Eye on Society
Single WOmen by Choice or Force
By: May Kosba
At a time when Egypt currently struggles to cut a vast legroom in a number of reform key issues in an attempt to help key sectors to progress for a better welfare for the Egyptian people. Yet, the complexity of the fabric of the Egyptians produces singlism, that stands out as one of the major social dilemmas at which sociologists and psychologists are galvanized, and the society equally baffled by the amount of obstacles facing young Egyptian men and women.
Being single for a long time could ostensibly be enough reason for frustration and weak productivity at a very critical time when social stability is required so that the attention should not be diverted from achieving reform that Egyptians aspire, principally, in a nation where religion awakening is taking a significant position. Therefore relationships are restricted to certain social and religious frameworks to be legalized and accepted, only through marriage. When it comes to marriage – there’s too much at stake, quite a tough decision to make, too many second thoughts, overwhelming imagination and ambition as to how should the perfect partner be like and so much more that eventually makes marriage either impossible or a failure, or a less necessity, etc..
“Marriage is the triumph of imagination over intelligence” sighed single English Teacher Mona Mohamed 36 years old quoting Oscar Wilde, “Its amazing how we like to believe there’s a lot of fish in the sea and always better ones. The thought is fed by huge imagination and expectations we look for them to be fulfilled entirely, it’s however ironic when the majority’s choices seem to lack a lot of reason after all. Based on stories I hear and read, purposeless marriage has recently become men’s specialty, which steals away their intelligence in the ability to choose.” she added.
This crude accusation leveled at men and the nature of their choices, claiming that women are victims of men’s irresponsible choices, leads us to ask two questions;
First: “Who is often negatively affected by being single, men or women?”
Despite the gravity of the financial obstacles facing men contemplating marriage is the reason why many men are single; by extension, an equal amount of single ladies is the logical consequence. Engineer Farid Zachary 33 years old said “Due to the extravagant financial burden I have to put up with while preparing for marriage. I’d rather marry a beauty queen from overseas with the least requirements and never put up with that”.
Yet men remain the least to bear the emotional damage of being single. For instance men are not looked at as spinsters once they pass a certain age without marriage. It is a reputation a woman develops and pursues her very existence until the day she finally gets herself married, the sooner she marries, the less emotional baggage she bears in a nation where family bonds are sacred. Not to mention, that being called “a spinster” could be the least offense ever told. Accountant Sandra Nagi 30 years old said “During one of those arranged marriage meetings I’ve been through, I was 27 years old back then, one of the guys proposing once said; who would ever want to marry a 29 year old woman?! Probably a 40 year old man, that’s if he’s remotely interested, it is so unlikely to happen. To my surprise he’s interested in me but his arrogance was definitely a huge turn off.”
Second: Are women single by choice or force?
If it is a question of preference to stay single or being a victim of options and circumstances, then it is time to study the reasons why some women are single – the matter which takes us back to history.
Late 1800’s, Qasim Amin called for the liberation of women in Egypt being an early women right’s advocate; he pointed out how women were kept prisoners in their own houses and treated worse than slaves. Amin’s portrayal of women as backward, ignorant and lagging behind their European “sisters”, sprung from a conviction based on Islamic evidences that women should be intellectually empowered in order to be competent to bring up their children for a better nation. Poor education and social standards for women fell among the reasons Egypt had fallen under the European power as Amin examined in his book “The New Woman”.
Between denouncing and accepting liberation of women in Egypt. Women have been experiencing all sorts of struggle to maintain a stable acceptable and profitable existence in their nation. Their today struggle manifests in how far did women take their freedom and liberation? An invisible assessment to women’s achievements in the new millennium constantly presents itself in many situations on a daily basis and somehow leads women to being destined to singlism without knowing that their constant fight for their independence backfires. The very assessment is not only conducted by some men who believe that women’s cause is overrated but also by women who strongly believe that “after all a woman still belongs to her house and family.”
Architect Nadine Yahya, 25 years old and married said “I don’t understand, are we liberated at all – it’s like we’ve been put at endless chain of mass slavery without a savior. We are bullied at work, on the street, at home, in the media. We are disrespected and greatly violated. In the past, we were only bullied at home but not as smart as today. Today we are smarter and its like playing one of those video games fighting at endless levels without getting anywhere.”
