Marietal doublestandards about Muslim women

Reacting to an idiotically misogynist comment on my blog, I posted the following status update on Facebook a few days ago.

Svend White  is pondering the paradox of American Muslim
women professionals finding it so hard to find husbands given how
comparatively well educated, integrated and well-to-do American Muslims

The cavalry always rides the instant in when male privilege gets challenged in any way, so an exchange ensued.

Not that this is a terribly significant one, but it does highlight certain lamentable social realities that persist in the American Muslim community despite all its economic and educational advantages compared to other parts of the Muslim diaspora, I think.

Where's the paradox? :-)

Svend White:
Hmm, to make this point without being obnoxious… A lot of us come from more privileged, [better educated] education backgrounds than Muslims immigrants to other places, but I'm not sure you see that translate into a more mature, open-minded attitude towards marriage. On the things that count, a lot of us are almost as "paindoo" as the folks showing up straight from the villages. Demographically, this should be the Promised Land for Muslim women professionals, but the opposite often seems to be the case.

In some ways, the villagers are simply more raw in their expressions of human nature, while we "educated" folk are slightly veiled to these realities by heady liberal ideals of egalitarianism. I think part of the reason for the problem you describe is that deep down, both men and women prefer an arrangement when the male takes the lead, and Muslim women professionals (a) aren't willing to settle for someone "lesser" than them and (b) men feels somewhat emasculated by this.

Svend White:
Perhaps such a relationship is "natural", perhaps not. THat's beside the point, I think. As usual, women are expected to carry a double burden–men may adapt to the world around them pragmatically and on their own terms, while women must remain frozen under glass, embodying traditional values that their brothers have long since forgotten in our individualistic culture. Traditional marriage requires traditional values from both parties, but it's often a one-way street today.

Well, putting career ahead of marriage & family is a pragmatic and non-traditional choice that many professional women make, one that naturally curtails their chances of finding a mate in the long run given what the sexes generally look for in one another. The situation is complex, and the loss of traditional values isn't one-sided. (It's not that I don't sympathize with professional women; I'm just acknowledging the underlying realities that lead to such an unbalanced dynamic.)

Svend White:
What many people fail to notice when they level such charges against all these supposedly self-absorbed women iis that men make equally "pragmatic and non-traditional" choices all the time today, but the Muslim community makes polite excuses and minds its own business when men are involved. Women live in fear of being seen in short sleeves, but men may wear tight jeans, adjust their attire to the heat, etc. etc. Men may remarry easily after a divorce even if they've been cads, but women are stigmatized. And so on. We're so accustomed to these double standards that they're as invisible as the air.

  • Jalaluddin Rumi

    Hmm, you didn’t have to omit my name, as it’s obviously not my name anyways. :-)
    I would like to point out that there is actually nothing in my comments defending male privilege whatsoever. Being who I am, I maintain a skeptical outlook towards virtually all claims, and I pose questions to you to ensure that your statements are rooted in something deeper than vague perceptions and conventional wisdom. (If someone really were defending an obvious case of ‘male privilege’, then I would be probing them with even more pointed questions.) If one is really concerned about the plight of such women, then one must take an honest look at all the factors — biological, structural, cultural — behind the problem in order to solve it. (You and your wife are not equal in terms of height. Would you and your wife still have been attracted to one another were she as tall as you and vice versa? If not, can that be read as a tacit acceptance of a sort of male dominance? )
    Second, as I have virtually no ties to the American Muslim community (or any Muslim community), my views and attitudes cannot be taken to be influenced by or representative of such communities. I come from an almost perfectly liberal background, and my mother is taller than my father. :-)
    Third, I ‘d still love to see your wife’s research on the issue, if I may. Our discussion has been too vague and fuzzy to be meaningful. I fully admit that I don’t have a full understanding of the problem and some solid research on this interesting issue would be welcome.

