Negotiating Gender, Culture, and Religion in Marriage and Family Life Transitions: Her stories of Fourteen Maranao Muslim Women

Negotiating Gender, Culture, and Religion in Marriage and Family Life Transitions: Her stories of Fourteen Maranao Muslim Women
PhD Sociology (November 2008)
Department of Sociology

Teresita Ibarra-Taberdo. Negotiating Gender, Culture and Religion in Marriage and Family Life Transitions: Her stories of Fourteen Maranao Muslim Women. 297 pp.

This is an interpretive study of Maranao women. It is about women’s actions or agency or the ways by which women make sense of their lives in relation to transitions in life. Transitions include the entry to the marriage market, the marriage-reproduction phase, getting out of marriage, coping with widowhood, and the assumption to traditional social roles in later years. The study specifically aims to describe the life course of Maranao women indicated by transitions or passages in relation to marriage and family life; to describe how Maranao women make sense of transitions within the context of social, cultural, religious pressures and historical time/conditions; and to identify the individual attributes and social structures enabling or constraining Maranao women’s adjustment to transitions.

The study underscores the triple layer of contexts that Maranao women negotiate-as women negotiating their own space within the institutions of marriage and family wherein much of their lives are rooted; as members of a national group with marriage patterns and practices dictated by the group’s own distinct culture; and as members of a religious group sharing the same faith with other women in various social settings.

The study used the concepts – transition and human agency – of the action-interaction model of the life course perspective. Within this perspective, individuals are viewed as active agents but actions are seen in interaction with socio-cultural factors and historical time, and human agency is seen in a dynamic relationship with social constraints. Women’s agency includes goals, aspirations, decisions, actions as well as acts of acquiescence, surrender and non-conformity and other strategies; acts which may be less dramatic or what is referred to as “acts of everyday resistance” to assert survival or self-determination in realtion to a problem, social role, coping strategy, or specific situations in various life transitions.

With time as an analytical construct within the life course approach, and to capture the various transitions in life, the sample group was conceptualized to represent women from youth to maturity to old age. In this study, the sample women participants’ ages ranged from 17 to 70 years with many falling in-between. The qualitative design of the study included in-depth unstructured and semi-structured interviews and various roles of observation and participation. There were 27 women study participants and 4 men interviewees; however, the analyses focused on the interpretation of the life stories of 14 women with whom more interviews were conducted.

Women’s actions and responses in the various transitions showed similarity as well as differences depending on their social locations in terms of age or generation, education, traditional social rank, religious perspective, specific circumstances, or combination of these individual attributes. Actions of women in relation to the marriage norm, the norm arranged marriage, and the norm of individual choice of husband before marriage showed patterns of conformity as well as nonconformity, each with some differences. Majority still conformed to the marriage norm, i.e., married either by the traditionally arranged way or by their own individual choice. However, in terms of generation, only old generation women conformed-by way of submission, cooperation and consensus-to arranged marriage.

Women who married their own choice of partner regardless of generation tended to share the common experience of meeting their future husbands in an environment that allowed for the co-mingling of genders such as in schools or boarding houses with minimum direct parental supervision. This is unlike the ideal situation in a traditional setting of gender segregation. Another factor that could give way to a departure from parentally-arranged marriage (and towards individual choice) as well a tendency to be nonconformist was a family background characterized by parents’ or relatives’ divorce or marital conflict.

The nonconformists included women regardless of age, who refused to marry men who were their parents’ or elders’ choice or simply did not have a choice of their own for a marital partner. They also tended to have at least college level education and have economic means of their own. Non-conformity or deviance in this study, particularly among women past the marrying age or reproductive age are viewed against the institutional norm of marriage and family; marriage being a trajectory which individuals are supposed to take in most societies regardless of culture and time.

Married women tended to have many children. The limiting effects of education on fertility as observed in both developed and some developing countries tended to be outweighed by kinship, cultural, political and religious values. Within the household, husbands pitched help while wives engaged in income-earning activities, or wives were allowed to pursue professions; notwithstanding the cultural and religious norm of gender complementarity.

While the marriage patterns of polygamy and divorce remain unchanging, women tended to show similar negative reactions across generations. In later years, women with pegawidan social rank who held royal titles such as Bai-a-labi tended to devote more time to serve their communities. These titles confer on them and their family status and esteem. College Education further boosts the standing of a Bai-a-labi even among traditional and religious leaders. As widows and with the support of their family, they may continue to hold the title; in fact, for some women, for a lifetime.