Category Archives: Women

An evaluation of our ways of building families.

Iranian Women and Boundaries

In the year of 2008, I had the opportunity to attend several meetings with women and men within my community.  In one specific female only group, I had the chance to discuss topics that women appreciated greatly.  In three different sessions extended over couple of months, I managed to listen to these women’s concerns while I answered their questions to the best of my ability.
In all our conversations, one concept frequently came up: “I do not expect anything.” Culturally we know that people use this phrase to show their humble attitude, yet the real issue is more than being humble.
In the discussion about boundary settings and healthy relationship, women would admit having no boundaries, while they were too proud of “not having any expectations.”  In our Iranian culture women are raised to be in service for men, children, and others; in a more altruistic format.  We learn that having expectations for ourselves is terrible and something to be ashamed of.  Most of the middle age women in this group would admit giving service in an unlimited form.

A couple of women expressed their understanding for how not having boundaries is about not respecting the Self.
We should bear in mind that conversations in this level are new for many of our women.  In the group we managed to state that our goal of these discussions was not to find the best reasonable or psychological problem solving skills.   Our topic was all around healthy relationship, boundary or limit setting, and parenting.
Below is a summary of what was said and heard.  We should be conscious about the reservation for lost words in translation and also this writer’s biased listening skills.
By reading between the lines and the used words, we can appreciate the level of separation and incongruency surrounding our Iranian family relationships (although in a small sample of participants).

This is a summary of what women were reporting about themselves:

•    I do not expect anything in life.
•    I do not want anything just love.
•    How do I keep a good relationship with my husband’s family?
•    How do I keep my relationship with my parents?
•    I have hard time talking to my adult child in Iran. He would not listen to me.
•    Problem with saying “no.”
•    Distance relationship with husband in Iran, he lives there and visits us here once in a while.
•    I do not want other people’s bad eyes. So I do not say anything.
•    I cannot talk to anyone easily. I fear a lot and concerned of my husband attitudes….
•    In parenting, how much my words and my husband’s words should be the same?
•    My children find me hard / rigid.
•    I cannot say no to others in my home.
•    I cannot say no, cannot apologize.
•    I may be able to say sorry to a friend, yet mostly although I am wrong, I cannot apologize.
•    I fear illness, weakness, I fear becoming ill.
•    I have two teenagers, who are the reason for conflict between me and my husband.
•    My husband give them too much space, he blames me, saying you are too harsh.
•    My daughter is married and my son has his own life, I do not get involved I their life at all. I show no difference, no reaction in what they do.
•    Should we intervene in our adult children’s life or not?
•    We live in western cultures; still we have our Iranian culture.
•    What should we do? What culture should we follow?
•    I cannot say no to anyone, it is bad.
•    I do everything I can for others, yet once I am injured emotionally I cannot tell them.
•    How do I get my children to search for jobs?
•    My adult son he is 30 and still lives with me, he will not move out.
•    How do I get my adult children find their own life?
•    I cannot set up boundaries, they ask me to do everything for them.
•    I manage to be kind to everyone; do not expect anything for myself.

February 27, 2009

Poran Poregbal


Marriage to Us Iranian

Marriage is a concept that for many of us Iranian is loose. We may be able to tie the issue to a desire for an independent life.
We may think that by becoming our own man and woman, our parents will believe we are adults.  No, for many of our Iranian families this is not the case. Children will be children, always.  It does not matter how old you are, your Iranian parents have a say in your life, no matter what.

The notion of marriage and independency does not make sense, not to me in any case.  We leave one territory of dependency to enter another. Not that marriage does this on its own, no; our Iranian life style makes marriage to become an intricate phenomenon.

Many of our young individuals are financially depended on their parent’s.  Why, because we Iranian tend to protect our children all their life.  It is therefore many of us Iranian, married or not, are culturally depended on our parent’s view in all aspects of our lives.
Need for   approval and confirmations are only some areas where an individual is bounded to many family ties.

Financial dependency on parents for the primary costs of life put pressure on young couples to adhere to the norms of parents and extended family.

Mostly in our culture, happy marriages are characterized by financial wealth, property, bank accounts, cars, jewellery, and a university degree.

Ailing marriages are mostly kept secret; elements of conflicts, abuse, control, and constant arguments impacting children in families.

Active listening, empathy, acceptance, independency, and unconditional love are rarely discussed.

Couple get distracted by families who are advising all the time. The couple cannot make a move without help or support from their parents. Opinions are something we Iranian master of giving. Our young and adult children reach a point of no return for any independent life at all.  Marriage, traditions, families involved, Taaroof, Aberoo, family grace, financial concerns, how is important more than who, all and all become nightmares of marriage is most marriages I have seen.

