Gender & Identity, Love + Sex, Love, Life Stories, Weddings

I’m Arab, and I’ll never put my dreams on hold just to “please” a potential husband

I’ve heard of so many women who gave up their jobs, their friends, and some even their clothing style because of their husband.

No, I’ll never sacrifice my real self to be your perfect Arab wife

In 2012, activist and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a TED Talk titled “We should all be feminists.” During her speech, Adichie said, ‘When women say, ‘I did it for peace in my marriage,’ it is usually because they have given up a job, a career goal, a dream.’ Her words resonated with me as I thought about how many women are told from early on in their lives that it is in their “nature” to sacrifice their wants and needs to please their husband and family.

Attributing certain characters to a ‘woman’s nature’ reduces them to a specific category. Any woman who doesn’t fit into that category (which so many of us don’t since we’re so different), is characterized as an “other.” As a result, many women are forced to uphold certain behaviors that people believe are innate when really they’re just cultural values we’ve been taught. Assigning women certain traits gives a reason for people to believe that women are only supposed to be one way or another. 

I’ve heard of so many women who gave up their jobs, their friends, and some even their clothing style because their husband objected. To be a good wife and mother, women are told that they must constantly put their dreams on hold to do what their husbands ask of them. That is, after all, what being a “good woman” is all about.

But why are women expected to comprise time and time again, but men are encouraged to do as they please?

Amna Al Haddad, a journalist for The National in the United Arab Emirates, asked a group of Arab men whether they would marry a woman who studied abroad, and many of them said they would not. They felt that a woman who had lived away from her family would end up being undignified and less likely to uphold the traditional values of their society. They feel that she would be ‘more open-minded’ and that her family has no concern for her safety. This stance from men has led a lot of women to question whether they should put their dreams aside out of fear that it will affect their marriageability.

I once heard someone say that if a woman was to be educated abroad or work in a country alone, the prospects of her finding a husband would be slim. According to her, a woman should do everything she possibly can to end up with a ring on her finger, even if that means sacrificing her dreams. Women who are too ambitious or powerful might scare off supposedly suitable men.

But why would I ever want to be with a man whose ego is so fragile the idea of me being too independent scares him away?

Not only is that notion ridiculous, but it is also a straight-up lie. A woman who has studied abroad or lived alone has acquired all the skills necessary to lead a successful and fruitful life; an adult life. My cousin, for example, is a badass, independent woman who studied abroad. After majoring in graphic design, she went on to work in an amazing company in Dubai. And, to some people’s surprise, her fierceness and determination have never once made her any less attractive or unsuitable for marriage. Several men have asked if she’d be interested in marrying them.

Instead of encouraging women to pursue their careers and become the best possible version of themselves, we force women into a box and call it “nature.”

When I do voice my disagreement to those who think this way, I’m told that my expectations are too high. “This is just the way Arab men are,” they say. But I don’t think we should believe that every single Arab man thinks this way. Not only would we be doing ourselves an injustice by believing it, but we would be negating the men who don’t think this way at all!

So, I refuse to settle for the belief that men need me to give up who I am to be with him. I refuse to settle for less than what I am worthy of, the same way so many women before me have been forced to do.

I long for a future where women are not pressured into giving up their dreams and are forced to settle into unfulfilling lives because society tells them that’s what they need to do. I truly believe everyone is capable of great things, and by forcing women into unhappy relationships they will never be able to live out their potential.