My view: Are traditional gender roles in Marriage sustainable in the Modern world?

To clarify: I am not a scholar, nor am I student of knowledge (yet). Article below is my attempt at an objective analysis, using limited resources.

The traditional gender role in marriage unfortunately holds many negative connotations; some assuming that it allows the husband to open the door to domestic violence without consequence, while the wife has to accept her place as uneducated & abused. However, the traditional gender role in this article will be defined as a complimentary traditional split of responsibility – with the husband as the primary financial provider, and the wife as the primary nurturer of the household and children.

This complimentary split of responsibility does not mean that the wife’s only role in society is to mother the children and care for the household, just like it doesn’t mean the husband’s only role in society is to be the breadwinner for his family. Communication and mutual empathy for each other’s goals can foster both a healthy family life, and a meaningful role in society. It also doesn’t mean that couples can’t have stable relationships based on non-traditional gender roles, and within Shari’i guidelines – but those are exceptions rather than the norm. However, the most just marriage, and potentially the most stable marriage, is the one that conforms to traditional gender roles.

In January 2012, Julie Macfarlane, a Professor at the University of Windsor, in Canada, published a four-year study to find reasons for divorce rates as high as 50% in North American Muslim communities.  Among the top two reasons?  Different expectations over the role of each gender in marriage, and conflict over the split of power & responsibility. While many women felt that their husbands where too constricting with their personal freedoms, the husbands interviewed for the study also had an interesting view,

“Some men described their confusion over what they felt were inconsistencies between their wife’s aspiration to greater equality and independence and their continuing desire to be “taken care of” by their husband, as their fathers had provided for their mothers.”

Though the study doesn’t elaborate on this point, it most likely relates to the responsibility that Sharia places on the husband towards his family. All four schools of Islamic jurisprudence unanimously hold the husband responsible for the family’s financial, physical and emotional well-being, unless excused by the wife. If the wife choses to work, her earnings are her own, and she is not obligated to spend on the family.  There is a dichotomy between the wife also being driven by her career, not responsible for household finances, yet expect the husband to shoulder all the expenses and participate equally in household chores. It’s unjust.**

Is an egalitarian marriage the solution? A marriage in which the husband and wife share 50% each of the financial responsibility and household duties, may seem ideal for the modern lifestyle, yet studies have shown that while our lifestyle may have changed, our biological inclinations (or fitra) have not. A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2014 shows that out of all the women surveyed, 80% consider a steady job to be ‘very important’ in choosing a potential spouse, while for men it matters less at 46%. I would expect an even a wider gap for the Muslim community, given the cultural and religious expected norms.

A study published in the American Sociological Review found that couples saw their relationships more satisfying when chores at home where split between the masculine chores – fixing the car, taking out the trash – and feminine chores, like vacuuming and laundry. Another study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2013, reports that in marriages in which the wife earned more than the husband, “15 percent [were] less likely to report that their marriage is very happy; 32 percent more likely to report marital troubles in the past year; and 46 percent more likely to have discussed separating in the past year”. Both of these studies where referenced by an Op-Ed in the New York Times, by psychotherapist and self-declared feminist, Lori Gottlieb, who, although admits a traditional division of labor “may make scientific sense, even as it challenges conventional wisdom”, but she hopes that “sexual scripts we currently follow will evolve along with our marital arrangements so that sameness becomes sexy.” Unlikely.

An egalitarian marriage might sound ideal, but when biological inclinations and Islamic law expect the husband to be primarily responsible for the family’s financial, emotional, and spiritual well-being – his partner taking charge of complimentary tasks of running a household makes sense. A traditional gender-based split of responsibility in marriage does not mean domestic abuse should be tolerated (Never!), girls be discouraged from education, or women not be able to hold meaningful roles in society – but that traditional gender responsibilities in marriage have a greater chance of creating more just, and happy relationships, even in the modern world.

