“There is no worse evil than a bad woman;
and nothing has ever been produced better than a good one.”
Euripides (480-406 BC)
“There is no worse evil than a bad woman;
and nothing has ever been produced better than a good one.”
Euripides (480-406 BC)
Scheherazade was the famed storyteller of The One Thousand and One Nights.
According to the frame tale of The One Thousand and One Nights, many years ago, the king in ancient Persia discovered that his wife had been cheating on him. In his anger and disappointment, he had his wife executed, vowing to marry a virgin every day and ordering her to be executed after the wedding night! He consequently married and executed all the young women in the kingdom until his chief advisor’s daughter, Scheherazade, asked her father if she could marry the king. Her father, deeply concerned about his daughter’s safety, tried to persuade her against this, but she had a plan and persisted.
Scheherazade was a beautiful, well-read and intelligent young woman who was a gifted storyteller, weaving stories with spiritual and moral lessons for her listeners. Following her marriage to the king, on their wedding night, she captivated him with a story that went on late into the night, causing the king to allow her a stay of execution in order to finish her story the following evening. The clever Scheherazade continued to weave ever more fantastic and adventure-filled stories, each night leaving the king on tenter-hooks to discover what happened next.
And so the King kept Scheherazade alive as he eagerly anticipated each new story, until, one thousand and one adventurous nights, and three sons later, the king eventually let go of his fear of women, fell in love with the beautiful Scheherazade … and they both lived happily ever after …
“We had 11 truly joyful years of the deepest love, happiest marriage, and truest partnership that I could imagine … He gave me the experience of being deeply understood, truly supported and completely and utterly loved – and I will carry that with me always. Most importantly, he gave me the two most amazing children in the world…
Dave was my rock. When I got upset, he stayed calm. When I was worried, he said it would be ok. When I wasn’t sure what to do, he figured it out…” wrote Sheryl Sandberg in a moving tribute to her husband.
How many women are lucky to have such amazing, empowering and supportive men in their lives? Men, who empower them to achieve their full potential in life and do share the load of less glamorous family chores to support them. Men, who hear women’s voice and treat women’s choices with respect. Men who recognise that “if we tapped the entire pool of human resources and talent, our collective performance would improve… the achievements will extend beyond those individuals to benefit us all”.
As Sheryl Sandberg points out in her book Lean In, “women still face real obstacles in the professional world, including blatant and subtle sexism… Too few workplaces offer the flexibility and access to child care and parental leave that are necessary for pursuing a career while raising children. Plus, women have to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men do… A 2011 McKinsey report noted that men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments.”
Sheryl also notes that “in addition to the external barriers erected by society women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising out hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. We internalize the negative messages we get throughout our lives… We lower our own expectations of what we can achieve.”
So true. I’ve observed that so often during my University years. While the majority of male students were charging in the exam rooms totally unprepared but still full of confidence, the best female students were spending days and nights preparing for exams, however were still trembling with fear of a failure.
After the exams male students often credited their success to their own innate qualities and skills, while female students often attributed success to good luck. Interestingly enough, after a failed exam male students were often blaming bad luck, while female students were more likely to believe it was due to an inherent lack of ability.
While some women are happy to stay at home looking after their family and children, others might want to pursue career. In both cases they need to have a choice.
Unfortunately, as Sheryl Sandberg points out, while “professional ambition is expected of men” it is “optional – or worse, sometimes even negative – for women. “She is very ambitious” is not a compliment…
Men are continually applauded for being ambitious and powerful and successful, but women who display these same traits often pay a social penalty. Female accomplishments come at a cost….
