My father's religious and cultural beliefs, & my facebook account
November 22, 2010 5:16 PM   Subscribe

A fundy Muslim father (and his extended family) with strong religious & cultural beliefs vs. his adult daughter's facebook account. How do I reconcile this?

This sounds trivial and bizarre as hell, but this is my life and here's my predicament...

My facebook profile picture is/was one of me sitting on a couch next to my boyfriend. In my lap is a Where's Waldo book. On the other side of me is my friend's 3 year old daughter with leukemia. An innocent G-rated pic. IMO, it's Christmas card material.

My father (with whom I have a terrible relationship and don't speak to) received a call at 5 a.m. on Sunday. He is from Iran, a practicing Muslim, just like the rest of his family. On the line was his brother, freaking out. Apparently my cousin found me on facebook, saw my profile picture (everything else is private), and was horrified. He called his parents over to the computer, they showed my 70+ yr old grandparents, and so on & so forth. So they call my father, screaming and horrified because of the "obscene" picture of me on the internet: white cap-sleeve shirt and a knee length skirt that rides up my thigh (I'm talking inches above the knee, fyi) as skirts naturally do when your legs are crossed...

They claim you can see my ass which is ridiculous. It's called my mid-thigh.

My father called me later that morning asking me to either delete my facebook account or remove the picture and replace it with something "modest."

His criteria for "modest":
- My boyfriend must not be included (he is Jewish in the cultural sense which is obviously a huge problem to fundy Muslim types, but we are both atheists), nevermind the fact that I plan to marry this guy, he's a great person, and I'm an adult perfectly capable of making my own decisions.
- My legs cannot be showing at all. That includes the knee and BELOW.
- Nothing sleeveless, so no pics from the beach.

You can imagine the rest of the criteria. In one picture I'm mid-blink so it almost looks like my eyes are closed. It's an incredibly funny picture. This is also inappropriate because it might appear that I'm high / drunk.

If you google my name (& I am the only person in the WORLD with my name, unfortunately), a Facebook Marketplace listing comes up from months ago when I was looking for a roommate. It features the indecent picture in question. Even though it's inactive and I've requested that the ad be deleted, it will take some time for it to be removed from Google's cache, assuming I can get it removed at all (it's since been moved to another classified site called Oodle). That's out of my hands atm.

Here's my question:

I'm looking for thoughts.

Because of my job and the fact that I'm in law school, I keep my online activity private. If you search for me on facebook, I don't show up. I am not facebook friends with any relatives, nor do I talk to any of them. I have no interest in my family, aside from my sister. (I grew up in a physically, sexually, and verbally abusive household, and as far as things go with my father, I'm couldn't care less about his religious beliefs or ideas about women.)

As an adult, I'm not comfortable censoring myself. He says that I have successfully embarrassed him in front of his whole family and I need to have sympathy for his situation. I don't feel I'm being put in a fair spot. I asked my father for clarification-- let's say 10 years down the line I decide to become a bikini model. If they google my name and come across my professional website, is he suggesting I would need to take the site down and stop my business lest I ruin the family name any more? At what point do you draw the line?

I changed the facebook photo to shut my father up (I have an inbox full of nasty emails, voicemails, etc.), but going forward I feel rather sick about this. I can't even have a great G-rated photo of me and my partner because according to some, that's "indecent."

What would you do? I love the "indecent" pic. It reminds me of a great dinner party I attended. I enjoy looking at it whenever I login to facebook. Unfortunately, I can't stand the harrassment from my father and I do feel some degree of guilt. Should I change it since we share the same very uncommon last name? Do I hold my ground and do what I want?
posted by overyourhead to Human Relations (94 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Tell him to go to hell.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:18 PM on November 22, 2010 [56 favorites]

You already said you have a terrible relationship with him and you don't speak to him. All you need to do here is get better at the "don't speak to him" part, to include "block his emails and phone calls."
posted by Gator at 5:21 PM on November 22, 2010 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: ^ If it matters any, I've already asked for prayers from him & his family. I'm not sure what the lowest level of hell is, but as far as my relatives are concerned, I'm halfway toward it.
posted by overyourhead at 5:22 PM on November 22, 2010

Seriously, it doesn't sound like your father has any leverage over you at all, and you don't particularly care about his views or having a relationship with him. Why take him seriously at all?
posted by downing street memo at 5:22 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're doing nearly everything you can to keep your life private. If it were me, I would keep my Facebook picture something "decent", so that I wouldn't have to field any more irate phone calls/e-mails/etc., and make the "indecent" pic my desktop background or phone background. You get to keep looking at the picture you love without having to deal with a bunch of nonsense. I completely understand what you mean about not wanting to censor yourself, and if you don't change your picture, of course that's okay. It's up to you to balance your right to free expression with your tolerance for the grief your family will give you about it.
posted by epj at 5:23 PM on November 22, 2010

I've already asked for prayers from him & his family.

What? Why? You can't stand these people and don't want to have a relationship with them. So don't. Stop trying to appease them. Enlist your boyfriend's help in resisting the temptation to respond and engage with these people.
posted by Gator at 5:24 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you want them to run your life for the rest of your life, keep doing what you're doing. If not, make boundaries and enforce them. And get some help for the guilt.
posted by rtha at 5:27 PM on November 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

If you don't care to have a relationship with him then why are you making his problem yours? Stoneweaver brings up a good point too. You've now taught him that if he harrasses you enough, you will do what he wants. If it were me, I'd put up a more "indecent" picture than the previous one. Obviously this indecent photo would still be G rated most of society, just not to your father. Or just put the old one back up and hold your ground.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:30 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Stand your ground. For no other reason than the fact that you are an person with an independent identity, you enjoy the freedoms of expression and thought, and you have every right to be yourself without apology, without compromise, without fear.

Good luck, godspeed, and my prayers are with you (for whatever that's worth).
posted by jabberjaw at 5:30 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

As an adult, I'm not comfortable censoring myself.

I can't even have a great G-rated photo of me and my partner because according to some, that's "indecent."

These two statements are at odds with each other. You ARE an adult, and with that comes the ability to make your own choices. You need to draw a line. Either you let him continue to dictate what you can and cannot do, or you decide to lead your life as you wish. It is a choice. Maybe not an easy one, but it is a choice you have to make. You can't straddle the fence on this one because it will only make you miserable. All that will happen is that you will try to do as you please and they will continue to upset and harass you with their inappropriate demands.

Also, why are you asking them to pray for you? And what are you asking them to pray about? That you conform to their control and censorship? Asking them to pray for you is going to be seen as an admission of guilt and wrongdoing, that you have something that you need fixed and that they are right. This is NOT helping you.

You say you don't have much of a relationship with him, and it sounds like what little relationship you DO have with him isn't pleasant. Perhaps it is time to turn that "not much" into "none at all".
posted by gwenlister at 5:31 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

To what end would you be in deep hell if you were to cut this side of your family off completely? I'm personally not one who believes that blood is thicker than water, and in this case, I'd say you've got something seriously toxic going on, cultural differences/generational gaps be damned.

Like, what if you went full bogey? There are ways to block people from calling you, you can filter all messages you get in your email. I mean, you could totally blow their minds by saying, "You know what, respected members of my extended family? You are right, and I am sorry that I have offended you. I'm going to rectify the situation by distancing myself from you so you never again have to bear the shame of having such a daughter/granddaughter/female in your family. I shall keep you in my prayers if you keep me in yours." And then BOOM -- disappear, and go off on your merry way to marry your boyfriend and do your thing.

You could also put up a super saucy picture in place of the original and just blow their minds that way, but I almost wonder if that wouldn't induce a heart attack or two and I don't know that that's really the answer to this situation.

Best of luck.
posted by patronuscharms at 5:33 PM on November 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you are in a place culturally that is so far removed from his worldview that he will never be able to understand that this is pretty tame. I believe that your friends can fill the role of family where family fails, and you're under no obligation to family if they aren't willing to meet you halfway. I would just say it's time to cut off contact with him and any member of the family who isn't willing to treat you like an adult on terms you're comfortable with.

