What does it mean to be a distinguished woman? I was passing through a resort in Barbados where I met an incredibly confident and perceptive lady and we immediately delved into a deep conversation about what being a woman is. I love exchanges like these!
How does she behave? What does she believe in? What does she stand for? Does she give in to the pressures around her? Be it, from family, a man, or society. What does she do in the face of these?
As women, we get enough messages from the world telling us what to look like and how to behave. But even further as Arab/Asian women, we have additional pressures from our cultures that push us to behave in a certain way in order to achieve things that are culturally prioritised.
I have previously written and spoken about women waiting until they’re married to travel, a common issue in Arab culture, and how to deal with it. See the post here.
Sadly, I know women who also don’t pursue other goals. They don’t work on their dream careers, they don’t even dress the way the want to, because their culture tells them to hold off until they bag a man.
This is seen as more important than the other lesser ambitions. So women are told (whether this is directly or indirectly) to focus their energy maximising their marriageable potential.
Some examples I’ve heard first-hand by Arab mums/aunts say and what they really mean:
“Get a good university degree, you need that security.” Really means – Security that people can easily tick that off on their wifey-material checklist.”
“Wear something a little fancier to the wedding.” Really means – look good enough that you can stand out so an Auntie will want you for her son.
“Don’t post your travel photos online.” – Really means – you don’t want to seem loose. A decent man won’t want that. I actually had this one fully spelt out for me!
Finding your life partner is of course a wonderful thing, but in my opinion it shouldn’t supersede all of one’s other goals in life. Why wait until you’re married to travel and see the world? Why wait until you’ve got a man to pursue a new career?
Our parents and their parents may come from a different time and so their priorities and ideas differ from ours. I will always believe in the good values they’re try to pass onto us. Their intentions are good and they will always want what is best for us. Perhaps they can see the future a little better than we can, with the life experience we just don’t have yet.
But some things just don’t fly like they used to.
It both terrifies and saddens me that women could be stopped from doing something they really care about, or achieving something big in their life, because it would be seen as ‘unattractive’ or ‘unmarriageable’. A concept that is completely made up in the minds of people who themselves are (perhaps unknowingly) also influenced by their own culture. Think of all the potential that’s lost because of this!
Each of us has different pressures, and different reasons why we’re being told no. Or why you yourself think you can’t do something.
I can’t tell you what’s right for you or what’s wrong. You need to make that decision for yourself. I’m just a girl who’s had enough of being pressurised for so long to be a certain way, not being ‘allowed’ to do things that I want because of how the Arab society will see it (even though it’s innocent!)
Don’t do things just because someone is telling you that you have to, if they convince you that you can’t, or you shouldn’t because it isn’t right for a woman like you to do it. Don’t let anyone, not even me with this article, tell you what to do. If you don’t like it or it doesn’t sit well with you deep down, don’t do it.
Do what you think is right for you. But be honest with yourself. Strip all the outside noises and think calmly and by yourself. Ask yourself these questions:
What is it that you want to do?
Why do you want to do it?
Who is it going to help?
Am I going to benefit?
Am I going to hurt anyone?
What are the risks that come with it?
Is it going to cause a problem for me or anyone around me? If yes, why? And is this rational?
What message am I giving off by doing this?
Is it good in the big picture?
Know the answers to these. Have it all worked out in your head. And then go to them about it. Whoever it is that is pressurising you. Your family, your community, your friends.
I know this is a simple idea, to just talk to them about it – but I know how difficult it can be to voice your opinion about something when you immediately get a lot of backlash. So we get scared to speak up and talk about what we want. I still find this hard sometimes.
But this is exactly how we start to change it. By not letting our voices get quieter. And this doesn’t mean you have to be rude or lash out at them. It just means you have to collect your thoughts, think about how you’re going to approach it delicately and respectfully, and just talk it out. In detail.
Tell them courteously the reasons why this is your decision.
Tell them you understand their concerns, but that you aren’t worried because you see it differently. Explain how.
Tell them this is now your priority and it would be better if they could be on board with you, but if they are not, then they should at least leave you to it.
Regardless of the outcome at this point, as long as it is a good thing, once you’ve decided what you want to do and you’re happy with it – go ahead and do it.
You can make your own decisions and you can be a distinguished woman.
(By the way guys, I’m just getting started on this topic, I want to hear from you, please email me or find me on Instagram if you have your own stories to share, I would like to share more tips on how to deal with this in posts in the future).