I just read a post that really traumatized me:
She came to my office yesterday and I ended up talking to her for more than an hour, missing the class I was supposed to be teaching, because she started using expressions likemaybe I should just end it all when talking about her anger and frustration and rage at feeling so utterly helpless in her situation. When I asked her what she meant, she said she was thinking of just surrendering to her parents and doing what they want her to do, that maybe marriage–any marriage, to any man–was really the only way she would ever get out from under her parents’, but mostly her father’s, rule. . .
She is the youngest child in her family and so finding a suitable husband is an important goal for her parents. Once they do so, they will have fulfilled one of their primary obligations as parents to their daughters and, in fact, my student is not entirely opposed to the idea of marrying a man her parents find for her. She just wants him to be someone she feels compatible with, someone in whom she can find something that attracts her; but the men they bring for her to meet, while they are well established and could take good care of her, in the way that “good care” is defined in her culture, they have all been, she says, not only boring, but really, really (to her taste) ugly. What she wants is the freedom to choose her own husband.
I wouldn’t engage in such a conversation with any of my students because I don’t think it’s appropriate. I’d direct them to a counselor or a therapist and remind them that I’m neither.
However, here, on my blog, I can express what I think about this. My advice to anybody who finds themselves in this kind of situation is to tell your parents to stuff it and to bugger out of your life immediately. They are horrible people who hate you and who want to cannibalize your life. All the blathering about culture and religion is a sham aimed at concealing how much they abhor and detest their own child. And anybody who “tolerantly” dances around such a terrifying story is nothing but a coward.
Slavoj Žižek reminds us where this condescending acceptance of barbarity is likely to lead us:
What lurks at the horizon. . . is the nightmarish prospect of a society regulated by a perverse pact between religious fundamentalists and the politically correct preachers of tolerance and respect for the other’s beliefs: a society immobilised by the concern for not hurting the other, no matter how cruel and superstitious this other is.
The author of the post, of course, chickened out and instead of speaking to the woman in question honestly, dished out to her a set of quasi-tolerant platitudes whose uselessness he recognizes perfectly well:
I respect her desire to find a solution that somehow harmonizes with her parents’ (and community’s) religious and cultural expectations, while allowing her the freedom she wants. (Whether or not that is possible, of course, is a whole other question.)
It’s easy to dismiss people in pain by telling them that they should “somehow harmonize” the patriarchal needs of their families to dispose of their lives as if they were cattle with their own desire to reclaim the right to their existence. It must be very comforting to believe, as the post’s author does, that taking a Women’s Studies course will help the woman in question to do that. The condescension implicit in such a suggestion is truly shocking, though.
This situation has absolutely nothing to do with cultures and religions. Every culture has parents who consume their children’s lives. (There are many more posts on this blog that describe the same kind of devouring parents in the US and Canada. I can also offer a list of examples from here to the Moon of similar situations arising in my Eastern European culture.) The only reason why the post’s author fails to see that there is nothing culture-specific about this situation is his pseudo-Liberal need to condescend to people who come from other countries.
The only good thing about the post I quoted is a response from a reader called Josef:
Parents who think they should be able to choose their children’s spouses/careers/education are evil beings who do not deserve children, and that’s what I would have told her.
Hear, hear, Josef! I only wish there were more people who could respond to such situations without resorting to the verbiage of “privilege,” “multi-culturalism,” “ethnocentrism,” etc. Sadly, this is what most of the participants on that thread did. They were obviously driven by fear of hurting some vile jerk by having an honest and strong reaction to barbarity that conceals itself under the mantle of cultural difference.