All that said, I know feeling alienated from your parents is very painful, and I sympathize with not wanting to create waves. But they're right upthread. Acquiescing to him in any way will embolden him to act this way in the future.
posted by orville sash at 5:34 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Block your cousin in your privacy settings. That way, you do not exist on facebook for him.
posted by pickypicky at 5:35 PM on November 22, 2010 [9 favorites]

If you're serious about not having a relationship with him, invite him to disown you to save his honour with his family, and then follow up on that by not taking his calls and sending his emails directly to the recycle bin.

I'm am sympathetic to the fact you are culturally far removed from your family of origin and understand that your different choices are hard for them to understand. If preserving a relationship with them was important toyou, I'd give different advice but at this point, I think it may do you more good to simply rock the infidel outcast thing, cut the ties and get on with it.

A harsh choice, but clear and defining in terms of your family relationship.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:35 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

What would you do?

I would do what made me happy.

I would change my phone number. One of the first things I would do is put a block on this crazy person's number and any of his crazy family members.

I would make a spam filter for his emails, so that they were premaritally deleted and never seen by me.

I would not entertain any of his requests, nor have conversations with him, 'cause really, what's the point if he and his family going to be this crazy?

If I felt really guilty or conflicted about this, I would talk it over with my SO, friends and maybe a therapist, cause I would be emotionally drained and tired and just fucking shit of all this shit and wanting desperately to dump that baggage so I could enjoy my life.

I would delete him and anyone else who tried this bullshit from life, with extreme prejudice.
posted by nomadicink at 5:35 PM on November 22, 2010 [16 favorites]

Best answer: If it's not this, it will be something else. Sometime people live on a whole separate planet from their parents. If you think this is bad, wait until you get married. Ultimately this has nothing to do with the picture.
posted by GuyZero at 5:38 PM on November 22, 2010 [14 favorites]

You don't say how old you are.

What you want to do really depends on how you want to be and what kind of relationship you want to have with your family 10 years down the line.

You could change your privacy settings so that they can't access your profile or block the cousin who got you into this or so forth.

You can rebel but that doesn't mean it cant be in a tactful way. Sure, its fun to be rebellious in someone's face and tell them to go to hell but there is a sweet pleasure in doing it as an adult. Not really passive aggressive, but slowly and surely and maturely. As a reference, have you seen Bend it Like Beckham? Something like that. The thing is, especially if you are a young adult who plans to live your life with your beliefs and with what you think is right/wrong, you really have to make a niche for yourself. Parents like to control because control is convenient, and seemingly peaceful for everyone. They are always going to do that. But if you believe with all your heart and mind that something is right, then at some time in your life you have to put your foot down. You don't have to change the thinking of of people around you who disagree with you. You don't have to change yourself. But, you have to find a way to live among these people without losing yourself.

You don't necessarily have to argue with your dad if he doesn't get it. You can still listen to him and make sure he doesn't find out about such things in the future. You may also want to talk to your cousin about playing the informer, if he is going to get it at all. Else, make sure none of them get to know what you are doing and draw boundaries. Meaning, people who are complaining and informing your dad are blocked. If they complain about it, you don't even have to respond. Silence works wonders.

And, the picture stays!! One move to appease someone and they are bound to bug you more in the future.
posted by xm at 5:40 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

You haven't explained the reasons you _would_ do what your father's asking, but there must be some forces pulling you in that direction or you wouldn't even need to ask this question.

So, what considerations have kept you from just dismissing your father's request already?
posted by amtho at 5:40 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

(I grew up in a physically, sexually, and verbally abusive household, and as far as things go with my father, I'm couldn't care less about his religious beliefs or ideas about women.)

I don't get it. Then why do you care what he thinks? And why would you, as an atheist, ask for your family's prayers?

Do what makes you happy; you are not doing anything wrong.
posted by amro at 5:43 PM on November 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

As much as I sympathize with you -and boy howdy do I ever-your father is caught in a cultural warp here. From the reading I have done (blogs in the Middle East, etc.) from his viewpoint he really HAS been shamed and his whole family thinks they are justified giving him crap about it. It's a totally, totally alien mindset from that of we westerners.

My one suggestion is do what I have seen others do which is use their first and middle name for their facebook accounts-that is, if you are inclined to try to make life easier for him in future. But honestly, I see no way to keep worldviews from colliding here. Maybe all I am saying is that in his world, there would have been no other way for him to react. You are under no obligation to change your life to reflect that but maybe you might not want to necessarily go out of your way to shock the relatives, either.

I get that this isn't fair. Not for you, not even for your dad or your relatives. It just is what it is.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:45 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your dad wanted you to demonstrate to his family that you still respect/fear him and you obliged. Who knows if they even reacted as negatively as he's claiming? He's probably aware that you'd put more stock in the feelings of your grandparents than in his, so he's massaged the story appropriately. Putting aside the cultural aspect of the dynamic, you might find useful to check out some of the sites that talk about the controlling techniques used by parents with narcissistic personality disorder. Often, children of narcissists decide that "no contact" is the best and safest approach. It'll always be something because he'll never be truly satisfied that he's in control.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:46 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it's not this, it will be something else.

Quoted for truth, and QFT.

I'm really sorry you're going through this ... it is painful. FWIW, I sent my mom a nice spiral-bound book of photos when I was living abroad: pics of my condo, palaces, the cats, me with my friends. Asked her if she'd received it.

"Yes, you and all the other drunks."

Because, you know, some of the pics had BEER in them. She wonders why I don't visit.

Block everyone except your sister, and hugs to you.
posted by cyndigo at 5:46 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ironmouth: "Tell him to go to hell"

Although to be fair, Hell might not do it. Jahannum, if Google can be believed, might be a better destination.

Also, block the Hell out of anyone who might show the male being who supplied half your genetic material anything about you from Facebook. They can join him after death.
posted by theichibun at 5:46 PM on November 22, 2010

Response by poster: Two things to clarify:

1. Re: my praying comment-- I was kidding. I don't pray. I'm an atheist.

2. What is compelling me to "obey" my father? Incredible guilt. I feel like I'm being a shitty human being, a terrible person for not appeasing my father with this small request. Yeah, I agree that it's just a picture, but it's the principle behind changing it. There's nothing wrong with it. I wouldn't have any problem with employers looking at it.

Guilt has always been the driving force with me. I understand that just because someone is your parent, you aren't obligated to love them or necessarily do anything for them... so why can't I just live with this idea that so what? My father thinks I'm a shit person and that's fine. It's mutual. (The underlying story runs pretty deep and is beyond the scope of this thread.) I suppose I'm just in need of reassurance that it's okay if I change it back to the "obscene" picture.
posted by overyourhead at 5:47 PM on November 22, 2010

Ah, on non preview, you seem to be operating from some very different cultural norms. I, personally, do not have the framework to completely understand your point of view in terms of asking for prayers, nor even talking to him, let alone considering his request and actually doing it. That's ok, it doesn't make either one of us better than the other. That fact that you're female may also be adding layers, further separating me from understanding you.

But I think I've learned some few simple things and one of them is that toxic people aren't worth keeping around, no matter they are, even if it's family. Especially if it's family. Your father, the threatening and harassing emails and phone messages? They're toxic. This request of his? Toxic. His entire behavior towards you in this episode? Toxic. You are your own person, obviously and in the end, you have to do what's best for you, what makes you happy. You deserve that, at the very least, as a basic human right. You can not live your life for other people.

I'm sorry you've been put in this situation, it sounds incredibly rough and unfair. I hope it gets better for you and that you find a measure of peace from this insane situation.
posted by nomadicink at 5:49 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

You're not a bad person. In his mind he's not a bad person. But y'all just can't coexist right now. He's not around to do anything to you if you don't obey. He's perfectly welcome to pretend you don't exist.

Honestly, that might be the best thing that could happen.
posted by theichibun at 5:53 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

You should stick up for yourself. I was raised Muslim. I'm an atheist. My dad knows. It took him some time to deal with it, but now we have calm, civil discussions about things like religion and spirituality. It took years, though.

