My name is Khalid and I grew up in one of the most conservative cities in the world. I was, however, raised by the most progressive Arab woman I’ve come to know. In our household, the rules applied to both genders, regardless. I didn’t get cut more slack because I was a man, and my sisters didn’t have to endure any biases because of their gender.
When my sisters and I decided to use our villa’s fence as our whiteboard, and scribbled all over it with red crayons, our dad punished us both the same way. Curfew hours were the same, and we both got our driver’s license at the same age. When it was time to attend university, my sisters and I were all educated abroad. When it then came to marriage, it was no different. Our parents told us that they would never force a choice upon us, and that we were to marry whom we truly wanted, and that they’d merely offer their guidance throughout the process.
This all sounds amazing ,right? The thing is, I keep forgetting that I live in a bubble, and while there are many progressive women like my mom out there, this isn’t the norm for many women in Arabia, and my reality check came knocking one night when my wife came back home upset.
We’ve been married for almost two years now and have decided to travel the world before expanding our family; a choice that both of us have agreed on.
She went out that evening to a friend’s gathering where she was bombarded by questions regarding our life choice. ‘Why aren’t you pregnant yet?’, ‘Are you trying?’, ‘If you don’t anytime soon, your husband will go shopping for another wife,’ ‘Tie him up with a baby’. That’s the best way for keeping him close’, were all she kept hearing that evening. While she did put her friends in their place, she was frustrated at the emotional abuse she had to go through. Yes, emotional abuse.
‘I thought this would stop by the time I got married,’ she said. ‘I was sick of going through their interrogation of why I wasn’t married, and now I have to face this. It’s like I’ll never be seen as successful until I’m not only married, but have an army of kids around me, and even then, I doubt that it would stop!’
I felt nothing but anger and frustration when I saw my wife being put down like that. She has achieved so much in her life; a role model to many women out there Arabs and non.
Why weren’t her achievements emphasised upon as much as her personal marital life? In our two years of marriage, she had launched a successful business, wrote a couple of books, and volunteered in a couple of organisations. Yet it didn’t matter that evening, or at so many other gatherings that she has attended, as much as the fact that she wasn’t pregnant yet.
What is even more frustrating is how women put other women down by all this questioning and interference in each other’s lives. They were sitting there abusing their own kind.
This pressure of getting married has put many dreams on hold for young women. For instance, my cousin doesn’t want to pursue higher education because that would mean that she’ll spend a couple of years abroad, that could delay her marriage chances, and her mother can’t wait that long and is begging her to say yes to suitors so that she could enjoy her time with her future grandchildren.
This is not to say that we men, don’t get pressured as well when it comes to marriage, but it seems that the women endure most of it.
What we need is more awareness about emotional abuse, and how it hinders, and hurts women sometimes more than physical abuse. One plus one equals a family, and that’s great, but choosing not to get married or not having children is not a failure, and everyone’s choices should be respected.
Khalid Mubarak is a rising Kuwait-based social commentator. This is his debut story.