Reflections of a “good” girl

Eds. Note: This is a response to Thursday’s guest post, How I met my son’s mother. Have a perspective to share on love and relationships? Read our guidelines, here.

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The setup is all too familiar.  Some odd years of rishta searching have clued me in to the familiar tone in my mom’s voice: “Aunty was telling me about this boy…”

Here we go again.

Many failed setups have me well-attuned to what to expect, so I usually brace myself as I listen quietly to the details I’m given – professional and personal, in addition to the usual qualifiers:

“Apparently they’re only looking for a hijabi.”

“The girl has to be willing to move to so and so city.”

“They want a professional girl, but they’re looking for a quick marriage so there can’t be any career tie-downs.”

“They want a girl who’s tall and fair and slim and smart and can cook biryani with her eyes closed.”

Alright, so maybe that last bit is a slight exaggeration.  Maybe.

Inevitably, I will agree to consider these potential suitors, but only after mustering up the courage to face the probability of another  rejection.  In the past, after biodatas and niceties are exchanged, nothing has come to fruition.  And this “good” girl, as the recent author of “How I Met My Son’s Mother” would call me, is left wondering all over again how she must have fallen short.  Did they not like my picture?  Is my career viewed as a problem?  Should I have left out the name of my undergraduate institution?  But,  I’ve been leaving out the most important question of all – how come I never got a chance to ask any of my questions?

The double standards in our society prevent me from ever getting any answers and only serve to perpetuate the absurd expectations proposed by recent LoveinshAllah.com guest columnist, Mezba Mahtab.  Women are expected to be perfect.  Hard-working enough to excel in school, while also glamorous enough to wow the world with their beauty.  Modern enough to aim for a career, but domestic enough to be willing to drop that career at a moment’s notice.  Conservative enough to never have so much as looked at another man, but liberal enough to know how to flirt with a guy when the time calls for it.  Young enough to be pliable for future life partners, but old enough to be able to manage a household without hesitation.

The word unfair doesn’t even begin to skim the surface of how intolerable all of these requirements are.

While many young men may foster the same belief as Mezba – “An arranged marriage is where a guy gets a girl he would never have a shot with in real life” – I have naively believed that arranged marriages are an avenue through which one might be able to find a compatible life partner.  But it seems like interpersonal compatibility, similar goals, shared passions, and mutual respect have flown out of the window as critical values upon which to build a successful relationship.

Every person is entitled to desiring certain attributes in their future spouse, and few people can be as honest as Mezba in regards to what they feel they are entitled to in their future life partner. But we have to accept that if a man has stringent requirements, then the woman in question is entitled to her own set of preferences too.

For every son whose mother thinks they are God’s gift to earth, there is a daughter whose mother thinks she is the cream of the crop.  Likewise, for every man with a desire for a wife who is willing to compromise her personal ambition for the sake of family life, there is a woman who longs for a husband who is willing to work with her to help her achieve both her professional and personal goals in life.

We need to stop expecting women to make the majority of the compromises in life, marriage, and work. Until we stop, we will never be able to take steps forward and away from these long-held cultural and societal prejudices.

Farah Khan is a medicine resident at Emory University. After graduating from college in Boston, Farah returned to her hometown in Alabama for medical school where she was reunited with the mix of Southern hospitality and South Asian flair that had shaped her childhood. Follow her on Twitter or read some of her thoughts on her blog.


60 Comments on “Reflections of a “good” girl”

  1. […] Farah Khan responds with How to unsuccessfully search for a “good” man […]

    • saman asif says:

      well said. as long the “boy’s” family is perceived to have the upper hand, because HE is supposed to be the important one, the breadwinner who will be supporting the “girl” for the rest of her life, this situation will continue. only if girls become financially independent, can look after themselves and don’t feel they HAVE to marry for cultural, religious etc reasons, will the imbalance be righted. at present, the girl has to wait to be proposed to. she has to be denatured so as not to scare of the boy’s family with her wit, intelligence, humour, quirks and anything else that makes her who she is. she is on the backfoot and will remain so until it no longer matters to her, and more importantly, to
      her family, whether she appeals to the other side or not.

