Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pashtun Marriages in the West -- Part II: on "imported" brides & the issue of incompatibility

In a recent post on the problem of marriage among Pashtuns in the West, I discussed a couple of the problems that Pashtuns in the West face when the time to marry comes. I pointed out that most Pashtun families take their sons back home to marry Pashtun girls from their village/nearby community who they believe would be the archetypal "good" Muslim and Pukhtana--e.g., submissive to her in-laws and husband, isn't "too" educated or well-educated, doesn't think about working, and so on. She is much less of a threat to the family, many believe, than the average Pashtun girl raised in the West. But for their own daughters, these same families want good Pashtun men who are well-educated in the West and who have excellent/great/respectable jobs. So I concluded:
What they don’t seem or want to realize is that just as they want their sons, our brothers, to marry barely educated young girls who are in their late teens or early twenties at the latest, most other Pashtun mothers want the same thing for their sons, too. Where does that leave us Pashtun girls? It’s not like anyone’s going to let us marry a non-Pashtun man! But what else are we supposed to do if there are no single Pashtun men around who are compatible for us, or if they can’t marry us because their mothers want them to marry younger girls from back home?
That, I think, is the problem of marriage among the Pashtun diaspora--being compelled (pressured, forced, having no other choice because of a lack of "availability of Pashtuns raised in the West, etc.) to marry someone culturally, mentally, personally, intellectually incompatible who's "imported" (and I hate this word) from back home. 
 Having identified that as the basic problem, I continue my discussion here, one point at a time! (Promise!)

Let me clarify something here. When I mention the issue of the lack of compatibility between the partners raised in different societies, I'm not implying that Pashtuns raised in the west are necessarily better or more educated or more intelligent or smarter than those raised in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Unfortunately, when we point out *incompatibility* between western vs non-western Pashtun, many people too quickly assume we mean "good vs bad" or "bad vs good." No, that's not the issue here. In this issue of (in)compatibility, education may be just one part of it, but mental compatibility is the more serious problem: we think according to our upbringing, and our surroundings play a critical role in our upbringing. People around us influence us, and whether this is good or bad isn't my concern here or the focus of the issue of marriage among Pashtuns in the West. The fact is that Pashtuns outside of Pashtunkhwa/Afghanistan aren't exactly or in some cases even slightly the same as those inside Pashtunkhwa/Afghanistan. And it's not that Pashtuns in the West lack a good understanding of their culture or have no respect for their culture - or, more importantly, do not practice their culture in the West. No, wait, what the heck - you can't expect to experience and live a culture while living continents away from it! That's just not possible. We'll naturally have to pick and choose whatever works best for us in different circumstances and situations and whatever is most relevant to our lifestyle and circumstances here. Our elders and others are therefore being cruel to us when they expect us to remain "pure" Pukhtuns culturally while raising us outside of a "pure" Pukhtun environment.

It is important to understand that this problem isn't unique to one gender (or to Pashtuns; it's a universal problem among virtually all immigrants or diasporic peoples, BUT I choose to focus on Pashtuns for now, primarily because I'm a Pashtun myself). Both women and men share and experience it, albeit perhaps differently. But I think it's worse for women. No, it's not because I'm being biased due to my being a woman and because I'm interested in women's issues. (Actually, I'm interested in gender issues, and that includes women and men.) The reason why it's worse for women is this:

Pashtun men are generally more educated and more "aware" than Pashtun women. I'm not sure how accurate this claim is for Pashtuns in the West, but it's certainly true for those in Pakistan/Afghanistan. What this means is their wives *generally* think differently than they do, anyway, and are not always compatible for each other when they marry in Pakistan/Afghanistan. Basically, they "already" culturally marry women who are not compatible for them, at least intellectually, so -- and I may be wrong in saying this -- but I think most of them "expect" this.  So it's not a big surprise when they marry incompatible women who are from back home while they (the men) have been raised here. But for women? But women don't "expect" to marry men who are intellectually otherwise incompatible for them. (What, do they?)