**Not in all cases. Please note that I am not saying good people won’t help each other out. The example of our Prophet (SAW) is that he would! Constructive feedback and critique are always appreciated.

References
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Throwback. Plight of the Minority: Jews

Wrote this in the Summer of 2013. Curious how this will hold with an empowered right wing, throughout the Western world.  May Allah (swt) keep us true to our principles, no matter what the circumstances. 

“When we get through with the Jews in America,” started preacher Charles Coughlin in the heart of Bronx, “they’ll think the treatment they received in Germany was nothing” (Manchester). It is estimated today that Coughlin would get up to 30 million listeners for his popular radio show, where he would regularly air his suspicions that that Jews in America were supporting Communism in hope to weaken the United States, and decried America going into World War II for “600,000 Jews”.  Anti-Semitism clearly resonating with a sizable portion of the United States, as entrepreneur Henry Ford found an audience when he bought The Dearborn Independent to publish “The International Jew”. Zionism brought a another dimension to the anti-Semitism, as new suspicion was cast on the American Jewish community for not only supporting and maintaining an identity with the Jewish community worldwide, but for attempting to form a state as a “Jewish” homeland.    

Though Anti-Semitism in the United States never reached European proportions, thanks to active Jewish participation in the community, it was always present. Until the 19th century, Jews existed in North America in small numbers, with numbers not exceeding 15,000 in 1840. It was only during the late 1800’s that Jewish immigration started to increase from Germany and Russia due to the growth of anti-Jewish sentiment in Eastern Europe– and it was through the interaction between the newly immigrated Jews and the original Jewish community that made the growing number of Jews in America grow conscious of a global Jewish identity, and see themselves as a microcosm of a bigger community. As a result, philanthropic efforts started to aid Jewish communities living in Eastern Europe, and organizations were formed to help new Jewish immigrants with housing, employment and in learning English. The late Daniel J. Elazar, a former professor of political science in Temple University, wrote that the early philanthropic behavior of the North American Jewish community would consist of “federations”, local communities that would pool together resources when the need arose, and these federations “began their work of relief and rescue of Jews outside of the United States in the days of World War I.” (Elazar)  During this time, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, anti-Semitism in the United States reached its peak. Preachers with heavy anti-Semitic tendencies, such as the Catholic preacher Charles Coughlin in the 1930s, were immensely popular. Henry Ford, the inventor of the Model T car, also had deep anti-Semitic views. When he purchased “The Dearborn Independent” newspaper in 1918, it had been operating at a loss, but he quickly turned the paper into a profit by regularly publishing articles that claimed of an International Jewish conspiracy to take over the world. Though lawsuits were successful in curbing public anti-Semitism, support for these abhorrent views was quite large, as could be gleaned from the popularity of Mr. Ford’s newspaper and the radio addresses of Father Coughlin. The deepening of symbolic ties between the American Jewish community and their brethren around the world, only made many Americans question the level of Jewish loyalty to the United States.

The most hazardous is “umma-itis,” writes Steven Simon, a senior analyst for the global policy think-tank RAND Corp., “the growing tendency for younger Muslims to believe they are part of an embattled supranational community — the umma — while deriding more local affiliations. This impulse has, in turn, reinforced Western doubts about the willingness of Muslims living in the West to integrate and respect Western values.” (Simon) The Muslim community today is in a most precarious situation. No longer does it just consist of small immigrant communities driven by economic opportunities, but the coming generations will consider America their home, and consider themselves to be as indigenous as anyone else. Already the community is coming under attack from political Right groups, who claim that Muslims are not patriotic enough, and question why there is little Muslim support for the Government’s response to terrorism and US foreign policy. CNN analyst Fareed Zakaria wrote a column last May titled, “How Muslims Should Respond to Terror”, and while he praised the Muslim community’s responses against terrorism, he urged American Muslim community to support the US war in Afghanistan and elsewhere since, “They [US Military] are defending that government and Muslims every day from terrorist attacks and insurgent warfare.” (Zakaria) Though not explicitly stating that Muslims should forgo their identity with the Global Muslim community, as Mr. Simon does, Zakaria encourages the Muslim community to adopt the Government narrative for its foreign affairs, even if US foreign policy compromises the sovereignty of other nations and seems to be imperialist in nature. In the American Muslim community today, there is conscious effort to maintain an identity with the oppressed and Muslim victims of injustice around the world. Events held to raise funds for field hospitals in Syria, raise awareness about the occupation of Palestine and speak about the plight of Rohingyas in Myanmar stirs emotions and produces ongoing support. However, there is an increasing hesitation to speak and assist with this social justice in the global Muslim community, even symbolically – deeming it ‘too political’ for Mosques and fear that it will attract unwarranted attention from the government.

