I’m a Feminist Convert to Islam: This Is What I’ve Learned

Four months ago I got engaged. One week later I packed up everything I owned and moved back to my American hometown. And now it is March, and I’m in the Middle East.

This was always going to be something of a transition year for me; I just finished an MA in London, and now I have to sort out where I go from here, whether it be a PhD or a job. What’s more, I have to figure out how those plans fit in with my other half, who’s gainfully employed and at least relatively settled. Now add to that the fact that I am planning a wedding God-knows-where, with a fiancé who is three time zones behind me and three thousand miles away, and you have the makings of a complicated situation, logistically and emotionally.

One additional complicating factor, one I didn’t really expect and I know Amin didn’t expect, is my increasingly vocal assertiveness about gender. I would call it feminism, but it’s so lukewarm I honestly feel weird calling it that. I guess I could best describe it as a rude (and, let’s be honest, pretty bitter) awakening to the fact that the gender-equality assumptions I grew up with in a WASPy liberal American suburb are not, in fact, universal. Surprise!

I converted to Islam roughly a year ago. Whatever you do or do not know about this religion, you certainly must be aware that the status of Muslim women is hotly contested. Muslim women themselves, along with Muslim communities, are struggling with what it means to be a woman and Muslim, what it means to be empowered and faithful, and what it means to be self-sufficient and, yes, equal. I bring this up not to debate the merits of Islam, or Islam’s position on women—obviously those debates are too big to do justice to here. Rather, for the first time in my life, I am consciously aware that some think it is relevant that I am female. And not in a good way, or in a way that reflects what I believe my religion teaches. It is an uncomfortable experience, and it has made me hypersensitive to any hint of unfairness.

Okay, oversensitive.

One day, walking to the mosque, we passed the imam, who called out a friendly greeting from across the street. I was immediately furious that he had said hello to Amin, but not to me. I raged, I ranted. Was he uncomfortable speaking to a woman? Did he think my modesty would be offended? As it turns out, he had said hello to both of us. Oops.

Unfortunately, wedding planning is not improving the situation. Lots of the traditions Amin and I find meaningful have patriarchal overtones, and these days I find them hard to overlook. Do I wear a white dress? Will my father walk me down the aisle? Am I taking Amin’s name or keeping my own (read: my father’s)? On the Pakistani side, will my father sign my marriage contract for me? Will Amin pay a dowry? I can’t blame Amin for sometimes feeling like he’s tiptoeing through a minefield.

This is not to say there aren’t real issues Amin and I are working through (and I guarantee this will continue to be a fount of intercultural and religious drama). However, I suspect most of my discomfort stems from novelty. When you are raised in a culture, it is much easier to overlook its flaws as anachronistic quirks or works-in-progress. But now, I’m operating in a brand new culture. And I am not yet totally comfortable in the new roles I am playing: as Muslim, as wife-to-be, as future-spouse-of-Pakistani. My insecurity makes me even more sensitive.

The worst part is that there is one area where this increasingly strident feminist is still relying on the men in her life: money.

I cannot tell you how much it galls me to write this. I am a twenty-first century woman, and I certainly do not expect my husband to bring home the bacon (or a religiously acceptable substitute). Nevertheless, the fact remains that at the moment, I have almost no money saved, despite my three years of work, and I have racked up thousands of dollars of student loan debt. Meanwhile, my fiancé has a relatively stable job in a relatively lucrative industry and already has a mortgage, a car, and other traditional life markers.

Enter man number two: my dad… who, bless his heart, is willing to help me out with student loan payments while I figure out the next step. And my parents are equally generously willing to pitch in to help with paying for a wedding. But golly, I’m twenty-seven, surely I shouldn’t have to rely on my parents any more, right? Right?

I don’t know if you guys noticed, but weddings are expensive! It is an enormous blessing to have people in my life who can afford to help me out, because otherwise Amin and I would probably be getting married in a box at the airport rather than with hundreds of our family and friends. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling like I am letting down Team Woman by letting my man do the earning. And frankly, the idea that I’m being passed on from my father to my future husband like some risky mortgage is downright embarrassing. (Amin read this and laughed. He agrees that I am not the greatest investment at the moment.)

Many have noted that wedding planning somehow manages to make unexpected and sometimes ridiculous things seem earth-shatteringly significant. For me, it’s not the chair covers or the food or the music, or even the ceremony (although there’s time yet, so stay tuned). For me at the moment, it’s The Patriarchy (which, as obsessions go, is pretty legit). Unfortunately, The Patriarchy will still be there tomorrow, and probably the day after, and I’m not willing to postpone the wedding until women achieve full equality with men, whatever that means. In the meantime, I’m trying not to take it out on Amin, who is certainly not to blame for my insecurities, and is weathering this crash course in gender relations with his typical rational fair-mindedness. After all, he did not choose to be born male, and I happen to be rather fond of him in spite of it.

Photo: Meg for A Practical Wedding

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  • Ali

    Really looking forward to continuing to read your story!

  • Jessica

    I am a fellow “risky mortgage” with a stable fiance, and it’s really tough to take sometimes. You’re not alone! I work hard at my (teeny-tiny salaried) job, count my blessings that I am lucky enough to have ANYONE to help me with financial stuff, and say thank you. A lot. It’s still a tough hit to the self-worth, though, and I’m working on being ok with it every single day. To progress, eh?