The stereotype of a working woman is rarely attractive. Popular culture has long portrayed successful working women as so consumed by their careers that they have no personal life. If a female character divides her time between wok ad family, she is almost always harried and guilt ridden…”
While acknowledging biological and some psychological difference between men and women, it is important to recognise that, as Sheryl puts it, “in today’s world, where we no longer have to hunt in the wild for our food”, both men and women should be given a fair chance to make their own choices. ”
However “until women have supportive employers and colleagues as well as partners who share family responsibilities, they don’t have real choice. And until men are fully respected for contributing inside the home, they don’t have real choice either. Equal opportunity is not equal unless everyone receives the encouragement that makes seizing those opportunities possible. Only then can both men and women achieve their full potential. …
We all want the same thing: to feel comfortable with our choices and to feel validated by those around us. If more children see fathers at school pickups and mothers who are busy at jobs, both girls and boys will envision more options for themselves. Expectations will not be set by gender but by personal passion, talents, and interests…
My greatest hope is that my son and my daughter will be able to choose what to do with their lives without external or internal obstacles slowing them down or making them question their choices.”
Thanks Dave and Sheryl for giving us a real example of the deepest love, happiest marriage, and truest partnership in which you both were supporting each other in making your choices in life and reaching your full potential.
Are you being deeply understood, truly supported and
completely and utterly loved?
Image 1: from http://img-hd.com/dave-goldberg/
Image 2: from http://dailytechwhip.com
Image 3: from http://unitedtruthseekers.com/
Image 4: from Are You Discriminating Against Women Employees Without Even Knowing It?
Image 5: from http://what3words.tumblr.com
Image 6: from http://247moms.com
Image 7: from http://www.womenofchina.cn
Image 8: from https://queerguesscode.files.wordpress.com
Image 9: from http://www.theguardian.com
“Fathers in today’s modern families can be so many things.”
“My friends Katie and Scott… are both Silicon Valley entrepreneurs who work full-time. About a year ago, Scott travelled to the East Coast for work. He was starting a late-morning meeting when his phone rang. His team only heard one side of the conversation.
“A sandwich, carrot sticks, a cut-up apple, pretzels, and a cookie,” Scott said. He hung up smiling and explained that his wife was asking what she should put in the kids’ lunch boxes. Everyone laughed. …
There’s an epilogue to their story. Scott went on a trip and discovered that Katie forgot to make the kids’ lunches altogether. She realized her slipup midmorning and solved the problem by having a pizza delivered to the school cafeteria. Their kids were thrilled, but Scott was not. Now when he travels, he packs lunches in advance and leaves notes with specific instructions for his wife…”
From ‘Lean in’ by Sheryl Sandberg
From Lunchbox dad
“The may be an evolutionary basis for one parent knowing better what to put in a child’s lunch. Women who breast-feed are arguable baby’s first lunch box. But even if mothers are more naturally inclined toward nurturing, fathers can match that skill with knowledge and effort…
We overcome biology with consciousness in other areas. For example, storing large amounts of fat was necessary to survive when food was scarce, so we evolved to crave it and consume it when it’s available. But in this era of plenty, we no longer need large amounts of fuel in reserve, so instead of simply giving in to this inclination, we exercise and limit caloric intake.
We use willpower to combat biology, or at least we try. So even if ‘mother knows best’ is rooted in biology, it need not be written in stone. A willing mother and a willing father are all it requires… As women must be more empowered at work, men must be more empowered at home.”
From ‘Lean in’ by Sheryl Sandberg
From Lunchbox dad
Let’s appreciate such truly amazing dads!
From a special report about giggling girls,
written by an adult man.
“It starts innocently enough: a chortle here, a guffaw there. We’ve all had a chuckle or two in our lives, resulting from biological and social pressures that most of us outgrow, or at least learn to suppress. However, an increasing number of adults are coming forward to express their concerns about a dangerous trend that appears to be infiltrating the lives of teenage girls across the nation—fits of giggles that, in the eyes of this reporter, are no laughing matter.
I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes just last week at the movies. A pack of teenage girls sat behind me, remaining quiet through the previews and the first four or five minutes of the film—until someone on screen told a joke, and they broke out in laughter. Laughter! At a film! I was appalled, so I gave them a look, but they continued to laugh at every joke in the film. It was like they thought they had the right to have fun. In public!
Apparently, the movies aren’t the only place where teenage girls have been laughing up a storm. The giggle fits have infiltrated our malls, our restaurants, our amusement parks, and even our schools, where they’re hidden from teachers on their cell phones through the usage of clever, adult-proof textual codes like “LOL” (an acronym that means “laughing out loud”).