When Zionism was first introduced to the Jewish American community, it was rejected and regarded as unnecessary. In 1945, Rabbi Milton Steinberg in New York City wrote in the Atlantic on the initial reaction to early Zionists, “They were told that the whole business was superfluous — Jews in the West being already free and in Eastern Europe on their way to emancipation; that an emigrant from the Old World had the whole globe open to him” (Steinberg). Yet as the years passed, support for the Zionist movement from the Jewish community grew. The Jewish state was seen to be a refuge for persecuted Jews, as well as center for Jewish culture that connected Jews people from around the globe. And soon, the majority of the Jewish community in the United States, drawn to aid the global Jewish community and to help persecuted Jews, threw their support behind the Zionist movement despite much of the public harboring anti-Semitic views. During the 1930’s, new organizations were formed, such as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and United Israel Appeal (UIA), to facilitate better living standards for the early Zionists in Palestine. Jewish federations in the United States that had before aided Jewish communities around the world, now “forced the integration of JDC with fund-raising for rebuilding Jewish life in what was then Palestine, conducted by what is now the United Israel Appeal (UIA). The two organizations came together and formed the United Jewish Appeal, the main fund-raising arm of the Jewish community for Israel and overseas activity.” (Elazar) For American Jews, the issue of aiding their persecuted brethren around the world didn’t end with humanitarian aid. In 1897, the Federation of American Zionists was created (later named Zionist Organization of America), and it actively sought to shape government policy and elicit sympathy from the public for the plight of persecuted Jews.  Suddenly, Jewish identity transformed from assimilating into dominant culture, to being more assertive and identifying more than ever with a Jewish identity that crossed all borders.

Muslims in America are asking similar questions today, which the Jewish community answered in the late 19th century – How can Muslim Americans reconcile United States foreign policy, while still attempting to maintain an identity that is inherently American? Can the American Muslim community attempt to link an identity with the global Muslim community – the Umma – when they are also accused of being unpatriotic? In face of a hostile America during the early stages of Zionism, the Jewish community decided that patriotism was not to be defined by anti-Semitic groups, but instead boldly stated that one can indeed be American and pursue social justice for one’s brethren around the world. This sets a precedent for the Muslim community to create an identity that is not only comfortable with interacting with mainstream American society, but does not shy away from assisting its global religious community. Anti-Semitic public discourse did not compromise Jewish principles, but rather, organized Jewish efforts changed the nature of public discourse. As the Jewish community established an authentic American identity that also actively pursued social justice for its brethren overseas, there is little excuse for why the Muslims cannot do the same.

 

Elazar, Daniel J. “Organizational and Philanthropic Behavior of the North American Jewish Community.” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs 1999.

Manchester, William. The Glory And The Dream. Bantam Books, 1974.

Simon, Steven. “Unavoidable Clash of Islam and the West?” 23 January 2005. http://www.rand.org/. 2013. 24 June 2005.

Steinberg, Milton. “The Creed of an American Zionist.” February 1945. the Atlantic Online. 25 June 2013.

Zakaria, Fareed. How Muslims should respond to terror. 25 May 2013. 24 June 2013.