Saudi Arabia: Can A Woman Have it All?


My age and generation are showing.  I would much prefer to have it all – husband, marriage, children and career!  But is that also because I was born and raised in the West where it is expected and anticipated that all is attainable?  A recent Arab News poll indicated that many Saudi women would simply prefer to work rather than have a husband or marry rich.  Again, to me, marrying rich or not should not factor into the equation for marriage but I believe that is another characteristic of culture.

I can understand the perspective of a Saudi woman and why she may prefer not to marry.  After all, if she already has a good mahrem (male guardian) in her father or brother, why rock the boat?  Single Saudi women living at home likely do not have the same type of responsibilities as a married woman.  If she is already working, her money is hers and if she has a good position, she may have her own car, driver and housemaid to take care of her.  She is probably as free as she can be as if she had her own place sans husband.

If a woman marries and her goals and desires are not the same as her husband it can be a recipe for disaster.  What if the husband wants her to stay at home and have children yet she is not ready or prepared to have children?  What if she would like to work but the husband would interpret that as a liability on his ability to provide for her?  What if the husband wants her to work so he can manage her income?  These are all important points to take into account when a couple is debating on whether to marry.  What guarantee does the woman have that the man will keep his word and promises?  Once he is her mahrem, his word is the golden rule.

Some Saudi women look at marriage in a pragmatic way.  She figures if she is going to marry then make sure the husband is wealthy so he can afford to provide her with a business or allow her to keep entertained.  Alternatively, he would also have the resources then for a housemaid and driver and someone to oversee to children if she does not have motherly instincts.

My question, however, is whether the Saudi woman can have it all?  Can she find that perfect partner who will accept her and love her for who she is and not try to change her?  Can she find that perfect partner who wants to understand her and simply please her?  I think it is possible but not without young men and young women changing their priorities and expectations of marriage.



20 Responses

  1. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. I think it’s problematic to find that kind of a man anywhere on the planet. The closest I’ve found thus far is my cat 🙂

  2. The same thing can be asked of an American woman. I want it all, too, and throughout my travels I’ve only met a few men I could “have it all” with.

    From a pragmatic view, though, once children are in the picture the woman (since children are generally seen as her responsibility) is going to have a difficult time keeping the house clean, caring for children, keeping her career going AND have free time to care for herself and spend time with her husband (who is also hopefully the love of her life).

    Some men, usually due to how they were raised, are more wiling to help out around the house and with the children than others. Others, although they themselves are not willing to help, would be fine with their wife hiring a maid/nanny to help around the home. That said, the family would have to be able to afford to do so.

    I am choosing to stay single right now due to the fact that I’m
    1) Getting over heartbreak…still….*sigh*..and it’s not so much the man as it is the fact I freak out about going through the whole compromising, getting-to-know-each-other stage when chances are it’s not going to work out ’cause my track record with relationships positively sucks! (In other words, either I choose poorly for myself or the problem has more to do with me than the guy.)
    2) Enjoying my carefree, single years while they last. I can live in whatever country I choose, go out when I feel like it, and overall just feel free.
    3) Listening to married women complain about what they have to “put up” with. As a woman who can freely adopt and/or get pregnant through other means, why get married unless I meet a man who actually makes my life MORE enjoyable? I certainly don’t need him to support me.
    4) I have the emotional and financial support of my family to take my time in choosing a career path that suits me and makes me happy. How is a man ever going to top this? Why mess with what works?

    Maybe some of the Saudi women have found something similar to be true for them also?

    The best man I have ever met that I have been interested in at all (as far as how he treated women, acted, etc.) is my best friend who is of Palestinian origin and a Muslim. I chose not to pursue more than friendship with him because I think he deserves someone who will be a better match for him. Someone who hasn’t seen quite so much of life nor is quite so cynical as I can be at times. I also think he would prefer that she stay at home once children were in the picture, though he would never pressure her to do so if she wanted to work. (Although I’m not necessarily against this.) I have nothing but respect for him.

    I think it is possible for a Saudi woman (or any woman for that matter) to find a well-suited man who will help her “have it all”, but by no means is it going to be easy. At least, this is my opinion.

  3. “Over 200 Saudi women between the ages of 17 and 35 took part in the online survey conducted by Arab News. 87 percent of single women said they would choose work over having a wealthy husband..”

    All they want is the freedom to choose and be financially independent, full citizens and explore their potentials and put them in good use for themselves and their country.

    This notion (not respect for religion and tradition) scare the autocratic and theocratic men who continue to rule and control through dividing society and rendering half of it useless.