      • farah287 says:

        “She has to be denatured so as not to scare of the boy’s family with her wit, intelligence, humour, quirks and anything else that makes her who she is.”

        So on-point!

  2. Anjum says:

    Farah, couldn’t have said it better myself! Arranged marriages have turned into a system of bartering and business rather than a means for human connection. The confusing contradictions that we are expected to be as women are unfair and UNREALISTIC. Unfortunately, they continue being perpetuated and we internalize them and think there is something wrong with us when it is really the system.

    • farah287 says:

      Bartering is exactly what the arranged marriage “market” has devolved into! Looks, age, profession etc all become chips that can be used for or against rishtas, and I hate it. Here’s hoping that we can slowly work on ending the persistent perpetuation of this system.

  3. ss says:

    Thank you! I read Mezba’s original post on Thursday and was fuming all morning. Since when are men “entitled” to such demands, while women have their desires and voices silenced? It is actually customary in most religions for the two partners to sign a marriage contract that stipulates the terms of their marriage — and both must agree for the marriage to go forward. Perhaps a first step toward greater equality, respect, love, and independence in the institution of marriage.

    • farah287 says:

      Thank *you* for reading and commenting! Getting rid of this sense of entitlement, in both men and women alike, is a key part of the first step towards a greater sense of equality in marriage.

      • saman asif says:

        a friend of mine despaired of marrying her son; he had left it to her, after an affair went wrong, but she told me she found it impossible to go and do the traditional prospective mother-in-law thing, sitting in someone’s sitting room and staring as the girl came out with the trolley…! she said it was disgraceful and humiliating – as the mother of 2 daughters she understood this only too well. fortunately her son met someone through mutual friends, but if only other women could remember how it was for them, to think of their own daughters and learn how to behave! same goes for the prospective groom….most have sisters and will perhaps one day have a daughter…why is there such a disconnect in their neuronal pathways?

  4. Mario says:

    While I certainly agree with Farah’s writing, I wonder why women continue to allow themselves to be put in this position. Not saying there aren’t cultural pressures, but its time to own the issue and get it solved.

    • farah287 says:

      Interesting comment, but I have to disagree – I don’t think women “allow” anything. But rather society and the cultural pressures you’re alluding to force this position upon women. Women have been owning this issue for years, but a solution will only be found when there are more voices in the mix.

    • Cheesecake says:

      Trust me. Women don’t want this at all and wish they could change it. But change doesn’t happen just on one side. It has to happen on both sides. People need to lose this mentality because it is highly damaging to both sexes. But if you’re trying to make only women take the blame and make the changes, then it’s a losing battle because men need to start listening and CHANGING AS WELL in order for anything productive to get done.

  5. Meena Siddiqui says:

    this is simply jihalat and materialism in majority of the families in our culture that is the cause of this problem in my daughters case some boys saw them met them in in different conferences or conventions they talk to their parents their parents called us plus our daughters let us know about them through their siblings we met those boys interview them let them talk our daughters and met their families and this how we arrange our daughters marriages . Alhamdolillah both are very successful and happy relationships . In my sons case I met this girl ,the daughter of one of my second cousin in Pakistan I was impressed by her and her sisters saleeqa and thezeeb that is very rare in mostly the age group they were belonging ,and that moment I thought it will be so good if only somehow my son will meet her and like her for himself , than it so happened that the parents of the girl were visiting USA in some other state I did talk to them whenever you people decide to marry your daughter consider about my son too I told them what my son is doing and what his qualifications are I told them to give me their daughter’s contact because to me it is important that both of them should know about each other and if they like each other ,it so happened that they decided to say yes and then we arranged the wedding this is how this marriage was also arranged Alhamdolillah

  6. Humera says:

    College in Boston? Covering up Harvard maybe? No modesty required. I have only respect for your achievements – and for having the courage to write this piece!

  7. Jasmine Denali says:

    Wow.. you really hit it on the head with this one. This will be a great article to send to my parents lol.

  8. Saadia says:

    Excellent response. Well said.

