Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reflection on "Arranged"

I recently watched "Arranged" for my Images of Women in the Middle East class. It is about two women, a Muslim and an orthodox Jew, both living in New York, and both facing arranged marriages. They both work as teachers, and get to know one another through their work. They have problems going to one another's houses because of their parents and family being less than happy to see either a Jew or a Muslim show up. They bond over meeting horrible prospective husbands, but in the end both end up happily married. It was interesting from a feminist perspective, because although both the main characters, Rochel and Nasira, are strong, independent, educated, working women, both end up agreeing to an arranged marriage. They both go through arguments with their parents over men they do not want to marry, and Rochel keeps saying she wants to take a break from looking at men, but neither of them flat-out refuses. This explores the intersectionality of gender and religion. Both women are devout and steadfast in their beliefs, and also really respect their parents, so it is an internal battle between their heart and their religion and parents. It ends up that Nasira falls in love with one of the men her parents pick, and Rochel falls in love with a man Nasira suggested to her matchmaker. In this situation, the end is happy because they fall in love, but what would have happened if they hadn't? Would these strong women have ultimately given in and married someone they didn't love? Rochel tells her mom repeatedly that she refuses to "settle," but would the family pressure have been so intense that she would have? How do arranged marriages infringe upon women's independence, and how do women reconcile this?
This movie was set in the present (it was made in 2007), in the secular society of New York. What new challanges has secular society posed to arranged marriages and the women in them? Now women are surrounded by a society that approaches love and marriage far differently. Rochel does have a period when she is unsure whether she wants to stay in her Jewish community, and goes and visits her cousin who left the community, which also meant leaving her family. Rochel ultimately returns to her family, but the temptation must be much greater for women facing arranged marriages in the present than how it was hundreds of years ago, when everyone in a society would have arranged marraiges.

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