Thursday, November 20, 2008

Young, Single and Baha'i

W.O.W. There's a pretty interesting and often humorous piece by Kay S. Hymowitz in City Journal called Love in the Time of Darwinism. Every young, single Baha'i needs to read this (warning there is some colorful language so be ready for it). Here's a taste:

Earlier this year, I published an article in City Journal called “Child-Man in the Promised Land.” The piece elicited a roaring flood of mailed and blogged responses, mostly from young men who didn’t much care for its title (a reference to Claude Brown’s 1965 novel Manchild in the Promised Land) or its thesis: that too many single young males (SYMs) were lingering in a hormonal limbo between adolescence and adulthood, shunning marriage and children, and whiling away their leisure hours with South Park reruns, marathon sessions of World of Warcraft, and Maxim lists of the ten best movie fart scenes.

It would be easy enough to hold up some of the callow ranting that the piece inspired as proof positive of the child-man’s existence. But the truth is that my correspondents’ objections gave me pause. Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men. (Read the whole thing here)

It reminds me of a post from the Changing Times blog that sparked a flurry of commentary. I've been in conversations with some Baha'i men, including one recently when I was in D.C. that share some elements with the frustrations voiced in Hymowitz's article. Two thoughts come to mind. First, I'm so glad that I am happily married and out of the whole dating scene because I experienced it as something analogous to a decade long sentence in an insane asylum. Second, to paraphrase a former president, "It's the sexism stupid". It seems to me that nine tenths of the difficulties that young, single Baha'is are struggling with is due to our culture not having figured out how men and women can relate in news ways based on gender equality rather than old patterns that no longer fit the needs of a human race advancing from spiritual adolescence to spiritual maturity.

Gotta go, but I would love to hear from Baha'is out there who read Hymowitz's piece. Does the author have a point? What do you think?


  1. That article really bummed me out. I think society has warped so we all have unrealistic expectations of others, as well as prioritize the wrong things. I couldn't help but hum a few bars of Andy Grammar's "Numbers" to myself. Le sigh. I guess its all the much more important to teach the faith because we have guidance there, and the greater society really needs guidance. The dating world seems like chaos these days which is probably why I have been so hesitant to participate. I'd rather sit on the sidelines then have to worry about what the rules of the game are. That and since I have faith and I believe in chastity and purity it makes it even harder to participate in this overly sexualized process.

  2. Maeve, I totally feel you and can see how it would be really discouraging. The faith that you have may be the very thing that keeps you in the game so to speak. Don't give up, things can and will get better and thoughtful people like yourself can be part of that process.

    What do other people think?

  3. Anonymous1:58 PM

    From a card-carrying member of the senior generation. (yes, a medicare card), for the younger set:

    OK, attitudes and behaviors are more extreme now,
    But bear in mind:
    "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

    Most/many young women of the 50's and early 60's were looking for "a good catch" ( throwing a net into the ocean of men, evaluating what got drug up, throwing the rejected ones back). Material stability/success was considered pre-requisite number 1.
    Then their were the heart and hormones, going for the guys with pizzaz. Neither of these criteria, often at war with each other, were conducive to choosing a suitable life-partner.

    Men: Have always procrastinated about commitment and marriage--although I admit it was harder to have sexual relationships back in the day, and that may be a factor exaggerating this age-old dilemna. In my time, men still Looked for the" trophy wife" that other guys would envy,.
    At war with this desire was wanting the woman they thought would be a great homemaker.
    As the sign one of my older friends hung in her kitchen proclaims:
    :" Kissin' don't last. Cookin' do."

    So this current state of things is just a problem taken to its logical--or illogical--extreme. As 'Abdu'l-Baha said, marriage among the mass of the people is purely a material thing, while we must look deeper. Equality of the sexes will not be understood, I think, outside of a spiritual context, either in the workplace or at home.

    It is interesting to me that in this day of supposed individual freedom, the men and women cited in this article are still trying to follow man-made rules to achieve success in dating and marriage. Still trying to fashion a facade of being someone they are not, in order to "catch" a mate.
    (whether short or long term). What happens when two pretend people try to make a life together?

