Yesterday we finished introducing you to a few Muslim dating (or “matrimonial”) sites. Today, we introduce you to our “experiment:” I set up profiles and recorded the experiences of my different “subjects.”
These websites and the expectations of the participants tell us something about the conceptions of femininity and masculinity that surround marriage. Some people, or more specifically some women, are more desirable than others for different reasons. In order to find out why, three female subjects were created (this also shows how easy it is to set up a fake profile). These women were completely different and fit within very stereotypical notions of womanhood.
Subject 1 is a Canadian citizen in her 20s who is still a student, but will graduate with an engineering degree in the next year. She is Caucasian, tall, and thin. She is a convert to Islam, but she does not wear hijab. She would never accept polygamy, and she is looking for a caring husband to share financial responsibilities and house chores.
Subject 2 is an Arab woman in her 30s. She has never been married, but she aims for a husband who will take care of her. She is a teacher right now, but after marrying, she wants to be a housewife. She is very religious and volunteers at the mosque teaching Qur’an to children. She is average height and she is slim. In addition, she wears niqab.
Subject 3 is an African Muslim woman in her 40s. She is divorced and has three children. She immigrated to North America and she now holds permanent resident status. She has a heavy-body type and she is not very tall. Nonetheless, she has a good job and she is financially stable. She is looking for a husband who will accept her with her three children.
This research cannot give ultimate results, because it does not exhaust all the possible types of Muslim women out there. However, men’s responses towards these different women tell us something about male participants’ marriage expectations. The results will take all sites into account.
Interestingly enough, the most popular woman was Subject 1. This woman received over 20 messages in less than a week and several invitations to chat and to review a male member’s profile. One of the most striking things is that this was the only instance in which Muslim men attempted to be romantic. Subject 1 would receive a number of messages outlining how wonderful the prospects were and how romantic they could be upon marriage. Moreover, men would show a soft side to her that they would not show with Subjects 2 or 3.
Subjects 2 and 3 received less than five messages total in a week from all sites. Furthermore, the messages directed to them were lacking the romantic aspect. One possible explanation is that, as my research partner pointed out, a man cannot direct himself the same way towards a Muslim woman born into traditional Muslim family than towards a convert or a “white girl.” For some, it is even considered a matter of respect. Social expectations when it comes to mainstream Muslims may be different, but this leaves two questions: don’t Muslim girls deserve romance, despite their background? Or the opposite: don’t white converts to Islam deserve the same “respect” as the other Muslim women?
Additionally, when it comes to Subject 1, the economics of marriage played a role. A number of the men that contacted Subject 1 were interested in relocating to Canada. Many of them were from North African or Arab origins and they were working in the Arabian Gulf. Some of them had high levels of education, but they were temporary workers in other countries. Not only is Subject 1 attractive to those looking to gain a visa, but as a soon-to-be Engineering graduate, people may presume that she will make lots of money.
In contrast, people had no economic interest in Subjects 2 or 3, even though Subject 3 had permanent resident status, a stable job and made a decent amount of money. In regard to Subject 2, even when she specified that she was a teacher, she clearly expressed her desire to become a housewife after marriage. Although this is mostly a traditionally and social accepted role, it is not easy for one-salary marriages to sustain a comfortable lifestyle, which may have contributed to the lack of interest in her.
In addition, the citizenship issue may contribute to further attention to Subject 1. It is through marriage that a number of women in North America and Europe sponsor men in financial difficulties in their own countries to become citizens of another country, and many men were aiming for that. One of the issues that may have contributed to the little interest in Subject 2 was the fact that she was portrayed as citizen of a North African country; thus, this may have not been appealing for men who are looking for better financial conditions.
When it comes to religion, it was odd to see that Muslim men did not aim for a “practicing” Muslim woman when it came to Subject 1. No one asked questions in regard to her religious practices and no one objected the fact that she was depicted without hijab and as a smoker, which are often thought to be undesirable characteristics for a Muslim woman. In this sense, chances are some men thought they could “fix” Subject 1’s habits and shape them to their own lifestyle because she was a convert to Islam.
On the other hand, the most respectful message out of all the ones received, was directed to Subject 2. This message showed interest in her religious practices and her niqab may have played a role. The man who sent it depicted himself as extremely religious and looking for a “proper Islamic wife.”
Conversely, Subject 3 was the least popular. Part of it could be her age. Most of the men in these websites are between 30 and 50. Very few men are in their late 20s. However, most men aspire to get in touch with a woman in her 20s or 30s at the most. The only man that showed interest for her was an individual who was also interested in Subject 1 and Subject 2. Ironically, the man was in his 50s and he was looking for a second wife.
There is also the racial factor: light skin is still held as a feminine ideal for many predominantly Muslim cultures. Though neither of the messages she received mentioned race or skin color one way or the other, Subject 3’s race may have played a role in her unpopularity.
Subject 3 was divorced and had children. Divorce remains a big stigma for women, especially when there are children involved and when the woman is beyond her 30s. Despite this woman’s financial stability and permanent residence status in North America, there was a consistent lack of interest from men in the sites. Hence, although divorced women may find marriage alternatives elsewhere, men in dating sites seem to be looking for younger women who have never been married or that don’t have children.
Tomorrow we’ll figure out what this all means for Muslim women online. Stay tuned!