Let me make something clear before we dive in – I’m not talking about why marriage is a waste of my time, I’m talking about marriage as collective waste of all our time.
This idea that the success of a relationship can be evaluated using marriage is absurd to me. People often forget that it is actually possible to ‘be’ with somebody for the rest of your life without a piece of paper that says that it’s okay. Society, in all its facets, controls so much of your life already, why should your intimate relationships be any different?
Obviously, it’s not that simple and, by all means, get married – odds are that you probably really want to. If people around you are doing it, you’ll probably do it without ever thinking critically about it. After all, it’s what society and your family want you to do. If it’s the ‘done thing’, why even consider an alternative to an institution that is, in Egypt, essentially mandatory?
Most of you will know what I mean when I say ‘compulsory marriage’ – I’m not talking about the arranged/Salon marriages that plague different socioeconomic brackets, I’m talking about the slightly more subtle social and familial pressure often felt by young Egyptians like us to hurry up and tie the knot. The dominant narrative regarding marriage is so significant, so prevalent, that many have internalised the desire and actually think we want it for ourselves; good for you – be an agent of your own oppression.
Obviously, ‘compulsory marriage’, or ‘marriage as an end-game’ is a symptom of much more serious social ills; cultural and religious oppression. Even amongst the Egyptian ‘elite’, most men and women will go their entire lives never having lived alone. We are not a country that values independence and divergence, it has to be said. Marriage is seen as an avenue to freedom and it really shouldn’t be. Grow up, get a career, move out. It’s not rocket science.
In Egypt, religion and civil rights are intimately linked – you cannot speak of marriage in Egypt without conjuring religion. But, for a moment, separate marriage from religion.
At its very core, marriage is a social construct – a method of legitimising your relationship in cultures that condemn relationships and intimacy, but approve of violence. For many, marriage is the only avenue for sexual expression, the only way to live together, the only way to have children. Going beyond the fact that decisions about sex, intimacy, cohabitation, children and love are none of anybody’s business, Egypt is a country where private and public spheres collide to the detriment of society.
We are a judgmental and bigoted population that concerns itself with the personal matters of others for entertainment. It’s the amalgamation of a cultural superiority complex, a ‘holier than thou’ attitude, and the inability to think critically when it comes to social issues deemed ‘taboo’. For the sake of a happy and less repressed society, keep your personal beliefs out of other people’s pants.
At its heart, the institution of marriage in Egypt is steeped in patriarchy and you only have to look at the different divorce proceedings for different genders to understand that women’s rights come secondary to the perceived importance of the ‘nuclear family’. The ‘nuclear family’ as the foundation of society is prescribed, word for word, in our constitution.
As an unmarried woman, I already have fewer rights than my male counterparts – it doesn’t benefit me to marry and slash even more of my rights. Did you know that marital rape is perfectly legal? Whatever you may think, divorce rates speak volumes. In October of 2010, the divorce rate for those aged 18-30 reached an astonishing 46%, according to CAPMAS. It sends a clear message that what we are doing IS NOT WORKING.
Social pressure forces many young Egyptians to marry before they can actually take care of themselves, before they’re ‘ready for it’. People will get married for no other reason than to get away from overbearing parents. How do I know they’re overbearing? Lucky guess. This issue is not about marriage in and of itself, but about a broken society where people think their opinions on lifestyle and personal belief should be applied to everybody else.
We can complain all we want about the impossibility of change, but institutions change with people. Do not regurgitate what you’ve heard, critically examine your own beliefs and for the sake of all of us who don’t believe the same things as you, stop talking, stop judging, do your own thing and grow up while you’re at it.
We’re using marriage in place of something we need, something much more important. What we’re looking for is not marriage – it is freedom and independence.
And a sexual revolution.
By Noor Salama