Teenage girls are laughing with alarming frequency, and experts aren’t quite sure how to pinpoint the cause—or the cure for—their happiness.
Are you scared of giggle monsters?
When it comes to patriarchy, Victoria was a real guru.
“I fully support patriarchy,” she used to say. “Alex can make all the decisions as long as he is implementing them while I’m enjoying my book.”
Victoria loved reading. She had books everywhere in her flat, even in the toilet.
This definition was complemented with a very sophisticated framework of all the DOs and DON’Ts of respectable girls under ‘patriarchy’.
“What do you mean you need to go because Ivan is waiting for you? He can wait. Respectable girls DO NOT come on time – never ever,” she would say with a tone of authority in her voice.
Victoria was not only always late. She also kept forgetting her stuff and then was frantically phoning Alex with her usual pleas: “Alex, Alex, can you please go to my flat and get that book, you know, that red one. It is on my desk, somewhere in a big pile of books. Not the red one with psychology stuff – the red one with the genetics lecture notes. It has a DNA on the cover. Whose DNA? I don’t know whose. I mean a picture of DNA that looks like a twisted ladder…. And yes, yes, I do promise to activate my ‘memory gene’ next time. …Please, please, get this book to my uni ASAP… ”
An hour later Alex would magically appear at our university with forgotten books, pens, pencils, lunches, hats, scarfs, gloves and other very important items required ASAP. Not surprisingly, Alex became a “permanent feature” at our Uni. Everyone thought that he was studying with us.
Even in her own flat Victoria could never find her own stuff. “Alex, Alex, where are my skis and my boots?” was the first thing we heard when we got to her place to pick her up to go skiing. “I also need warm woolen socks. Remember, my red ones with blue stripes. I was wearing them when we went skiing last year. And my hat – no, not that green one. The blue one with a yellow pompon…”
Somehow Alex always managed to magically retrieve required items, even though it was not his flat and it was not his stuff.
“Now, Alex and Ivan – you can go outside to get the car ready. We’ll come down in a second.”
Twenty minutes later Victoria was still at home, applying her makeup or brushing her hair.
“Victoria, come on. We need to go. The lads already look like icicles. It is 15 degrees below zero outside,” I said, peeking out of the window.
“Respectable ladies always DO get lads to wait longer,” she gave me a wink. “Just wait and see…”
Right at that moment the door flew open. Angry Alex rushed in, picked Victoria up and carried her to the car while she was pulling silly faces over his shoulder giggling all the way.
“You see,” she whispered in the car with a giggle. “I was carried the whole way to the car, while you were left walking downstairs. Learn the magic of DOs and DON’Ts, ” she gave me a wink.
“Poor Alex,” I chuckled. “I wonder how long he’ll be able to tolerate your ‘patriarchy’ ”.
“That’s not my problem. He was the first who started it,” was Victoria’s reply.
We all knew how it all started. Alex and Victoria were living in the same apartment block and were studying at the same school. One day at school Alex dared to pull Victoria’s ponytail – that’s how it all started.
At first, displeased Victoria enrolled into Aikido classes to defend her ponytail. Not sure whether it helped to protect the ponytail, but a few months later Aikido was banned by Victoria’s parents as her school marks started steadily sliding down.
Aikido-less Victoria quickly resorted to her unbeatable weapon – a beaming smile. And it has worked incredibly well. Not only Victoria’s ponytail was left in peace. She also did not need to carry her bag to school and back home ever since – her bag kept Alex’s hands away from her ponytail I guess.
Only once we saw this beaming smile fade on Victoria’s face.
“He is gone to see his first love,” she said, bursting into tears.
“What first love?” we could not help it and burst into laughter, “The one that was sitting next to him on a potty at a creche? Don’t think he’ll be able to get away from your ‘patriarchy’ that easily…”
Sure enough, the next day the beaming smile was back on Victoria’s face and we have not heard of that first ‘potty love’ ever since.
After graduation, Victoria and Alex got married and a year later they had a beautiful little girl – a spitting image of Alex with Victoria’s beaming smile. Seven years later I gave them a ring.
