I encountered a meme this week that made me question my entire existence.
As I scrolled throughed Facebook after dinner two days ago, I stumbled upon a meme that struck very close to home: it was composed of a series of cheesy stock photos of middle-aged white people in an office setting celebrating a happy, prideful accomplishment with the caption, “Muslim families when their son does a simple household task.” The third photo depicted a very sarcastic clap from the sister character. I took a good three minutes to chuckle at it and read the comments.
Lingering on a meme for more than, say, two seconds is a very unnatural approach in the Social Media Realm™, but I proceeded anyway, scowling at the ceiling that night and willfully ignoring the notes for my chemistry final begging my attention.
I probably wouldn’t have lingered for so long, and would’ve just been okay with sending it in the family group chat. But I realized I faced a perfect example of this mentality a mere hour ago, as I have almost every other day of Ramadan so far.
Fasting, for many, drives people to near obsession over the exact moment that the sun sets, down to the millisecond. (Have you heard me talk about fasting before? Me neither.) I, of course, am no different, and coupled with a very self-destructive tendency to look at Tasty videos (when I’m feeling extra masochistic I watch Food Network) while I can’t eat, my hunger and anticipation for eating multiplies significantly.
Because of this, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen during Ramadan (even more masochism here) and go out of my way to make sure I know what food is being served that evening. My mom has grown to anticipate this, so it has become routine that my sister and I usually head to the kitchen every day some time before sunset with my mom to prepare iftar.
My brother and dad don’t bother to show up or help. No questions are asked.
I don’t think about it, because dinners in households nearly everywhere, regardless of setting, show the same patterns. Women prepare and serve the food, and the men come join them to eat afterwards. During Ramadan, my dad and brother may help a little – open a jar here, maybe cut a vegetable there. Again, I don’t think about it, because we all know my brother can’t cook and will complain the entire time, and my dad’s probably tired from working all day. I get it.
Don’t get me wrong – sometimes my brother vacuums.
Every member of our family has a job to contribute to the household (except me, but I’m a high schooler, so freeloading is in the job description), and I’m pretty sure that unless you’re Ina Garten, you didn’t come out of the womb with expert searing skills and a talent for seasoning. Still, despite coming from a family of trailblazer women, my mother only ever tuts playfully and goes back to cutting up fruit, allowing my brother to descend back into the depths of his room.
Menial day-to-day inequity sends subtle messages to me of the inequality between the men and women in my family. My extended family takes great pride in their sons, and in many other Muslim families I’ve encountered, value is usually determined through the success of sons only. Boys are sent to the mosques to study the Quran, and girls are either given a pass or taught a few select verses and nothing more. Girls were expected to be hospitable and take care of all the guests at home, while the boys could pass with sticking their head out of a doorframe and smiling.
Is gender inequality only a Muslim problem? No, of course not. I’m writing for a Berkeley newspaper complaining about gender imbalance over the fact that my brother doesn’t help in the kitchen. I know that this article screams “First World problems.”
Islam, of course, does not solely corner the market on sexism, but injustice toward women is widely broadcasted in Western media to cast Muslims in a bad light. Yes, there are some truly grotesque things happening in Islamic countries — the correct interpretation on how to treat women is a whole other can of worms to open.
But Islam is nowhere near the only culture to bear some warped views on women. We can see it at home in the United States with the ubiquitous shaming of a woman’s virginity. I can even see it the exploitation of cheerleaders at a homecoming game at my school.
However, there are bigger fish for Muslim women to fry at the moment aside from who helps out in the kitchen, and many other things to frown at besides memes. We may joke about these things on Facebook pages, but the stock photos may actually have a point.
Subaita writes the Monday column on Muslim identity. Contact her at [email protected].