I was with a friend when the topic of dating and marriage came up. I’m in my thirties and single, so this seems to be a topic of curiosity with many of them, especially younger ones.
My friend, who is more than half a decade younger than me, was just starting to date again after a nasty breakup, and had asked me this question: what do you look for in your partner?
I listed the obvious first — honesty, wisdom, maturity, loyalty, independent thinker, etc. Oh, and someone who doesn’t expect me to do their laundry for them or cook for them. The last two were obvious inside my head because I hate doing laundry and cooking. I hate doing them for myself, so I sure don’t want to do them for anyone else.
My friend stopped me at this point and said something unexpected, “you mean you’re liberal.”
Now, as far as my political affiliations go, yes, I’m liberal (I’m brown, a woman, Muslim, of course, I’m liberal!). However, I wasn’t thinking about my liberalism when I said I didn’t want to do my partner’s laundry nor cook for them. The particular follow-up felt ill-timed and the statement irked me, so I said, yeah sure, I suppose I am.
I grew up in a small South Asian country where people from the rural villages with little to no formal education seem to expect women to naturally take care of household chores, including doing laundry and cooking for their partners. But even in such a backwater country, the notion is presumed dated in the more developed parts of the region. In the cities, where I grew up, people are a lot more forward thinking and perhaps “liberal” when it comes to gender specific roles.
So of course, when my white, American, 20-something, healthy male friend (who I thought was also a liberal given he was hanging with me — a brown, visibly Muslim woman in her thirties, with a head-scarf and all) made a statement about me being “liberal” in a half condescending and half amused tone, I had to do a double take on our friendship.
And also take a better look at America as a whole.
By this time, I’d been in the US for over a decade. When I first came here, I remember the days of “cultural shock”. They weren’t due to America’s liberalism, rather, the lack of it at times.
As someone from the outside, I always thought of America as a country where men and women were perceived as equals. And yes, the condition is so much better here than where I’m originally from, but so much worse than what I expected — hoped — it to be.
When I first came here to go to college, I expected to meet other women in tech, women whose sole mission in life wasn’t to get married and make children.
Not that I’m suggesting there’s anything wrong with wanting those things, but to want them as though a person’s value depends on how good a wife or mother she is doesn’t seem right, especially not here in the US — a country that’s supposed to lead the rest of the world in terms of modernity and liberalism.
But when I came here, I have to say, a part of me was disappointed in finding that I was still the only woman in some of my core engineering classes, and female dorm-mates and coworkers often seemed more interested in talking about boyfriends and future weddings and houses rather than careers and non-domestic aspirations.
Not long ago, on a Facebook group for women entrepreneurs, someone posted a question, “How many times were you proposed to?”
Answers flooded the thread with women recollecting stories of all the times they were accosted by men with marriage in mind.
Usually, I bypass such threads, but that day, for whatever reason, I posted a response.
“Never.” I wrote.
Right away someone responded to my response, and asked, “why ‘never’?”
How do you answer such a question?
I have no idea why never. Perhaps because I give off the vibe that I’m not interested in matrimonial unions?
But my point is, why in the name of God are we asking as ridiculous a question in a public Facebook group as how many times someone was proposed to? What is the point in all this?
Few years ago, at work, I was trying to open a jar of something (I forgot what it was), but it was shut really tight and I couldn’t move it however much I tried. So, I asked my coworker to open it.
After my coworker (who also happened to be another woman) went and opened it for me, another one of my colleagues looked at me all funny. She started laughing and went around telling everyone how I had asked a “girl” to open the jar instead of the guy who was sitting right next to me. She thought it was hilarious.
As for me, it made perfect sense since my female colleague was a black-belt in Jiu-Jitsu, while the male colleague wasn’t. Naturally, it made sense to ask the one who’s physically stronger to open a tightly shut jar.
At a glance these may seem trivial, but the psychology behind my colleague’s laughter, or women discussing the number of times they were proposed to by men as if it’s some kind of competition or a badge of honor, is telling.
It’s telling that even to this day some women (maybe even most women) are hooked on the idea that the ultimate goal of womanhood is to appease the opposite gender and bear children.
Again, I’m not suggesting women (or men) stay single and childless. By all means, I think marriage and motherhood are amazing. Kudos to those women who can pull off both while maintaining sanity.
But can we, women, at least come to the understanding that neither approval from the opposite gender nor motherhood defines our net worth?
That evening, when my friend and I were talking about our expectations of our partners, it once again became clear to me that patriarchy is woven so tightly into our society that it’s not something we can fix unless we raise a whole new generation with different values. Here was a millennial telling me he would like for his partner to do his laundry for him. In fact, he straight out told me that one of the reason he’d like to have a girlfriend was so that she could help him with chores…
“Why not hire professional cleaners then?” — is what I wanted to ask.
But I didn’t because I already knew the answer to that. Cleaning services cost money, and girlfriends (or wives), after the initial period of courtship where men are “naturally” expected to pay for meals and travel expenses out of chivalry, are simply more cost effective in the long run.
It was difficult that day for me to sit there and listen to my “friend”. Here was a young man who was objectifying the female of the species with a straight face, and I know that even if I showed anger or frustration, he wouldn’t have understood the source or the cause of it all because to him, what was common sense to me was simply a sign of “liberalism”. And I know he didn’t mean “liberal” in a good way when he said to me, “you mean you’re a liberal”.
For those (including fellow women) who believe gender inequality is a thing of the third-world countries, I have news! Gender inequality is very much an American thing as well. And it’s time to recognize that because denial only worsens an infection. To eradicate a disease completely, we need to start by first admitting that there is a disease, and then by following proper protocol to kill it.
And in this day and age, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, “We should all be Feminists”. And Feminists are, by all practical means, also liberals. So yes, I’m a Feminist, and I’m a Liberal, and you know what? I believe it’s time we all are.