“I have a bride in making for your lads,” giggled Victoria.
“I bet all complete with your ‘patriarchy’ and all the DOs and DON’Ts”, I chuckled.
“Trust me she did not need much help from me with that. It must be in her blood. She is a real little princess – even in this tender age. Totally spoilt by Alex.”
“And where is Alex?”
“He is renovating our flat.”
“Victoria, come and help me, please,” I heard Alex calling in the background.
“OK, Victoria, it looks like you need to go. Alex is waiting for you. I’ll call you again later.”
“Wait, respectable ladies never respond to the first call.”
“Lena, Lena,” I heard Victoria calling to her daughter, “Can you please take this lolly to daddy, give him a big hug and read him a fairy tale.”
“That will keep Alex busy for the next 15 minutes while we are having a chat,” giggled Victoria. I bet she also gave me a wink…
As a society we talk a lot about racism and other forms of discrimination. But when it comes to men and the way they are being stereotyped and discriminated against, no one seems to have much to say.
I was taught from early age to be fearful of men and talk only to women if I needed help. In spite of good intentions of ‘keeping me safe’, that strategy made it only worse by limiting the pool of people I could ask for help when required. In fact, the safest I ever felt as a child was among boys and men.
For that reason, I get very upset when I come across examples of men being treated as potential predators. Child advocates advise parents to never hire a male babysitter. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers rather than male passengers.
In 2007 Virginia’s Department of Health mounted an ad campaign for its sex-abuse hotline. Billboards featured photos of a man holding a child’s hand. The caption: “It doesn’t feel right when I see them together,” which implies that my dad or uncle could be seen as sexual abusers if they were holding my hand in public when I was a child. How sick is that? What if I gave my dad a hug or a kiss in public, as I naturally did a lot as a child? Or sat on my dad’s lap? What’s wrong with that? Why should children be denied their father’s affection because of someone else’s sick mind?
Not surprisingly fathers’ rights activists and educators argue that an inflated predator panic is damaging men’s relationships with children. Some men are opting not to get involved with children at all, which partly explains why many youth groups are struggling to find male leaders, and why there are so few males involved in early childhood education or teaching in primary schools.
One of my male friends recently came across a lost child in tears in a mall. His first instinct was to help, but he feared people might consider him a predator. So he asked his daughter to comfort the lost child instead. “Being male,” he explained, “I am guilty until proven innocent.”
And that’s not the worst. In England in 2006, BBC News reported the story of a bricklayer who spotted a toddler at the side of the road. As he later testified at a hearing, he didn’t stop to help for fear he’d be accused of trying to abduct her. You know: A man driving around with a little girl in his car? She ended up at a pond and drowned.
People assume that all men “have the potential for violence and sexual aggressiveness,” says Peter Stearns, a George Mason University professor who studies fear and anxiety. Kids end up viewing every male “as a potential evildoer,” he says, and as a byproduct, “there’s an overconfidence in female virtues,” in spite of disturbing statistics on physical abuse inflicted on children by female perpetrators.
Most men understand the need to be cautious, so they’re willing to take a step back from children, or to change seats on a plane. One abused child is one too many. Still, it’s important to maintain perspective. “The number of men who will hurt a child is tiny compared to the population,” says Benjamin Radford, who researches statistics on predators and is managing editor of the science magazine Skeptical Inquirer. “Virtually all of the time, if a child is lost or in trouble, he will be safe going to the nearest male stranger.”
Society protecting children by treating all men as potential predators is not safe. Just sick.
She was hiding. Then again, everyone seemed to be hiding. It was October 2003, eight months into the disastrous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. But she was practically a child. And her enemy proved to be more insidious – and heartbreaking – than the ones we read about and saw on television. Getting to her was my first hurdle…
Once inside the police building, an Iraqi police officer and a U.S. Military Policeman practically tackled me in an effort to argue their case…. Both men were right. She would be killed if she were released. But the police had no authority, under Iraqi law, to hold her…
Luckily for me, I didn’t have to make any decision. I wasn’t there to judge or referee. My sole purpose was to ensure that the girl was safe, clothed, fed, and healthy.
