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Great (marital) Expectations – the woes of a nontraditional Asian journalist

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Runaway_Bride_jw

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” ~ Albert Einstein

The whole evening was a mixture of embarrassment and expectations, with a whiff of desperation. Or maybe that was the smell of the samosas frying.

For a start, I was told to put on a nice pair of salwar kameez. I refused point blank to change out of my skinny jeans and tee shirt, but wearing western clothing in front of Asian guests is not ‘proper’. Denim is kryptonite to the auntie brigade.

I didn’t care. It would set a very bad precedent – why should I let these people think that I was traditional and conformist when I am neither of those things?

“At least put a dupatta around your neck,” my aunty insisted.

Then there was the fact that my mum and my aunty, her sister, had cooked a three course meal for our soon-to-arrive guests: samosas, a big pot of chicken and spinach, homemade ras malai and store bought gulab jamuns and jalebis. It was as though I had already said ‘yes’ and they were celebrating.

In case you’re confused reading this, I am recounting my excruciatingly uncomfortable rishta ordeal, which I live-tweeted, might I add (am I shameless or what!). I was told of a very ‘suitable’ proposal which had recently come my way. “A doctor!” My aunty exclaimed, showing me his picture sent to her phone. The gold standard of proposals. A doctor! How could I possibly say no?

 Woohoo

In many, Muslim and Pakistani households, this is how proposals and marriages are set up. I’m not completely against this at all; I know some happily-married couples who have met each other in precisely this way.  I’ve been given the choice to find someone myself (although this should go without saying) but I guess my family are getting too impatient waiting for me to bring someone home that they decided to speed up the process.

Anyhow, the guests arrived late (Asian Standard Time) and sat in the living room. I stayed in the kitchen and then the conservatory for nearly an hour after, not knowing what on earth was going on or what I was supposed to be doing.

After hearing the men discussing mosque politics behind closed doors (standard topic for some of the older Asian uncles), it quickly dawned on me that this wasn’t a meeting for me, or for this suitor, whoever he was. No. This was a meeting of the elders, the men in particular, for them to catch up and arrange the whole thing. I knew more about them than the would-be groom!

I had to go in and introduce myself to the potential mother-in-law, a woman in her 50s or 60s. Wearing traditional clothing with her hair covered, she had an air of sternness about her. Oh I will fit in so well in that household, I thought sarcastically to myself.

The young man later came in, said ‘salaam’ and sat down at the other end of our corner sofa. I thought, at last, perhaps this will be an opportunity for us two to speak and see what we had in common. But that was all the conversation we had. We were never given the chance to talk to each other privately.

Then, to top it all off, the potential father-in-law, who was also a member of the mosque committee (Citizen Khan eat your heart out) took great pleasure in telling me how closely related we all are. As though that was supposed to impress me.

 harry2

I was furious; I was adamantly told that these people were not related to us at all. I had been duped.

The following day I was asked on my thoughts, would it be a yes or a no. How was I supposed to make an informed decision on a mere “salaam”? As it turns out, the young man was not a doctor. Not even close. And once we’d eventually started talking, he started laying out a few ground rules, such as the fact that I would have to live with him and his mummy, wear salwar kameez most of the time and that I would have to stop seeing my male friends, because “what would people say?”

Imagine how that must have made me feel. Like no one cared what my opinion was. Like I was not in control of my life, the back-seat passenger instead of the one controlling the steering wheel.

Oh, but I have it lucky you see, as I’m constantly told. “We didn’t have a choice when we were younger,” the busybody aunties tell me. “We’re not forcing you into anything, we’re allowing you a choice here.” Oh thank you, thank you so much for allowing me to choose my own shackles.

Then they tell me: “Get married and you can do whatever you want.”

There are two problems with this: a) isn’t is slightly ironic to depend on some man to liberate you, and that too in the form of marriage? And b) this is a lie that some families tell their women to coax them into marriage and then as soon as you’re married, they say: “You can’t do that now, you’re married!”

Eventually I know I will have to submit to my family’s will and tie the knot, because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do, the next step in life we’re all expected to take. At the grand old age of 25, my designated expiry date is looming ever closer and according to the elders, when I hit 26, no one will even want to look at me.

