The Double Standard Dilemma: Part II
Written by Stephanie Siam
Last week we met Ali and Jennifer, a newly-married Muslim couple hailing from opposite sides of the globe.
Ali and Jennifer were caught in an issue that often arises in new marriages of the Islamic persuasion: the double-standard. Specifically, that men are often held to (or hold themselves to) different customs, traditions, rules and expectations than women are – within their families, within their societies and within marriages.
As previously discussed, the first way the ridiculous double-standard appear in an Islamic marriage is through the unequal expression of anger. For more about this, please check out Part I here.
The second way double-standards pop up in marriage is through the concept of working – both inside and outside the home.
Working Inside the Home
It’s no secret the United States experienced its own Women’s Suffrage movement during the late 1800s to early 1900s. That was merely to obtain the right for women to vote in federal elections. However, total equality for women is still a far cry from being checked off on the To-Do List of American Civil Rights.
Despite women holding some of the highest positions of power in the States, and other “Western” countries – okay, that ONE position still hasn’t been attained yet … 2016, insha’Allah! – there are still certain stereotypes assigned to women and men, respectively, based on tradition and culture.
Move over a couple of continents, to where men are predominantly raised as princes, catered to for every menial task, and a new wife has a whole load of extra responsibility piled onto her that she might not have been asking for.
Add to this reinforcement by in-laws, society and misguided “scholars”, and the poor girl thinks she has no other choice in the matter but to be her husband’s servant for all of married life.
Take for instance Jennifer. When she moved in with Ali after they got married, she expected he would do his part in taking care of the home. After all, her father had always done his part around the house, especially when her mother worked long hours. When she and Ali had discussed marriage roles, she had mentioned that she was used to her father being active around the house. Ali had not disagreed at the time.
At first, Ali did make sure to keep his dirty clothes in the laundry room. He would also bring his dishes to the kitchen after eating, and he would take out the garbage if Jennifer asked him to.
One evening while they had guests over for dinner, Jennifer called Ali in from the living room to help her make coffee.
“Why did you call me like that in front of our guests?” Ali asked, coming into the kitchen in an angry rush.
“I want you to help me carry the coffee and dessert.” Jennifer held out the coffee pot and some plates.
“I can’t do that.” Ali turned and left the kitchen.
Confused and upset, Jennifer called him back into the kitchen, but he didn’t respond. In order to save face, she took the coffee and dessert out into the living room, served the guests and participated in the conversation until the other couple decided to leave.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Ali spun around in anger. “Don’t ever ask me to serve guests in my home!”
“What is wrong with you?” Jennifer asked. “They’re both of our guests. I’m not a servant.”
“Oh, really?” Jennifer put her hands on her hips and cocked her head to one side. “So, I suppose it’s my job?”
“Absolutely!” Ali stormed down the hallway, coming back a few moments later. “Where are my black pants?”
“Which black pants?” Jennifer was busy washing dishes, and she wasn’t in the mood to argue any further.
“The ones I wear to the gym. I put them in the laundry basket two days ago.”
“Are they not there?”
“I didn’t look. Didn’t you wash them?”
Jennifer let the dish drop into the sink and turned around. “No, Ali. I have been busy. I have a job, too, you know. I only do laundry on the weekend. If you needed them washed, you should have washed them. I didn’t put a password on the washing machine.”
“Wash my own clothes? What do I look like . . . a woman?”
With her mouth hanging open, Jennifer stared as Ali returned back down the hallway to their bedroom and slammed the door.
And so enters the familiar concept of housework being women’s work and men being free to make their messes and leave behind their piles of dirtiness and stinkiness without a second thought of who should be cleaning up after whom. You know, ‘cause it is beneath a man to clean a toilet. Buddy, you didn’t have any problems making it dirty. What makes me the default go-to for your sanitation process?
But this culturally-based idea of men’s immunity to housework is so ingrained in the minds of both women and men from many countries that it often goes unquestioned until it presents a problem in a mixed-culture marriage like Jennifer and Ali’s.
Of course, if we ask Ali, he’ll say that it’s the way it’s always been, or women are supposed to work inside the home and men are to work outside the home. He may even cite some reference about how the Qur’an says women should “stay in their homes”.
However, what he will most likely avoid referring to is the issue itself: why must women be the ones to pick up after grown men that possess the ability to do it for themselves?
Why are men allowed to sit like kings in their homes, being served by women in every capacity from massaging their feet, bringing them food and drink to practically cleaning and dressing them?
Well, the answer is simple. They’re not.
When asked about how Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) acted in his home, A’isha (ra) said:
He was a human being like any other; he would clean his garment, milk his sheep and serve himself.
Additionally, Sadaf Farooqi tells us the Prophet (pbuh) did the housework and did not “lounge around” expecting the womenfolk to wait on him “like a king on his throne” – even though he did work outside most of the time (and the hadith about the Prophet doing housework is often misquoted as he “helped” with housework. This implies it was the wife’s duty, and he helped anyway. This is not the case. The hadith does not mention helping, but simply doing things for himself. . .because. . .well, he wasn’t broken or incompetent.)
After discussing the double standard of completing housework, it is only natural to move into the final and complementary issue of working outside the home.
Working Outside the Home
It is uncommon nowadays to find a marriage where both partners aren’t working. Even in the youngest countries in terms of “modernism”, newlyweds in their mid-20s to early-30s expect that both the wife and husband will need to work outside the home.
Yet, the expectation remains that the wife, when her “job” is said and done for the day, will come home and keep working until she goes to bed at night: doing the dishes, bathing the kids, cleaning the house, cooking the food.
What ends up happening is the wife becomes overly stressed while the husband sits back and enjoys his time of relaxation after the work day is finished.
Some people say this is the woman’s problem, as she shouldn’t be leaving the house to work, anyway. But there’s nothing in Islam that forbids women from working outside the home.
As we know, Khadijah (ra) was a successful businesswoman even before the Prophet (pbuh) married her. In fact, El-Sayed Amin explains, it was through her business that she met her future husband.
Furthermore, it was Hind bint Utbah and Asma bint Abi Bakr who were instrumental in the success of the Muslims at the Battle of Yarmouk. Clearly, if women were permitted to fight alongside men on the battlefield, then their leaving the house to work at supermarkets in order to help support their families or schools to cultivate knowledge is not an issue.
But what is an issue is the insinuation that women should work outside the home and be responsible for all the work inside the home when they return. Not only is this not fair, but it is totally un-Islamic, as we see above in the discussion of the Prophet (pbuh) and his actions inside and around his home.
Even worse, many men do not work outside the home. Instead, they rely on their wives to support them . . . and still expect them to take care of the children and the home upon their return from work!
The husbands will sit on the couch watching TV or sleep most of the day, and they don’t lift a finger to help their exhausted and over-stressed wives. Why? Because it’s not their job.
Now, I shouldn’t have to provide a reference showing how ignorant and selfish this belief is. Furthermore, what it ends up leading to is resentment on the part of the wife, and ultimately, dissolution of the marriage and family.
In short, there is only one way to fix the issue of the Double Standard Dilemma in Islamic marriages: communication. It’s one thing to clean up after your husband and serve him if it’s something you want to do. It’s another thing totally to force it on your wife because you believe it’s her job.
As Shahina Siddiqui reminds us:
And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in peace and tranquility with them, and He has put love and mercy between your (hearts): Verily in that are signs for those who reflect (Quran 30:21).
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