I’ve never viewed myself as one of “those” feminists, but I always thought of myself as an empowered Muslim woman. I didn’t marry for stability, I married for love. I never felt like I needed to get married to a traditionally “well-off” man that my Pakistani heritage glorified because I always knew that no matter what, I’d take care of myself.
Now, ten years and one child later, I have a graduate degree, I’m working full-time and I’m a key contributor to my family. However, my husband is still the primary breadwinner of the household. Let me give a caveat by saying up front, I’m not upset about it at all! We support each other’s career and passions and that has always been the key to the success of our marriage.
However, through this decade, I slowly started seeing myself and my marriage transition from being atypical to typical. It started innocently: We took a look at our finances when we were both entry-level employees and saw how much we were spending on dining out. “We should probably cook at home more,” we thought. Keyword: we. In reality, it’d be me. He didn’t have the affinity to cook, and honestly when he tried making chicken pot pie, I decided I’d rather starve than eat another bite.
We fell into those stereotypical gender roles.
When random things in our apartment needed fixing, the task fell into his lap. If my car’s oil needed to be changed, he’d take care of it. Not that I wasn’t up for the task; I just never prioritized it, and he did.
I’m not sure when it happened, but it did. We fell into stereotypical gender roles. The ones I’d always eye-roll at when my mom gave me marital advice about the duties of being a wife. Yet there I was: doing the laundry and cooking dinner. I wasn’t happy about doing the laundry and cooking dinner, but I was happy. Happily married. Sure, we’d have arguments just like any other couple, but we were, and still are, happy.
Then why do I feel so ashamed? Are there other women out there that feel ashamed too? Before I was a mother, and didn’t understand what it took to be a mother, I’m embarrassed to say that I would pity mothers. They always looked stressed, strained and sleepy. The perceived monotony of their lives would make me turn an ignorant eye to their strife. I didn’t want to be that way. I’d tell myself I was different. That when I became a mother I’d have it figured out because it can’t be that hard.
In reality, I’m FAR from that. I’m one of those struggling moms who feels guilty for staying at work until 8 p.m, having my husband do daycare pick up and drop off, and for not making sure there is food in the fridge. I feel like a failure for not being able to wear all the hats effectively. When I finally have a good day–a day where I cooked for my family, where I got to work and left on time, read a book to my daughter before she slept and had a meaningful conversation with my husband over chai that I prepared for us–I feel successful.
I can’t possibly be a feminist and enjoy making chai for my husband, right?
My definition of success has slowly steered away from career achievements to caretaking. I’ve become contrarian to my prior feminist mantra. I can’t possibly be a feminist and enjoy making chai for my husband, right? How can I claim to be a part of bringing down the patriarchy and enjoy cooking traditional Pakistani cuisine for my family in my kitchen in the suburbs? Are the marital gender norms a function of the patriarchy or can there be an element of statistical accord among the population of husbands and wives?
I’m not ignoring that women are not afforded the same opportunities as I have been blessed with growing up middle-class in America. However, I do wonder about whether some of these marriage archetypes exist for a reason? Is it a function of nature or nurture? Do some women just inherently not prioritize certain physical tasks such as mowing the lawn because they’d much rather focus their efforts on mental tasks such as deciphering the perfect temperature to cook steak at?
These are the dark conversations I have in my head that I tend not to share with the world. Yet here I am, expressing it on the Internet. The very essence of speaking these thoughts out loud mirror my shame in enjoying being a traditional mom and wife sometimes. Is feminism conforming to the new definition that we’ve cultivated on social media? We double-tap images of women’s marches, our amazing new generation of female entrepreneurs, and of diverse women in fashion, technology, and the media, but in an effort to encourage women to go beyond “the norm,” are we excluding the women who have actively chosen “the norm”?
I do believe that we’ve inadvertently concocted an image of how the modern Muslim woman should look and be.
I truly don’t believe we intentionally have marginalized traditional household roles, but I do believe that we’ve inadvertently concocted an image of how the modern Muslim woman should look and be. Somehow, somewhere, familial successes have increasingly become uncool and the quest to “have it all” in the classic sense remains. I’m optimistic that we, as Muslim women, will figure out how to empower our sisters no matter what paths we choose (I believe in some sense, we have and do already). However, until we discover that harmony between progressive and traditional, you can find me at my house in the suburbs, relishing in domestic wins.