womanly” roles. There is no shame in helping your wife set the table or serve tea to guests or helping her clean up after a meal or anything else.

For example, Dr. and Mrs Elahi cut up fish together; he helps her, and Dr. Mirmoosavi helps his wife prepare the meat into mince etc. to freeze for later, and when Ms. MM first got married at 14, her husband did the cooking and helped her with all the chores. Men are just more self sufficient here and really have their wives as companions and partners and not just glorified housekeepers.

In Pakistani culture as I’ve seen in general, when we have dinner parties, the men will tend to sit around and continue talking while the women busy themselves cleaning up and getting the tea ready, but here, time and again, I’ve seen the men get up and help clear up and serve tea and fruit and dessert without fear of being emasculated. Although I must say I got lucky with my dad, who's less afraid to tackle all areas of domestic life, and he does so with diligence and meticulousness.

The men we know here are also alright with the idea of their wives going back to school and spending years schooling or being away at work or going abroad on business trips. From what we’ve been told, Dr. Elahi is actually an excellent cook too.

Humility seems to be the principle notion of how they all conduct themselves. It’s inspiring. The very antithesis of the whole “not without my daughter” crap stuffed down our throats on the other side of the pond.
Here, among the people we know anyway, daughters are just as encouraged to pursue their dreams and goals as sons and marriage isn’t an interruption but rather just a natural progression that doesn’t hinder anyone’s plans.



Blogger huma said...

sounds as if for the most part people are content then even without the microwave

11:09 PM  

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