  4. Ali,
    It could also be that they would choose a love match over a financial match, so to speak. This point is unclear as the survey gave an “either or” scenario when there are actually other variables to consider.

  5. No one (regardless of nationality, religion, or gender) has it all. And, by thinking you can, it causes unhappiness and discontentment. I know many successful women, and still “they don’t have it all,” what ever that means.

    People want what they don’t have. If a woman can’t work, she wants to work (which btw is completely overrated. I’ve worked for over 25 years). If she’s working, she will eventually tire (if she has a husband and children to take care of as well) and wish she had a husband, who can support her and their children. Freedom is priceless, but a “job” is overrated and every person who has a job, complains about it, regularly. I think Saudi women would be better served if they just fought for their overall freedom to manage their own lives, period. Versus grabbing for the straws of what they think “other” women can do (i.e. drive, take jobs). This will give them the opportunities.

  6. Any woman can have it all — saudi or otherwise , Just not at the same time 🙂
    The same is true for a man also.

    Understanding, compassion, comfort with a spouse will not come on day one. marriage is something which brings 2 people close,What you may feel for the spouse int he 1st yr may grow after 10 yrs.

    The key is for both spouses to think that this is ” our mariage, our kids,our money, our happiness” .. all together.. not yours mine etc.,

    @BCOT – working is not overrated, It is satisfying, gets great happiness and keeps the mind working. I don’t think i could exist without working without contributing to society and my house.

    The key is to find a career that you love, that fits you, Nowadays i see plenty of young people taking up career which do not inthe least suit them , or getting a education just because that field gets the most money !!!!! oh well who am i to say anything when you want to dig your own grave.

    Yes i get tired sometimes and yes i slack off at home, but then that’s why i have kids 🙂 to pick up my slack,

    Having kids is work but it’s not all the time, after the first 5 yrs or so they are quite independant,
    I dn’t understand this ” i work outside and work at home too” attitutude why does the home not belong to your husband and kids??? why are you the only one concerned with it’s upkeep, they don’t get hungry? they don’t eat???

    Upto the age of 5 maye 6 kids needs who does stuff for them, but i see mothers complaining about work and home with kids intheir teens or even 9-10 yrs old, trust me a 10 yr old is very capabale of chopping vegetables, making tea, doing laundry, and generally lending a hand int he house. and still manage to do quite well at home and have plenty of time to play…. and it’s not considered child abuse 🙂

  7. @Radha. To view work as overrated does not mean one is laying around sucking up air. That means a person (including myself) is doing what they “want” to do, versus more of what they “have” to do. I don’t “work” but I have activities that I do on a regular basis that gives me fulfillment in my life.

    To me, life is about living, not sitting up in some office or whatever most of my days just to earn money. Lets face it, most people work to earn an income. Even if a person has always wanted to be an attorney. It’s pretty much a guarantee that on their death bed they’re not going to wish they could file one more brief. Almost all people when they see their own mortality in front of their faces, they wish they had had more fun, spent more time with their loved ones, basically they’re full of regrets (as we all are) and it has nothing to do with work.

  8. ‘Any woman can have it all — saudi or otherwise, Just not at the same time The same is true for a man also’

    I agree. I have had it all at different times. There is nothing great or exciting about over extending yourself. What is great is the ‘choice’ to have whatever it is you want to have when you want it. IF you want it.

    I had a full time career but when my first child was born I couldn’t bear to leave her so I became a stay at home mom until they got older and I went back to my career part time. Fortunately I had that option available to me and I was happy to not live above our means in order to be able to do that.

  9. I know a Syrian lady who decided to forego marriage although her family thought it was time to find a spouse for her. Presently she wants to pursue another degree – in a field she is interested in. She said having a husband and children at this point in her life is “like chains.”

    Perhaps she will change her mind later, but I’m glad her family was OK with her choosing her course in life even if it’s not the cultural norm.

  10. I think it is all about finding the right man, not just any man. People don’t ask the right questions or lay out thier real expectations before they marry. Women are at the mercy of the husband there. If I was a Saudi girl, I would postpone marriage as long as possible. Who wants to give themselves away to a life they may live in misery unless they get lucky? I thank God I was free to ask my husband serious questions over a period of several months, outlining my expections and listening to his before deciding if he was right or not for me. We also have contracts ladies, you can put your expectations in there and he is bound by them. Of course, if he chooses to break the contract, you have to choose how to proceed unless that too is outlined in the contract.