Man, I remember changing my religion on facebook. I didn't change it to "atheist" but something more humanisty and vague. I definitely got some comments from "members of the community" about that. Whatever. De-friend me. They weren't my friends to begin with if they couldn't respect a little difference.

I also remember getting a tattoo when I was 19. My sister discovered it, during an accidental showing of said area (my back). She FLIPPED OUT. She decided it was her business to tell the rest of my family. She was horrified that I did such a thing, how sinful it was that I "marked" my body. My private little addition suddenly became public knowledge. Yes, we had a family meeting about my tattoo, that I chose to do, as an adult.

There are lots of little things here and there that I remember. Sooner or later, you will have to choose to stick up for yourself and defend your choices, or succumb to someone else making irrational choices about your life. It's your choice. It's not easy though.

"Shaming the family" is a common phrase used to manipulate people, of all religions, and non-religions too. It's used to intimidate people into controlling you. If YOU know you're not doing anything wrong, if you know you're not actually harming people, then you need to respect yourself for that. Some of my relatives have some truly fundy ideas. I don't think they know I'm an atheist, but male cousins wouldn't even shake my hands at my brother's wedding (we're talking first blood cousins, perfectly Islamically acceptable), so why should I care what they think of me? Answer: I don't give a damn. I can have a perfectly cordial relationship with them, but respect goes both ways.

But when people (anybody, including your dad) says shit like "(you) have successfully embarrassed (me) in front of (the) whole family and (you) need to have sympathy for (my) situation" - this is abusive. Verbally abusive. Psychologically abusive. It's manipulative and it is not ok. My dad wasn't the greatest dad growing up. We have a fine relationship now, but he was physically and emotionally abusive growing up, bordering on narcissistic personality disorder. He was controlling, I was afraid of him, and it manifested in some unhealthy ways for me. It took some time, but I had told him off when I realized I had the strength to not accept it anymore. E-mail was the best way for me, but I had told him off, and not censored myself. We didn't speak for a while. He tried to engage me, but my telling him off was a long time in waiting, and I was still too angry. Now we're ok. He's a lot more willing to listen and engage other ideas and ways of seeing things. It took time though.

Anyway. I'm rambling and this is all over the place. I think you should put the pic back up. If anyone asks, tell them that you have your own ideas of what modesty and decency look like. And that you're happy and content with your ideas. And you don't need their permission, spoken or unspoken.
posted by raztaj at 5:53 PM on November 22, 2010 [16 favorites]

I suppose I'm just in need of reassurance that it's okay if I change it back to the "obscene" picture.

I sympathize for your situation. People are somehow hard-wired to want approval from their parents, even if their parents are broken people or from a culture so different from your own that there's little common ground.

It's OK. You're a decent person and he brings this suffering on himself only by demand that you be different from how you are. If he had no expectations of you, he would not be upset. It is his burden to bear.
posted by GuyZero at 5:53 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

By complying with your father's request, you are teaching him that he can successfully harangue you into doing what he wants. This means in the future, he will harangue you. You are encouraging a behavior that you not only find distasteful, but that seems to distress you to a good degree.

If he learns that harassing you will get no results, he might stop harassing you.

If you don't want to talk to him, don't. Block his phone number, black-hole his emails, whatever. And you don't need to read those emails that you know you will find distressing. Delete them as soon as you see them.

I changed the facebook photo to shut my father up

This is not the proper strategy. Instead, you should hang up the phone to shut him up. You can choose to precede hanging up with a formally polite "I'm sorry, I cannot discuss this matter with you, goodbye", but it's not necessary.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:54 PM on November 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

To the above advice, I can only add: please watch yourself physically in the next few months. Lock outer doors at all times if you don't already. Don't answer friendly questions from strangers. Don't open the door to anyone you don't know.

It's probably over the top, but it's my advice. Best of luck to you.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:55 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Can you change your FB name? I know people who use Susie Q. rather than Susan Quartermaine (fake examples, obviously) and set everything to private. That way, you're not caving into dad, and he gets to save some face. He has to listen to those wacky relatives every day, you don't. And defriend that cousin, asap.

And you could use another photo as your profile pix, but still keep it in a album where you can see it. And then change it back.

I'm not for peace at any price, but you're not going to change him, and he's not going to change his relatives/neighbors, etc.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:56 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I say change your photo to something truly provocative and tell anyone who doesn't approve to take a hike. Its your life, do what you want.
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:56 PM on November 22, 2010

I am not a psychiatrist, but I don't believe you get rid of or work through guilt by giving in to it.

You are an adult, you know what to do.

If you need to separate fully from your father, maybe this will be it?
posted by wilful at 5:57 PM on November 22, 2010

I grew up in a physically, sexually, and verbally abusive household, and as far as things go with my father, I'm couldn't care less about his religious beliefs or ideas about women.)

Bah! Missed that. That's a huge thing. Answer changes:

Why do you care what your dad thinks? Let alone anyone in the family? Seriously. Are you financially dependent on him?

Also, he has a problem with you wearing skirts but knows and is okay with the Jewish boyfriend? Forgive my ignorance about all this but things are not adding up.
posted by xm at 5:57 PM on November 22, 2010

Guilt has always been the driving force with me. I understand that just because someone is your parent, you aren't obligated to love them or necessarily do anything for them... so why can't I just live with this idea that so what? My father thinks I'm a shit person and that's fine. It's mutual. (The underlying story runs pretty deep and is beyond the scope of this thread.)

Have you been to any therapy for this? If not, I think now would be a good time to start.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with pretty much everyone else.

Should I change it since we share the same very uncommon last name?

No. Don't encourage his behavior.

Do I hold my ground and do what I want?


I feel like I'm being a shitty human being, a terrible person for not appeasing my father with this small request.

What "small request"? We're talking about a huge request. If you were to not just delete this picture but also keep following his rules on what's OK in a picture, just think how many pictures you'd have to censor. And it wouldn't be just the effort of managing these photos, but also the knowledge that you were letting your life be run by gender norms that you don't agree with. The burden he is trying to put on you is not "small."

I suppose I'm just in need of reassurance that it's okay if I change it back to the "obscene" picture.

If I were you, I'd at least do that. I'd be tempted to change it to an even more scandalous picture, to get the point across.

Re: my praying comment-- I was kidding.

Just a tip: when you're asking us for help, it generally works best if you make things as easy as possible for us by not making us decipher low-key jokes like this.

posted by John Cohen at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2010

Block your cousin on facebook.
Maybe make your profile pic private for those searching you.
just don't do it. If they're not big fans of yours anyway, there's not much you can do to please them, is there? It's does not seem like your extended family will begin to accept you, your decisions, how you live your life, etc anytime soon. I mean, they're even willing to show granny the pictures of your "heathen ways."
Concerning your father, I'd say he should be more embarrassed about his being abusive than a G-rate profile picture.

Do whatever brings about the greatest amount of happiness. Good luck!
posted by Neekee at 5:58 PM on November 22, 2010

Guilt has always been the driving force with me.

I know the feeling. I'm the Bad Seed of my family, and it took years for me to stop beating myself up over it -- and sometimes it still manages to bubble back up, in spite of all the time and distance.

But look, you are in LAW SCHOOL. Law school is a grueling experience even for people with picture-perfect, supportive, loving families! You can't let these people get in the way of your future. You've made it pretty clear here that your desire is to cut them off for YOUR own good and mental well-being, and I'm thinking you are going to need extra help to make that happen. In addition to enlisting your boyfriend's and other friends' help and support, you should probably look at seeing a counselor, preferably one who can relate to the cultural baggage in tow here.
posted by Gator at 6:00 PM on November 22, 2010

Do you suppose that, even if you took down the photo, there might be other choices of yours that your father would claim to be humiliated by? Like, say, marrying your Jewish boyfriend? Raising atheist kids or not having kids at all? Generally living the life you want and not the life of a conservative religious Muslim woman? I think the things to reconcile aren't about this photo, I think the things you need to reconcile are your choices and your feelings of guilt about what your family thinks about your choices.

