I asked the student what man’s work is since he described the roles of the woman but not the man. He thought for a moment and said “if the lamp goes out, he should fix it.” So I repeated to him “the wife washes the dishes, cleans the house, and takes care of the children and the husband changes lightbulbs?” in order to help my students see the lack of balance in the workload, but I didn’t go into a feminist tirade.
I can’t hold it against this student that he wrote that. It’s all he’s ever known. But it makes me sad.
Today, on the walk home after club, one of my students told us it was her birthday but was reluctant to tell us her age. She’s 22. When I asked why she was reluctant she said that here she’s getting to an age where people expect her to be getting married. Because I know this student and the others who were walking home with me, and they know me, I felt free to say, “yeah, but that’s stupid. If it makes you feel better, I’m 32. And do you know why I don’t look 32? Because I’m not married. You can get married young and then look older faster. Or you can wait to get married and look young for much longer.”
Before I get nasty letters about how marriage is a fine thing and I don’t have family values, etc. let me be clear that I was being a little facetious and my students knew that. It’s just a way for me to get their attention and try to make them think for a moment about the things society tells them. It is not uncommon for eighteen year olds to get married here. That’s ridiculous. Eighteen year olds are not ready for marriage.
And there is a partial truth to what I said about how marriage ages you, at least here where marriage is different. I have yet to meet a Turkmen woman my age who looks as young as I look. They look haggard. Probably because they have to clean the house and take care of the kids while the husband changes a light bulb three times a year and goes and sleeps with prostitutes. (I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned in a previous post that it is also not uncommon for married men to frequent prostitutes and that I’ve heard from more than one woman here that it’s the wife’s fault for not pleasing him.) But then, marriage is not viewed as a partnership between two people who love each other. It’s just what people do because it’s expected.
Case in point, I know a woman here who got married last spring because she was the very ripe age of 30 and was feeling the pressure. So someone she knew hooked her up with some guy who was also feeling the pressure. She of course got pregnant shortly thereafter because a wife requesting her husband wear a condom is unheard of here. Her husband and his family (who they lived with, as is the custom) were total jerks to her and she left. She’s living with her mother and sisters and will divorce as soon as the law allows her to. It’s really a terrible situation because her choices were to be the subject of much gossip and a social outcast for being a spinster, stay married to an a-hole, or be the subject of much gossip and a social outcast for being a divorced single mother. At least with her mother and sisters, she can leave the baby with them while she works. (She’s a doctor.) If she had stayed with him, after a long day at work, she still would have had all the housework, including cooking for and cleaning up after his parents and older sisters.
I need to write more about marriage and weddings here. I know I’ve touched on some things but I don’t think I’ve talked about gelens (new brides and their role in the family.) I will, but I want to close this by saying that women in many parts of the world are given the shaft simply because they are women. I’ve talked about how many girls here are named things like “we need a boy.” Here’s a link about a similar phenomenon in India.
In countries like China and India, babies are aborted when parents learn it’s a girl. In many countries in Africa, women are subjected to FGM (female genital mutilation). In every country in the world, even the U.S., women are trafficked.
March 8 is Women’s Day. Leading up to this day, consider reading up on some of the atrocities women face around the world, but also read up on how women are changing their worlds. A recent example would be Leymah Gbowee. And consider giving money to a charity that helps women.