Question: Which two things look one way at first, but totally different close up?
Answer: Marriage, and mirage.
An old, old joke. Didn’t think it was funny, way back when I encountered it in my teens in an old book. But I didn’t really understand it, either. That it wasn’t just a rather clumsy play on words, but a rather bitter comment on a lot of people’s lived experiences. That joke had come from way before there were no-fault divorce laws in North America, when churches barely if ever recognized that there could be good reasons for getting divorced (aside from adultery, possibly), and social expectations made it pretty hard for women in particular to leave even abusive marriages. Yet, women were strongly encouraged, pressured even, to get married, and to do so as soon as possible, lest they end up “on the shelf” as “old maids.” There were few “respectable” and respected possibilities open to a woman who didn’t want to marry, aside from becoming a nun (usually a choice only open to Catholic women, with a few exceptions).
This grim scenario seems awfully familiar to me now. Except, we didn’t even have the possibility of a life of celibacy. While in the distant past, a few Sufi women are said to have refused to get married so that they could devote their entire time and energy to God, the conservative, insular Muslim communities I was involved in would never have countenanced a woman today doing that. But otherwise, we really did go back in time in many ways.
People—and women in particular—were basically railroaded into marriage. It was constantly preached about, and spoken of as “half of your deen (religion).” And, there was a number of things that you could only obtain through marriage. Befriending, hanging out with, or dating anyone of the other sex was not allowed, so the emotional needs of straight people even for companionship could only be “lawfully” met through marriage. Absolutely no kind of sexual release was permitted outside of marriage, not even m*sturb*tion (I’m trying to avoid certain unwelcome searches and spam by inserting the stars in place of the a’s), so anyone, whether straight, gay, or whatever would have to marry an “opposite-sex” partner in order to “lawfully”have sex. And, never-married adults were seen as somehow incomplete and not properly mature, and could not usually have much of a voice in community affairs.
Rules are made to be broken, in lived reality at least, and it was a lot easier for males to break these rules than for females. And, the fallout from having broken these rules was typically a lot heavier for females. A boy who dated girls, became more religiously conservative, stopped his dating ways, and decided to “do things the halaal way” and get married was a lot more likely to be accepted socially than a girl who had done likewise would have been.
At the same time, females potentially had a lot more to lose by getting married.
But, we didn’t really realize this at the time, because marriage—especially for women—was glorified. There was little if any open discussion of all the ways that by the very act of getting married, women are constrained. When this side of marriage was discussed, it was carefully wrapped up in bafflegab.
A large part of what makes these experiences so difficult to process is the bafflegab. Which is why I will proceed to unpack the bafflegab, in the next few posts