In the old part of Cairo, twenty times more populated than Copenhagen, we go to meet Heba, an interior designer. Nanna says that in Denmark it is very safe, extremely safe; what about here? Nanna is surprised to hear that Cairo is also extremely safe. Egypt has the highest divorce rate, one in three marriages end in divorce. Nanna lives with her boyfriend of 14 years, but they are unmarried. In Cairo this is unacceptable. Even after Heba’s divorce she would not live with a man without marriage. After divorce, women tend to move in with parents; Heba lives with her Mum. Nanna says that in Denmark every woman works, in Cairo almost all women stop working when they have kids.
Oprah says this is interesting. Nanna joins the conversation by Skype. What is Nanna’s impression of women in Egypt? Many women wear scarves but many of the younger have tight clothing, lots of make up and a scarf, which she found to be contradictory. Heba says to wear a scarf means you are more traditional, more pious, and to not wear a scarf means that you are more open minded. She sits next to Injy who is wearing a scarf. Oprah asks if there is tension between the scarf wearers and non-wearers. All present on Skype answer in the affirmative. Heba says that women are judged on their scarf, despite the tenets of religion which says don’t judge others. Injy disputes the idea that no scarf means you are more contemporary and more open-minded. She says scarf wearing and non-scarf wearing runs across the gamut.
Nanna asks three Egyptian women, Heba, Injy and Dr Heba, how much the scarf wearing is religion or culture. They say all religion. Injy clarifies that in wearing the scarf you are causing people to not lust after you, not to want you. Nanna tells them that in Denmark being found to be sexy is very desirable. Heba will not wear a scarf, she says her religion is more a spiritual sense. Dr Heba says this means she’s not religious. Heba responds that people say you can choose to wear the scarf or not, that it is the choice of the individual, but that you are judged at the same time.
Nanna goes to Dr Heba’s home, where she lives with husband and three daughters. Dr Heba introduces Helen who helps them out in the home- she says it’s not hard to have a maid in India because it costs such a tiny amount of money. Everyone loves yoghurt, Danes and Egyptians. There are lots of creams but no make-up in the bathroom. Nanna seems disturbed by all the colors in Dr Heba’s daughter’s room. Nanna says that in Denmark the whole room would be pretty much white.
Oprah thinks it is interesting that making ones self attractive to men is all we do here in the US. Injy says that attemping to create a lustfull reaction in the opposite sex is absolutely not a priority. She has prioritised her religion by choosing to wear the scarf two years ago. Nanna talks to some women about divorce- women have only been able to initiate divorce within the last ten years. A man can divorce simply by saying you are free to go, whereas the women have to go to court for a trial. In Denmark, Nanna says no one ever gets married before living together. Injy clarifies that this does mean that the whole country is living in sin by Egyptian standards.
Injy says that Egypt is a very sexually frustrated country. There is no sex before marriage, but men often have no money to marry, and consequently have no sex until they are in their thirties. Islam endorses a healthy sex life between married people and encourages foreplay and pleasure within that structure. Oprah asks why Heba is so quiet. Heba is very awkward, says she is more liberal and open minded. She says that a relationship culminates in marriage. Without necessarily living with your partner, it is long term. Oprah asks if people who are not strictly religious are having sex before marriage. Alot of people says Heba. (The audience laughs)
Divorce is on rise, Injy says that this is because men are no longer men, and women no longer women. There is serious confusion. Neither gender complies with the stereotype, yet each expects the other to live up to the stereotype. Oprah says Denmark has an extreme sense of equality, does Nanna feel the same in Egypt? Nanna says no, as illustrated by the ability for a man to divorce his wife by text message, while women need to go to trial. She declares that this is unfair in her opinion.
Do the Egyptian women feel repressed? Heba does feel repressed as a woman to a certain extent. There are still many things that she can’t do. Injy doesn’t feel repressed but is aware that she is not representative of the population. Oprah has never been to Egypt, but will go as soon as she can. Not only is Egypt promoted by Obama as a country to visit, but now she alos knows two people who live there. Oprah will go to Egypt soon, thanks to everyone.
Oprah interviews two indignant Palestininians in the audience, speaking on behalf of Muslims. They say that men can’t divorce by text message. A man must actually say it 3 times. Oprah clarifies that the bottom line is that women must go to court for a divorce, while men jsut speak their desire.
Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about recovering from divorce and learning to love again. The author is featured in Oprah Magazine this month. Oprah comments on the difference between how she looks in the morning versus how she is portrayed on the cover of the magazine.
