Boys, Girls, and Double Standards
It is often seen that there are different limitations for males and females, especially within sons and daughters of the same family. Due to cultural perceptions of females, there may be a disparity of rights and freedoms granted to daughters in their youth. This does not simply imply restrictions on social outings.
In order for us to develop into well-rounded and moral individuals, it is crucial to live by appropriate parameters and guidelines. As Muslim youth, we are privileged to be raised according to the laws of Islam and are taught its manifestation through the role model of our parents. Growing up in this society has revealed that adolescence is a constant struggle and journey of growth. Therefore, although our religiosity and morale are initially founded from Islamic teachings, they are honed through daily practice and decision-making.
This process, guided by our parents, ranges from their support in academic and extra-curricular endeavors to providing a foundation on which to base acquisition of knowledge and practice of ethics. On a regular basis, these actions are accomplished through use of rules and restrictions. Every family has experienced the need to set boundaries and limitations in order to raise children with discipline and integrity while simultaneously allowing the freedom necessary for maturation and self-reliance.
In various cultures, these efforts are manifested in different ways. It is often seen that there are different limitations for males and females, especially within sons and daughters of the same family. Due to cultural perceptions of females, there may be a disparity of rights and freedoms granted to daughters in their youth. This does not simply imply restrictions on social outings. Rather, it is also seen when girls are prevented from attending religious or academic events due to late night timings, distance from home, etc. Issues may arise when girls choose to attend school away from home or pursue activities or work outside of the community.
Shireen Khan, 21, has experienced such a phenomenon when seeing which freedoms were allotted to her while growing up versus what privileges her 20 year old brother received. She said, “Girls and boys are different in a lot of ways. It is true that girls are vulnerable to certain things, but I don’t think that should prevent us from self-development. It seems like in general, when guys are just given more freedom, they abuse it. My brother doesn’t abuse his privileges, but I think boys would be more likely to if they never have to answer to parents.”
According to Khan, the need to be independent in such cases is very important. When parents hold on to daughters by imposing tighter restrictions on them, they are causing them to rely too much on others. This means they won’t be prepared to leave home, whether it’s for marriage or simply to move away for the first time. “I know girls who don’t even drive at night because they are very insecure,” said Khan. “When it comes to an emergency situation, how will they take care of themselves if they can’t do something so common?” In this case, young women are raised in an environment where they are too sheltered. Throughout their upbringing, they have been taught what their roles aught to be, rather than what their roles have to the potential to become. For example, we may see this when women choose to not live away for college, in spite of receiving great opportunities.
Khan said that “parents need to understand these priorities when it comes to education. Whether a girl can or can’t go out on a regular basis isn’t an issue, but for education you have to make that leap and come out of the nest.” This hope, or rather assumption, that both daughters and sons are equally competent and able to be responsible individuals when left on their own comes from the belief that parents must do a great job in raising their children. This entails helping them grow to be youth who can be trusted and are capable of living Islamically-motivated sound and balanced lives.
Some parents believe that it is better to be equally strict on all children regardless of age or gender. In another youth’s home, “Neither the girls or guys can sleep over at their friend’s home. I think it’s fair because my mother isn’t bias towards anyone and no one feels left out.” However, she said the drawback of such a situation is that being too sheltered causes youth to lack life experience and personal development skills.
This concept brings us to the importance of independence. It is a difficult and challenging task to identify where the lines should be drawn to both allow for maturation and establish some restriction. Culturally, we often see that the reins are loosened on young boys earlier and more freely. As a society, we have a notion of believing they will be able to care for themselves and defend themselves when need be. Of course, there is a basis of this belief, but does this notion cause us to stifle young daughters? The notions of letting children have the freedom to pursue their Islamic and academic interests to maximum depend on the fact that they are able and competent to do so. Khan believes, “The need to be independent is very important. When parents hold on to their daughters too much, it is hard for them to do that.” Therefore, perhaps it would be easier to help a daughter live a lifestyle where she is given a fair amount of leniency. If this is simply the ability to make their own choices in minor situations, it will help them make greater more informed major decisions later on. This “life experience” will help foster skills needed for the future.
Yet is important to make the distinction between what are equal rights in Islam and what society has imposed. It is clear that in Islam, males and females have equal but different rights based on gender roles. According to Zishan Bader, 23, “It is not in every aspect of the law. You can’t give the same privileges to guys and girls on every issue.” He said he recognizes that the discrepancies which arise are due to culture, not religion. “It’s true, a guy can get away with a lot. That is due to how our culture works. Parents follow it, and no one stands up to change things. It’s too much of a hassle, and people don’t want to put in the time and energy to revolutionize the situation, so instead they abide by culture.”
It therefore gives communities a way to avoid facing the issues and follow societal norms. Hence, these culture norms still define our behavior. The reputation of young youth is not always simply dependent on inner character and morale, but it also is determined by what is seen outwardly by behavior and action. This reputation is a very delicate possession that is based on one’s goodness and respect in the community. Bader said he believes, “Once a girl’s reputation is tainted, it hurts her in the long run. Nothing can change that. At the end of the day, when a family is bringing a new girl into their home, they want someone who is good and with a perfect reputation.” Therefore, it seems that it would behoove parents to protect this blessing within girls and preserve their integrity.
Nonetheless, there is still a struggle present when individuals focus on doing what is only Halal (permissible), but their actions are misconstrued as incriminatory. For instance, continuing a late night youth Islamic discussion at the local coffee shop afterhours may inherently not be Haram (prohibited), but the way that the situation is perceived by community elders can be very damaging. Therefore, at times it is necessary to consider what image each action or event will present, even if in our minds there may not be an blatantly haram issue. These confusions and misconceptions are what begin rumors and bring can blemish on one’s purity.
After such emphasis on what changes can be granted towards our young females, it is crucial to consider what alterations can be done to positively help young males. Shereen Yousef, 22, said she feels that, “For boys, although their reputation may not be as much on the line as girls, they still have a responsibility to their faith. They have so much freedom culturally that sometimes it is abused and they cross their Islamic boundaries. In this case, there needs to be a middle ground for both sides. Young women should be allowed to gain more independence only if it doesn’t break Islamic boundaries, but boys need to hold back a little bit at times too. Parents have a responsibility in making sure this is enforced. It’s best to follow the rule that if something will make your daughter look bad, it will make your son look bad as well.”
Again, this does not mean that girls’ freedoms should be as liberal as those of boys, but girls should not be restricted from things that are not Islamically wrong. Yousef emphasized, “The key to know where your boundaries are and see how far you can grow within them. Parents should work to hold up that Islamic standard. It shouldn’t only be your standing in the community that guides behavior; it should be your faith.” This hints on the opposite extreme that only your image matters and faith is disregarded. Unfortunately, some youth also believe that they can commit any action in secret if it is not brought to light in the community. In the end, however, if you work to grow as an individual and perform every action to increase your faith and nearness to Allah, this mentality alone will keep you grounded and structured
The solution to such an imbalance is not to impose upon sons and daughters the same boundaries. Rather, it is to understand the roles of men and women in Islam and base their upbringing upon these factors. This progression can only come about by educating parents and creating understanding in communities. As Bader stated, “There is a need for more awareness. When families are more cultural than religious, this problem probably exists in that environment. If they go by Islamic rules and are open-minded, then such things may not be a big issue.” Thus, understanding the nature of gender roles and differences in Islam, not culture, is most crucial to create equality amongst our youth.