    • If it makes you feel better, think of it this way: if the roles were reversed and Amin had just finished school but you happened to be financially stable, you would help him out and expect him not to put up a fuss about the gender roles being nontraditional, right? So, as much as you can, take a deep breath and accept your situation as the most effective, efficient one. He isn’t providing for you because he is a man, but rather the one in your family with the ablity to help. Right now. Because it makes sense.

      • Thank you for that. I needed to hear that today. I’ve been feeling so guilty lately that I can’t fully support myself (when what I really want is to be able to support both of us so he can quit his stupid day job and write).

      • Great point Emma. I’m dealing with the reverse trying to support my fiancé emotionally as I am the breadwinner at the moment. I’ve even run through scenarios with him of when it might make sense for me to scale back work or stop entirely (to go back to school or start a new venture). It is helpful to talk about it as a partnership and to each thank each other for whatever it is you are contributing at that time.

        Look forward to reading more from this series!

        • We’re in the same boat – I’m winning the bread (and also baking it, incidentally) while he prepares for grad school. It really helps to approach things as a team when we can, and it makes me feel great to be investing in him, I know he’ll do the same for me. I’m sure most other breadwinners – man or woman – feel the same way. I guess it’s just part of the process of learning to trust your partner and the vows you made/plan to make.

      • Even with all the logic in the world, knowing that it’s temporary, and even knowing that I would gladly support my fiance if our roles are reversed, it’s still hard on the ego and self esteem to let someone else support me financially.

  • Brooke

    Wow! I seriously can’t wait to read more! I feel my trials through the wedding are incredibly petty compared to this!

  • Hlockhart

    Thank you for sharing this with us. Your point about how you notice the “flaws” in a new environment more than in the one you’ve grown up in is well-taken. I am hugely looking forward to more of Elisabeth’s posts.

  • I know what you mean about feeling like a “bad investment” , I am in a similar situation, since I moved countries to the country where the boy was mainly because he already had a very stable job and I was about to start.
    Turns out that even having 2 different degrees I have been unable to find a job in my field, and though I am happy to have a job at all, because I can help, you know, with bills,it is sometimes very hard and I feel like the social parasite.
    The husband is very supportive… but anyway all this was to say that you should NOT feel bad about him (or your parents) supporting you. Marriage is a partnership, you are now a team, and sure, it make look like financially know he is doing all of it, but you are doing and will do lots of other very valuable things.. it is about supporting each other. And no matter what you do (phd or job) , in the future you will be able to “provide” in the way that you feel you “should” be doing, you will find your place. Have faith in that. Also if the situation were the opposite I am sure you would be happy to support him. hope I made sense with this…

    • Ashley B

      Whenever I’m feeling insecure about my decision to go back to school and bring us down to a one income family, my fiance reminds me that we’re a team and he sees it as an investment in our future. Can’t argue with that logic!

    • Suzzie

      I just relocated to another country as well to be with my fiance. He has the better established and better paying career. My prospects in this country are actually pretty good once I am able to get my work visa. For now, we are on one income. At first I felt bad because I have quite a few student loans and some debt from paying for professional licensing exams. When I mentioned feeling bad about bringing this to the relationship and how I wished I had a job to pay it, my fiance says “I chose to be with you because of who you are and choosing to be with you means accepting whatever you bring with you and now it is ‘ours’ and not just ‘yours'”. And being an “investment” isn’t just about monetary things. Your life partner is obviously with you because of the other qualities and investment in the relationship you bring with you that far outweigh anything financial! (My fiance reminds me of this all the time as well!) He also reminds me that we are in a lifelong partnership now and that means supporting each other whether financially, emotionally, etc.

      It’s a hard lesson and hard to take sometimes, but take help when you need it and when others are willing to give. Because there is always that time in the future where you are in the position to give help willingly to those that need it!

  • H

    Wow I am SO looking forward to reading more of your story!!

    Your mention of “letting down Team Woman” really spoke to me. I often feel the same way and I still haven’t come to terms with it entirely. When you add up working in a place where I am constantly talked down to, where people are legitimately surprised by my intelligence (and not being able to afford to leave) PLUS my dad graciously paying student loan debt…. at 28. Shouldn’t I be able to do this on my own?!

    It’s hard.

    Thankfully we have this brilliant community of practical women to come to!

    Good luck!

    • Multiple people have referred to “my dad” is paying for the wedding. Why not “my parents”? Is it literally that each person writing has separated parents and the dad is paying? Where are the moms?

      My mom stayed home with my sister and I after my sister was diagnosed with cancer as a baby, but I still would say that my parents are paying, because they are a partnership.


      • meg

        Depends on the family, y’all. Probably best not to pressure people on personal things, like if their parents are separated and how their families deal with money. Of COURSE women in families own the money as much as men, but every situation is different, no?

        • Steph

          I have to admit being guilty of this though. My parents have been married 35 years, but more often than not thought of it and described it others as my dad paying for my wedding, because he’s the one who earned the money in our family while my mom raised me and my brother. I appreciate the self awareness the above commentor just gave me.
          I can also relate to the whole letting down team woman thing. My marriage differs from my parents in that I’ve always felt very strongly about earning my own money and feeling that I’m “pulling my own weight” financially in the marriage. We make the same on paper but due to me covering the health insurance and being psycho about savings my take home is smaller than his and I was just saying yesterday how I alway feel like he has to dip into “his” cause “mine” isn’t enough to by the end of the month to cover “my half” He reminded me that it’s not about “mine” vs “his” but OURS and as long as WE have elnough each month for the things we need we are blessed.

