Over the past few years, a new trend has emerged in Saudi Arabia – men divorcing their wives over text message.

The legality of divorce in such a detached manner makes marriage feel more like a contract than a declaration of love and partnership. Just like one would check their email for news alerts, married women in Saudi Arabia may simply check their phone and find an alert for a change in marital status.

To some, marriage is now seen only as paperwork – without connection to their significant others, viewing wives as things that can simply be taken and pushed away by signing on the dotted line. This puts husbands in legally enforced marital power over their wives, and sets a precedent of dependence upon the family patriarch.

It is painfully clear that women (in this case, particularly in Saudi Arabia) have no control over marriage. Husbands can simply divorce wives without their consent or mutual agreement. Sudden divorces leaves many women without income or homes, and entirely stranded in a society in which they have limited rights.

From this, it can be deduced that the power imbalances between men and women is not just situational – it is legally engrained in everyday life. Children may live in situations in which their mothers can be removed from their family at any time, and wives may be under constant stress to keep their husbands from leaving whenever they would like, not to mention the worries of supporting oneself when the right for women to drive was only approved a few years ago.

This highlights the fact that while women press for more independence and rights, they are still heavily reliant upon those that they are fighting against. Many women would like to be more empowered, but can only do so with resources from men.

One Response to “Divorce Over Text Message – A Look at Marital Gender Roles”

  1.   Ed Webb said:

    I have two comments. First, Saudi Arabia is very unusual among Muslim majority states not only in applying Islamic law across most areas of life, but also in hewing closely to the radical Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam. Different schools of thought in Islamic law (madhhab (s), madhaahib (pl)) have different rules for marriage and divorce, as well as other personal status issues such as inheritance and adoption. Most schools recognize the right of a husband to divorce a wife simply by saying three times in front of witnesses that they divorce them. In practice, in most countries there would need to be a much more formal and documented process, and a text message would not cut it. Still, except where there is a secular civil code, as in countries like Tunisia and Turkey, women’s access to divorce is generally harder than men’s.

    My second comment is more historical and comparative. When you say “makes marriage feel more like a contract than a declaration of love and partnership” you seem to me to be describing much of the history of marriage globally, including in what today we might describe as “the West.” The ideal of companionate marriage built on love is relatively recent in human history (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/9781118896877.wbiehs096). The idea of marriage as a contract, often between families as much as between individuals, is much more normal across time and cultures, as I understand it. However, Islamic law does provide more rights in marriage to women than many tradition practices, including the right to sexual satisfaction—although, as you might expect, there is debate over this as there is over most important matters. See, for example, https://www.amaliah.com/post/51477/womans-right-orgasm-feminism-bedroom-muslim-womans-right-to-sex-marriage-what-does-islam-say-about-sex

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