What could be the warning signs for an unhealthy marriage in our culture?

High expectations on marriage, unmet desires for both couples, lack of financial safety for women, lack of healthy dialogue between the couple, blaming and contradicting are most obvious warning signs.  However it is not for sure that our parents could heal the issue by their involvement.

The concept of: My mother, your father, your sister, my brother, etc, becomes the poison that ruins attachment and bonding.  In terms of seeking for professional help, Iranian notion of Taaroof and Aberoo becomes barriers for the couple to seek help.

Both men and women in the relationship can get trapped, stuck, and bounded to traditions that do not help the marriage at all.

In many cases of divorce, some partners (mostly men) involve children to revenge the other ex-spouse.

Children are trapped in between the two families who are badmouthing each other.  Marriage to us Iranian is really touch topic. I guess we need to contemplate a lot before any decision at all.
December 3, 08


Family Manual

For creating a Family we need to have a set of principals. We live in a world where we receive manuals for every single item we purchase, yet, once we are building families, we have no manual to follow.

Obviously there are huge number of literature and accumulated work out there; however, in our Iranian world, although we Iranian are family oriented, we still lack the main characteristics of family building.

I am certainly hoping that people from my home country and the Middle Eastern region would one day be able to have manuals talking about how children and families all deserve to live a peaceful, dignified, and respectful life. We all agree that individuals and families alone can not do it all.  We need stable governments who care for their nations and work hard to keep them in peace.

We Iranian often talk about how much we can “die” for our children. How about to “live” for our children and supervise them carefully?

We all believe that our children, just “ours” are the most talented and genius ones, how about see children, all of them as capable and genius?

We Iranian parents emphasize on respect, education, conformity? How about we respect our children to do what they are best at without asking them to follow our sometimes “not best” advises?

We Iranian have either too much control over our children or have no control at all. How about to work for social equality in our families, give our children a voice while we be the adults in our homes?

We Iranian always often talk about our great love for our families, while not spending time with our children. How about encouraging all family members appreciating one another?

We Iranian parents lie to our children as we do not tell them the truth about our life situations and then we ask them to always be truthful. How about we model honesty by sharing what is going on in our families with our children (in an age appropriate manner)?

Once are life is distressed due to many life situations, our children feel the pressure twice. Once our families are separating, our children are much more in pain.Once our men and women divorcing each other, our children are in conflict.We need to build a family, with or without both parents, in peace and harmony. We have no other choice!

Be in peace

June 2, 2008


Domestic Violence & Typical Marriage

What is Domestic Violence and How does a typical Iranian Marriage look like?

There is no typical marriage, however, this is a format that can more and less be found in many new couple’s life.

What goes on in an abusive relationship? How does a marriage turn into a prison for a woman or a man? What do we mean by domestic violence? Is domestic violence specific to a certain culture?

These are questions that many of us might have when thinking about relationships that are abusive or become abusive soon after marriage. Today there is an overwhelming amount of research about violence in relationships and about the dynamics of violence. We should know that:

· The cycle of abuse and the cycle of violence live hand in hand.

· Violence in relationships does not distinguish between cultures and it happens everywhere, in every culture, and around the world.

· Victims of domestic violence, who are mostly women (although men can also be victims), generally come from all ages, all classes, and all races.

· The cycle of abuse has a pattern, a routine, a form, a shape. Research in this area defines the cycle as: triggering moments, argument, aggression, assault (physical, verbal, or psychological), moments of regret, promises to resolve issues, gifts and flowers for the victim(s), a couple of days of peaceful communication, another trigger, another fight, another argument…

· The issue of power imbalance is the key in domestic violence; the victim is cut off from family, friends, society, financial dependency, and /or self-esteem.

· Cultural issues such as the involvement of extended family in a couple’s fight or their private situations may contribute to tension and conflict.

Since we are not going to solve a “world problem” and we need to learn the signs of abuse in our own culture, we will concentrate on couples with an Iranian background. We will also look into some cultural elements of the patterns and the behaviours.

In our Iranian culture, women are in many times bound to some traditional, cultural. and societal form of oppression. By law a woman has the cultural obligations to obey her husband. However, we know that this is not always the case and the level of obedience depends on many things. Our Iranian men are also learning new ways of communicating, however, in most case scenarios men have the power.

The level of cultural capital (education, knowledge, and world view) and the type of family plays a huge role in how women are being treated.

Most women in abusive and domestic violence situations have to carry the blame for the issues occurring in their homes. There are some typical reasons for this: either women are not “listening enough” or they are not “behaving well” or they are not “dressing properly.” We can find hundreds of other “reasons” for why men have to “react” and teach women how to be what is required.

