K tells me that I don’t offer enough editorial opinion in my blog. I tell him that I am still overwhelmed by everything I am experiencing and that all I can do is report. His job is to editorialize, but he is too busy to write. That said, I do want to offer an opinion now, and I want people – especially women – to respond and help me understand what I am experiencing.
First an introduction, I am reading a book called A Timeless Way of Building by Christopher Alexander. (My friends have been trying to get me to read this for years, so they will be pleased that I am finally reading it.) The book is a discussion of the way that certain patterns make the world work. Here is a useful quote from the book:
In short, a pattern lives when it allows its own internal forces to resolve themselves.
And a pattern dies when it fails to provide a framework in which the forces can resolve themselves, so that instead, the action of the forces, unresolved, works to destroy the pattern.
Alexander convincingly writes that one failed pattern in a form can work to corrupt other patterns. This has become intriguing for me in relationship to Iran because so much of the way that the society works has to be enforced by outside forces. Sometimes those outside forces are made up of one or two people. Sometimes they are made up of groups of people. Sometimes they seem to be based mainly on habit or fear. Because of this enforcement, people have become accustomed to not revealing themselves. This, I think, is not new for Iranians. I have read that this pattern has ancient roots. The Okay now for my comment…
I am beginning to feel that women themselves are responsible for much of the way that society in Iran works. I see this pattern time and time again: women, mothers, aunts, everyone, raise their daughters to deny their true self. From the time they are very young, the daughters are looking after other people. They are serving guests, serving their fathers, serving their brothers, serving their mothers. They are encouraged to be cute and do cute things. They are told not to complain or say that they are hungry or ask for anything. They are told to obey. Later, when they are adults, Iranians, both men and women, complain that Iranian women are manipulative. How could they be anything else but? Because they cannot honestly ask for things, they learn to manipulate situations to get what they need or want.
When they are adults, women complain about the amount of work they have to. And believe me, they do a lot of work. Caring for a family is a lot of work. Everyone knows that. Sometimes, however, I wonder if it needs to be as much work as the women do. If a man or boy tries to help they are told not to. If I get up and look around for one second, all of the women in the room ask me if I need something. If a man needs something, it is the same.
Men who help out are teased. K is made fun of by both men and women for helping out around the house. Young women complain that this teasing keeps men from helping.
When I talk to a 27-year-old male friend about this, he tells me that he has learned not to do anything for himself around the house. “If I try to do anything, the women stop me. They say they don’t want my help, but I know they do. They just won’t let me help. Now I am lazy.” (His mother would argue that he was born lazy, and she might be right. )
He adds, “I ask my young women friends all of the time why they accept this situation. They have the power to change it, but they don’t. They all tell me that they are happy this way. I think they just have never experienced anything else.”
It is much more difficult for me to talk to women than to men. The women are too concerned about my needs to relax around me. It takes a long time for a woman to relax around me and not care if I am thirsty or hungry or tired or comfortable. I don’t have that much time with most women. Men are so used to being taken care of, that they engage me in conversation pretty quickly. They are polite. They offer me food and drink, mind you. But they are not so attentive that they overwhelm me with care.
K thinks this blog will get me in trouble. “I have told many Iranians my opinion; they agree.”
“But what about all of the women in university and all of the women entering the work force,” K asks?
“I am not saying that women aren’t powerful or professional. I am just saying that they raise their daughters very differently from their sons. I am looking at a pattern, not at individual cases. That said, I’ve heard the same story from professional women as from women who stay home. They complain that they have too much work with the family even when all of their children are grown-up with families of their own.”
K tells his brother and sister-in-law my opinion. They agree with me. “Iranians prefer boys,” they tell him.
Despite all of this, Iran still has a pretty even split of boys and girls. Girls are not dying young. They are not neglected. When you look at population figures for Iran, you see that this is not a society that disdains its girls and women. Iranians need women to take care of them. (Just kidding, but maybe that is partially true.) One thing you have to realize about Iran is that this is not a static society. It is changing and changing quickly. Iran is a society that is working on itself.
Just for a little comparison, I want to write about one of the last conversations I had with my great-Aunt Rose. She said that what amazed her most in her lifetime was how much men had changed (which means that women had changed at least as much). “When I was young, my husband did not do a thing in the house. He did not touch the babies or help with the children or cook or clean. Now I see my grandsons changing diapers and cooking dinner, and I know that the world is getting better.”