  9. […] Reflections of a “good” girl → […]

  10. Tanveer Patel says:

    Excellent Writeup Farah you bring a different perspective that most people do not want to talk about. I am proud of you.

  11. Nadia says:

    This is excellent and so on-point. If only we could create an “uncle and aunty” bulletin to post this.

  12. archna1 says:

    well said! My family is not ready to read this because if I do give it to them they will turn it around and say this is what’s wrong with indian girls, they think this way and that’s why no one wants to marry them.. I’m biding my time to find a good moment to send this to people in my family who I know need to read this.

  13. str says:

    I love this and I agree 100%! In my own experience, I never realized how many things were wrong with me until my parents started to ‘look’ for me. Everything from my skin color, to my height, to my parents’ professions, to my sister’s ages, to my decision to go to med school have been criticized. Most recently, I was dinged by a potential (a future physician himself) for my intended future specialty! There’s no winning this game and I’m frankly tired of playing. I miss the opinion of myself I used have before this whole process began. I used to be so sure of myself, and although I truly believed I’d never let these people’s words affect me, I have found that, unfortunately, in subtle ways they really have.

    • Just don’t get married. It’s not necessary. Save yourself the stress.

      • Emma says:

        Hey str & Marie, I understand your frustration, BUT my mom often says “don’t give up on meeting a good guy, you only need one.” I think I need to start looking for men who are from other backgrounds, NOT desi Muslims MOST of my fam & friends tell me that, too, even though they know I prefer these guys! Well, we ALL have out struggles…

    • farah287 says:

      I completely understand, and honestly, that’s why I’ve stopped playing the game. It’s overrated and really does little other than damage our self-esteem. It’s easier said than done, but try not to let other people’s ridiculous criticisms/judgements affect how you view yourself. You’re your best advocate and always will be.

  14. zeik says:

    Oh no Farah! Covering up ye olde undergrad institution in the bio too?😛

  15. Salman Khan says:

    While I partially sympathize with Farah’s plight it must be said that women have brought this on themselves as a gender. Women do most of the rejecting leaving dejected men to work hard to earn money, advanced degrees, and a nest (aka house) in which he can bring home the bride. Every young man knows the rejection women fling at them when they are struggling to get on their feet until all of a sudden he becomes resourceful and is considered to lo and behold be charming, smart, intelligent, sexy, appealing and all other adjectives to which women are attracted. Men then realize that all those women who rejected them have to pay the price. And the price is that all those thousands of hours of education, fancy car, house, and profession gives HIM the upper hand to demand the cream of the crop. If there is hypocrisy in the system it starts with the women, and men unfortunately come in on the tail end and reciprocate. In the cat and mouse game of Muslim marriage men have the last laugh and we’re never going to change that. We will continue demanding the prettiest, slimmest, fairest, tallest, cooking-best-est, modest-est, butterfly of the flock.

    • farah287 says:

      No need for you to “partially sympathize” with anyone – you’re entitled to your opinion no matter how much I disagree with it. Good luck in your search for the “prettiest, slimmest, fairest, tallest, cooking-best-est, modest-est, butterfly of the flock.”

      • Salman Khan says:

        Farah, you are paying the price for how most of your gender behaves. Please don’t take it personally. Your article was well-thought out and had legitimate grievances. As a healthcare provider you know men are innately biologically programmed to laser in on young fertile specimens. The spousal search by men is dominated by considerations of pliance, respect, and beauty. There is no doubt that generally speaking the younger the woman the more pliant she will be and happily so. Older women tend to be more rigid and set in their ways and have sharper tongues due to jaded experiences of life. On the flip side the spousal search for women is dominated by money, education, profession. So the younger men who are most in need of the protection of chastity afforded by marriage and moral support while they get up on their feet are the men who are wholesale rejected by women. Hence do men requite the women for the early-life injustices. If you wish to preach about the double standard of men then do explore the iniquities females (and their families) dish out to men when they most are in need of support.

    • Texican says:

      Salman – my brother! 2013 called!! Where have you been?!

      “As a healthcare provider you know men are innately biologically programmed to laser in on young fertile specimens.”

