A few days ago a fellow Facebook friend of Indian descent posted “10 reasons why you should not marry a Pakistani man”. Articles like this are not uncommon, since attitudes towards marrying certain types of men are not uncommon. In all cultures, religions and groups, there are assumptions about the best or worst marriage partners which often rely on a bunch of stereotypes that are not necessarily helpful or useful when engaging in partner-seeking.
Image accompanying the article.- Via The Express Tribune Blogs.
Unlike other articles out there (like some others mentioned below), this piece was supposed to be funny. It relies a lot on what are, somehow, common stereotypes about Pakistani or South Eastern families. An interesting thing is that much of the stereotypes portrayed in this article can be transferred to other settings. Coming from a Latin American background, I found that the article’s depictions about mothers-in-law and gender roles after marriage were not too different from stereotypical family and gender relations in our cultures. In many Latin American countries we warn women about their mothers-in-law and we tell them that after marriage they will be morning caretakers of the family and objects of pleasure for their husbands at night… to what degree is this true is up for discussion!
The above article caused some discomfort among Muslimah Media Watch writers. On one hand the fact that a Pakistani author aimed to mock the stereotypes without really questioning them made many of us uneasy. Also, the generalizations just seemed to perpetrate the issues and deem them “normal.” Whereas some felt that there was some truth in what the author described and he wasn’t trying to offer alternatives, I still think that the stereotyping and the mocking are problematic.
The author is not alone in its approach. Not only are we exposed to “horror” stories of non-Muslim women after marrying Muslim men, as I have described in a previous post, but if one searches the web, one can find many (less humorous) articles warning about marrying men of specific nationalities. For instance, women are advised to do research and be willing to accept Islam and Saudi culture before marrying a Saudi because they “change” once they are not in the West. Non-Arab women are warned against Arab men as they are violent, inflexible and are backwards. Critical Muslim lists ten species of Angry Muslim Men. And women of different backgrounds write about the cons and challenges of marrying men from India, Palestine, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
Relationships are complex, no doubt about that! That’s the reason of the success of advice sites such as Love, InshAllah where people ask questions about Muslim marriage and intimacy and present their situations to other readers. But to what degree are we able to draw from lists of cons to make decisions about marriage? And if the images portrayed in these articles are true, who should we marry?
My own personal experience has shown me that dating and marriage whether inside or outside one’s culture is difficult. Before moving to Canada, for instance, an aunt told me “look for a Canadian boy so you will improve the lineage.” By a “Canadian” my aunt meant a Caucasian because there is a very widely spread notion in Mexico that white is better. However, imagine my family’s dismay when a few years later I brought back home a Saudi man with dark skin and “questionable” religious beliefs. Not only were my parents concerned about things like polygamy, wife beating and black abaayas, hijabs and niqabs, but the media did little to settle their worries.
Today, my relationship to the Saudi boy continues to be controversial. Whereas a few of my convert friends think that marrying a Saudi leads to becoming a rich woman of leisure, some other Muslim friends warn against Saudis being violent and traditional “players” who just use women for a little while. Thus, despite the fact that so far the man in question has never displayed such behaviour, my relationship will always face the lists of reasons why I, a non-Saudi Muslim convert, should not marry a Saudi.
But to what degree are the labels useful? Many of these articles do nothing to question the stereotypes or the ways in which masculinity is practiced in particular contexts. In fact, they just tell us that this is the way it is and, therefore, there is nothing we can do to change it. Nonetheless, if there are lists about virtually every single nationality and religious community, who should we marry? Some articles like the “10 reasons why you should not marry a Pakistani man” piece aim to be humorous; but are the other articles telling women to marry outside their culture? Or not to marry at all? Or are they telling them the cons of marrying men from particular cultures but inviting them to accept such a fate? Perhaps we should spend more time exploring solutions, questioning gender roles and the ways in which culture, religion and masculinities are developed, preserved and endorsed…that could provide better advice than just “that’s the way it is, deal with it.”
Here is a primary reason why marriage is an institution under suspicion. What we are to each other as friends, lovers, and perhaps domestic partners suddenly becomes something different once we label it “marriage.” We should look more closely at the friendships that have been the most important to our own actualization, and we to theirs, in choosing a partner that will so impact us for the rest of our lives.