“I’m only here to speak with the girl. May I please see her?”…
I opened the door to a small room… The girl sat in the opposite corner, her knees pulled into her chest, her chin resting on top. She rocked back and forth, barely noticing that I’d entered… The sight of her shocked me. Her skin practically hung from her bones, and the long, thick black hair stretching down her back emphasized her frailty. She was a child trapped in an old woman’s body.
I quietly walked toward her and sat next to her. I wasn’t sure how to begin, so I said hello and introduced myself. She continued to rock, saying nothing…
She finally spoke and told me that her name was Kalthoum… When she stood, I realized why the Iraqi policeman said that he couldn’t protect her, not even against his own officers. The way she was dressed – in tight Capri jeans and a low-cut tank top – would have offended even the most liberal Iraqi men…
“I am sure they told you I am a prostitute,” she said sheepishly. “Those hypocrites out there. One of them used to be my client. That is why they are so eager to get me out.”
The man, one of the police officers, had used her for sex, and now he wanted her released and left for dead. This was not, as one might expect in the United States, because he was ashamed of having patronized a prostitute. To the contrary, in Iraq it was not uncommon for men to engage in such behaviour. They did so openly and without remorse. But the judgement of a prostitute? Death. So the very man who had slept with Kalthoum wanted her to die because of it.
“Kalthoum,” I said…”I need you to tell me exactly what happened. Who were the men who were shooting at you? Also, do you have a place you can go, other than here?”
She shook her head as her eyes filled with tears. The men who’d chased here were her husband and brother-in-law. Three years ago her family had forced her to marry her cousin. She was thirteen at the time. She took a photo from her wallet and showed me a picture of her in a wedding gown next to a man old enough to be her father. On her wedding night, she did not want to have sex. So her new husband had beaten and raped her. This, according to Kalthoum, became their normal form of intimacy. He pulled her out of school and locked her in his house. She had considered killing herself.
Then the Americans invaded Iraq. That same week, Kalthoum ran away. An older woman found her on the steets and offered her food and shelter. The woman had nursed her back to health and gave her pills to ease her pain. Soon Kalthoum became addicted. At the time, she didn’t realize that the woman was the head of a prostitution ring.
I’d heard many similar stories. But hearing them first hand from Kalthoum, a child, made me sick.
“I want to make sure you have food, shelter, and good health care… I want you to protect yourself from disease and unwanted pregnancies“.
“You are too late for that,” she said in a barely audible whisper as tears filled her eyes. She put her hand on her stomach to indicate that she was already pregnant. I closed my eyes…
The fact that Kalthoum was under eighteen placed her in the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs. Legally, the ministry was required to provide her with a place in one of the public orphanages… Orphans in both Iraqi and Muslim Society have a special reverence. Numerous verses in the Koran and sayings from the prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) called for respecting, caring for, and providing for orphans…
I settled in the backseat to prepare my case for the minister… She had a compelling story, and the fact that she had been forced into marriage at such a young age solidified her status as a victim. Besides, she was only sixteen years old. The deputy minister had to take pity on her situation…
One hour later it was clear that this was not going to happen. The deputy minister was visibly insulted that I had the audacity to bring such a case to his attention… When I tried to point out that she was underage, he countered with the fact that she was a married woman, which placed her in the category of adulthood. Orphanages were for children only. I tried to argue that she had been forced into marriage at the age of thirteen, which was illegal according to Iraqi law. He shook his head, pointing out that it was a common occurrence during the years of UN sanctions.
“How else were parents to secure their daughters?” he asked.
I could not accept his response, but all my phone calls to Iraqi women’s organizations resulted in dead ends. Kalthoum was too much of an extreme case, most of them argued. We cannot help her without making ourselves vulnerable to verbal and physical attacks. I was not surprised by these responses…
I called several Iraqi women’s organisations for information, as I knew they would be the only people to tell me the truth about her situation. They all confirmed my worse fears: her return to her family would be a death sentence.