Yet somehow, I don’t think I’ll be happily-married. My ambition is to be a foreign correspondent. I cannot do that and be a doting wife and mother. It is just not possible. Okay, maybe not impossible but it is downright difficult because for some reason, some Muslim and Pakistani men still seem to have an aversion to independent women.

Then there’s the fact that I know I’m not alone in thinking this way. There has been an increase in the number of British Muslims women having ‘part-time husbands’ in order to maintain some freedom – should it be this way?

Maybe it’s my age. I may change when I’m slightly older and wiser and I’ve found a younger, Asian version of Jeremy Paxman (dream on, right?)

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Most of these suitors are going to be the same because my family’s social circle is very small – we don’t venture away from blood relations (the thought must be icky to some of you out there).  Consequently, every suitor and their families can’t help but be the same: very conservative and traditional. I don’t, however, have the option to marry a man of any other ethnicity because this is still a no-no in our family. I dread to think what would happen if I brought home an Arab or Indian man. They use religion when it suits them but the same religion, which allows us to marry Muslims of any colour or creed, is quickly disregarded.

I haven’t been raised in a traditional environment.  To go from that to a traditional family where I will have to seek the approval of my husband and the mother-in-law would be going backwards, not moving forward.

I have my own dreams and plans, but does anyone care? No. I have centuries of tradition, culture, religion and elders all working against me and as the eldest child, there is even more pressure for me to comply. Their collective weight is very difficult to resist. I announced my new job as a local reporter to my family – they hardly blinked. They are saving all their excitement for my wedding day, I suppose.

It’s dawning on me that this entire marriage thing is all more for my family, not me. It is a chance for them to look respectable in the ‘community’, to proudly boast to people (people, who we really don’t like might I add), look, we have married our daughter into an ‘honourable’ family. We have finally fulfilled our obligations as parents. Should I give in for an easier life? It would be simpler; to please not only my parents but my wider family as well. Those who can’t seem to see that what was right for them isn’t automatically my preference. That maybe my best interests lie elsewhere. That as communities change and meld not every tradition has to be held on to so determinedly. That there can be adjustment that is ultimately beneficial.

I just hope that one day, my mum realises that the reason why I am so strong and independent, why I refuse to bow to society’s expectations and take notice of their double standards, is because of her, not despite her.

And, also, as one of my friends once asked me, “why are you trying so hard to fit in when you were born to stand out”. I have things that I want to do.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

August 14, 2013 at 10:39 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Iram, I am not sure if this piece represents your life, or a ‘true-to-life’ observation, or a bit of both. I hope that it is not entirely ‘true’, as this is such a difficult and sad situation for anyone to find themselves in.
    It is easy for me, and always was! I am male, white-British, not especially religious, and I don’t have any burden of family expectations…..
    I can only plead with you, and anyone in your situation – try to work out what YOU want from life (build some flexibility into that, as what you think you want at 25 may change as you get older), and make a plan.
    Did I do it? Not entirely – I had a gut feeling of what I wanted, and by 25 certainly knew what didn’t matter to me, and what did matter. I just didn’t make a plan, but I should have done.
    Everyone is ultimately on their own.
    If you are lucky (as I have been) the closest thing to YOU is your own family – friends come and go, lovers become partners/husbands/wives, but that can also break…and you are back to people who love you unconditionally.
    You have to work out a way of doing what YOU want to do (in all respects) whilst bringing your family around to your viewpoint, so that at the least they understand, and hopefully accept – even better, they fully support and back you in whatever you choose to do.
    Forget “community” – that is a distraction – and what is that anyway? a localised ‘norm’? an expectation that can never be fulfilled by someone like you, who needs to spread their wings and fly off into a much wider world.
    Break the cycle. Don’t do something that is not right for YOU. Try to bring those closest to you along with you in your journey, so they understand, and they support you.
    Sometimes to truly love someone is to let them go. They need to get to that realisation.
    Good luck, you will succeed and be happy – it is possible to do both.

    paulcarder

    August 15, 2013 at 12:51 am

    • Thank you for the kind comments everyone. It’s a shame that no other site/magazine wanted to publish this but as long as others got the chance to read this, I’m happy

      Iram Ramzan

      August 17, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      • maybe you could get a survey out to your local community, via your own newspaper – it may have to be slightly more dull than you would like, to be very ‘PC’ – but it would give you data to show that you are a voice standing out from the masses, but there are many others feeling as you do. Worth a try? P.

        paulcarder

        August 17, 2013 at 5:42 pm

  2. Reblogged this on Homo economicus' Weblog and commented:
    Like many watched the live tweets of the rishta experience. I’m sure Iram can hang on longer than the family might expect.