          • ambi

            When I was a teenager, my grandparents gave me a very expensive christmas gift. I proceeded to talk about it as something my grandfather had given me, since he worked outside the home and earned all of the money that went into purchasing the gift. My mom made a point of talking to me about the fact that, while my grandmother stayed at home and didn’t go to work like my grandfather did, it was both of their money, and the gift was from both grandparents together. My mother had always worked full time, so this was the first instance where this issue came up for me. It made a HUGE impact on me. For those of you with kids, keep this in mind as a teaching tool.

          • meg

            WHAT AMBI SAID. Everyone needs to FULLY realize that about their own partnerships.

          • lmba

            I am only working casually right now for various reasons and my husband has a salary that pays each and every one of our bills. But because he is THE ABSOLUTE BEST, he always refers to his paycheques as “our paycheques” and talks about how much money “we” made (not in a joking or facetious way). I love that he JUST ASSUMES that the money that he earns at his job belongs to us both, and in fact we have BOTH earned it in some way… it’s just because of circumstances that he happens to be doing the things that gets his name on the pay stub and I happen to be doing things that don’t.

  • Great first post! I can’t wait to hear more about your journey. :)

    I think it was really fascinating for us, as two women getting married, that we had a similar chance to examine all of the traditions and cultural ‘norms’ and expectations. We certainly were not doing it within a new religious environment, but I felt like we had more of a chance to forge our own path than perhaps many other couples do. We kept some traditions, chucked a bunch of them, and made some new ones of our own, and it was great. I did appreciate, though, that entering into an ‘unusual’ partnership (definitely so in my part of the country) gave me more of an opportunity to reflect on the choices we made- since the GLBT community is still exploring what marriage means to us and if/how it may be different.

  • Sometimes I want to kick the Patriarchy in the junk. And isn’t it sad when we stop and realize that our seemingly harmless and well intentioned male friends are caught in the crossfire? I’m looking forward to reading about your journey, and I wish you all the wisdom that can come your way.

  • Erica

    I want to exactly! this whole post. I’m about to get a Masters, and am struggling with the dual and fairly opposing desires of globe-trotting and/or getting a PhD and wanting to stay put and start making babies. Things like who gets to walk me down the aisle and whether or not I’m changing my name send me into a feminist tailspin.

    Also, re: women and Islam, if you haven’t already, read Sabah Mahmood’s book Politics of Piety.

  • ambi

    “I can’t help feeling like I am letting down Team Woman ”

    This is EXACTLY what I was trying to express in my comments the other day on Greg’s post about name changing. I would really really love for APW to explore why so many aspects of engagement, weddings, marriage, etc. make so many strong and intelligent feminist women feel like we are letting down the team. Whether it be about money, name changing, or embracing gender-biased wedding traditions, I think a whole lot of us are torn between wanting every single aspect of our experience to reflect our feminist values and wanting the things that will simply make us happy (or that will make life easier), like letting your parents pay for the wedding, having your dad walk you down the aisle (and maybe even give you away), changing your name, and even embracing the title “Mrs.”

    Maybe this gets at the core of what APW is about, except that the pressures aren’t driven by the WIC, but are internal struggles. There is a lot of wonderful insight and advice on the site about moving away from the norm and doing things differently to express your values. And I want to stress that I think it is amazing that APW provides inspiration and support for people who choose to do that, and that support is much needed! Society is already supporting those of us who choose to embrace some of the more expected elements (I’d call them traditional, but I know from APW that tradition is in the eye of the beholder). I am not any way suggesting that APW should change – I love reading about couples who have recognized that certain elements didn’t mesh with their own values and found really inspiring ways to change them . . . But I also get really excited to talk about how to reconcile your inner feminist with your inner bride (for many people, there may be no conflict between these two, but for me there is!). So I really love this post and I would LOVE for us to keep talking more about how to find a good balance.

    • meg

      Well, I’d argue that this is exactly what APW is about. We do, however, make a conscious choice to support and discuss feminist decisions that are unsupported by much of the rest of the culture here. You can read about people being *thrilled* to change their name everywhere on the web. There are very few places on the web that you can read about not changing your name, changing your name and crying about it, your husband taking your name, and on and on and on. That’s what we focus on. (And of course feminist decisions include MERGING YOUR FINANCES, something I’m passionate about.) And while lots of you go by Mrs. we’re always going to be discussing Ms. here. It’s not culturally supported, and I personally think it’s vitally important.

      • While it’s true that you can read about people being thrilled to change their names on other, more mainstream wedding sites, I think it has a different tone coming from an APW woman. I love APW because it focuses on feminism, but I would love to hear from brides who, in balancing tradition and their feminist beliefs, chose to go with tradition and why. I, like Ambi, struggle with reconciling some of my decisions (which I made because they are the best choices for me) with feeling like I’m letting down Team Woman.