      I am a health care provider. This is only partially true. Yes, men are attracted to physical traits on a woman’s body that signify fertility. But these traits exist in a 16 year old, 21 year old, a 25 year old, a 30 year old, and (gasp!) even a 40 year old! And by the way, women are also attracted to physical traits in a man that signify fertility as well. So it works both ways. Of course we all know that physical attraction is much more complex than just a carnal desire to reproduce…

      “The spousal search by men is dominated by considerations of pliance, respect, and beauty. There is no doubt that generally speaking the younger the woman the more pliant she will be and happily so. Older women tend to be more rigid and set in their ways and have sharper tongues due to jaded experiences of life.”

      Sadly, you are completely correct with the above statement. However, in my opinion, this is due to the misogynistic expectations that our patriarchal society has created. Are younger women generally more “happily” pliable? Why do men need a pliable woman anyways? What’s wrong with a woman who has strong values and beliefs and can challenge her husband’s? Does a sharp tongue make a woman a bad wife or a bad mother? Or, have we created a society where our men are so lacking in confidence, that their insecurities are thrown back and blamed on women?

      “On the flip side the spousal search for women is dominated by money, education, profession.”

      This, unfortunately, is true as well. And again, our society needs to get with it. It is 2013, and the reality is that women in our community are accomplished and can provide for themselves. It’s high time that women start to look beyond a man’s bank account and degrees.

      All this makes me so sad. As an Ummah, we cannot forget that the most important thing a spouse can do is challenge you to bring you closer to God. I’d like to think that when we are lying on our death beds and reflecting on our lives, no one will be thinking “Man, I’m sure glad my wife was slamming hot and 10 years younger than me!” or “Thank God I married a doctor who was more than six foot tall!” Personally, the thing that I hope I will be thinking is “Thank you God for bringing me a husband who brought me closer to you.”

      • Anjabeen says:

        LOL!

      • baffled reader says:

        Yes!!! to your last paragraph! That is a truth that I think that everyone here can agree to (I hope). And a wonderful starting point for a discussion.

        Everyone will of course have their different pathways for reaching God-consciousness– but I believe, at the root of it, the qualities/acts/deeds that Allah wants from us, are the same.

        What are they? What are our roles? Do we have any specific ones? What do we learn from the interactions of the sahabah? We are so lucky to have them recorded in such detail! Irrespective of the year we are in currently and the year it was then– we all know Islam is not made for a specific time, place, person– what are the universal truths we learn from this deen?

      • Bengali Fob says:

        I LOVE your reply

      • farah287 says:

        Couldn’t have said it all better myself!

  16. krahman4 says:

    What a wonderful article. It is so hard to find muslim females to speak up on such topics. None the less I enjoyed it thoroughly and am glad to find that there are other females like me who have to bear such situations. Farah you have a new follower, keep up the good work!

  17. WaterLemon says:

    Oh come on! This had to say you went to school in Boston? I was thinking the big-H, but then I stalked you and figured it was the big-M. But, wanted to say,don’t worry about these morons. many South Asian men are very embarrassing. BUT, I am so incredibly proud of you! From an older sister who also went to school in Boston- we had a couple of overlapping years in Beantown. I am still single, and I THANK God for that very frequently. Our options are terrible as south Asians….. But don’t let these get to you. Go on, disturb the universe. We will be held accountable for not using our time and talent. Unless you have really lived in an impoverished country where women are indeed objects, you cannot appreciate how privileged we are in the West where we get to choose whom and when to marry. We need to use our privileges to help those unfortunate women.
    The purpose of life is to serve God by serving humanity, not to serve biryani to some undeserving loser.
    Again, so very proud of you!