    She will be a real scoop for someone one day.

    Do read the full post.

    Do read

    John Sargeant

    August 15, 2013 at 7:37 am

  3. It’s not only Asian and Muslim families. In other cultures, girls and women over-stress the importance of weddings and wedding rituals. After I got invited to a wedding the last time, I pointed out how fed up I was with that: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/09/29/the-most-beautiful-day-of-your-life/ I haven’t been invited again to any since. Good.

    Andreas Moser

    August 15, 2013 at 12:09 pm

  4. Reblogged this on http://LIFEisNOTdigital.org and commented:
    I have followed Iram Ramzan on twitter @Mari_Nazmar for a while, but this is a very personal blog post from her. I suspect that in a decade or so from now, you will have heard of Iram Ramzan in the national media. And this personal story, of a woman wanting (needing) to break away from the confines of a small world and make her mark on the big world, may well be a book in production by that time. It is certainly a book that needs to be written; a success story of a non-traditional Asian professional woman’s struggle for personal freedom and recognition in her own community. And, sadly (as it should not be an issue in 21stC) to be treated equally by male family, friends and colleagues.

    paulcarder

    August 16, 2013 at 2:49 am

  5. It’s a shame that in today’s world, someone still feels they have to conform to outmoded expectations and worse yet a sort of misogyny wrapped in ‘tradition’ and family values. You come across as a very head-strong, independent and intelligent woman who doesn’t need a man to be the bread winner (1) and relegate you to domicile slavery. It’s makes me lose hope in humanity a little bit when I hear about this sort of mentality but it’s important that people like you who are affected by such norms and pressures do stand-up and speak out. The crucial things are:

    1) Finding a partner who values you for the person you are. Without them wanting to change you and somehow feel embarrassed because you’re accomplished, educated and independent (they can’t control you then).

    2) You have to be your own person. It may be a choice between conformity and unhappiness or independence, fulfillment and alienation from family (at least in the short to medium term).

    Why would a prospective partner have to be muslim or asian for that matter :-P. There’s no point being coy here, you’re a beautiful lady but more importantly one with brains and personality and that’s currency that can never be devalued as far as I’m concerned. Hopefully you’ll find the strength to break free from the confines placed upon you and seek a path that suits you and pleases no-one but yourself. I feel you’re doing that already..

    All the best,

    Emyr

    1. No woman needs a man – in case that came off as chauvinsim

    mach2infinity

    November 6, 2013 at 5:21 am

    • I’m happy to say that no one has even mentioned marriage for about two-three months = ]

      Iram Ramzan

      November 7, 2013 at 7:08 pm

  6. It seems like you are trapped by religion, but good news ahead. The same religious values you seem to ether hold or un hold, you will eventually leave all together. And if you don’t, your children would most definitely, i,e, that is if you have children.

    Think about it this way, your the last generation to suffer this. You may not be able to bring your “boyfreinds” home, but that won’t matter in the next generation. Hang in there! 🙂

    Hyde

    April 19, 2014 at 3:51 pm

  7. Interesting. I’m from the South Asian community too – US born (& living in the US currently), of Indian descent, formerly Hindu. This is common in parts of our community too. Being set up with a friend or relative’s child and expected to say you will marry them or not after one supervised evening. At least force and honor killings are exceedingly rare, but coercion is common. My parents have only brought marriage up with me once, and I told them where to shove it, so since then they leave me alone. Lol. I have also left Hinduism and converted to a different religion so I guess that makes me undesirable. Haha.

    Ruth

    January 15, 2017 at 7:02 am


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