Adults get to tell fellow adults, "This isn't up for discussion." So, ultimately, you have every right to tell your father (and anyone else), "My facebook account isn't up for discussion," and as long as you're happy with your facebook account, that's what matters. The thing to decide is how you're going to deal with your feelings of guilt at knowing that your family doesn't approve. It may help to find other atheists with very conservative Muslim parents (or, perhaps, even more generally, atheists with very conservative religious parents of any religion).
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:01 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

And since you are in law school, I hope you're well-informed about your rights as to protection from harassment, should your father choose to step up his abusive contact. If at any point you feel fearful for your safety, PLEASE don't hesitate to contact the police.
posted by Gator at 6:02 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I suppose I'm just in need of reassurance that it's okay if I change it back to the "obscene" picture.

Of course it is ok to change it back to your original, beautiful, wonderful, lovely, sweet, charming picture! In fact, I encourage you to do so! How sad that a family member could take a memory that is precious and dear to you and attempt to sully it with bullying and threats. You don't deserve it and I hope you put the picture back up.
posted by bahama mama at 6:04 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

It makes you smile every time you log into facebook. It reminds you of a dinner party you had a great time at. It has your cute boyfriend in it, who you love and are planning to marry. And it is a picture you particularly like of yourself.

Change it back.

And don't bother telling your Father. This is not your problem. If you feel the need, tell him that you missed the old picture, and that you will only change facebook pictures when you feel like it. End of story. Ignore any future efforts to bring it up or hassle you about it, e.g., "We've already had that conversation." or "So, how's work been going?" or just plain ignore it.
posted by arnicae at 6:04 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Adults tell their parents "No." It doesn't make you a bad person to live your own life.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:09 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would hold my ground. A little gossip/"shame" isn't going to hurt anyone. If things get to the point where there were actual consequences for my family then I may change my profile, but I would imagine that a good chunk of people in Iran have relatives living similarly secular lifestyles abroad so the chances of that should be remote.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:09 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would block everyone on Facebook who would be likely to tattle on you to your abusive headcase father. Once that was done, I would put whatever I wanted on my Facebook page.

(And I would also pay exactly zero attention to anyone who is not themselves Muslim who thinks it's helpful to tell you anything about how Muslim families interact, functionally or dysfunctionally.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:12 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I totally understand everybody's righteous anger on your behalf and desire to lash out, but I think what I would do is Exactly what you Have done. Change the profile picture so that nobody can give anybody else crap about it, distance myself from unsupportive family, and then?

Live my life in awesome, happy, successful, loving ways without them. It sounds like you're on the right track!
posted by ldthomps at 6:12 PM on November 22, 2010

By complying with your father's request, you are teaching him that he can successfully harangue you into doing what he wants. This means in the future, he will harangue you. You are encouraging a behavior that you not only find distasteful, but that seems to distress you to a good degree.

If he learns that harassing you will get no results, he might stop harassing you.

Quoted because I couldn't have said it better.

If there's one thing I've learned from AskMe and am very thankful for, it is this: you teach people how to treat you.

If you take the photo down and aquiesce to his irrationality (IMO) then you have TAUGHT HIM that he can do this to you. His takeaway lesson is "If I harass her enough, she does what I want."

Do not teach him that this is how you will respond to his irrational hysteria. It will never end.

(Think about it - all THIS is over a Facebook picture....what about when you actually marry a Jew? Post wedding photos? Have kids? Can you IMAGINE where this can lead?)
posted by tristeza at 6:14 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, I really understand that you probably don't have time for therapy right now, because you're in law school and thus probably don't have time to brush your teeth, but therapy is one of the very best ways to work through completely irrational guilt about disappointing one's abusive parents. Just sayin'.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:17 PM on November 22, 2010

my reaction would be to change it to a picture of you and your boyfriend kissing.
posted by nadawi at 6:19 PM on November 22, 2010

Your current facebook profile photo cannot be made private. It is always publicly accessible.

Some form of not engaging your Father in these kinds of guilt trips is going to be the best long term solution, but a less complete solution might be to change your Facebook name, and go by a last initial or something. This would keep your unique name from being attached to your online activities and any future "obscene" images. This way it is less about censoring yourself, and more about removing their ability to have an absolutely unique search term to find you with.
posted by fontophilic at 6:23 PM on November 22, 2010

She said she feels guilt, not fear; all this talk of honor killings seems misplaced.

If your dad gets to control minor shit like a facebook picture that is perfectly fine by your standards, how are you going to say no when he throws a fit about the fact that you want to marry this Jewish dude you're talking (to us) about marrying?
posted by J. Wilson at 6:27 PM on November 22, 2010

Two friends of mine are a gay couple, both men. They adopted a daughter, and are amazing people, an amazing family, and wonderful, wonderful parents. I would argue they're much better parents, individually, than I am.

Yet, when they announced their successful adoption to the world, a slew of hatred poured into their Facebook page. Apparently lots of old "friends" from where one of them grew up were content not to comment about their politics or their sexual orientation, but when they found out about the adoption all hell broke loose. In a nutshell, most of the comments boiled down to "you are the most evil and perverted people on the planet, you're going to destroy that child, and because you've done this, the child deserves to be destroyed, and we hope you all die in a fire." And I'm trying to put a friendly face on it, in terms of the language I'm using.

My point, here, is that the world is full of people -- acquaintances, friends, family (extended and immediate) and strangers -- who think that you are a horrible person by their own value judgements. You can't appease them, you can't make them happy, and for heaven's sake, why would you want to?

The best approach for this sort of thing is, ultimately, to keep such people as far away from you and yours as possible, and where not possible, set boundaries and hold your ground, because you've done nothing wrong and have nothing to apologize for. The alternative is to give people like this evidence that they're not completely wrong; every time you knuckle under, or attempt to appease, you simply give them reassurance that they have a leg to stand on.

That doesn't make this your cross to bear, of course; if you don't want to deal with this (and who would?) pull the picture and don't put one up (putting one up that suits your father's requirements is giving in too much, I would think.) However, I hope you'll consider the alternative of simply leaving things as they are, and responding to future inquiries along these lines with simple refusal to discuss, because they only have the power to influence you in this fashion if you grant it to them.
posted by davejay at 6:33 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mod note: bunch of comments removed - make your answers non-fighty, or take it to MetaTalk or email, thank you
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:39 PM on November 22, 2010

Live your life doing what you think is right. Also, parents never change. I'm sure there are a few exceptions, but don't hope for it.
posted by snofoam at 6:40 PM on November 22, 2010

I have no interest in my family, aside from my sister.

I feel like I'm being a shitty human being, a terrible person for not appeasing my father with this small request.

So what you're saying is that you'd like not to care what he thinks, but in actuality, you do. And you'd like to know if it's okay to work on not caring.

Yeah, it's okay. It's entirely okay. As stated above, therapy can help you learn to work out what's irrational guilt and what's a healthy place to be in your own head. But even without therapy...yeah, it IS OKAY to not care, not when someone is demanding unreasonable, nonsensical things and trying to manipulate you. It's okay to blow people off when they are being outrageous and insulting.
posted by galadriel at 6:40 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

You might want to read teh thread. She said that her boyfriend's Jewishness is a problem.

I read the thread. She didn't say her family is opposed to her Jewish boyfriend, just that some fundy types tend to be opposed to Jewishness, and that her dad wanted a profile picture without him in it. Are we expanding "fundy types" to mean everyone in her extended family? If the OP hasn't mentioned this specifically, or that her family is completely anti the BF, let's quit with the assumptions. They're not conducive to helping the OP with her specific question, and also not really cool on a broader level.
posted by raztaj at 6:41 PM on November 22, 2010

Echoing everyone else in this thread.

You are an adult. An adult who has every right to live her own life. And no one- not your father, not your cousin, not anybody- has the right to make you do otherwise.

