Even though Saudi Arabia takes a starring role on the world stage for both its influence in the politics of the Middle East and in its capacity as a major oil producing nation, most Americans perceive the country as one shrouded in mystery, much as its women are shrouded behind the veils they wear. Most Americans know little of Saudi or Wahhabi history; what information they do have comes from a movie they've seen or a novel they've read. Maybe it's because Saudi Arabia culture is so different from ours that we have a fascination with their mores and customs. And, when it comes to customs, few are more compelling than the role of women in marriage.
The Evolution of Choosing a Spouse
It wasn't that long ago that most Saudi weddings came about as the result of arranged marriages. Often, the betrothed were chosen for one another to shore up tribal alliances or a family's wealth and power. This is why women are sometimes married to their first cousins. Today, arranged marriages are still within the norm, but the bride-to-be often has the opportunity to meet with her potential mate and provide her assent before the couple is betrothed.
Despite the advances in recent years, Saudi women are still prohibited from marrying a non-Arab unless she has special permission from the King. This holds true if the Arab is not a citizen of a country belonging to the Gulf Cooperation Council. According to the U.S. State Department, Saudi women who do marry Westerners usually come from progressive families and most often live outside of the country after marriage.
American Women as Wives
Although Saudi women rarely marry outside of their culture, it is somewhat more common for Saudi men to do so. After interviewing a number of American women who have married Saudis, the State Department drew up a set of recommendations for women who are considering marrying a Saudi man. They point out that the parents of the husband-to-be have an enormous amount of influence over the couple, and so a woman considering marriage should gauge their attitudes about the activities that she will be allowed to undertake while living in Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, the State Department notes that a newly married couple in Saudi Arabia most often lives with the husband's parents and extended family inside a family compound. Because women are prohibited from being in the presence of other men, a new bride's social circle typically consists of her husband's relatives. For many American women - especially those who don't speak the language - this can be stifling. It doesn't help that women in the country aren't allowed to drive, ride a bike, or take public transportation without being in the company of a relative or her children.
Possibly the most difficult adjustment of American women to Saudi Arabia culture is not being allowed to work outside the home. According to the State Department, there are few job opportunities for women other than teaching other women or the medical profession. However, nursing in Saudi is looked down upon, so women would probably not be allowed to see patients unless she was a doctor.
Not for Everyone
Clearly, the cultural chasm between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is so vast that it is rarely successfully bridged in marriage. Because the foundations of marriage and of the role of women in Saudi Arabia culture are based on the Quran and on Sharia law, Westerners need more than book notes in order to navigate the society's cultural waters.
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Chris Robertson is an author of Majon International, one of the worlds MOST popular internet marketing companies.
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