October 21, 2016
This article was originally published on spiralmag.net, on September 16, 2016.
By: Malak Sekaly
The first time I was told that I’d be ‘free’ when I’m married my mind tried to carefully wrap itself around the words coming through my ears. What did my mother mean when she said that I’d be free? Free to do what exactly? Free to speak my mind, wear the clothes I prefer, or free to exist as I already do?
I realized that Middle Eastern mothers generally promise their daughters ‘freedom’ once they’re married. This first sparked the question that if marriage will liberate me, am I confined at the moment? Are my parents restraining me, and will my husband unshackle me?
Never have I heard mothers tell their sons that they’ll be unrestricted once they’re married. Is it because men are already free? I’ve never understood ‘free’ in that context, but I’ve realized that to many in this region the husband has the power to free the woman from her family. Fingers crossed she isn’t once again shackled by his own cuffs the second her family’s restraints are broken off.
“Travel with your husband,” “when you’re married you don’t have to follow your parents orders,” “you’ll become a true woman once you’re married.”
So many problems and question marks lie in just these sentences we’re told after a fight with our parents trying to convince them that we’re fine and enough. So many misconceptions are entrenched in our pure, young, simple minds. Why is it that I have to wait till I’m married to stay out late? Why is it that I have to constantly refer back to someone if I want to do something? Am I just handed off from one man to the other the second I enter this world?
Since the first spoon we’re fed is the idea of how liberating marriage is, we grow up with one goal and one goal only: to get married. That objective on its own is excessively problematic, especially since marriage is not guaranteed. Not everyone gets married, and that is completely fine.
However, it’s not entirely okay or true in the Middle East, since marriage is a step everyone must go through. If we reach a certain age and are still single we’re automatically perceived as useless. Many ask what is the point of our existence if we won’t reproduce? Instilling the notion that marriage is the norm and anything out of it is incorrect is the exact same as convincing young girls that prince charming is always around the corner with a tiara to turn them into princesses.
Not only do Middle Easterners refuse to believe that marriage is not promised and written in everyone’s future, they equate marriage with true liberation. Once you’re married, you’re liberated from your parents; their rules and restrictions. Because, for some reason, being handed off to another man is deemed as emancipating.
As a result of society’s notions on marriage, many women go into marriage expecting to be “free” and are shocked when they realize they’re in fact tied to someone else and have fallen into different social roles, and nothing is liberating about being stuck in a part others have created for you.
Also, marriage is not what they tell us it is, it’s commitment, devotion, and a big responsibility, which many find out the hard way. Yet we are raised to believe that it’s marriage or nothing, marriage or failure, marriage or alienation, marriage or captivity, and marriage or utter depression.
There can definitely be marriage or happiness, marriage or success, and marriage or fulfillment. Marriage isn’t a box you have to check, it’s a mere way many chose to live.
So for the sake of your children and our future leaders, don’t convince them that marriage is their way out of the confined life they’re living, because that is not necessarily true. Don’t teach them that they should strive to find their partner, “break free” from the people around them, or settle down and tie the knot just so they attain true freedom and live the life they want. Teach them that marriage is sacred, hard, and that it’s definitely not a given.
I am a sophomore at The American University in Cairo. An advocate of human rights, I aim to spread awareness on universal issues through my writing. A ballerina, environmentalist, and hypochondriac with OCD, I plan to give voice to those who are silenced. I am not dramatic per say, just an emotional mess cursed with severe overthinking. My points of interest range from the ongoing global calamities to TBS’ new Nutella croissant. My favorite possessions are my neatly arranged novels, and my chewing gum drawer. Resisting my wanderlust is a struggle as Cairo continues to engulf me.