The thing is, by caving into your father's demands, you're enabling his BS behaviour. You're telling him that it's OK to pull this shit with you. It's not, it's really not. You said that you grew up in an abusive household? This is more abuse, right here. Your father is trying to manipulate and control you. He is so out of line it's not even funny.

Please cut this jackass out of your life. Today it's the picture. Tomorrow it'll be something else. He's not going to be happy unless he's manipulating you, and you and your loved ones deserve better than that.

Family isn't about blood. Family is about people who love and support you unconditionally, and your 'father' has shown himself unwilling to do that. He doesn't deserve your consideration, or your guilt.
posted by Tamanna at 6:42 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

At what point do you draw the line? What would you do?
Should I change it since we share the same very uncommon last name? Do I hold my ground and do what I want?

You wanted to know what we would do, so here's mine: Tell my [relative] that they've crossed a boundary, tell them that I am an adult and will make my own decisions, and leave the perfectly innocent picture up. If they cannot accept this, they will not be speaking to me again, and I will not stand for harassment. I love my family dearly, but I do not put up with this kind of immature behavior from anyone, period.

Your shared surname has no bearing on the matter whatsoever. You have done nothing wrong, and should feel no guilt or shame about it. Follow through if he or other relatives continue to harass you.
posted by asciident at 6:44 PM on November 22, 2010

you know, no-one is forcing them to look at your picture - if they don't like it, they can look at something else - it's not like you're putting it up on a billboard outside their house - they had to search for it. Are you responsible for the million other things on the internet that would offend them? of course not! These people are looking to stir up some shit. That is a choice that they made; you have chosen to live your life in a way that makes you happy, you can't change it if they go out of their way to make themselves miserable.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:44 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, guys. You're giving me a lot to think about. Just the reassurance I am looking for.

Another things to clarify re: the Jewish boyfriend thing: My father doesn't like him. He doesn't approve of our relationship. I couldn't give a shit less. He doesn't approve 1. because he's a "Jew" (which goes hand in hand with his broader hatred of Israel), and 2. because I'm fucking a man out of wedlock. I'm with a man who isn't my father, basically. Quasi-incestuous, I suppose.

My mother (American) and sister love him. I was in a terrible accident one year ago and nearly lost my life. I was disabled for many months. I wouldn't be here without my BF's support. My mother and sister know that too. He's a really decent, nice, down to earth person.

My father won't say his name. He won't even say "he" or "him" or "that guy" or "you guys"-- basically anything that would imply that my BF exists as a human being. I'm confident my paternal relatives feel the same way.

(Side note: I have a cousin who had a kid out of wedlock. Went to an Ivy, directed a film that played at Cannes and Sundance all before the age of 30, but still the whole side of the family shuns her because despite being in a now great relationship with the baby's father, the pregnancy happened out of wedlock. It's really something else.)

You guys are absolutely correct in that this is a lot more than the picture. I don't even know how a wedding would be possible. My father truly despises my BF despite knowing all that he has done for me. But it's also true that even if my BF wasn't Jewish, even if he was any guy under the sun, my father would hate him all the same.

I want to sleep on this, but I'm leaning toward changing the picture. This time to a really cute one of me & my BF, indecency be damned.
posted by overyourhead at 6:58 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

I could be way off the mark, but I'm getting a lot of conflicting messages here:

"as far as things go with my father, I couldn't care less about his religious beliefs or ideas about women"

"I asked my father for clarification ... I changed the facebook photo to shut my father up ... "


I think you firstly need to internally resolve your relationship with your father. How much do you care about his views and opinions? Come to peace with that, whichever side of the fence you end up sitting.

At the moment I sense you are experiencing the conflict between where you would like to be ("I couldn't care less about his religious beliefs or ideas") and where you are now ("I asked my father for clarification" etc.)
posted by Admira at 7:02 PM on November 22, 2010

Dumb question. Why not change your name? Like, actually change it. Don't tell them what your new legal name is, use it going forward. What's your cousin going to do, look at every girl on Facebook hoping to see your face?

Personally, I think your problem has very little to do with Facebook and a lot to do with creepy abusive interfering family members. I'd be changing my address and phone number and forwarding everything they send me to a trusted third party in the event they did something crazy, if I were you.
posted by SMPA at 7:03 PM on November 22, 2010

I want to sleep on this, but I'm leaning toward changing the picture. This time to a really cute one of me & my BF, indecency be damned.

Go you!
posted by J. Wilson at 7:21 PM on November 22, 2010

I haven't read any of the comments yet, but my response to your question're an adult. As you say, "I have no interest in my family, aside from my sister." So tell them to eff off, and go on enjoying your life.

Your family is bullying you, and by changing the photo, you've given in to them, given them power. If it were me, I'd enjoy life, block/change phone numbers, set up email filters to send those from certain senders to the trash, etc so I never even saw what they have to say. If something did make it through, I'd ignore out of pure stubbornness. I'm sorry you have to deal with this, but that's what I'd do. Yes, they're your family, but you don't need people like that in your life.

(Also because I'm a jerk, I might even post a photo in a low-cut or, if I had the figure for it, bikini top. But again, I'm kind of a jerk about these things. You just TELL me I can't do something.)
posted by AlisonM at 7:27 PM on November 22, 2010

The picture you wrote about represents your current life and is a good memory for you. I can understand your feelings when your father used such strong language lashing out at it and at you. Essentially, he was declaring your life and achievements to be worse than worthless. No matter how sane and distanced you are, that's bound to hurt.

If there's one thing abusers are good at, it's programming their kids. I'm really glad you got out and have a happy and successful life now. But your father, from however far away, seems still to be able to tap into all the manipulative shit he conditioned you with as a child.

That conditioning can't be undone in a day, though it might well be worth finding a good, trustworthy therapist with whom to work on that in the long term. The current issue is the picture, and what to do about it.

His whole schtick right now is "You've hurt me, you've shamed me", right? Know this: You are not, not responsible for any pain he may be feeling. He has inflicted it on himself and is only using you as a convenient punching-bag. So he flipped out? It is the nature of parents to throw drama-fits. It is the task of our generation to figure out that the drama-fits are not our fault, and to learn to live unswayed by them. So I agree with those who have said that you should put the photo back up, though it may cause drama-fits in the short term.

Here's what else I would do:

Protect your information and your personal space. At the very least, program his number into your Caller ID and route all his emails to a separate folder (or straight to the trash.) Changing your Facebook name sounds like a good idea to me; changing your phone number and/or email are more drastic, but might be worth it if his craziness increases. The main thing is: He does not get to control, or choose the times of, the contact between you. You do.

Speak to a few other relatives or family friends if there are any you like or trust at all. Right now (I assume) you only have your father's word for what's going on, and he hardly sounds like a reliable source. Are you in contact with anyone who knows your father but is less crazy? It might be useful to have their perspective on whether there really is a family scandal, or whether it's just him throwing a hissy-fit. It might also be worth contacting the cousin and letting him know how much trouble his indiscretion caused.

Then: Put the picture back up. Live life; finish law school; marry boyfriend; be happy. Every moment of happiness in your life is a victory over the abusers. May your victories be many.
posted by Pallas Athena at 7:28 PM on November 22, 2010

(Side note: I have a cousin who had a kid out of wedlock. Went to an Ivy, directed a film that played at Cannes and Sundance all before the age of 30, but still the whole side of the family shuns her because despite being in a now great relationship with the baby's father, the pregnancy happened out of wedlock. It's really something else.)

Registering my vote for de-friending your tattletale cousin and adding this other cousin instead. You could even email her and ask her for tips on coping, since your situation and hers are very similar.

Actually, re: this statement:
I feel like I'm being a shitty human being, a terrible person for not appeasing my father with this small request. . . so why can't I just live with this idea that so what? My father thinks I'm a shit person and that's fine. It's mutual.

