When Arab women feel they have to be married to be valued
By Omar Bihmidine
It is true that the situation of women in the Arab world has slowly but surely improved in recent years. Yet, the changes the government and civil society have made to give women their well-deserved status are so small that the stigma of not conforming to the caprices of patriarchy is still common. An instance in point is when women and girls feel they have to be married as soon as possible to shun the trap of what Arab men prefer to name as spinsterhood or bad luck in finding a suitor. Mass ignorance among men and women alike, among other causes, is to blame.
At a time when developed countries have moved beyond sticking labels as regards an indispensable segment of their progress, women, the Arab world is still mired in having pity on their women and imposing on them their own codes of conduct and discipline. Whether married or not, women in the developed world don’t see that much difference this choice makes in their societies. So what? Developed countries may wonder. To honor women, we should allow them to feel their own worth whether they are single or married. Our world is not yet mature enough to allow women to remain single if they have chosen that for themselves. Can’t we give them this right? It’s theirs. It’s an inalienable one.
Parents, particularly mothers, have long bought into the myth that the day their daughters get married is the day of victory, happiness and glory for the whole family. But why do we treat girls alone with this old thinking pattern? Why don’t men face the same issue? Haven’t we long been talking about, and defending, equal rights between men and women? So it is a culture of liberating women that Arabs need to develop, not holding conferences about Women’s rights.
So long as being married or single doesn’t affect men and women equally, this must mean that the myth of Arab women needing marriage more than men do must be dispelled. Arab women fear not being sought after, while Arab men do as they please, which is a blow to gender equality. It is not necessarily that women fear remaining single for the rest of life because they cherish marriage. They rather fear the image the society is going to develop about single women. Oh, she is unlucky. She has no kids, some say. What is she waiting for? Others say. Why aren’t we hearing the same thing about men? It is high time the Arab society stopped having pity on women who aren’t married for some reason or another. Women are great as they are whether single or married.
According to psychology, self-worth is one of the secrets to happiness. But unmarried Arab women don’t feel they have any, due to falling prey to the unforgiving society. The exception to the rule are the highly educated women who have remained single, but feel they have no complex, thanks to the idea they have nourished that they are valuable as they are and that marriage is not the determining factor to her worth. It is unfortunate that some clerics give women the impression that they need a man. What if they can’t find any? What if they choose to remain single? Enough is enough of labels!
Are you married? This is the question women themselves like to ask other women as they age. In developed societies, such a question rarely makes a big difference. Why do Arab men look on single women with pity, suspicion and curiosity? Schools, associations and the civil society must begin to teach little girls that they matter whether married or single. It is as if the Arab societies are disseminating the myth that “I am married. Therefore, I am.”
An instance in point why Arab women feel they have to be married to be valued is the shame that is still associated with divorce. ‘Divorced’ is unfortunately synonymous with ‘unworthy and hapless’. Something must be wrong with the divorced woman, some say. Why don’t we blame the husband instead? It is as if marriage is only women’s business and that they have to bear all the faults. To honor women, we must instill in Arab societies that women don’t necessarily need men to be respected, valued, considered and well-treated. It’s time for such a myth to vanish from our lives altogether.