        • Kat

          Yes, yes, yes.
          Someone commented on the lack of chose to change your name stories on Greg’s post and people pointed out as above that it’s a much more culturally supported choice and so APW discusses the other options. Which I think is great, and the fact that APW does that is one of reasons I love to read, however, I did feel the uncomfortableness that others mentioned that “my choice” wasn’t represented in the collection of stories about name changing. I told myself to get over it, and noted that in the comments were many women who did change their name, but I think an underlying feeling that I may have “let down Team Women” by being so happy to change my name might the the reason.
          Silly, but then I have had people tell me I’m old fashioned for doing so, and that “Mrs Hislastname” is like being my mother-in-law (which is not true in my case since his parents weren’t married), so maybe I’m projecting some of the angst I’ve experienced in real life onto APW.

          • ambi

            Oh wow. After rereading the post and all these comments, I am suddenly really overcome with how incredible APW is. I honestly don’t think there is anywhere else that fosters such smart and honest discussions about the issues women face around marriage, weddings, and family.

            And I hope I was clear that I understand and support APW’s decision to focus on and highlight those choices that are under represented in mainstream media (especially wedding blogland). I just hope that we can include in those discussions not only comments on why it is great to do something different, but also explore why smart, independant feminist women still choose NOT to make those changes. Both sides of the coin are fascinating and helpful.

            Personally, I struggle a lot with feminist guilt. So when I read posts on APW, I often come away feeling like the issues raised by the authors are things that SHOULD bother me, but ultimately, on a gut level, they just don’t.

            While mainstream wedding blogs are quick to talk about women who are thrilled to change their names, or brides whose parents automatically paid for the entire wedding because it was expected, or grooms who dutifully asked the bride’s father for her hand in marraige . . . I don’t think they are really exploring those issues from this perspective. What is a smart independent feminist-minded woman to do when she realizes that she wants those things, even though her brain is screaming at her that they are sexist?

            That is why I am SO happy that we are talking about it. What an amazing first post, Elisabeth!

  • There was a time when I might have felt like I was letting down “Team Woman,” but not anymore. For part of our relationship, I was the bread winner, but now my husband is the one who makes more money, and probably always will, and I’m okay with it – grateful in fact. Sure, once I finish schooling, I might make more, but considering our fields are so different, he is bound to always make more and since we’re starting a family, I’m okay with this. It’ll allow me to work part-time and be a mom and go to school and once I’m done with school, it’ll allow me to pursue more potentially creative career paths that aren’t necessarily as lucrative, but will be more emotionally satisfying. I wouldn’t worry too much about letting down “Team Woman” just because you’re bringing debt to the table and get assistance from your parents. I know how much joy it gives my parents to be able to help us, and we’re grateful and accept it and use it wisely because it makes them feel good to be able to still help their children.

  • What a great dialogue to kick off Elisabeth’s posts!

    I’m really hopeful that the perception of who supports whom in a marriage evolves to include that either partner may be contributing in a non-monetary way.

    Personally, as I’m committed to a fellow freelancer the primary breadwinner flip-flops all the time, but we really try hard to pick up the slack when the other one is on a hot streak gig-wise.

    • Class of 1980

      Did anyone see the Yahoo article on Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon yesterday?

      They LOST ALL THEIR MONEY. It was invested with Bernie Madoff. Their nest egg was gone. Kyra said most of it was earned by Kevin. He’d been working since he was seventeen and she never earned as much as him.

      So, Kyra did six seasons of “The Closer” to get their finances back in order.

      To me, THAT’s how it works in a marriage.

      • meg

        Holy SHIT. I did not. Link?? That’s both really sad, and fascinating. It reminds you that you just always have to buck up and Get It Done. I find that Getting It Done Together has improved my life though ;)

    • meg

      Totally. I’m actually going to write about this really soon. I think the second we think about partnership as MONEY we’re f*cked. (That’s the technical term ;)

      • Audrey

        I’ll be so excited to read this!

  • katieprue

    If the person providing support is okay with helping out, that is really all that matters in my mind. Who cares if it is a man or a woman? In your case, your benefactors (I guess you could call them) happen to be men. People do this life thing at all different speeds, taking different steps and approaches and sometimes you just need a little boost up the path, a railing to hold onto (pardon the awful metaphor). I have struggled with this too, even though I am very much used to my little cultural sliver of the world where there is this sort of taboo (STILL!) about a woman being the breadwinner and I now know that and accept the fact that I am different and it’s cool to be either way, you know? Yet–I took it as this great failure in my life a few years ago when I had to borrow my fiance’s (then boyfriend’s) car to get to a class out of town. At my dad’s encouragement–hell, he fixed that car! So my car was broken down and I had to lean on the *gasp* men in my life for support. 21-year-old Katie was crushed, I tell you. I felt that failure of Team Woman. Never mind the fact that my fiance had needed to borrow my car plenty of times, I just took it as this huge failure for ME. I was supposed to be the stable one. In working so hard to to go in an opposite direction I lost sight of what situations like these were really all about: PEOPLE who love me helping out.

  • Class of 1980

    Elizabeth, you are beating yourself up over things you can’t control.

    1) NEVER, at any time in U.S. history, has college cost so much or graduates come out with such high debt.

    2) Marriage vows include “for richer or poorer”, and there are any number of events that could cause either of you to be poorer at any stage of life. Surely you also plan to stand by him if he loses his job and you must support him?