  • Jalaluddin Rumi

    OK, I managed to find a piece written by mskoonj on July 30. It’s more of a set of thoughtful personal reflections than actual research, however, and without a set of basic facts to interpret, it’s difficult to discuss in any meaningful way.
    “A lot of Muslim men in this country expect to have their cake and eat it to when it comes to gender relations, being individualistic and untraditional in all sorts of ways while demanding that women stick to traditional roles (and punishing those who make simliar choices to their own).”
    I would agree that these men ARE a problem. They should indeed be punished when, for example, they have sex outside of marriage or refuse to support those they have a duty towards. Unfortunately, women naturally care less about the virginity of their partners, and they often also tend to find these sorts of dominant males to be more desirable, which reinforces the problem.
    What you SEEM to be saying (I may be wrong about this) is
    (a) there are a lot of great single Muslim women out there
    (b) Good Muslim men are intentionally not marrying them, for mostly unexamined reasons
    (c) A liberal environment should naturally gives rise to egalitarianism, and to men wanting more equal women, and vice versa
    (d) But (c) isn’t happening, hence the ‘paradox’ — and the problem must, somehow, be male privilege!
    If that’s the case, it’s really too simplistic an analysis. Where I would disagree with you most is not on the question of ‘male privilege’ (certainly a problem in some contexts), but on the assumption that liberalism leads to greater egalitarianism. It really does not, whether you speaking of economic or mating markets. It allows people (both men and women) to be more selfish and discriminating, and removes the traditional barriers that acted as a check on these forces, often leading to greater imbalances such as the one at issue here. Liberalism returns us to the state of pre-civilized homo sapiens, where high-status males compete for low-responsibility relationships with nubile women, and women compete for higher-status males (lower-status males, being undesirable, are simply invisible and become resentful, like the commentator on your ‘over-30′ blog post). I’m not gloating here; it’s an ugly situation for almost everyone.
    I see you have Sh. Murad linked on the left… have you read his two articles on gender? Also, Houellebecq’s work is a must read on the topic too.

  • svend

    Points A and B: Yes. A lot of Muslim women who by any holistic standard should be considered very eligible are indeed left high and dry these days for unfair, shortsighted and generally unexamined reasons.
    Point C: Not really, but beside the point. Here I’m not commenting on the philosophical liberalism or permissiveness of American society–both of which I have decidedly mixed feelings about, especially as I raise a daughter (who’s now 3)–but rather the higher levels of education, social integration, and prosperity of American Muslims, which, again, I think ought to translate into more openness to women who–like many men–choose (or find themselves in) less traditional roles (or perhaps more accurately, hybrid roles that necessitate some concessions). I’m not talking about the wholesale rejection of traditional gender roles (by which I mean mutual obligations and rights, as opposed to simply male-centered norms of hierarchy), either (which I think very few Muslim women do). That’s why I mentioned “red necks”–you can make some allowances for well meaning people from provincial and/or uneducated backgrounds for imposing rigid, proctrustean gender norms, but people with more cosmopolitan backgrounds have less of an excuse for such neurotic reactions and doublestandards.
    I don’t disagree with your other comments.
    Thanks for the link to the article. As for Sh. Murad, it’s been a while since I read anything by him on gender. I have enormous respect for him, but I seem to remember reading something by him along these lines some years ago and disagreeing pretty emphatically on some points. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the details now.
    To be fair, this is an area where I think a lot of traditional scholars’ have feet of clay like the rest of us. By that I mean no disrespect or criticism. They’re human, and all humans have blindspots.

  • svend

    One more thing: I might seem otherwise, but my intention was simply to share some thoughts on this topic as opposed to paint my interlocutor as reactionary. The cavalry metaphor was an off the cuff quip about recurring patterns in Muslim social life and culture as opposed to a dig at any anonymous discussant. Had you been identified in some way (or if it seemed likely people would cross reference this post to my FB archive and then publicize it), I would have chosen my language more precisely, but since there seemed little danger of anybody’s privacy being compromised I didn’t feel the need to spell that out.
    But my apologies if it seemed like a put-down against you. That was not my aim.

  • Phil

    While i enjoyed reading your exchange, i feel compelled to suggest that using psudo-Marxist terms such as white/male privilege should be reconsidered.
    And on a more personal note, ive seen this phenomenon of women who are “over-educated” and apparently can’t marry. But the parentals seem to have more impact on keeping them single than any problems with blokes.