Who will help you with your coat on?

For a long time I faced this question myself: should I settle for the nearest man in my life or should I pursue my dreams? Being a South Asian the customary reaction from friends and family was a sidelong glance any time I came home announcing my latest plans. A look that said, "Okay, but then what?"

I thought ethnic women were the only ones to succumb to this pressure or to be constantly inundated by it but it turns that Western women are no less liberated. In fact, in some ways, the lack of frank discussion about the pressure for white women to marry and live the fairy tale of happily ever after makes it harder on them than the ethnic philosophy of marry and the love will come.

Two conversations last week brought this to the light.

A friend, a good, dear friend, in a relationship that she herself confesses not to have the ultimate confidence in, said "And if I want to have kids, I don’t have much longer." This out of the mouth of a 31 one year old.

Implied lesson: I’m not going to get what I want so let me get on with the kids and family bit.

Then on the flight from Qatar to the U.S. I (admittedly observed on television) heard a similar refrain watching the British mini series, LOST IN AUSTEN. The main character says to her mom, "I have standards."

And the mother, achingly replies, "Standards are good sweetie but who will help you with your coat on when you are seventy?"

That is the question, I suppose, for all women, white, black, brown or otherwise.

But as I challenged 10 American college age women during a visit to my house over pizza, what does being alone really mean? Are we alone because there is not a man in our lives? 

Even on 30 Rock, Tina Fey’s character, Liz Lemon, goes on a date set up by her boss because one night she almost chokes to death while eating a T.V. dinner. So men not only help you in life their mere existence can help prevent your demise?

I’m not a misanthrope. I am happily married to a nurturing husband and the proud sister of a brilliant young business man.

In general though all cultures still seem to be promoting the sexist male privilege. A man at any age is able to father children and get married.

So women of the world unite. We can help each other with our coats while on our various journeys.  Perhaps with a little less pressure we’ll be able to make the choices to be in the places where we will meet Mr. Right.

The newest accessory?

Lately it seems that if you are without a child and a woman between the age of 25 – 25 then you’re society’s newest oddity. This is a funny realization because I qualify in this category, but more so because for most of the last seven years I qualified in another equally condemed status: single woman, no prospect on the horizon.

Why does society still think that we women are so strang outside of the house, on our own, without husbands or little hands gripping our skirts?

I understand this mentality in rural places all over the world But among the educated middle class of the rest of the world, why do we insist on putting these traditional expectations on women, but still sending them to school and out into the workforce.

If, as was my case, a woman wants to have these things but hasn’t found the right person and so instead of dropping into a deep depression carries on with her goals and ambitions, why do we make her feel like it isn’t enough until she has that husband? And then suggest that he isn’t happy without little ones?

I am now watching dear friends struggle through the barren landscape of modern dating – juggling the twin pressures of success and romantic expectations for women – it i a scary thing. I am excited for my friends with expanding families. The arrival of the first baby, then the second, the increasingly common navigation of the sadness of miscarriage. This is my role as a friend; to rejoice when she rejoices, to be sad when she is sad. But the chasm seems to widen as discussions of serving sizes, parenting strategies, ‘play dates’ encroaches.

How come we aren’t more supportive of the decisions that each individual woman makes?
Is it true, as my trainer says, that if you don’t have kids, you’re left out?

Shorts no more

A friend and I were at the mall recently and found ourselves discussing why neither of us wear shorts anymore. This is odd, particularly for me, the girl child who argued fiercely with her mother to wear the fashionable cut offs in high school that gave Daisy her “dukes.” She found it equally so since growing up in California, she often showed off her ballerina legs.

We were both used to living in the conservative culture of the Middle East for several years and perhaps that was the most obvious reason. That plus the slowing of our metabolism as we raced towards becoming thirtysomethings.

The truth is I loved wearing short things in my teenage years which I spent most of weighing no more than 100 pounds. And then, as I became part of a committed spiritual community in college, I gave up the short hems as anything higher than the knee was frowned upon. Thus it was that the wild child of adolescence willingly forsook the shorts, bikinis, and other scanty wear of young shapely women the world over as a twentysomething.

Now on the doorstep of thirty, living in the Middle East, unexpectedly finding myself eating, traveling, and sitting next to women in hijab, I’m reminded again how much in common conservative cultures the world over have in common, regardless of the religion. For hijab means so much more than just the headscarf that is so viciously debated (a senseless debate if you ask anyone, because you aren’t going to make anyone stop wearing it). Hijab means covering the ears, the neck, arms, breasts, and hips – in short creating a cloak of modesty which covers the woman.

Coincidentally these are very similiar to the areas I was lectured against exposing at various faith based conferences in college; we were urged to be modest in our dress and looked in sympathy on immodestly dressed girls at those same conferences. They would learn if they wanted to stick around.

Religions  all over the world want to cover women up – to encourage men to think on other things – and in addressing women’s clothing Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims are surprisingly in agreement. Modesty, each of them preaches, is essential to social order, to well behaved men, to protected women.

Not that I support the direction that young women’s fashion has headed in the last few years. A woman does like to have some secrets, after all.

But where is the line between what someone chooses and what is enforced, either socially, legally, or morally? 
How do we develop our codes? From our families, our communities, or our own sense of what makes us feel right?
Some combination of all three?