Don't ignore the similarities between you and your cousin -- she went to a good school, has accomplished a lot, has a great relationship. Clearly, just because the family are being dicks, it doesn't lessen her awesomeness. Likewise, you're in law school, have a great relationship, have a fun social life and friends, etc. They are being dicks. You are awesome.
posted by lhall at 7:31 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, change your last name if you want to change your name, but don't change your name out of irrational guilt toward your father. You've had that name for at least 20-odd years, and maybe you feel like it's your name, not just his. He doesn't get to be the boss of that name.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:46 PM on November 22, 2010

Best answer: Thi may not be about your dad. It may be about hia reputation and having others think that he can't xcontrol you, even if he knows it is true.

if you want to be really bold, confront him with that?
posted by k8t at 7:50 PM on November 22, 2010

Contrast this: I feel like I'm being a shitty human being, a terrible person for not appeasing my father with this small request.

With this: The picture you wrote about represents your current life and is a good memory for you.

Essentially your father is rejecting, again, your very real life and asking you to remove even the most superficial public acknowledgement of it. Of course this is painful and of course he's using shame and guilt to cause you this pain - he lacks any other form of control.

But the person being shitty here really isn't you.

I think Admira's comment noting your conflicting statements about your relationship with your dad is also worth really looking at. It doesn't sound like you're really resolved as to what kind of relationship you want to have with a parent who is toxic to you. I've cut off contact - but really cut it off - with a parent and it has been painful but also so freeing to no longer feel tethered to someone who caused me so much pain.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:04 PM on November 22, 2010

I believe I understand that your father abused you as a child. Perhaps you should ask him how you in a long skirt brings shame to the family, but his behavior does not? Say it in a way that makes him understand that it's not something you're afraid to air publicly. That may change his tune. Of course, there's also the theory that he can scream all he likes, but fucking right off would be a better use of his energy.
posted by notsnot at 8:21 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

overyourhead: Guilt has always been the driving force with me. I understand that just because someone is your parent, you aren't obligated to love them or necessarily do anything for them... so why can't I just live with this idea that so what? My father thinks I'm a shit person and that's fine. It's mutual. (The underlying story runs pretty deep and is beyond the scope of this thread.) I suppose I'm just in need of reassurance that it's okay if I change it back to the "obscene" picture.

That's your real question there, in bold. I'm not sure anyone who doesn't know your family history can answer that. I hate to throw out the go-to answer, but you might want to try a bit of therapy to get your answer. As for if it's ok to change your picture to the one you want: yes. I'm sure it will be liberating. Also, practice hanging up on people. He's an asshole. I hang up on assholes, no explanation, no goodbyes, just hit the button.
posted by chairface at 8:22 PM on November 22, 2010

I feel like I'm being a shitty human being, a terrible person for not appeasing my father with this small request.

Here's the thing about this small request:

It's not a small request.

Yes, your father is only asking you to change your photo on Facebook, and what could be smaller than that? I mean, it's just Facebook, right?

But the answer becomes "a great many things", when you realize that what he's actually asking is that you publicly pretend to be someone you're not.

This is comparable to the parent of a gay person asking them not to post a picture with their partner because it's embarrassing to the father. He's asking you as a westernized, liberated, atheist adult woman to make your way back into the religious and cultural version of the closet.

Given that you intend to marry this unacceptable person and then pursue a career where you will likely wear unacceptable skirts and from which you will take unacceptable vacations, you're not going to be able to hide this forever.

If you feel genuinely endangered by having your family know about these activities, by all means, hide them for your own safety. Even if you'd just really, really rather get rid of the picture than deal with the shit from your father and his family, go ahead and hide them. But don't do it just to appease people who apparently hate the person that you are so much that they'd make harassing phone calls over a totally innocent picture.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:29 PM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

My take: submitting to his demands now just perpetuates the guilt he can continue to place on you for not making the decisions he would have you make. You can accept it forever, or you can choose to take a stand. Now seems like a good time for that choice.

Modesty is not in the eye of the beholder. Modesty is something you feel or don't feel for yourself. If you aren't offended by the photo, do what you want.
posted by gjc at 8:40 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I want to sleep on this, but I'm leaning toward changing the picture. This time to a really cute one of me & my BF, indecency be damned.
posted by overyourhead

Well, if you'd like a new photo - of whatever degree of "decency" and happen to be in the NYC area, I'll be happy to shoot it for you for free. Just let me know.
posted by blaneyphoto at 8:40 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Restore the picture. Change your privacy settings so only your friends can see your profile photo. Pre-emptively block every family member you do not trust from being able to find you on Facebook. Cut off contact - permanently - with the abusive, judgmental, controlling members of your family. Call the phone company and block the phone numbers of all such members. Use call display to further enhance your ability to keep abusive, manipulative phone calls out of your life. Maintain contact with the others. Begin to live your life as a free, happy adult. If you decide to marry your Jewish atheist boyfriend, whatever you do, don't invite all your family to the wedding. Don't even feel guilty about not telling them about it. They don't accept you as their daughter, niece, or granddaughter. Fine. There are plenty of people who love you - make them the only ones that matter in your life.
posted by Dasein at 9:03 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Change your privacy settings so only your friends can see your profile photo.

Again, that is impossible on Facebook.
posted by John Cohen at 9:33 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

You and your boyfriend must change your names and move to a new town. Never contact your family again. Create new FB pages.
posted by jockc at 11:00 PM on November 22, 2010

Hi, overyourhead, I'm responding without having read all the responses to your question, but I have read your original question and all of your followup comments carefully.

It sounds like there are several different things at play here, that interact negatively.

1) You have a terrible relationship with your dad, with an awful history.
2) Your father is Muslim and Irani, and has fairly typical opinions about the appropriateness of romantic relationships with non-Muslims, sex outside of marriage, and women's modesty in the sense of how they dress.
3) You are building/living a life you enjoy, but that there is no way he, as a practicing Muslim, would ever approve of.

You need to recognize that in world where only 2 and 3 were true, the best possible outcome would be the kind that raztaj describes above, where there is the possibility of polite discussion about your disagreements. Given that 1 is also true, that's really unlikely. In your head, you've already written off the relationship.

To me, as a practicing, but not particularly conservative South Asian Muslim, it is the first point that is the deciding factor here. If he were a great dad, who happens to be a religious Muslim, and his family was giving him grief over the photograph (and they would, because bare legs are shocking to even moderately conservative Muslims, and non-Muslim boyfriends are even more so), then you might have considered honouring his feelings. That's IF he had been and continued to be a great dad. And even then, it would have been a "might consider."

As it is, there is a history of abuse. Your actual reason for having changed the photograph seems to be a response to being emotionally blackmailed, rather than anything else. You don't owe this to him.

I'm thinking of various cousins, all female, incidentally, who have been in relationships with, or married non-Muslims. Their parents reactions have varied.

In one case, Muslim father, Catholic mother, the cousin got pregnant out of wedlock, ended up marrying the guy. My uncle was deeply hurt by the whole thing, but at some level, also felt unable to criticize, because he had shocked his family by marrying outside the culture and faith himself. This cousin was certainly not ostracized by the rest of the family, but the fact of her being in a country that the rest of the family rarely visited anyway, very few people in the extended family heard about the whole thing. It *was* considered a source of shame. It still *is* something that those of us who know about it don't discuss with anyone unless we know for sure that they already know.

In another case, Muslim father, white American mother (I think she is Christian, but I'm not sure), the parents are divorced. The cousin was dating a non-Muslim in America and got married to him last year. My mother did not attend the wedding, because she didn't feel like she could "bear witness" to something she didn't believe was permissible. An aunt refuses to even call it a wedding. The cousin's father, my uncle, explained to my mother this way: "I'm not happy about it. But while the majority ruling has always been that Muslim women can not marry outside the faith, there are x, y, and z things in the literature that make me think that it is not preferable, but is permissible. And I would prefer her to be married rather than just living with him." So it was a big family wedding, my brothers attended, the pictures were all over Facebook, etc., etc.

In a third case, both parents were Muslim. The whole thing was very hush hush, particularly because the guy the cousin married was Hindu (but maybe he converted, but no one really knows, because no one talks about it). The parents had a huge social circle in the Muslim community of North America, so it was a big source of gossip. The cousin ended up moving to Hong Kong to get away from it all. Her name is not mentioned, pretty much, in the family.