    3) There is feminism, but there is no “Team Woman”, let alone a list of rigid rules. (Or if there is a team, then why wasn’t I picked?) There are only individuals responding to their circumstances as best they can.

  • Whoa…this: “In the meantime, I’m trying not to take it out on Amin, who is certainly not to blame for my insecurities, and is weathering this crash course in gender relations with his typical rational fair-mindedness. After all, he did not choose to be born male, and I happen to be rather fond of him in spite of it.”

    Sometimes it’s so hard to separate the man you love from the The Patriarchy, especially when they (for reasons not their fault like being born male) don’t necessarily see all the small battles you face. Or have ever realized that they too can be a feminist (and that feminist doesn’t = scary woman. Great conversation).

    • Salwa

      Such a great post! It really reminds me of my journey as well. I am a Pakistani born Canadian muslim woman who married a wonderful Canadian agnostic man, and I don’t have to tell you my struggle with gender roles (particularly in Islam) since my husband wasn’t converting. I swear, when we were looking for am imam for our ceremony you would think I was being tried as a witch or something. For those who are not aware, a muslim man can marry a non-muslim woman, but a muslim woman cannot marry a non-muslim man according to Islamic text. (Something I understandably had a major problem with)

      I think the very nature of weddings and marriage have turned gender roles on their heads today more than ever. At this point in your life, you might be a little more dependent on others, but those who you have chosen to surround yourself wth don’t view you as a burden (if they did, you would know it). You will become everything you wanted to be and support those loved ones later in life. And as for Amin, it is most definitely hard to separate him from typical gender roles, but I would imagine you have chosen to spend your life with him because of the other great things he represents. Hang in there – I can’t wait to see the rest of your journey.

      • meg

        I feel all sniffly reading your comment, knowing Elisabeth isn’t alone in this.

  • Carrie

    Sigh. I love you people!!

  • NF

    For me, I think that what we personally do in our marriage/relationship/joint life with another person has very little to do with supporting Team Women. For internal family decisions, what matters is Team Family. My choices should be based on what is right for my family, regardless of how it fits into or challenges societal norms.
    From my point of view, if I keep my name and/or am primary breadwinner and/or work while we have children etc, but keep silent about it, I’m not doing much to support Team Women. Likewise, if i change my name and/or stay at home etc., as long as I’m talking about and supporting publicly the importance of feminism, I’m fully supporting Team Women.
    (To be clear, I am an important member of Team Family. Making choices in that context has nothing to do with mindlessly doing what my husband expects, or even to always doing what makes him happiest. Team Family doesn’t need to all agree with any given decision, but I have to do what I think is right for my family, regardless of how it fits into or doesn’t fit into my principled ideals.)

    • meg

      This is a pretty brillant comment.

  • Alison

    “And frankly, the idea that I’m being passed on from my father to my future husband like some risky mortgage is downright embarrassing.”

    This hit me square in the chest, as it’s exactly the sentiment I’ve been searching for to explain how I’m feeling about my financials/wedding etc. Fiance and I both have jobs, but fiance has almost no debt and has a relatively large cushion of savings. I, on the other hand, have crippling student loan debt, am planning on returning to school in the fall (for the FINAL time), and almost no savings. I feel like I’m saddling my future-husband with all kinds of financial instability, and yet… he’s 100% supporting my decision to go back to school to do what I want. He doesn’t judge me, he helps me budget, and he constantly tells me that I don’t owe him anything (when he has to pay for things like… a new tire for my car).

    Like many of you have said before me, if the shoe was on the other foot and he was the one with the debt/lack of savings, I would do exactly as he is doing for me. We are a team, and I just have to keep reminding myself of that. Thanks to all of you out there in APW-land, it’s a little easier.

    And also, welcome to Elisabeth! I can’t wait to read more of your writing and hear more of your story. :)

  • Elisabeth, it sounds like you have an exciting & crazy life journey ahead of you! Like anything else in life, it won’t be easy but you will learn & grow so much. I can only thank you for sharing your journey with us!! Best wishes~

  • A A

    “And frankly, the idea that I’m being passed on from my father to my future husband like some risky mortgage is downright embarrassing.”

    I’m facing these patriarchal issues myself as a Muslim woman except in a reversed way, where I earn more money at the moment than my fiance. I am looking forward to reading more of your story.

  • “I can’t help feeling like I am letting down Team Woman by letting my man do the earning”

    I have had this too – both during our engagement, and now that we are married. And I get to add to it, because both times I felt guilty, as if I was spending DHs money on things I wanted – first a wedding and currently a trip to Europe for 6 weeks. Both times we made non-refundable deposits less than 8 weeks before I lost work!

    But you know what? My DH loves to feel like he is supporting us. And I’m getting a lot of preparation and planning done, while also starting treatment for IBS and waiting for surgery for endometriosis. He says so long as I am making an effort to do “stuff” and look for work, its not my fault.

  • MDB

    From the time we started dating until just this month, we were the opposite of Elizabeth, financially speaking – while we both had steady jobs, I was the one with the savings and he was the one with the debt. I know he felt bad that we didn’t eat out much (and when we did it wasn’t fancy), get good seats at the baseball game, etc. and he often comments that one of the things he loves about me is that I’m frugal and careful with how I spend my money. But now he’s able to save and things are quickly switching around (since I’m paying for the wedding, depleting my savings from the last few years). But that is okay – we take turns and we both willingly make sacrifices for each other- because that is what marriage and partnership are all about.

