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Sex + Relationships

Love: An Unexpected Form of Privilege

The answer is most likely something along the lines of being able to pay for college, owning a car, or more recently, feeling safe around policemen. What about love? What about the privilege of being able to choose who you marry, when you marry, or even if you do? 

To be clear, I am aware that all heteronormative couples are inherently privileged because their relationship is not stigmatized by society. In this particular instance, I’m choosing to focus on the concept of children going through arranged marriages, of people having no escape because divorce means societal exile, and of being expected to have children way before you’re ready.

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Towards the end of the summer, my mother gave me a book titled A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. The story follows the lives of two women, one from Palestine in 1990 named Isra, and her American-born daughter, Deya, chronicling their lives in the intensely patriarchal Palestinian culture they come from. While reading it, I became increasingly self-aware of how hard it was to empathize rather than just sympathize, and how my quick solution to their problems would have been “run away,” “refuse to get married,” or “file for divorce.” For Isra and Deya, though, none of those things were an option. In Isra’s world, it was normal for a husband to beat his wife, much like hers did. Disagreement and independence were nonexistent, and her worth as a woman relied on her having sons. For Deya, it was slightly different, having grown up in the states and having seen life exist for others without these rules, yet she was expected to adhere to the expectations of an arranged marriage. Both women dreamed of the chance to fall in love, to have a fairytale they read about in books– something I take for granted. 

For me and almost every person I know, the idea of not ending up with someone you love is absurd. I was taught to leave someone if they yelled at me too harshly, let alone beat me repeatedly. My parent’s opinions of my love life matter, but it’s never been the law. Divorce to me sounds like awkward explanations and legal paperwork. It has never meant being exiled from society or cut off from my family like it did for Isra. Reading the book put me in the uncomfortable position of realizing that my outlook on love wasn’t the result of something innate in my being, but rather a consequence of privilege.  

[bf_image id="q7t51h-6k1oo-7zor4t"] So, why bring this up? This summer I’ve done a lot of thinking about privilege, about who has it and how they got it. What is privilege? More specifically, exactly how much credit can you give yourself versus any head start you got in life, and how can you use yours to help the world? For me, the first step is self-awareness. A Woman is No Man reminded me of my belief that I’m worth just as much as any man, and that my freedom to choose within my relationships is an outlook others may not believe in. It instilled in me a sort of angry disbelief that teenage girls are still expected to serve and are told that their worth depends on bearing sons. 

Do I have a concrete idea about what exactly I, or others, can do to help? Not in the slightest. There are many layers of cultural and familial complexity in these situations that I won’t pretend to understand. All I can do now is try my best to keep learning so I can understand better and to continually try to empower other women. I encourage anyone reading this to do the same and to be cognizant of privilege existing in places you didn’t think it did. 

After all, who would have thought being an unmarried cat lady would be a choice some might dream to have?

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Maya is currently a junior in Sargent College at Boston University, studying Human Physiology.
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