So reactions vary tremendously, even amongst believing Muslims. One thing that stands out to me is that both of my uncles felt like they couldn't hold their daughters to a standard they had not respected themselves(i.e. marrying outside the faith), but that sex outside of marriage was still completely unacceptable to them. It is striking to me that you mention your American mother (I'm assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that she is not Muslim), but that your father doesn't seem to have a sense of the double standard he is applying.

You would need a good reason to change the picture. Guilt is a bad one. Excuse me while I once again give an example from my history.

I am American enough that I would have loved to have moved out of my parents' home while I was still single, and lived in an apartment close by, in the same town as them. Just for the "I'm a grown up and have my own place" feeling. But this is SO far from the norm in Pakistan that I don't know a single person who has done it, barring truly awful family circumstances. My parents would have been baffled and hurt. They would have assumed, and been unable to believe that it wasn't true, that they had done something horribly wrong and that I must really hate living with them. So I, having no desire for them to be so baffled and hurt, never did this. To my mind, their happiness, compared to my occasional impatience to stretch my wings, was more important.

To be clear, if I had a job in a different city, that wouldn't have been a problem. Lots of people do that. But I *liked* being around my parents. I didn't want to be in a city far away from them. And their feelings would have been justifiably hurt, given that young Pakistani men and women don't move out of their parents' homes until they get married, or get a job in a different city. So I had GOOD reasons for my decision. I'm happy I made the choice. Ten years later, I still think it was the right choice.

It doesn't sound like you have any good reasons for doing what your father wants. You're absolutely justified in making your own choices and living your life in the way you see fit. He appears to have lost the right to expect you to honour his feelings. Put the picture back up.

You will, however, need to cut off the relationship completely unless you want to deal with his angry emails and voice messages. So figure that part out, too.
posted by bardophile at 12:04 AM on November 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

What is compelling me to "obey" my father? Incredible guilt. I feel like I'm being a shitty human being

You are not. He is. For trying to control and guilt-trip his adult daughter in a wholly inexcusable way. Explain to him that he has no right to dictate your choice of dress, boyfriend or anything else, because you are an independent adult. If he cannot accept this, then you are justified in following Ironmouth's initial succinct advice. One way of doing this might be to tell him you're an atheist. :-)
posted by Decani at 4:09 AM on November 23, 2010

Overyourhead, I think you need to modify your view of your father (and I agree that at some point therapy can probably help support you in this) and treat him for what he is: something poisonous and unhealthy; something that will harm you if you don't protect yourself against it. Like a rattlesnake, or salmonella, this threat doesn't necessarily have any consciousness or understanding of its effects, and can't be managed by reason or persuasion (there's no explaining to the snake that it mustn't behave that way), so you take the necessary measures to isolate yourself as much as you reasonably can from its toxic effects, but you don't spend much time worrying about it. You live your life, you never pet the rattlesnake, you are careful about how you prepare your food; you don't wonder if it's cruel to keep snakes out of your home or feel guilty for not chopping the lettuce on the same cutting board you just used to slice up raw chicken.

Congratulations to you, because you've created a happy, full life for yourself despite your father's poison! Reinstate your lovely Facebook photo, send his emails directly to trash and don't answer his calls. Do not feel guilty. If he had been a loving father who protected your physical/psychological/emotional welfare — or even just did no harm — then despite whatever incompatible beliefs you two might have, there might be something to consider... but he wasn't, and there isn't.
posted by taz at 5:15 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Much good advice, not much I can add.

You said you have experienced physical abuse. Document that physical abuse in writing and put it in trustworthy hands. Avoid circumstances where physical abuse may happen again. Wouldn't it be a better world if I were completely wrong every time when I speak of faith-based violence.
posted by eccnineten at 5:28 AM on November 23, 2010

(And I would also pay exactly zero attention to anyone who is not themselves Muslim who thinks it's helpful to tell you anything about how Muslim families interact, functionally or dysfunctionally.)

Nicely put. Although individual cases vary greatly within 'both' cultures, Muslim families tend to interact along lines that would and do seem alien to most Americans. I sort of respect the American idea of freedom-and-personal-liberty-at-all-costs, but I was an unusual person even in my native country. But Americans, whom I'm talking about since they make up the vast majority of people posting here, tend to be blind to other realities and generally give advice counter to what seems logical (and is at least equally viable) to people from other lands, Muslims in particular. I have a Turkish friend who puts it this way:

Americans? Dysfunctional people in a functional land.
Turks? Functional people in a dysfunctional land.

Switch Turks wth Iranians and it's still largely true. Granted, you seem to have some heavy dysfunction in your family! But while Americans often choose self-satisfaction over happiness, people from other countries choose the other way around. Relative to its immense wealth and opportunity, it's shocking how unhappy many Americans are relative to those in poorer and more authoritarian places. So while people may urge you simply to tell your father to fuck off, I don't think that's a clear path to happiness for you, or you would have done it already. (And ignore intolerant hysteria about being concerned for your safety. Holy crap, do the racist assumptions ever end around here?)

Your guilt regarding your father is a disturbing issue, and you should probably focusing on working that out rather than solving this incidental issue.

Therapy, therapy, therapy.

That said, I can't help but to think that this has more to do with your feelings about the rest of your family being embarrassed than your dad, as such. I also think that the picture of you with your boyfriend may be the real issue, not your so-called physical indecency, in which case, why not change to a "decent" picture with your boyfriend and wait for the objections to roll in? It might make you a little more brave about this whole situation if your father carps on to the point of (greater) absurdity.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:35 AM on November 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Granted, you seem to have some heavy dysfunction in your family! But while Americans often choose self-satisfaction over happiness, people from other countries choose the other way around.

This is true in many cases, but it seems to me that it's not so relevant in this situation. It suggests that self-satisfaction here (keeping her own choice of Facebook profile photo) militates against happiness, but that assumes that anyone would be happy if she simply didn't use that photo . . . or marry the man she loves, or whatever her father or other family members want to command. Will overyourhead be more happy by submitting to the bully figure of what was a "physically, sexually, and verbally abusive household"? Will her father be happy with anything other than total submission? And even then, will he be happy? Should overyourhead comply with every demand in the hope that it will at least make the other person(s) happy, even if it definitely won't make her happy? What if submission makes 30 family members happier, but makes her miserable?

What if, putting the loaded question of self-satisfaction aside, she just chooses what doesn't make her unhappy?
posted by taz at 6:41 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

What is compelling me to "obey" my father? Incredible guilt. I feel like I'm being a shitty human being, a terrible person for not appeasing my father with this small request.

His training's been effective, then. But of course it's true that his inability to adapt to Facebook norms is quite properly his problem, not yours.

As your random Internet non-attorney, I advise you to replace the problematic picture with a version photoshopped to reveal an extra eighth of an inch of mid-thigh, and let him know that you will keep on doing this every time he whines about it.
posted by flabdablet at 7:22 AM on November 23, 2010

I'm a little confused about what you were hoping to get an answer about, OP, upon further reflection.

I don't think anyone who knew that you had been sexually abused as a child (you don't specify that your father was the abuser, but we're all assuming that's the case), conservative Muslim or not, would think that you owed your abuser much of anything by way of respecting his feelings. Certainly all of the commenters here have said some variation of "You don't have to feel guilty about your display picture, and you don't have to take it down." Many have advocated increased belligerence, even. So if what you wanted was reassurance on that score, you have everyone's blessing.

But I feel like there's more going on here.

- If you're hoping that you can get your Irani family's acceptance of your current lifestyle, that's highly unlikely to happen. Even most moderate Muslims would have a hard time accepting your lifestyle in a close family member. And yes, brother's daughter is close, mehram close. First cousin is close although not a mehram relationship, pace raztaj.

The cousins I've described? I respect their right to make those decisions. I would have attended the wedding if I had been in the US. I visited with my cousin even when she was pregnant out of wedlock and would do it again. But I can't, hand on my heart, say I'm comfortable with their decisions. That said, I recognize they have no responsibility whatsoever to ensure that I am comfortable with their lifestyles.