    Examining one's own motives, and just how much the society around us and our own emotional proclivities influence decisions on this most important matter, versus how much one understands and takes to the Writings in choosing a mate, no matter how challenging this may seem, is, I suggest, crucial.

    As for spending an inordinate amount of time dwelling on the materialistic approach by both genders (aren't prioritizing looking for sex and prioritizing looking for money both forms of materialism?):
    To quote my parents:
    "Never mind what other people are doing."

  4. Thanks anonymous for sharing the perspectives on an "older" person. It's given me things to think about and it would be interesting to have an intergenerational dialogue about what's written in the article I cited for this post. In that spirit everyone is welcome to share your thoughts regardless of age or whether you are single, Baha'i or not.

    Bring it on.

  5. "Never before have men wooed women who are, at least theoretically, their equals—socially, professionally, and sexually."

    This may have been my favorite sentence in the article. It leads me to ask, "What does it look like to court someone who is your equal?" Wait, before you can even address that, you need to be willing to look honestly at what it means to be equal. If we actually hold certain beliefs, then we need focused reflection on how our professed beliefs and our actions FAIL to align. So...

    I could imagine a group of people sitting down and studying what the Baha'i Faith has to say on our spiritual nature, and WHY the Writings teach that men and women are spiritually equal. Then trying to come up with concrete examples of how that translates in our lives:

    1) "Know thou, O handmaid, that in the sight of Bahá, women are accounted the same as men, and God hath created all humankind in His own image, and after His own likeness. That is, men and women alike are the revealers of His names and attributes, and from the spiritual viewpoint there is no difference between them." 'Abdu'l-Baha, cited in a Compilation on Women

    2) Concrete expression of this:
    I don't know. In part, this would be a chance to interrogate our own contradictions in belief. e.g. "I believe in the equality of the sexes, but I think that job X makes you less feminine." It could also be a chance to share stories of how both men and women can reflect the exact same names and attributes of God. What does it mean for BOTH men and women to show humility and servitude? What does it look like for men to begin to practice "feminine" traits. Etc.

  6. Lev, you've offered an interesting challenge and I hope that other readers will take you up on it and respond to the questions you've raised. Let's keep the comments going.

  7. Thanks for bringing this up, Phillipe. Although it is such a complicated issue I almost hesitate to comment on it. I read the whole article, and while it does bring up a lot of things I've noticed among the young men of my completely disregards the role of young women. All of this has not happened in a vacuum. There are many variables here...the sudden changes in family dynamics over the last 50 years, the rise in technology and information, a change in attitude toward reading and learning, the feminist movement and the changes that came with that. I'm not saying all of these things are inherently bad or good, but as a society we are struggling to redefine what constitutes an "adult", and there is a LOT of confusion.

    I like Lev's question: "What does it look like to court someone who is your equal?" I get so frustrated when, in the corporate world, I am told to "act more like a man." What does that even mean? Likewise, I think it is unfair to men to expect them to "act more like women." Yes, gender equality has taken great strides, but we can't pat ourselves on the back yet.

    As we redefine the roles of men and women in society, we must also acknowledge that men and women ARE different. That we must strive for equality, and also celebrate the beauty of the diversity of the human race.

  8. Anonymous5:49 PM

    I wonder whether you think by contrast the Baha'i community is demonstrating an alternative? Personally, I don't see it. In England all you see is tons of Baha'is in their teens, twenties and thirties getting older and older, unhappily single. Forced out of the game by a lifestyle that's incompatible with the rest of society and given nothing as an alternative. By the time they eventually do settle down, they have no experience of relationships and are having to learn everything that most people picked up when they were 17.

    Is that what you see too, or do you see something different?

  9. I was not raised in the Baha'i community so my experiences are limited, but I think I have seen some of what your are describing. I don't know if Baha'is have yet discovered viable alternatives to what we see around us, but I think we are trying and there is much yet to learn.