The blame on women is an issue that also happens cross-culturally, however, in Western societies legal protective measures are in place for these women. Many Iranian women, who ask for divorce while here in Canada or other Western countries, talk about the fact that they could not ask for divorce in Iran for many reasons. These include risking their family’s disgrace and feelings of guilt (aberoo and sharm).

Some men in our Iranian culture are given permission by the culture and even by law to “take care” of their “disobeying” wives. Once they immigrate, they learn that in their new country, for example here in Canada, the same behaviours are unacceptable and in most cases punishable by law. Some men are scared to death that their wives will leave them, so they use different strategies to keep them in the relationship: putting them down, name calling, accusing them of “having affairs,” “becoming whores,” or being bad mothers etc.

In order to understand what happens inside a home, we need to have studied cases. As this topic is a huge taboo in our Iranian culture and since we lack proper case-based research, it is hard to illustrate what really leads to an abusive relationship. Many anti- violence organizations and women’s support groups have done a tremendous amount of work here in North America to find out why the woman stays and under what circumstances she leaves the abusive relationship.

The world of research and the scholars of today should focus on more culture-specific and holistic approaches to finding out what cultural elements of abuse are most hard to break.

We can make a typical case in a fictitious way. We have to realize that in our Iranian homes there are some patterns of culturally accepted behaviours and norms, yet, due to many other factors, no two families live the same lifestyle.

A typical case scenario and a typical marriage in Iran (with reservation for diversity of cultures) that we all can relate to, could unfold in this way:

A young Iranian girl is getting married to a man, most likely older, who approached her family to ask for her hand. Either the two already know each other or a third party has suggested the match. The young girl will marry this man, usually not out of personal choice, but for various other reasons such as the man’s financial situation, the man’s family name, status, or a perceived love. Also, some parents would not like to keep an unmarried daughter in the home for a long period. So the reason this girl might say “yes” to a marriage might not be even close to “love.” Some delusions and illusions are always involved.

A contemporary traditional marriage is what happens in most homes today; parents and extended family members are involved, conditions for the wedding (mehrieh, Jahaz), cake, dinner, the number of guests for the party, the size of the party, and many other details are taken care of at this point. Some hidden conflicts due to various disagreements can be kept out of the equation and parents try to keep on happy faces to help their young daughter get through this important event in life.

Our fictional couple settles down either in the husband’s home or a home with the husband’s parents. In the best case scenario, the young bride moves into her husband’s home. In some wealthy families, the parents either purchase or rent a place for the new couple. Most parents, usually the bride’s, have made arrangements in form of furniture and other such details by this point. Also, most probably, the husband has a job with his father or at his father’s business. In more traditional or religious families, there are a number of customs that play a role. The main point is that the couple does not have much say in most cases, either because families want to help or want to make sure that their daughter gets married and finds a family life.

Traditionally, the husband is expected to be the breadwinner, the wife is expected to care for the home and have children. In some families, women go out and work, but most husbands persuade their wives to stay at home since life “out there” is not the best for women. In upper middle class families, the husband goes out to work and the wife may go participate in various activities, though these are “protected.” In any case, not much real initiative is encouraged.

Culturally it is acceptable for the husband to be tough and angry; he works hard and when he comes home, he has the right/permission to rule over his wife.

In families with no boundaries or respect for the couple’s private life, many parents and extended families get involved. Parents usually advise their newly wed daughters to become pregnant and bring a child into the world with the belief that “the child” will keep the husband at home! Many times the bride is forced to have children to make the husband’s parents happy. Culturally, children serve the purpose of making adults happy and causing the husband to become more attached to the home.

Tensions start to appear; if the couple does not have a good foundation in life, they trigger each other. Sensitive areas such as “my mom” vs. “your mom” are often the reasons for conflicts. When a lack of respect, name calling, and negative attitudes are involved, most women tend to be quiet and to avoid conflict so as to stay in the marriage in any way they can. Yet there are some who would think of their options.

There is a notion in our Persian marriage culture that the couple will “become like each other,” meaning they will get used to each other and adopt behaviors from each other. Alternatively, from the beginning whoever has the most power will try to make the other one like him/her, so there’s no chance for individuality. Men are physically stronger, have deeper voices, can be physical, and can threaten as well.

Battering, if it starts early on, occurs because the husband is attempting to express the gender differences and gender dominance. Expressing masculinity, in all patriarchal systems, is considered to be a good thing for men, who need to act like men, who do not feel emotions, who “put” women in their places, who can punish, and who can maintain control over family life. Research shows that gender identity is established between ages 1 to 3. Boys in most families are taught to be men and to stand up for their families, while girls are taught to be caregivers and nurturers.