But I wouldn't have been throwing my hands up in horror and waking my brother up at 5 am to express my shock at his daughter's behaviour, either, so I'm guessing your paternal family would have much more trouble recognizing/accepting that you don't owe them that kind of deference.

I'm not sure that threatening to air the issue to your paternal family will achieve anything positive, especially given that they are already in shock and horror about what they think is your lifestyle, based on your profile picture. If you're already the "woman of loose morals" in their book, they aren't liable to put much stock in accusations of abuse. They might, but I don't see it as very likely. You may want to do so for your own peace of mind, but don't do it because you're hoping it will further the relationship.

- If you're hoping that your father will accept you for who you are, etc., etc., then that doesn't appear very likely right now, either, particularly if you give in to his demand right now.

It is challenging being the American child of a conservative Irani/Pakistani/Indian Muslim, even if the parent-child relationship is a good one. The tension between the American self-satisfaction imperative that Dee Extrovert talks about and the "happiness of the family" imperative is not one that is easy to resolve. I sympathize deeply with the struggle to live a lifestyle that doesn't conform with familial expectations while still wanting the approval of the family.

While it is obvious that the relationship with your father is fraught to the point that you wish to end it, it is unclear to me how much you value your relationship with your paternal family. I can't imagine a scenario in which you reject your father but successfully maintain your relationship with your paternal family. If that's your hope, you have my sympathy, but I do think it's a virtually impossible hope.

You choose to tread a path that's different. Unfortunately, that means you either have to choose your path, or your family's approval. Which would make you happier? It's a really tough question for most desis I know. I imagine the same is true for Iranis. But it's the question you have to answer if you are going to move on in life. My heart goes out to you. Good luck.
posted by bardophile at 7:45 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

One more vote for "block the hell out of him!" Emails automatically moved to the trash, block his calls, etc.

If you do end up having to communicate with your father again, which I hope you don't, I'd take it a step further. Tell him that HE is the "indecent" one, and that his demands themselves are sinful and inexcusable. And, for that, he will never see you or speak to you again, or see his grandchildren, or be at your wedding, etc. Don't just take what he has to say, and feel guilty. HE should feel guilty! Your beliefs are not only different, and not only valid, but they are RIGHT whereas his are WRONG. Fight back, and tell him he's going to hell for how he treats you. Above all, stand your ground!

Good luck dealing with all this.
posted by Citrus at 8:40 AM on November 23, 2010

I get the guilt, I really do. But one of the nice things about being an adult is that you get to consider and reject your parents' suggestions. You get to say to them, "I've heard you, but I'm going to do something other than what you want. This discussion is now closed." This is also, by the way, one of the hardest things about becoming an adult - getting yourself to the point where you can do this without blinking. Now is an excellent time to get started - put up whatever photo you want.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:43 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Therapy, absolutely. I'm an atheist Jew who was raised an Orthodox Jew. My parents have been somewhat more understanding than your father and never abused me, but I still needed therapy just to come to terms with leaving their religion and experiencing their sincere and strong disapproval.

As for the Facebook picture, it pales in comparison to the shitstorm that will ensue when you marry your boyfriend. I say stand your ground and let your father come to terms with that, so that he's a tiny bit closer to sane by the time you get married. He needs to start the grieving process for the daughter he wanted to have.
posted by callmejay at 9:55 AM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

The relationship you have with your father doesn't sound like an adult relationship. At least, not like an American adult relationship. His emotional power over you keeps you as a child in the relationship, reactive and responsive.

I know lots of people (many Americans) who don't have adult relationships with their parents. Sometimes I even think it's typical. In average to good parent-child relationships, they can probably even get away with it with minimal harm done. But in your case, there's definitely harm done.

Harriet Lerner is one of my favorite authors and I think she has a lot of really helpful thoughts on these issues (Dance of Intimacy, I think). Maybe therapy could be a useful possibility for you? Whichever way you find to do it, freeing yourself from him emotionally and mentally will be so good for your own mental health and emotional development, and for your other relationships.

I don't think it's easy. If it were easy, everyone would have done it!

That said, I think you should do with the Facebook picture whatever will be most facilitative of that process. It might be hiding your picture entirely, putting up something unobjectionable, or putting up something x-rated. I'll definitely second everyone here who has written that you don't owe him anything.
posted by Salamandrous at 9:58 AM on November 23, 2010

People from fundamentalist Christian families have exactly the same problems and for pretty much the same underlying reasons. So while the standards are Islamic, you are far from alone.
There's a certain self-importance and sense of "winning" that comes from group religious pressure, and I know from spending a lot of time around Muslims that social pressure is a huge factor in the cultural environment. I can see that happening with what you describe.

I recommend you set your Facebook filters so your family can't find you on there. Wear what you want as long as you consider it decent and reasonable. I'm assuming you live in the West, and a picture of you in a short-sleeved shirt, nice skirt and kid with leukemia will in no way prevent you from getting a job.
posted by medea42 at 10:18 AM on November 23, 2010

You're in a difficult situation. When you make choices that you have every right to make, your family members become very upset. They tell you how upset they are. You then feel that if you continue to make those choices, you will be choosing to upset your family members. It feels like you're deliberately hurting them. Meanwhile, your "job" as a good child is to protect your family members from hurt. What to do?

You have to choose: either to be fully yourself, and accept that your family members will be upset, or to always restrict yourself to choices that do not upset them. As long as you waver between these two options, you will feel tremendous guilt, anxiety, and discord. Once you choose one of these two alternatives, you will be able to begin to accept the consequences and you will increasingly feel at peace with your decision.

It seems like your desire is to make your own decisions. If so, really sit down with it and accept what it means - that for the rest of your life, you will do what you believe is best in every case. When it comes to your choice of friends, your choice of lovers, careers, how you raise your children. Also when it comes to how you dress, how you present yourself, how you interact with strangers, how you speak, how you dance, what perfume you wear, what you eat. Also when it comes to whom you choose to allow into your life - and whom you exclude, because their presence in your life is painful. You choose the big things, and you choose the little things. Forever. This is a fully moral way to live your life. If this is what you want, embrace it, accept it, and accept the consequences.
posted by prefpara at 10:28 AM on November 23, 2010

If you get nasty messages in your FB inbox, block them. Report them to FB if the msgs are threatening.
posted by WizKid at 11:22 AM on November 23, 2010

People from fundamentalist Christian families have exactly the same problems and for pretty much the same underlying reasons.

I'm from a fundamentalist Christian family (I'm now atheist), and have gotten angry emails from my most fundamentalist uncle about my Facebook shenanigans. (Biggest no-no was linking to a video of Marc Maron on Jesus being one of the great Jewish magicians.)

He blocked me, he asked his children to block me. They did not. I told him that I will continue to post hilarious videos to my Facebook page regardless of whether or not they align with his theological positions and he is free to be my friend off Facebook if he so chooses.

Is that exactly the same problem? No.

As Dee Extrovert and bardophile have noted, North American families have very different impulses than yours does, and you're hearing a lot of reactions from people in that mindset. I know what I did with my family, but it sounds like that choice would have very different implications for you.

For you personally, let me affirm that you do not sound like a shit person at all. You sound great and thoughtful and kind and stuck in a crazy situation, and I wish you the best of luck in finding a trade-off that works for you (and your fab boyfriend!).
posted by heatherann at 4:55 PM on November 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks again for all of your helpful responses.

My plan was to change my profile picture to a new and different photo -- a lovely one of me & my BF, headshot only -- on Wednesday since I was to leave town that day, making it that much more difficult for my father to harrass me. Unfortunately, Tuesday night I fell ill to food-poisoning, and I've been too weak to sit up and get on my computer, let alone take part in an argument.

But the photo absolutely will change within the next few days. I'll update when that happens.

I'm going to have to re-read a lot of your posts because the past few days have been a complete blur. I just wanted to pop in here to say thanks in the meantime. So, thank you. :)
posted by overyourhead at 9:45 AM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

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