Also from an academic perspective; Sociology professor Dr. Khaled Abdul Fattah, at the University of Helwan said “Women benefitted from liberation on both educational and economic levels only. They however generally still are clinging to traditional thoughts streaming against their liberation. Astoundingly, hundreds of well educated women still applaud the old-fashioned masculine cliché as portrayed in Naguib Mahfouz’s novels of the Si Essayed dominant character.”
Liberation: Bliss or Curse
Considering Amin’s theory of falling preys under the European power’s grip for poor educational and social environment for women, brings up an observation; has women liberation dismantled women’s privacy and distorted family sacredness?
Farid Zachary continues “the significance of creating a family’s diminished. On the one hand, women are regarded by men as sexual objects; on the other hand, unfortunately, many women became ‘liberated’ irresponsibly.”
Irresponsibility is a key word – widely expressed by men and women. Sally El-Baz, 27 years old single program officer at the Reform and Development Party (RDP) said “Men seem to have become irresponsible and I prefer to remain single than end up with someone throwing me around purposelessly.”
Blogger Abdo Abul-Dahab, a 27 years old sales account manager sees irresponsibility a little analytically, he said “Intelligent women are usually dealing with a category of men who have not been independent through their entire physical and intellectual growth such as while picking their field of study, or were purposeless on landing the job. Therefore, when it comes to picking their life partner, they make a lousy choice. Most likely pick a woman nearly like their mothers as their mothers force them to anyway.”
The independent woman’s perception of her partner in life
Women liberation and empowerment strengthened their intelligence and independence. Their sweeping success and independence have become too intimidating for men. Environmental activist Nermine Mounir 27 years old and single believes women’s liberation and empowerment strengthened their intelligence and independence so that “their accomplishments may have come to intimidate men.” Women have excelled in all aspects of life leaving, too little room for men to exhibit material, moral or professional substance. It may have simply become too difficult for men to comprehend the new independent character women have developed over the years. Even more baffling for men, women have not lost their womanliness, becoming a hybrid of independent strength and feminine softness.
Conversely, men still overwhelmed by women’s educational, professional, social and financial independence. Legal expert and blogger Mahmud Ibrahim 28 years old adds, “Women’s financial independence has set their bar higher and increased their demands. A woman can make up to 1500 PDS minimum per month and still lives with her parents. She has no bills to pay but improving her financial or educational status.”
IT project Manager Rami Hassan 26 years old thinks perhaps women are shooting themselves in the foot, “95 % of women”, he says “are dying to get married, yet all this power compromises their prospects.”
Despite their empowerd status, however, a clear perception of the right partner still seems to elude many women. Dr. Abdul Fattah once conducted a study by collecting women’s statements from matrimonial web sites “ I was amazed,” he exclaims, “by the vagueness of numerous description like: ‘I am looking for a man with every sense of the word, and someone who fears Allah”, he adds, “This apparently shows a narrow vision of how they want their partner to be.”
Could that be a small portion of women, while the others know exactly what they are looking for? Sherry Abdul Fattah 29 years old single human rights activist “I have been looking for an intelligent man to be my partner – none to be found. I thought maybe my inclination was just bizarre then, yet during a discussion with my hairdresser she too expressed the same wish. It’s not so much to ask, is it?”
This pushes for another question, do women lack a clear vision of their life partner or their upbringing is too complicated that women are still too shy to express themselves explicitly? Some women’s actions are daring and speak louder than their verbal expressions, some are naturally shy to express themselves clearly, and some are too sharp and know how to express themselves clearly verbally and by actions.
Single women with dual characters usually find other channels of expression to temporarily replace marriage, as Dr. Abdul Fattah explains, “There are marriage alternatives through communication tools such as internet by creating open relationships online, college or sports clubs, etc…” .
He also states that “There’s no such singlism crisis in Egypt, on the contrary, referring to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics which documents that the number of marriage contracts across the nation in 2007 and 2008 was relatively higher than in 2006, especially in rural areas across the nation.” He does believe that “women are not single by choice yet they incur edgy circumstance.”
The more factors leading to singlism are scrutinized the bigger a paradox marriage becomes All the reasons revealed by meticulous observation and endless personal accounts appear to be the products of a nationwide struggle for survival under a new lifestyle enforced upon Egyptians concurrent with an economic crisis that seems far from over. Considering the circumstances, staying single or taking the marriage plunge remains a question of the lesser evil for all the single ladies stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Published in Greens mag (Roots issue)