If the wife’s mother was also abused and controlled, she learned early on that she has to become like her mother, that she has to care for her husband, who like her father, kicked, screamed, and yelled. The daughter has to learn from her mother, who loved and nurtured her angry and hostile husband.

The couple in our example may bond with each other and attachment will happen, even in the presence of family violence and abuse.

After a few years, the couple decides to move to Canada. The couple gets excited over the move and thinks that their issues will soon be solved–life outside Iran sounds and seems so different. However, unresolved conflicts move with this family to their new community. In addition, the problems and adjustment issues related to migration need to be taken care of in the first couple of years of life in a new country. This prompts promises after promises from the husband, that now the couple has to stay together because of new life situations. Children have to be sent to school and adjustment issues for them are sometimes overwhelming for parents. If the relationship is still abusive and violent, the victim who is mostly the woman will wait for the children “reach somewhere,” whether a certain point in school, or a certain age before acting/leaving.

In the midst of a life in a more woman-friendly country, the wife learns that she has rights and indeed that help is available; she also knows her rights intuitively, yet, she needs time to learn to stand up for herself. The husband does not want to let go of his excessive anger, resentment, and violent behaviours, and he still hangs on to the macho man he was before.

The wife asks her husband to go for counselling; someone has advised them to see a counsellor. The husband thinks his wife is crazy and that she alone needs to go for counselling—he denies having any problems. The wife is blamed for being the source of the problem, the one who needs to attend a “mental hospital.”

Sometimes, the wife denies having any problems and she misuses her power in the family to hurt and to cause pain!

All the fights, arguments, or silences suffered by both parties happen inside the home and their children witness this. Children are often caught in the middle. If the husband is a suspicious type, he will use his children to spy on their mother.

If divorce comes in to the picture, the husband is still trying to intimidate his wife, threatening her for various reasons, telling her how useless she is, blaming her for having affairs with other men, and involving children in this marriage-custody-divorce battle.

Everyone is hurt, though mostly the children and the wife. The husband is also in pain, but he has hard time accepting the reality and asking for help.

Some couples do seek the proper help and they resolve issues; some fight until the end. Things can be prevented if the couple learns to deal with the problems early on.

We can always talk about our differences and issues in order to find our similarities and common interests! We need to learn how to build healthy relationships; this is why marriage counselling and pre-marriage counselling exists!

Get the help you need and deserve. No one should suffer in a relationship. If we cannot make a good couple, sometimes we can be good friends, and we can live our lives and co-parent if we have to.

The list is much longer in some families and different in others. What we know is that the cycle of abuse and violence knows no border. It is universal, yet, cultural influences are huge and they have to be identified in our Iranian one!

December 3, 2007


Lion women

I met many lion women today.

We use this phrase in our daily life: you are such a “shir zan” or lion woman !

We honor brave, outspoken, hardworking, and resilient women with this name. I guess we do not have any name for brave men because we assume men are brave anyways.

In this context I’ve met many Lion women throughout my life and I am sure we all have met those women out there.

Today, I was invited to participate in a community group of Iranian women in West Vancouver, who get together to brake the cycle of isolation. There were 20 of us Iranian women in this meeting, women from all walks of life and from all ages.

We talked about the notion of Migration in our Iranian culture.

I asked these women to give me some words which they associate to Migration as a process, phenomenon, and concept.

This is the list of what these women came up with:

· Movement – development (Taagir va Tahavol)

· Self-sufficiency (khod-kafaie)

· Knowing myself (shenakhte khodam)

· Letting go of attachment (del kandan az delbastegi)

· New life (zendegie novin)

· Independency (esteghlal)

· Finding creativity (kashfe khalagiat)

· Development (takamol)

· Growth (roshd)

· Planting in (galame zadan)

· Improvement

· Finding new experience

· Depression first

· Difficulty finding work and life

· To solve everything by self

· Have no support

· Change world view (did be donia avaz shodan)

· Be patient (sabor bodan)

· Rebuild (dobareh sakhtan)

· Get to know perceptions (shenakhte mafahim)

· Was negative, became positive

· Fleeing (farar)

· People know give self worth

· In Iran we live for people’s word

· Satisfying with god’s satisfaction

· Accepting (pazira)

· Lots of struggle, challenged with new things

· Finding no husband

· Many people out there

· Change with a high price

· New life, new world, new me, what was out there back then is changed now

· Live my life now, much happier, much more content, less status work, yet happy a lot

· Not having wings in Iran

list could go on and on……..

If we read between the lines we can realize how much these women find their new life much happier. These women reported having fought a lot to create the world they always wanted, a life where they can be themselves.

It was really eye opening to hear these words. We have many lion women like these women I met who work hard to create a better life for themselves as well as their families.

What is your experience like?

August 3, 2007