Yet Kalthoum was fully aware of this. In her heart of hearts, she seemed to believe it to be a reasonable sentence. Over the span of a few days, Kalthoum had developed a strong sense of the cosmic powers of Karma, and she begged me to allow her to pay her dues to her family so that her suffering would end.
She explained to me repeatedly that her life was over and that the decisions she had made had left little room for her to start over. However, she had four unmarried sisters at home. Her scandal reached the tribe… If she were to go back to her family and face her sentence, then honor would be restored. If she were to run away, then her four unmarried sisters would pay the price. They would be shunned by society and would never marry because of their sister’s tarnished reputation. Worse yet, she argued, they would be forced into unsuitable marriages as a third or fourth wife…
Kalthoum was only sixteen. That was the lone thought that went through my mind as she pleaded with me to help her get back to her family. What life was this girl talking about? What choices? Was she really given a choice when she was married off? Or tricked into prostitution? Was her family really given a choice, fighting to survive war after war and a decade of international sanctions?
I shook my head. I knew that the final decision would rest in my hands…
Fortunately, I didn’t have to make this choice myself. I had met a strong Kurdish woman in a conference…She had established one of the first Iraqi women’s shelters to house women from across the country… The Asuda organization was also one of the only shelters I knew that would take ‘untouchable’ cases. Untouchable cases were almost always cases dealing with family honor…
Beyond the Asuda organization, I was captivated by Khanim Latif, the woman who led it… Khanim’s office was stacked with photo albums of abused women. Her contacts would often tip her off when they received such cases. Khanim would rush over with her camera to take photos… Entire albums were dedicated to corpses of women. When high-level government officials denied the practice of honor crimes, she would pull out numerous photos of women burned alive or with gun shots and silence her opposition immediately…
“Honor killings happen,” Khanim said. “And they happen more than we would like to admit. However, they often happen because our communities have not learned to mediate around such a sensitive topic. No father wants to kill his daughter. Give him an excuse to maintain his honor in front of his tribe, and he will grab on to it. But our community refuses to facilitate such discussions. At Asuda we do. We use religious and tribal leaders to encourage the parents to find solution other than slaying their daughters.”
Khanim advised me to think of someone who could facilitate the discussion with her father. I could not think of anyone until Yusuf reminded me of Munther.
Munther was pleased to hear from us and to see that we were seeking reconciliation with Kalthoum’s tribe… He jumped at the opportunity to help… Munther managed to negotiate the terms of her return, successfully arranged her divorce, and had the father sign a statement that Kalthoum would not be harmed if she were to return. Munther also negotiated an agreement with the tribe that he would be able to visit every three months to confirm that Kalthoum was in good health (or to be more blunt, alive).
* * *
Instead of passing the blame, let’s focus on finding culturally appropriate solutions. 😉
In 1832 Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov wrote a poem ‘The Reed” about a murdered young lady:
He wanted me to love him –
His passion left me cold;
He tried to give me money –
I did not want his gold.
Then with a knife he struck me,
And to the ground I sank;
He dug a grave and buried
My body on the bank.
While highlighting the crimes committed by bad men against women, this poem also features a good man as well as provides a very good description of a bad man:
“With men he was dishonest,
With beauties he was sly.”
These are the key words for me in that poem, as in my experience those men, who are treating women badly are also very nasty to other men. While good men treat all people well, including other men, women and children. Therefore any generalizations blaming and shaming all men for poor treatment of women are false and misleading.
As Camille Paglia, for centuries “men have sacrificed and crippled themselves physically and emotionally to feed, house, and protect women and children.” Unfortunately, the pain or achievements of good men often goes unnoticed in the flood of negative stories related to bad men. 😦
Let’s appreciate those men, who care about others and treat other people well. Let’s appreciate those men, who are supporting women and helping them through hard times. Let’s appreciate those men who are empowering women and helping them to develop new skills. Let’s appreciate those men, who come to the rescue when women get caught in dangerous situations. Let’s not forget that those men often risk their own health and their own lives to help out women. On my blog I’ve got a few examples of good men in action – across different cultures and time periods, e.g.:
Let’s appreciate all good men – our true supermen 🙂