    I loved Elizabeth’s post and I can’t wait to read more! Best wishes to you!

  • I might have this all wrong, but I thought wearing white was something started by Queen Victoria, not as a statement of virginity, but of wealth. As in: I’m rich enough to buy clothes that I will only ever wear once.

    Really interested to read the rest of Elisabeth’s planning story unfold. Best of luck!

    • In Roman times it was red that signified virginity and purity for marriage. Queen Victoria brought about the white dress, and originally it did signify exactly that: wealth and opulence.

      But since then, in Western society, the white dress has taken on all sorts of other meanings, including the big purity/virginity ones that a lot of us struggle with now.

      • meg

        Sheryl is right! 100 years ago in the US, people were just wearing their best dress :)

  • Seraphine

    I just wanted to say I loved this post–many things resonated with me. I grew up in a conservative religious background, so I’ve been dealing with gender/feminist angst for years. I consider myself very lucky that I was not trying to get married in college when my angst was pretty severe and I was in the midst of trying to figure out what I thought about gender/equality/feminism/etc.

    By the time I got to my wedding last year, I was pretty calm about the complicated nature of things: how my parents paid for most of the wedding because they’ve paid for all their daughters’ weddings, how my husband is the primary breadwinner and I have no savings and a lot of debt from multiple years of graduate school, but also, how I haven’t taken my husband’s name, how we walked down the aisle together at our wedding, and how he didn’t give me an engagement ring because I didn’t want one (instead, we got matching wedding bands).

    I can’t say that I haven’t had zero angst over any of these things, but I know myself and my situation well enough to know what would work best for me and how sometimes the reality doesn’t match your ideal. And I have a pretty awesome and flexible husband who has been amazingly supportive as we’ve figured these things out. I wish you the best of luck in figuring out the best path for you and not getting too worked up about the Patriarchy in the meantime (I know from personal experience it can be hard). As others have said, I really look forward to hearing more of your story.

  • suzanna

    Love love LOVE this! Such a great conversation, great insights. Can’t wait to see more from Elisabeth.

    And who here said something like, “Waiting until we have our ducks in a row? These days, we don’t even HAVE ducks!”

    It’s tough out there right now (I’m currently job seeking myself), and I feel incredibly grateful that my sweetie is supporting me. I’m mostly over the embarassment of relying on a man at this point, and he tells me every day how much he appreciates the things that I take care of (dinner, dogs, etc.). Team Family indeed!

  • Oh, hello Elisabeth! You and I should sit down and have a cup of tea sometime. Gainfully employed significant other? Check. Parents paying my student loans while I try to find a real job? Check. Dealing with a patriarchal culture other than your own? Check. Freaking out that a man from that culture didn’t say hello to you? CHECK. (Our poor tax guy…)

    Also, can I just say… a DOWRY? What are we supposed to with that, amiright? How the eff are we supposed to figure that out? Fortunately, I’m already married, and my husband has to get his immigration status adjusted before he can go back home, so a Kenyan wedding is far enough in my future that I don’t have to figure it out right now.

  • Lana

    I’m personally not a traditional person, but I’ve started to look at (at least certain) traditions in a new light since our wedding planning began. Honestly, having to walk down the aisle could potentially end up being the most miserable 20 seconds of my life. If I could magically transport myself to the alter, I would…or so I thought. Then my fiance got me thinking about if my dad would LIKE to walk me down the aisle, if it would be good FOR HIM. He’s a quiet sort of dude and neither of us express emotions easily, and I honestly now think that having him walk me down the aisle would be a moment of camaraderie and a way to express how much we love each other without actually having to do the uncomfortable deed of saying it. Because, frankly, I don’t want to walk down the aisle, he probably doesn’t want to walk down the aisle, but we’ll do it together anyway, if only for that one last chance for me to simply be his daughter.

    Also, when it comes to your wedding finances, don’t underestimate how much your parents probably really WANT to pay for it. I’m paying for our wedding, come hell or high water, I’m paying. Period. It was the easiest decision for me to make regarding the wedding, but I never realized how hard it was going to be on my parents. It led to some of the stupidest money issues a wedding could have and a sort of bizarre, belated empty-nester thing with my mom who felt “unneeded” and “empty”. (Luckily, I’ve talked her off that ledge, but still.) So don’t feel like a burden! I’m sure they really are just plain old happy to help and be a part of this next big step in your life.

    Elizabeth, I loved your post and can’t wait to hear more. Congratulations and good luck!

    • Your reason for deciding to have your dad walk you down the aisle is beautiful.

    • Angry Feminist Bitch

      But the entire congregation (or body of witnesses) will still think: Father Giving Daughter Away to New Man.

      Decisions, made by women or otherwise, do not occur in a vacuum.

  • KTH

    This is a fantastic discussion.

    Coming into our marriage, my husband and I joked that I was bringing the debt, but also the good credit score, while he was NOT adding any debt, but also not helping with credit. It’s a partnership, and however the partners choose to handle their assets is entirely up to them. It’s all about basing that partnership is trust and mutual respect.