Okay, this is going to be uncool and sexist and whatever to point out, but there's been a lot of research on this. So, *generally*, women want to marry someone who's either completely on a par with them or is "better than" them. For men,  *generally*, they have to marry either someone who's completely on a par with them or "lower than" them. Why this is so, has been explained psychologically and sociologically, and I agree with the perspective that there is a lot of historical gender biased attached to it, what with men's being sociologically used to women who are less educated than them, less ahead of them, etc., and women's being programmed to want men in "authority," someone to take care of them, etc. That men want to be the ones earning more money than their wife when/if they both work is the same concept here. Few men can stand up to a wife who earns more than them or has a better job than their husbands. This, of course, is when we speak very generally. There are many individual cases in which this holds untrue, and I myself know of several couples in which the husband/male partner is not as much educated or is what one might consider "not as intelligent" while the wife/female partner is way "above." Their relationship/marriage works out well because they are beyond the social and mental expectations of each gender, as they don't submit to the gender norms that are expected of each gender--e.g., man in charge or else he's not "masculine enough"; woman "follows, not leads"; women = emotional, men = intelligent, or, in other words, women are generally associated with emotions and men with intellect; and so on.

And if this doesn't make any sense to you, ask yourself something. If you're a female, ask yourself how you'd feel if you were married to or married a man whom YOU would not see as "as intelligent as" you, or not as educated as you, or someone who lacks a certain intellect that you seek in a partner. If you're a male, ask yourself how you'd feel in a marriage if your wife was "better" than you or whom YOU felt was "better than you" or "more educated" than you or who just generally possessed a higher understanding of things around.

A little side note: The above actually explains everything to me now, including why a lot of my female colleagues (PhD students) are either single or divorce while most of the male ones are married or otherwise committed. Generally speaking. It ALSO explains why generally, our parents don't want us (girls) to be "too" educated--since that may mean being more educated than our husbands, and that will cause problems: either we'll never get married or we'll marry someone not "good enough" for us.

Also, when a Pashtun man raised in the West marries a Pashtun girl from back home and she migrates to the West, she's most likely "lucky," although this is true only if she's happy here, since not all of them might be. You see, we women are generally taught (not directly, but we observe and we listen) that marriage is a kingdom where the husband is the king--and, no, the wife isn't the queen, damnit--and the wife is a servant. We're taught to serve our husbands, never talk back to them, obey them at all cost, not even disagree with them, etc., etc. This is typical of all misogynistic societies, and, believe it or not, even in the West we see many women who think like this today. Our husband is basically the backbone of our lives, if not our own backbone. We rely on him for every single thing in every single way. This is actually a part of the reason why not all people support education for women--good education can make you realize that you don't need to be completely dependent on anyone, especially financially. Good education (heck, life itself!!) makes you realize that you need to learn your way around at least in case of emergency (e.g., your husband passes away and you don't know how to survive on your own at all). Thus, many husbands will do everything in their power to keep it that way, even if that means not teaching them to / allowing them to drive, not sending them to school for higher education, not letting them live on their own--or, my favorite, not bringing their wives/daughters to the West. C'mon, you know this is a common statement among Pashtuns: "My sons are here, but I'm not bringing my wife and daughters here. This place is not good for women." But oooobviously, men can live here and enjoy it and all. Double standards. Hypocrisy. Fear of the inherent power of women.

My point is, when a Pashtun guy from the West marries a girl from back home, and if he's one of those hypocritical Pashtun guys raised in the West that I know, chances are, he's lucky and grateful: he got a wife he thinks will do everything for him, who'll be soooo grateful he gave her America/The West that she'll owe him for life. But if he's a good, decent, well-educated, reasonable, fair guy, he won't think this lowly. He also won't fear marrying a west-raised Pashtun girl because he'd understand what problems they're facing living in two completely different cultures and the choices they often have to make to remain sane and the misconceptions that Pashtun media (and Pashtun media include your typical town gossip) spread about Pashtun girls in the West -- such as that we're disloyal, we don't respect marriages or the concept of families, we think we're better than our people back home, we look down upon people who are blessed with less than we are, etc., etc.

But when a Pashtun girl in the West marries someone from back home, for one thing, chances are ... their idea of marriage is completely different to start with. Few of us might see marriage as the kingdom I described earlier. Few of us might tolerate or accept a husband who yells, shouts, can't appreciate a good meal, doesn't want his wife to work, can't imagine changing his kids' diapers, can't imagine why she'd get a phone call from a male colleague/co-worker or even friend, can't imagine why she'd need to drive, too, maybe? These might be small to some of us but they might be major issues for others among us.

