Fighting Against Cultural Obligations of Marriage

Fatima Fakhreddine

 

From The Arab-American News and New America Media:  

 

 

DEARBORN — Discussing the pressure that many Arab American women experience to get married by a young age, Angela, a 22-year-old student at the University of Michigan - Dearborn who didn’t want to be identified, said, “There shouldn’t be an age limit. It shouldn’t be like once you are 25 that is it, you are too old, and you cannot get married, or if you are 30, oh, you can’t have kids. It is wrong.”

 

It is no secret that there is a lot of pressure on Arab American women to get married at a young age. Many find it difficult to concentrate on pursuing higher education because of cultural limitations.

 

The expectations many families have for their daughters to get married in their 20s or earlier is not limited to the Arab community. It exists in other minority groups. Not all Arab American families expect their daughters to get married young or put pressure on them to do so, but it is a common problem.

 

“I think females everywhere around the world face this pressure to get married by a certain age before they hit their ‘expiration date.’ I used to think that only Arab females were facing this pressure, but my non-Arab friends tell me they face it too,” Zahra Al-Jemelawy, a 22-year-old senior at UM-Dearborn said.

 

Al-Jemelawy often gets irritated when people ask her about marital status. “Instead of asking what I have been doing with my life since the last time they saw me, they will ask me about marriage instead,” she said.

 

Many argue that the expectations Arab families have for their daughters to get married at a certain age often prevents these women from reaching their full potential. At lot of women in the community never had the opportunity to graduate from college because they were married off young.

 

College is already overwhelming, and pushing young women to start getting serious about marriage only makes it more stressful. Candice, a 29-year-old UM-Dearborn graduate who also didn’t want to use her real name, says it is difficult to deal with all the people pushing her to get married. “I feel pressure from everywhere, family, friends and the community. But there is also the subtle pressure I feel when I see everyone around me getting married,” she said. Candice says it is not easy to watch family members and friends getting married while she is still single.

 

 

The media can also make women more worried about eventually finding “Mr. Right.” Tracy, a 24-year-old elementary school teacher who also didn’t want to be identified, said, “Much of what we see revolves around that marital union, from cartoons to movies, to reality TV shows. Everyone is in search of that person that they can spend the rest of their lives with.”

 

Many Arab American women who are in college said education is their top priority, and they aren’t focused on marriage. “I just know that personally, in order for me to get married, I need to know who I am, and be mature and old enough to know that a marriage is a challenge and something you have to work on every day. I am busy studying for Chemistry exams, so is this the right time to be thinking about that? Probably not,” said Vanessa, a 20-year-old University of Michigan-Dearborn student who also is not using her real name.

 

Some argue that the pressure to get married young is greater in the Arab American community than it is in others. “Without a doubt, there is pressure for Arab women to be married by their mid-20s and for men to be able to maintain a certain lifestyle for a wife before marriage. American culture doesn’t put that pressure on people at all because it doesn’t value marriage as much as it used to,” said Candice. “I understand why the Arab community puts that pressure on people to be married, but I don’t know if I agree with it, because it seems to lead to many mistakes.”

 

Over the years, the Arab American community has become more intermingled with American culture. The pressure for women to get married young has subsided a bit, and more are pursuing education before marriage.

 

Women in the community who have put off marriage to concentrate on education and establishing their professional careers are not against marriage, but they don’t want to be pressured into it or marry somebody they aren’t completely sure is the right person. They also want to fulfill their dreams and live their life without people constantly asking why they aren’t married yet.

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