    My parents had a very traditional set up — Dad made the money, Mom stayed at home. But Mom HANDLED the money and Dad was happily oblivious about things like buying clothes and groceries. I’m not sure that’d work for me, but it worked well for them.

  • PA

    From what I see around me, women who are in their twenties and thirties now often feel subconsciously that because previous generations fought so hard for our rights to do things, we are now obligated to do them. (I don’t know how women from other generations feel, I don’t have as large a focus group for those.)

    So, because we CAN be the top earner and we CAN have a college education and we CAN have a meaningful career, we feel that we NEED to be doing all of those things, all the time, or we aren’t being good feminists. I realized that that is what I have been doing, at any rate: I need to have career goals and be a strong, independent person who is achieving a lot in non-domestic arenas ALL THE TIME.

    And the fact is, things fluctuate. In my relationship with my fiance, I have been the top earner for one year and really NOT the top earner for one year. Sometimes I have felt aimless and directionless about my career, and sometimes he has. Some days I want to be a stay-at-home parent, and some days he does. On most days, neither of us particularly want to do the vacuuming. The thing is, as my mother once told me, not every aspect of your life will be in focus at every point in time.

    It sounds like you are blessed (or lucky, if you prefer) in your family and your fiance. Reading between the lines, it sounds like he’s willing to step back and let you have the space in your head to figure out where your boundaries are as a person. Because a lot of the things you’re going through right now (conversion, graduation, job searching, marriage) press on those boundaries.

    I wish you luck, and look forward to hearing more!

    • meg

      The real fact is, women from previous generations fought for us to have CHOICE. When we don’t take those choices, or blame them for us having choices and think that somehow we have to take the choice they fought to be on the table with the other choices… I think we throw their sacrifices back in their face, a little. Take the choice you need, and be profoundly grateful that you *have a choice* thanks to those women. Stay home with your kids, don’t be a breadwinner, change your name, WHATEVER, and thank feminism that you got to CHOOSE to do so, you were not FORCED to do so.

      • ambi

        PA and Meg, somehow in just a few short paragraphs, ya’ll have pretty much summed up the whole “feminist guilt” thing I have been talking about. My brain knows it is about choices, but of course I still feel a little bit like a dissapointment when I choose the path that used to be the ONLY path for women. A few years ago, I went back to school for a second advanced degree. My family was supportive, but my mom made a point of saying to me, “now please don’t immediately turn around and get married and have babies and stay at home after you do this.” I know she meant it mostly as a practical/financial point – don’t spend a significant amount of money getting a degree you aren’t going to use – but it has stuck with me as a little nugget of feminist guilt. I think that reminding myself that it is about choices and about Team Family will help a lot, as will the fact that I am genuinely happy with my life choices. However, as we all know, weddings tend to bring to light deep-rooted issues, and basically, I can stand behind my choices to get married or have kids or stay at home and raise them while they are young, etc. because those big choices are the kind of choices that are all about Team Family, but the smaller choices, the wedding-specific choices, those are the ones where I realize that I am making a particular choice that does not line up with my feminist ideals, but which just makes me happy for reasons I can’t really articulate. That’s the problem for me -how can I own my choices when I can’t really articulate why I am choosing them? More specifically, say for example that I know that name changing or having your father give you away stem from sexist practices, and I can find no rational or logical reason why I need to do those things, but I still want to do them because to me that just feels more like what I always envisioned my wedding to be (i.e., I bought in to all that sexist wedding propoganda society has been trying to sell me since birth). The hard part for me is just owning it, saying I know this is bullshit, but it will make me sad to NOT do it so I am going to have my dad give me away, or change my name, or whatever.
        I guess I feel like, when I make a choice to challenge gendered norms, I am automatically proud of it. If ever challenged on why I chose that path, it would be easy to defend (even if the only defense was “because I CAN.”). But when I choose to embrace the gender norms that used to be forced on women, I feel the need to justify and explain my choice, and honestly, I usually have a hard time doing that.

        Anyway, I am not saying that I should feel this way, just that I do. And weddings make it worse. And that is why I love APW.

  • Kathryn

    Hi Elizabeth! Your post is awesome. It reminded me of a wedding between two traditional Arab Muslim families I went to a few months ago, and at the time I was curious about how the status of Muslim women would be presented. The wedding ceremony was beautiful, and I remember being impressed that the imam included so much about how the husband was lucky to be marrying his wife. This continued throughout the reception when the DJ started to introduce the couple, and the groom popped out of a corner with a mic and said something to the effect of “You know, my wife is beautiful and amazing, and I can’t believe she would marry me, so I wanted to announce her myself – so please put your hands together…” Honestly, it was most woman-celebratory wedding I have ever been to. Now, are all Muslim (or otherwise) weddings like that? I don’t know, but I’d guess probably not. This one was also in the U.S., but I wanted to let you know that it’s possible!

  • kathleen

    I’m in the middle of a massive shift from my parents to my fiance as my primary financial adviser, and supporter, and general ‘who do I discuss the big money stuff with?’ role.

    My parents started as the ones I called in tears when I couldn’t afford to pay the mechanic when my car broke down, and eventually transitioned into the one’s who coached me through buying a house, and financially risky career decisions (from non-profit to start-up land- oh my holy stress). In many ways their coaching was one of the biggest parts of our relationship over the last few years, though it was always a large part of my family’s conversation and, well, tutelage.

