If Beyoncé’s multi-award-winning track “Single Ladies” can be understood as a celebratory anthem to many, a whole region still doesn’t seem to see that statement under the same light.
Women in the modern Middle East and North Africa are too often subjected to the unspoken rule of being casted and stranded within the private spheres of society, in simplified terms: expected to always maintain home or maintain a home.
Unless granted with a golden exit ticket through marriage, leading a relatively free of stress life under the single lifestyle can be difficult (to not say almost impossible) considering the social expectations and stigma that follow you through most of your daily excursions and decisions.
The word spinster can be thrown around quite easily in the area and considering the handful of countries where a woman is required her father’s, husband’s or uncle’s approval before travelling or being employed, it is safe to say that patriarchy still has the upper hand over most of the Arab world and is making the lives of way too many far too complicated.
To probe the situation further, we have asked four women how they feel about their decision to not get married.
Anais Hadjar, 20
I don’t aspire to get married because I just don’t think that I need a non-binding contract to prove the worth of my relationship with someone. I definitely don’t think that being a single woman is generally accepted, and you can witness it through sexist clichés such as the ‘crazy cat lady’. I feel like you always have to justify the reason behind why you chose to be alone or at least unmarried. To my friends and parents, I’ll just say it as it is regardless of what they think about it. However, when it comes to my family living in North-Africa or any adult just in general, I don’t discuss it and hide behind the fact that I’m 20 years old using my age as a pretext to circumvent and avoid any further questioning.
Rowan Ali, 22
As a Middle Eastern woman a part of our culture is built upon the approval of our parents which is good and bad because then we quickly realise that a lot of this love we are given from our parents is built on conditions. Recently when I was in Egypt ( I am both Egyptian and American) my dad goes “ one of my projects is for you to get married” he said those exact words. I was baffled and taken back for a moment. A project? It made me feel sad because it really is quite ignorant. So many people around the world are so focused on the idea of marriage because so many people associate marriage with happiness, actually a lot of people think these words are interchangeable, when they are not. So, my dad saying that he wants me to get married soon is him ignorantly thinking that if I get married, I’ll be happy. When in reality so many people are in loveless marriages and too afraid to leave or do anything about it. You might be wondering what my response to my dad was when he told me that he wanted me to get married, my response was actually quite simple. I said, “I would rather die than get married” and that is exactly how I feel. I know that in Egyptian society it is frowned upon when a woman doesn’t get married but I don’t care about what society thinks. I care about my well-being and my happiness.
Life as an unmarried woman is definitely way easier in California than in Egypt that I can say for sure. In Egypt if I’m walking alone there is a higher chance that a man will approach me to hit on me than say if I had a man walking with me. The fact is the presence of a man is more respected and no man would dare to attempt to approach me while I’m in the presence of another man. That in itself is absolutely disappointing and stemming from patriarchy. To answer the question however, in both regions (Egypt and America) life as an unmarried woman is viable but in Egypt a lot of the time you will get shit from society for not being married especially as you “age” or random strangers will try and set you up, but nothing one can’t survive.
Sarah Chaabi, 21
I have never thought of marriage as an ultimate objective to reach, in fact, I don’t even have a positive idea about it at all hence why it is not something I am looking forward to. For now, no one really bothers me too much about it except for a few family members that tend to ask when I finish my studies to figure out when I could potentially tie the knot with someone. When I try explaining the reasoning behind my thoughts and why I don’t aspire to get married, people usually think that I’m depressed and that I must be quite sad. It just feels as if I’m not being heard, not being taken seriously. Although I do not feel any particular pressure as of right now, I know that it will be felt in a couple of years. And even if I do change my mind and get married, society will pressure me into having kids and so on – it really is just a never-ending loop.
Leena Mahmoud, 25
I feel like our generation should be past the idea of marriage and long-life commitments. I feel like falling in love and living happily ever after is an ideal that many try and reach in vain and end up settling for less through compromise which only leads to frustration and regret. Having lived in Libya for a large portion of my life, people back home would get married for the status it would provide them with rather than the genuine connection they would feel towards one another – and I can’t blame them. A life as a single woman is almost unthinkable. It is possible, yes but at what price? Constant cat-calling, the eyes of many men lurking upon you day and night or even just not being taken seriously at many official buildings would drive the sanest of us crazy. It comes with its own lot of extra pressure and considering how stressed we all are already given the ongoing global circumstances; I’d rather just try and be happy on my own.