  11. I think it’s a question for all women and for most women having it all is not what it’s cracked up to be. I’ve been married with children and a career and it’s not easy. I might have made the choice to not marry and have children but at the time it was not generally the thing to do so I didn’t.
    I think Saudi women just want the freedom to be able to choose and since so many of them do not have a realistic picture of any of it I think it’s difficult for them. They don’t know how to deal with or be with men, They don’t know how to work outside the home. They don’t know how to work inside the home (if they grew up spoiled and with maids) and so on. Too bad they do not have the freedom to live on their own and work a bit and then see what they want to do but it won’t happen in my lifetime I’m sure.

  12. When we say “have it all” we really mean “do it all” because it is what it boils down to. Why would anyone want to “do it all”? The fight is about having choices and the right to self-determination, not about “having it all”

  13. Good point Sabah!

  14. *coming out of lurkdom*

    Hi I’ve been reading this blog for awhile now and I just want to comment on this post.

    I agree with Sabah. Especially regarding the issue “having it all.” I know for a lot of women in the United States who “have it all” they’re mostly “doing it all.” It’s been shown that women who have full-time careers are also doing all the house work. I’m sure that’s not what second wave feminists wanted. I think in order to “have it all” is for women to have a great deal of support. Like have their husbands help out with the housework. But in the end, it does all come to down being able to choose what path you want in life. 🙂

  15. What about being a second or third or fourth wife? That is an option in Saudi that American men legally cannot have. I once had a patient that told me she had read an article that said young women were more willing to be a second wife so that she could have the freedom of having an older successful husband. This usually means he has children already and he has more money. If she needs time to work he can keep company with his first family.

  16. @BCOT,
    “To me, life is about living, not sitting up in some office or whatever most of my days just to earn money.”

    I am one of those people that would love to be able to “do it all” because I am naturally very independent. I can honestly say that I would enjoy caring for children, working in a career I enjoy, being married to someone I loved dearly, studying independently (whatever I want to), and maintaining a social life all at the same time while taking good care of my body (diet, exercise, sleep). However, things like lack of sleep, stress, bad timing, and discontent with not having any time to just “be” sometimes get in the way of being able to “do it all”….well, at least until the days become longer than 24 hours! 😀

  17. @Paige,
    One of the major problems I have found with the idea of a man having two wives is what if he can’t meet both of his wives’ sexual desires? Should they then be allowed to take a second husband to meet their needs? Doesn’t that just over-complicate things compared to each person having one significant other? Unless, of course, the wives are interested in each other as well….

    However, I could see how being a second wife might work for some women, and as long as both wives and the husband were/are okay with it, I don’t see a problem with it.

  18. Two years ago when here was a lot in (Arab) media about misyaar marriage (halal courtesanship), I read about a young woman who had decided to enter a misyaar marriage because the elderly customer would enable her to have job and live in an apartment on her own.
    I think it’s terribly sad that in Saudi Arabia that woman basically has to prostitute herself in order to have a ”normal” life, when everywhere else she would be free to have a job and live on her own without having to buy that right with sex.
    I think there must be a lot of Saudi women who only want a normal life. And to be able to make life changing decisions for themselves.
    Maybe if women had normal human and legal rights a lot of women would opt for both, a job and a family. Or a job and a husband. Maybe they also want to have the choice whether they have children or not. Not all women want children, but I have the impression that’s hardly an accepted viewpoint either.

    Not to mention the women who want children but no men 😉

  19. All they have to do is make the mahram system optional ( by choice of women) and everything else will fix itself in due time..
    Starting with the more independany capable one asking the men to take a hike nad slowly followed by the others when they see the power of choice and free will 🙂 I don’t however expect this in my lifetime or quite posibly my daughters either !!!!

  20. I am one of those women who do believe I have had it all and in different stages of life. I was a young mother and did not work until my son was two and relished those early years we had together. When I joined the workforce I was fortunate to do work that I enjoyed so it was a pleasure for me to work. I came home and took care of my son and we did chores and tasks together. He was taught at a young age to be resourceful. By the time he went to college I was comfortable in going abroad to work. I thrived in the new experiences. Then the unexpected happened…I was happily single, at the height of a great career, have beautiful family and friends…..but I fell in love! It was as if I had run into a brick wall.

    While many felt that I gave up everything for love what I gained in return was priceless. I never knew love like I had with Abdullah. We were so compatible for each other and understood each other so well. We had 7 short years but I cherish them.

    Now, I rejoice in each day and the first thing I do is thank God for another day of life. I’ve made amends anywhere I’ve had to, I do not sweat the small stuff and just take full enjoyment in each day.

    Abdullah is no longer with me and I still grieve for him at the same time yearn for him but I also have two boisterous and beautiful Grandsons that give me a reason to always have a smile on my face.

    At least I can say when my time comes, I have lived life fully.

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