    I’ve found a money smart man (which I’m so, so! thankful for) and more and more these conversations have moved into his sphere. Last week my parents called to tell me how proud+glad+beaming they are that I’ve chosen a man who openly talks finances and plans and goals and stability in that way.

    It’s been a really special and quiet transition, and Elisabeth, one I bet your dad is feeling too. My guess is both your parents and your man don’t see you as a risky mortgage, but rather an extraordinary, insanely-high-returns asset investment.

  • Granola

    As a total quasi-religious aside, there’s a great website called altmuslimah.com that I really like to read. Granted, I’m nominally Catholic, so I can’t vouch for the quality of the essays from an insider’s perspective, but they do a lot of APW-like questioning of gender roles and expectations within the Muslim community and I’m usually quite fascinated by what they have to say.

    • Farah

      Yay for a fellow reader of AltMuslimah, which is awesome! Unfortunately lately they seem to be mainly reposting old articles, I hope they some new stuff soon =)

    • Leslie

      Muslimah Media Watch is another good one

  • Elizabeth

    This is just such an amazing post, and I can’t wait to read the follow-up. After 9/11, I moved to the Middle East to learn Arabic. My fiance is not Arab, but I really want to incorporate my time there into the wedding. Basically, I’m trying to incorporate my adopted culture into our own for the ceremony, and it’s going to be tough. Thank you so much for writing about your journey!

  • Farah

    Oh my God…a Muslim woman dealing with feminist issues in an inter-cultural wedding with financial unbalance? HI!
    Granted, my situation is different in that I was born Muslim, but coming into my feminism in my teen years, and back to Islam in my early twenties, so much of what you’re speaking about rings true for me. (especially about the guys saying salaam thing…some times I’ve straight out been ignored when I’ve said salaam to a guy, and other times I’ve overreacted and mind-condemned some poor innocent brother). Dealing with the patriarchy of my Pakistani culture, separating it from actual teachings of Islam, and even then, trying to reconcile those with my feminist leanings is interesting and a daily struggle. I’m so glad that your fiance sounds like one of those cool Pakistani men who isn’t stuck in traditional thought processes, and is supporting you as you understand your feminism. I myself got tired trying to find a Pakistani guy like that, so found a lovely Malaysian boy instead =)
    And oh, all of what you said in regards to finances…I’m in the middle of law school in Canada, so I have a bajillion dollars racked up in debt, and my Inshallah soon to be fiance is debt free. But I read a post here on APW about marriage being mini socialism, and it helped everything my lovely boy has been telling me about not worrying about the money matters sink in. The APW community is so awesome.
    Anyways, I can’t wait to read more of your work!

  • Butterfly

    Salaams Elisabeth!
    As I am in the midst of planning our Muslim/intercultural/DIY/eco friendly wedding, I so appreciate this post! Our situation is slightly easier in that I converted to Islam 5 (!) years ago so I am more comfortable with that roller coaster (trust me there are a few ups and downs in your future, but an understanding, open partner makes a world of difference), and we are both living in the U.S. for now and the foreseeable future. His whole family is living in Saudi and we are debating getting Saudi marriage permission (I am sure you have heard about that mess).

    I have to say, in some ways I am really insulated from your struggles with gender/patriarchy stuff (at least as much as I could be given that all of that comes up with wedding/life planning). Our wedding is going to be here. I am blessed in that his mother especially is pretty outspoken about women’s rights. In addition, my partner and I are super careful about our community so the Muslims at the ceremony are only our “flavor” if you know what I mean. Also, my friend is officiating and she is doing a great job of helping me write the ceremony to be inclusive and egalitarian.

    I am excited to hear more of your plans and share some of ours with you as everything progresses. I am sure we could trade tips inshallah!

    PS – think of the ring as your dowry. It is given to you during the ceremony and certainly counts!

    • Elisabeth

      I realize I’m really late to the party here, but I just wanted to say that your comment was really lovely to read. It’s good to know that people are walking my path with me. It would be lovely to get the opportunity to trade tips at some point, and I hope that everything has worked out (Saudi marriage bureaucracy… jeez. SO glad I don’t have to deal with that)!

  • Krissy

    Hey Elizabeth,

    I totally understand your hyper-sensitivity to The Patriarchy. I am definitely there. Religion has always been something I have struggled with. I was raised Catholic and have always been not quite comfortable with it, and I am starting to explore other options for religion. The patriarchal overtones in absolutely EVERYTHING I have encountered is becoming maddening, and I am also getting more and more sensitive. I have discovered an AMAZING book, though, it’s called Dance of the Dissident Daughter, by Sue Monk Kidd (she wrote the Secret Life of Bees, one of my favs) and she talks about the very same stuff… her religion, to which she was very devoted, and how to deal with the overwhelming patriarchy. I know this post was awhile ago, but it’s awesome to hear from a woman in a similar place. Thanks. :)

  • Elisabeth

    Hi all. I am late to the comments because the system here kept assuming I was spam since I was posting from Saudi Arabia. Ha.

    Anyway, if this is not abundantly clear by now, I feel enormously privileged to have the opportunity to be part of this community, and the amazing discussions that go on here. Your comments were all amazing, all so understanding and open to new ideas, and it is extremely exciting to be a part of it.

    I really look forward to getting to know you all better!

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