When you live in a society where the norms are completely different from the country of your and not all of those norms are "bad," you can't help but adopt at least some of the views of that society. And, mind you,
not all of those norms are "bad." There's no society that has all bad in it and no good, and there's no society that has all good in it and no bad. Unfortunately, most of our people (and many other Muslim groups) think *everything* about the West is bad and harmful, especially harmful for women and children! Stop it - the West isn't all about drinking alcohol, fornicating, committing adultery, and going clubbing!!!! The West is also mental freedom that we are denied in our own countries, the West is also the opportunity to become something you probably can't be in your native country because of the lack of opportunities or the too-many unnecessary restrictions or a horrible education -- or people's filthy mouths running all the time about you and what you're up to! The West is also the same West we all hate until we realize we have a chance to go there -- and then, baboom!!! There go our filthy asses running after that opportunity. Even if that opportunity is a "western" woman... whom we'll leave as soon as we can after we get here and replace her with a good, decent, authentic Pukhtana wife from back home and ensure she never sees the West.... okay, you get my point, yeah?
So what I'm trying to say is ... the consequences of a western Pashtun man marrying a girl from back home and a western Pashtun woman marrying a guy from back are normally not the same, especially when we weigh the cons and pros for each partner. What does the back-home Pukhtana get when she marries a Pashtun from the West, and what does husband get--and how does each feel about it (the marriage and the consequences)? What does a back-home guy when he marries a Pashtun girl from the West, and what does his wife get--and how does each one feel about it?

It's time we started thinking about WHY we get married and realize and acknowledge that marriage isn't just to have kids: people want companionship, preferably a companion for a lifetime, and certainly someone who understands us, someone we can share everything with without feeling ashamed or worried about what he'll think, etc. And our chances of getting this sort of companionship from someone who was raised differently in a completely different environment are not very high--not impossible, but not high--and we should not be compelled to risk it. Marriage isn't a joke. There's no reason why we can't or shouldn't be happy with our partner, especially when divorce isn't always an option for most.

Coming up in the series:


  1. How easy it would be, if they do every thing for the sake of Allah Azo Jal, why not encourage them to learn Islam and live for sake of Allah Azo Jal. This is what happens when people deludedly think that they can be Muslim and be the "same" as everyone else. So that when they are treated as "different" (because they ARE) they do things like remove their hijab because they feel the "glare of the spotlight" so to speak. We are different because we are muslim. we need to face it, and stop pretending we can be the same as everyone else when our very belief system and system of practice is different. It must come as a huge surprise that wearing a piece of cloth on your head in a country where 200+ million dont is "different"? Who would have thought!

    1. Beautifully said but I must say I feel that you had to keep yourself from saying much more haha. Yes we have to identify the issues whilst keeping a check on the fact that we are muslims and that certain "problems" happen to exist because we are muslims. I would not want my wife hanging out with dudes because it's simply not acceptable in our religion nor is it in our culture. It's hard enough dealing with issues in a western country and one shouldnt have to worry about some random guys his wife calls a friend. It's also funny how the author of this article doesnt mention the sacrifices ( like the one mentioned) a guy from Pakistan would have to endure to keep the wife happy. Double standards.

  2. There is no such thing as choice, rousseau said 'man is born free but everywhere he is in chains'

    Your thinking your perception isn't anarchic, you are always bound by a thinking a philosophy. This is called a society!

    This is why Islam is a beautiful way of life as it caters for our need to belong and worship in the correct manner. So either you are in submission to your Creator or you are obeying ( consciously or subconsciously) man, in whatever form it may be, socialism or liberalism.

    Perhaps it is when this thinking is taken that a marriage of west pashton girls seems like a burden, I.e without realising you have fallen into thoughts of another worldview and not your own (islam).

  3. Thank you for your response, Lala!
    Yep, Islam, like all other religions, is certainly a beautiful way of life.

    By the way, I'm not sure I get what you mean with your last sentence - would love it if you could clarify it.

    Thanks for visiting and participating in the discussion!

  4. Qrratu zra zor de der de *sips nimbu pani by the pool*

    1. LOL. That's a good thing for now ;)
      How was the nimbu pani?

  5. zama matlab day ke charay munga de shariat nazar wa goru no his masala ne da aw ke de shariat na juda sho no bya de khar or magrib jenakay deray granay aw khatarnakay khkaree...

  6. Thanks for your comment, Lala!

    By the way, your other comment (that you posted with the above one) was removed. Like I've said in the other parts of this series, this isn't about me or my friends. If you still haven't gotten the point, don't worry about it.


Dare to opine :)

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