Lebanese Women: A Diminishing Marriage Market
|Professor Barbara Drieskens
More than a few curious individuals called the Public Health Department
on October 31 to inquire about Barbara Drieskens' talk: "Reasons
Not to Marry: Rising Celibacy in Contemporary Beirut," according
to Marwan Khawaja who introduced the Institut Francais du Proche Orient
(IFPO) researcher. Drieskens presented the motivations behind her study:
primarily, demographers have documented the rising rate of celibacy in
Lebanon. A recent survey by the Ministry of Social Affairs reveals the
average age of marriage for Lebanese women is 28.8 years, as compared
to men (32.8), and it is 30.2 for women in Beirut. As an anthropologist,
Drieskens felt this represents a rich site to explore the concomitant
impact on social relationships and how women perceived marriage, rather
than restricting the attributions of this phenomenon to economic stagnation
and the financial burden of marriage or to the imbalance between men and
women owing to labor migration.
Drieskens' fieldwork shows that beyond socioeconomic and demographic factors,
"not to marry is also a choice" for women. Her case studies
comprise 30 unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 35, living in diverse
Beirut neighborhoods, who are of different confessional and class backgrounds.
She observed their social interactions at home or leisure, with the family,
or in the village of origin, where normative expectations for endogamy
were often referenced. However, many considered "homogamy" to
be more important, a term coined to express the need to marry someone
who shares similar ideals and educational standards. The imperative here
is a harmonious relationship rather than sustaining the patrilineage or
marrying within one's religious group.
Humorous anecdotes were also shared. For example, a Greek Orthodox parishioner
at Mar Mitr proudly claimed that in his 40 years of service, there had
not been a single "mixed" marriage. In the absence of state-legislated
civil marriage in Lebanon, it is no wonder a representative guide carrying
a banner entitled "civil marriage" is always present at the
Less amusing accounts of rupture were related, such as a Sunni woman's
family refusing that she marry a Maronite, who was willing to convert.
She was consequently sent death threats by her father, especially if she
were to step into her village again. As Drieskens surmised, "transgression
of the rules for marriage leads to different forms of social exclusion."
According to this study's female participants, there was a distinction
between marrying to establish a family or for legalizing a love affair.
Although Drieskens stated her results cannot be generalized, "few
women at the age of 30 said they don't want to marry. Most prefer to be
divorced at 40 than to remain a spinster," even if marriage was widely
viewed as more of a contract than cohabitation, "like a cage which
you enter and never re-emerge from."