    • farah287 says:

      haha “the big-M” – I love it. Thanks so much for your support and for your feedback. I couldn’t agree with you more on how important it is for us to DO something instead of twiddling our thumbs while waiting for Mr. Perfect to come along. Here’s to disturbing the universe together🙂

  18. “Women are expected to be perfect. Hard-working enough to excel in school, while also glamorous enough to wow the world with their beauty. Modern enough to aim for a career, but domestic enough to be willing to drop that career at a moment’s notice. Conservative enough to never have so much as looked at another man, but liberal enough to know how to flirt with a guy when the time calls for it. Young enough to be pliable for future life partners, but old enough to be able to manage a household without hesitation. ”

    I intend to show this article, especially the above part to every family member who tells me I should take care that my career is such that can be dropped if my future husband asks me to.
    Hopefully I still have a few years before considering marriage prospects, yet living in a typical Pakistani household, I am subjected to frequent lectures of who and what a girl should be to get married. They manage to make it sound like such a disagreeable, sometimes downright awful prospect, that sometimes I wonder why my mother wants to shove me into such a torturous thing after experiencing it herself. Surely with so much overpopulation, procreation should be discouraged?:/

    And unfortunately I have come across men who consider a pure, beautiful and dutiful girl their right by birth.

    I entertain dreams of happily ever after like every other person, but the way society expects me to become a parody of myself, I wonder if marriage should be a part of the equation.

    Your article hit close, and is a pretty exact picture of my thoughts. Really well written!🙂

    • farah287 says:

      I love your resolve to keep forging forward with your goals even in the face of criticism from some members of your household! Keep on keeping on and iA with time they’ll be fighting on your team instead of trying to push you into something that you don’t want. I truly believe that most everything in life sorts itself out with the right amount of time🙂

  19. theayasalah says:

    Reblogged this on In The Moment and commented:
    “The double standards in our society prevent me from ever getting any answers and only serve to perpetuate the absurd expectations… Women are expected to be perfect. Hard-working enough to excel in school, while also glamorous enough to wow the world with their beauty. Modern enough to aim for a career, but domestic enough to be willing to drop that career at a moment’s notice. Conservative enough to never have so much as looked at another man, but liberal enough to know how to flirt with a guy when the time calls for it. Young enough to be pliable for future life partners, but old enough to be able to manage a household without hesitation.”

  20. Mira Khattab says:

    Exellent article Sr.Farah.While I agree with most of it there is a feeling of passing the blame onto the culture,traditions,religion etc.If you are smart enough to point out all the falts than you are smart enough to not repeat them.If you are not comfortable with whatever,dont do it!.its easy to blame…if you are not part of the solution,you are part of the problem.
    Don’t ever worry what anybody else thinks,just fear ALLAH( swa) Only,and strive to please Him,not the world.
    I humbly think that ALL this issues arise out of our failure to adhere to our Islamic principals in knowledge,words and above all actions.
    May Allah swa bless and reward all your good deeds.

    • farah287 says:

      I appreciate your feedback! I wasn’t trying to place blame on culture, traditions, religion, etc, but instead I was aiming to shed light on some of the inherent inequities that come with all of the above. And I think the first step towards finding a solution is to discuss the problem itself – so I hope that with this post and the subsequent discussions, we are all trying to be part of the solution.

  21. […] This post originally appeared at Farah’s blog. Read more for Farah Khan, such as her recent “Reflections of Being A ‘Good’ Girl.”  […]

  22. Shawn Swaleh says:

    Unfortunately when a culture is deceased every and all segments get affected including young girls and boyz, this whole exercise is treacherous for young men also, greedy parents of the to be bride care most about how wealthy the boy is, no way in hell will they marry their physician daughter to a plumber or electrician even if he is an amazing human being, if you had a brother statistically chances are that you and your mom will treat your sister in law horribly but expect you be treated amazingly, I will agree that men are to blame also but it is mostly women that are responsible for the cruel and vicious behaviour toward other Pakistani women. you want real change be respectful and loving towards your sister in-laws, mother in-laws and daughter in-laws and raise sons and brothers that respect women…all these horrible abusive men were raised by women. Please show some maturity by printing opposing thoughts. Socrates quotation, “It is sign of a mature mind that can entertain a thought without agreeing with it.”

  23. […] search, mainly involve the twisted, unrealistic standards that Muslim men and their parents have: Farrah Khan said it beautifully on “Love InshAllah” when she wrote that the potential wife is expected to be: “[h]ard-working […]