Patriarchal marriage and “responsibility” on A Sober Second Look
But most of the interpretations of the Qur’an and of Islamic law that we encountered when we first converted did not (and would never have) used the word “patriarchal” to describe their vision of the “ideal” Muslim marriage. Nor did they put much stress on the duty of the wife to obey the husband. Instead, they focused on the idea that the family (supposedly, like every other social institution) needs a leader, or it will collapse. So therefore, the family needs someone who will take on the responsibility of casting the deciding vote in cases where the husband and wife cannot agree. They also talked about how women and children need to be protected and provided with the necessities of life, so men (again) have been given the responsibility to do this, which is why it is “only fair” that the husband rather than the wife is the head of the household.
This vision of how a Muslim marriage “should” work was often presented to us as a really sweet deal for women—a deal that feminists would envy, if only they understood Islam. Men (we were told) had been given this heavy responsibility by God, but women had everything given to them. Guaranteed provision for life, protection from the dangers of the outside world as well as the hardships of the workplace, freedom from the responsibility of having to make major decisions on behalf of the family… what more could any woman want??
You know what’s weird? This is exactly the same way patriarchy was sold to me growing up. And the odd thing? My parents talked about how horribly Muslims treated women. Supposedly (conservative) Christians elevated their women while Muslims treated them like chattel. Except … this.