Thursday, April 5, 2012

What is Man, If Woman

As salaam alaikum,

After attending the conference this weekend and as I continue my spiritual quest to be enough for God myself and evade traditional loneliness, I've started to contemplate gender roles. I think of all of the ways and in all the contexts I believe we very much should have gender roles, and all of the unfortunate ways that reasonable gender roles have been tainted by misogyny.

And it's a lot to think about.

But I thought about women who feel the need to be spiritual leaders, imamas. I thought about how much people decry this and opine that these women are transgressing bounds, if we use Muslim vocabulary. And I think about how I held this to be self-evident, though now I see the very real spaces in society where Muslim women leading at least other Muslim women in prayer is something very essential.

But the case of the imama left alone, what of other problems in the world of gender relations in Islam. The oft nebulous female prayer space in masajid across the country and worldwide. The relegation to the female to her own home to pray, the silencing of females because our voices are apparently awrah, the partitioning of females away from males in worship with physical barriers makes me a husband ever able to say salat with his wife without him just wanting to do her at all times?

But on a grander scale, what is this all about? I understand the pull and the anxiety, the feeling of intense necessity to uphold certain mores in the name of Islam, in the name of near perfect submission to our Creator. But I wonder what would happen if you would separate the parts of these attitudes and convictions that result from fear of women, contempt for women, or maybe just plain misunderstanding of women, and what the whole thing would look like. Would there be partitions? Would there be closet-sized musalla for the sisters, would we be so encouraged to just stay home?

And why is there so much interest in what we shouldn't do, shouldn't say, shouldn't be. So much interest in the position of our bodies in prayer, the space where we say prayer, the volume of our voice in daily speak?

One of the women in the conference stated that the reason she felt so many religious women in academia were feminist was because there's such a contrast between the lecture hall, where they sit side by side with men, often Muslim men, who are colleagues and sometimes lecture them to the mosque, where they sit behind curtains, ask questions by writing them on pieces of paper and passing it to the brothers, and are not allowed to give khutbahs. And they look into gender relations in Islam and wonder if this is the way it's supposed to be.

And I wonder if it's the way things are supposed to be.

Why do we have these email chain letters floating around telling sisters to remember that they are not men, they are women, though not at all defining these roles as if it is self-evident. Should I not wear pants? Or should I not be a physician? Even though female physicians are needed to preserve the modesty and ensure the comfort of those female patients, Muslim women included, who require or prefer a female practioner.

So if seeking a profession such as medicine isn't inherently manly, and being desirous of being a wife and a mother is certainly not manly...what is left in this description of "women trying to be like men."

I guess the masjid is the last bastion for so many men of that man's world of yore. And for some of them, Islam is a place where patriarchy is supported by Qur'an and Sunnah. It must be affirming to them to have their roles clearly spelled out like that, and give them something to aspire to.

But is that so threatened by a woman trying to be an imama, let alone the presence of women in the masjid?

It begs the question, what is man, if woman also is?

And this has been a question I've had bubbling up inside of me that goes beyond the context of women in Islam. I'm talking about women in society in general. What is man if woman is also a professional? We are physicians, lawyers and businesswoman. Even in professions that had been traditionally a boys-only club, women are making their way in. For example, my friend who is 5'2" is getting ready to be an orthopedic surgery resident, a field once reserved for ex-jock-like tall and brawny men. Women outnumber men in universities and we tie them in such professional schools as medical schools. While some of my male classmates can definitely slave at work all day and have a doting wife to come home to, half of us are women and have no doting wife to come home to.

What is man if woman is also a leader or ruler of countries? Of queens and presidents and prime ministers, women have been assuming the ranks for some time. While we have not yet had a female president in the US and will not have one in the upcoming election, we've flirted with the idea. We certainly do have female governors, justices and congresswomen. There's no objective measure of who's prowess is greater as a leader. And, once again, as more females than males enter universities increasingly in the United States, one has to wonder at what point the power will shift and more females assume leadership roles not only in government, but in organizations and companies as well.

What is man if woman is a breadwinner in her household? It can certainly happen nowadays that the woman makes more and is in a better position to support the family than her husband.

What is man if woman is independent? We have to wait longer for marriage these days, and often we've traveled the world, lived on our own, supported ourselves with our own income or at the very least been used to living with ourselves only before marriage comes into play. Sharing that with someone else may take some getting used to.

What is man if woman is assertive, opinionated, boisterous, stubborn, determined, hardworking, intelligent, educated, accomplished, ambitious, untiring, strong?

Man is a man. Man should be a man, regardless.

I'm not saying it's all men but I do know some men who are carried away by their insecurities about women doing these things that are supposed to be just for men, I guess, with no textual evidence in our scriptures of this being true. With fewer secular notions as to why this should be true. A woman doing things that once only men did, a woman being any or all of those things I stated above should not be intimidating to the famed "real man."

Man is a man regardless of whether women are professionals, leaders and rules, breadwinners, independent, assertive, opinionated or any of those other things. Just because we women can be all of these things and bear and birth children doesn't render men...sperm donors.

Man, I may be down on you, really and sometimes unnecessarily hard on you, disappointed and dismissive, but I do it out of love. That's right, I love you, and I know you can do so much better. I know, because I have men in my life who have done so much better. I hope and pray every night for the man who will be the head of my household, who will share with me the responsibilities of family life, who will lead me in prayer and pray together with me, that we may help guide each other in spirituality. I pray for a man who I can look up to, someone I feel like I want to be, as I hope I inspire admiration of me in him. And so many other things that I know can exist in a man, in very many men...if they just let it.

If they just let it be. If they just let silly little things be, like circumscribed gender roles that limit the beauty that God enjoins us to find in each other.

So what is man, if woman is the bearer, birther and nurturer of future generations? All of this in addition to being able to assume a full complement of roles outside of the home?

Man is still, insha'Allah, the head of my household, my partner for life, my support, my inspiration, my love, my well as he is his own, independent being, just like me. Just as we were always meant to be.

God created us both. The being of one of us does not negate the being of the other. We were created male and female so that we could learn from each other (49:13).

So let's learn to know one another.

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