Elizabeth Gilbert says we have this sweet and lovely idea that traditional marriage is a union between one man and one women. This is not the case- marriage was usually an agreement between one man and several women, for economic or family-building reasons. She says the only thing that is consistent about the history of marriage is the element of change. Usually for many women, the idea of the golden age of marriage now means nothing. In 1967 interr-racial marriage made legal, the same arguments being made before that ruling apply now for gay marriage. Now there is the idea of the wifeless marriage- many people want to be married without becoming, or having, the traditional idea of the wife.
100,000 women become mail order brides. Ukraine, which is the size of Texas, is known for beautiful women, most of whom work in low-paid jobs, Women see marriage as a way out. Lera became a mail order bride to be able to move to US. It was an arrangement for a visa and green card; the husband is simply an extra. She says she had low standards and was only really after conversation. She did however want to be liked for her self so her online picture was not a tight short red dress image, like the majority of the Ukrainian pictures.
Steve, a man in his 50’s was the third man to reply to her email. They got to know each other over the internet. Steve came to visit in Kiev, Steve was already in love with her. They got married 2 days after she arrived in the US six years ago. Lera takes us back to show the life she left behind in Ukraine; the house where she grew up, now shared by mother and brother. Her parents are doctors which is a government profession in Ukraine, and thus very badly paid. Growing up, there were lots of sacrifices. They would eat bread, cheese and white fish. Lera’s mother never knew of anyone who got married in the way Lera did, and she didn’t think it would end well. We see an internet cafe- where Lera says everyone is secretly online looking for a husband. Age 17,18 or 19 is considered to be marital age. Lera’s friend got married at 18, she is now on second marriage at 26. She looked for a man who could allow her to stay home with her 8 year old. Lera’s unmarried brother wants his hypothetical wife to stay home, he doesn’t want her to work. Lera can’t wait for Ukraine to catch up with her ideas.
Lera and Steve are in the studio; they say there marriage is very happy, unexpectedly so. This was a surprise; she was looking for a visa and he was looking for someone to talk to in the lonely post-9/11 weeks in Manhattan. Lera admired the fact that Steve could make things happen and could take her places. There was an element of courtship, Steve legitimately dated her for many months, he came to Kiev. Oprah asks if it would be fair to say that Lera was just using him as a ticket out of Ukraine. Pretty Much, says Lera.
Oprah asks if this is now a traditional marriage? Lera says neither of them are traditional people. Steve is a music producer, with an untraditional life. He has been married before. He says that after 9/11 people had a different take on relationships and life. Oprah says hmm. Lera’s family likes him now, likes that he takes care of her. Lera wanted and liked the ability to live in NYC. Oprah was so impressed by Danish women and their lack of needing someone to take care of them; their strong independence. Lera says that in Ukraine, the bargaining power of women is very very little. By 20, they are considered old, by 25 some doctors tell you not to have children.
Thank God we live in the USA proclaims Oprah, who then goes on to say that it is interesting because it shows that all arrangements can work.
For 95% of Indian couples, first comes marriage then the possibility of love. We know go to Mumbai which has one of the fastest growing global economies. Where old meets new, we meet 31 year old Shalin and 27 year old Sneha. They met over dinner with both of the families, which was very, very awkward. Too many relatives perhaps? He went back to see her a week later and spent the day with her. He was sure there was a spark, so he asked her if he should proceed to ask his parents to ask her parents to go forward with the marriage. 5 months later they shared their first kiss at their wedding ceremony. Shalin says he tells his friends that the first 24 hours of marriage are the most special. This is when you begin figuring out what the other wants and likes, if they like tea or coffee. Shalin smokes, Sneha didn’t know. She slept on the same side of bed that he wanted to sleep in. Arranged marriages aren’t meant to force you together with someone, rather you slowly grow into them.
Oprah says that more than half of the worlds marriages are arranged, like 60%. Shalin and Sneha join us by Skype. He says the marriage is arranged by love. The family finds you someone wth whom you are compatible. The relationship grows into compatability and love. Oprah asks if the idea is that you hope to love one day? Yes, says Sneha, infatuation is what happens overnight; love takes longer. Oprah asks if they now love each other, after 5 1/2 years. Yes is the answer.
Oprah says that is fascinating to look at how we are all alike and yet different. With so many arranged marriages in the world, there must be something in it. Thanks everyone, the conversation continues straight after the show at the brand new website Oprah.com.
WHAT WE LEARNED TODAY:
Everyone loves yoghurt, both Danes and Egyptians
Divorce is on the rise because men are no longer men and women are no longer women
The history of marriage is not what we believe it to be
Mail order brides can lead to lasting love
Arranged marriages are very popular and often successful
A VERY QUICK SUMMARY:
All arrangements can work out, we are all different. Thank God we live in the USA.