Destined to be (more than) a wife and mother

What does it mean to be a good Arab girl?

This is a question I’ve been trying to answer for over twenty years, and it didn’t really click until very recently. All my honor, worth, and purpose on this Earth lies between my legs.

From an early age it became quite clear what was expected of me. I would go to school, study my ass off, and excel academically in order to get into a good university. And once I got into that good university, I would do it all over again to get into a good grad school. Somewhere in there, I’d naturally fit in a courtship, marriage, and the beginning of a family. Tie it up with a ribbon and you’ve got the perfect, pious Arab girl, right?

Now, I need to acknowledge that I’m lucky to come from a family of strong, educated women. Generation by generation, the women in my family have wiggled out of patriarchal norms and crafted their own paths. So, before I go on, I do want to acknowledge that what may seem menial to me — moving away a few hours to go to college, getting a job in a male-dominated industry (or getting a job period), marrying for love— it may have felt like life or death to these women.

What I wasn’t so lucky with was the heaviness of expectations that would rain down upon me. I could feel the weight of this generational pressure through the women in my family through a series of “yes, buts…”

“Yes, you should go to school and get educated but you’re also expected to make a home for your husband and children.”

“Yes, you should be strong in your relationship but not so strong that it scares your husband away and makes him less attracted to you.”

“Yes, raise your children to be independent but not so independent where they disrespect family and start making decisions without your input.”

You can imagine my frustration trying to make sense of these so-called truths.

It wasn’t until this past year, sitting in my own apartment during lockdown, where I had this troubling epiphany: “Wait… I don’t have to live like that?”

I was and still am angry and speechless that it took so long for me to get to that point. If you’re reading this post, you likely know about the circumstances that led me to this long-awaited epiphany. Women across society — not just from Arab households—are taught to fit a certain mold from a very young age. The mere thought that something a female family member advised me on would either be 1) untrue or 2) harmful to me made no sense. In my mind, they were looking out for me, shaping me to be the best wife / mother / woman I could possibly be. This is what they were taught at my age too.

Then a very obvious thought clicked. It was all about choice.

I did not choose this life. I did not choose to be a woman. I did not choose how I would be perceived by others. So, why was I being made to live a certain way, to follow a trajectory that generations before me have quietly followed?

This process of unpacking what I knew to be true was and continues to be a very painstaking process. The fact that I can be more than what is expected of me is terrifying and liberating all at once.

Here I am, at the loud and proud age of 28, unmarried with no children. But I’m more than that.

I’m a goof. A professional. A socially anxious extrovert who will be handing out hugs once the pandemic is over. A lover of travel with a troubling obsession for stroopwafels. A sister, daughter, friend, human.

All of my accomplishments, all of the people I’ve met, the places I’ve traveled, the joy and heartbreak I’ve experienced — that has to mean something, right?

These days, I’m choosing to believe that it absolutely does. Until very recently, I didn’t realize how much courage it takes to look at yourself in the mirror and stand firmly in who you are meant to be, not who others tell you you should be.

While I don’t think every one will agree on how I choose to live my life, what I choose to do or rather don’t do, I’m becoming more and more comfortable with accepting that reality rather than running from or pushing against it.

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