Continuing the Women’s Day theme that I started last week, I came across an interesting article in Kul Al-Usra magazine (Issue 1325). The Egyptian journalist Iman al Halawani was discussing a social media campaign called: “let her become a spinster and don’t get involved” that had widely spread on Facebook and Twitter in her country.
The male group who had started this campaign had a goal in mind: a warning message to parents who overly demand for their daughters’ marriages.
For many years, this had caused men to avert marriages and women to become spinsters. Of course, many women found that title very offending and started opposing campaigns under the funny titles: “stay in your mom’s lap” and “may we find happiness in spinsterhood”.
According to official statistics, there are 13 million single people in Egypt who had passed the age of 35 (2.5 million men and 10.5 women). The article goes on to discuss other reasons behind this such as women’s high expectations when it comes to marriage — including expensive weddings that most grooms to be cannot afford.
Many sociology experts then add some recommendations to combat what they deem as a “dangerous phenomenon that opposes the natural course of things”. What amazed me in this article that very few of these experts shed light on the use of the word spinster, that had disappeared from many dictionaries around the world except for the Arabic one.
The usage of the word is not the only concern here, but also decades of unfair representation of single ladies in the media: ugly made-up middle-aged women in frivolous outfits and braids, who are desperate to capture and marry any man. Even culturally, when a young girl is the tearful type her family would comment: “Why are you crying like a woman looking for a husband?”
Spinsterhood was something feared from many: families of the single woman and other married women — who considered them as an immense threat to their husbands.
In the Baluchi culture, unmarried women of any age are always called maidens and are treated like one (which is pretty cool actually! It feels like being in Neverland if it wasn’t for the occasional tearful grandmas who’d wish that you’d get married in their lifetime. This would burst your happy bubble and throws you off balance instantly!).
But now with the socioeconomic changes — women opting to continue their studies and work before getting married — the numbers of single women are on the rise again (not forgetting the rise of divorce rates and many women preference to stay single).
Although many Arab societies are finding these changes somehow acceptable (and in many cases beneficial), the culture is still uncomfortable with it. I was flipping the TV, when I came across a debate between a Tunisian women’s right activist and an Egyptian religious studies scholar.
Coming from a secular culture, the activist was banging the table with her hand demanding an explanation to the idea of polygamy as an alternative solution to end spinsterhood. The scholar’s reaction to this was a heartfelt laughter: why the big fuss about a legal solution? The activist wondered what would happen if women did the same and married more than a man?
The Scholar wasn’t fazed by the question and stated calmly that it was impossible: women are monogamists by nature.
I switched off the TV feeling exhausted by the eternal argument and the age-old solution — that the new generation finds hard to accept and adapt for many reasons.
I patted my fat cat’s sleeping head thinking: singlehood is not that bad if people just let you be!
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of:
The World According to Bahja.