From my observations in my Arab city context, women seem to grow in influence as/if she progresses through the life stages in the expected way. A girl who hits puberty stops playing on the street with the boys, starts veiling, stays inside more, and takes on female duties of providing food and drink for the male members of the house as needed.
Teenage girls often long for marriage dreaming of romance and a husband who will take them out places. Marriage may bring more independence, if they don’t live with the in-laws and her husband allows her freedoms. But living with the in-laws can mean the new bride is at the bottom of a new pecking order and her influence and power will depend on how much she is in favour with the mother-in-law; or whether her husband stands up to his family to defend her.
Sometimes is seems that the title of being/having been marriage is such an important/necessary thing, that many girls are in such a rush to get the title, just to relieve the pressure from those around them and the fear of being single for the rest of lives. To get a husband could involve: through family connections, through a hired matchmaker, through a spiritual medium and potions; looking good on your balcony/at a wedding to attract a potential fiancé.
Having children brings a new status, the peak of a woman’s importance and identity. It also gives her respect as well as little ‘chaperones’ for getting out and about respectably. She will have greatest influence in the spheres that are her responsibility – the children’s schooling and health, how the house is kept and then looking for brides for her sons. And once the sons bring wives and children into the family she finds a new position of respect and authority over the family, largely through the influence she has over her sons.
Marriage seems to be by far the most involved rite of passage here, with many stages and rites to mark these stages – the initial visits of a mother to potential brides-to-be for her sons, the getting to know you visits, the legal contract (katab il kitab), the engagement period, the henna party, the wedding and later the post-wedding blessing party.
Divorce (and infidelity) is just so common here (a friend told me that 3 out four weddings she went to 2 years ago have all ended in divorce), but sometimes I wonder though if the state of being divorced is more respectable than being ‘always’ single?
Of course, at the same time there is such high hopes that they will be the lucky girl who marries a guy who will not hit them or cheat on them and will truly love and cherish them.
In conclusion, marriage seems to be THE ultimate stage here. It’s what all of life revolves around and seems to be what ‘graduates’ you in to meaning and significance
I have found that there are so many disappointments people have experienced around marriage – singleness, lack of romance, violence, divorce – and this opens up rich conversations about expectations, choices, disappointments, beliefs about love marriage vs arranged marriage, and expected roles of men and women in marriage. I have discussed a lot about an Eph 6 vision of men/women; or questions of where we find out worth (from our creator, not our relationship status) and sharing about my experience of Jesus’ love in my singleness.
(c) When Women Speak… June 2023
This post comes from the observations of women living in the MENA region.