  10. Anonymous2:02 PM

    All the comments make a lot of sense. As a single Baha i woman, i've observed in my comunity that one of the main problems is that no one wants to have raeal conversations on this topic . Lol it's as if it didn't exist! most Baha i men don't really seem to know how to engage in "getting to know each other". I guess it's gonna be a long hard proces.

  11. If you are interested in fitting all this into the new paradigm of culture and learning go to: Baha'i Library Online for a 64,000 word, 125 page document on the subject.

  12. Just to be a little more specific since Baha'i Library Online(BLO) is the largest single collection of written/print resources on the Baha'i Faith on the internet and, if you are interested in fitting what has become a wide-ranging and extensive discussion on the new paradigm of culture and learning since the mid-1990s--go to: BLO and click on the small box at the top of the access page, the small box with the words "By author."

    Then type the word "Price" into the small box which then appears and click on the word "Go." If you then scroll down to the 46th item/article on the list and click on that item you can read/have access to a 64,000 word, 125 page document on the subject. This article will inevitably be too long for many internet users and I simply advise that you: (a) download the article for free or (b) read until your eyes glaze over and your mind can no longer absorbs the content.-Ron in Tasmania

  13. That article is now 80,000 words and 175 pages and formany it will be too long a read, outside the internet convention of short posts. But for others it will be right up their alley. Readers pay their money and make their choice both on the internet and in book shops. I wish you all well putting into action this new paradigm.-Ron in Tasmania

  14. That article on the new paradigm of learning and growth is now a book of 285 pages and 130,000 words for anyone interested. Go to Baha'i Library Online, click on the word "author" at the top of the access page and then type the word "Price" into the little box that appears. Click on the word "go" and then scroll down to article # 47.-Ron Price, Tasmania

  15. Great Discussion. I'd like to offer two thoughts from an almost 50 year old Baha'i who spends a lot of time thinking and working on issues of gender equality.

    First in relation to if men should develop "feminine" qualities or women should develop "masculine" qualities. When asked what the purpose of life was, Abdu'l Baha said it was to acquire virtues. I think it is pretty clear from looking at the Baha'i writings, that we are all encouraged to develop all the virtues that God has endowed us with. In our current social environments, certain virtues have been designated as "manly" and certain virtues have been designated as "unmanly" This seems kind of silly. Virtues are the reflection of God, if a male person is kind and nurturing it should be encouraged just as much as if he has courage. Assertiveness demonstrate in a female is just as important to acknowledge as love and compassion.

    Second, in regard to "dating". The Baha'i writings don't describe such a ritual. They do say that if you are interested in finding someone to marry, that you should do service together. This to me makes sense both individually and as a society. Individually, you get to know someones character much better by doing work together than by having a fancy dinner or going to a movie. Socially, imagine that every Friday and Saturday evening, instead of heading to bars and movies, young people flocked to homeless shelters, nursing homes, and domestic violence shelters to do service for humanity and hang out with the opposite sex while they were at it. I'm sure there would still be misunderstandings between men and women, but the world would look much different.

  16. Anonymous7:21 AM

    I agree with one of the anonymous post. I once tried to hold a deepening on Marriage and Family Life and the participants were most in their early to late 20's. It was tough to get them to share their thoughts, it's almost as if it is a very personal topic that is left to personal perception of what it means. Another issue I have noticed is in regards to pride and ego that I see as a test especially for the men-folk. Women are becoming bolder and more forthcoming which seems to appear as a threat. It looks like it is still a long way to go for a lot of us to understand what it truly means to be equal and my generation is in the middle of it all! Challenging times.

  17. Anonymous10:02 PM

    Gender equality is not about "first date etiquette" (who opens the door, who pays for what). What good is a set of superficial rules about how many roses should be given on Valentines day? In marriage, equality is lived, day in and day out. It means neither one of us exploits or puts down the other; we don't manipulate each other. We are free to express our full identities within the context of our family unit. We stay home or we work. We open doors for each other. We submit to each other, and we love each other. There's no "Darwinism" because no one should be competing with their spouse to survive.