Note: Throughout this blog, I refer to single mothers. This includes both divorced mothers and widowed mothers.
In the previous week's sociology class, family work dynamics were discussed, particularly how work impacts the family and how outside forces impact work in the family. In this blog post, I will investigate the role of work in the families of single Saudi Arabian mothers. In order to analyze this phenomenon, though, one must first understand both past and recent variations in general family work dynamics.
The most significant outside force to first impact work is the industrial revolution. The revolution changed what was commonly home-based work in farms to factory work, which may have distanced and maybe even severed familial relations with the patriarch (or the father) due to long hours of work away from home. This has lead to today's predominant breadwinner system, a system in which the man works to support the entire family while the woman is left as the primary caregiver.
Recent socioeconomic changes in today's world have caused even stronger and more complex changes to how work functions in familial contexts. Due to recent economic crises and increasingly high financial demands, the breadwinner system no longer sufficiently provides for an entire family. Instead, one often finds that both parents work now, particularly in Western countries such as the United States of America or France. As divorce becomes more socially acceptable in such countries, one also finds an increase in divorce rates, which are also catalyzed by other socioeconomic factors.
Different cases or arrangements of the function of work in the family lead to different advantages and concerns. When both parents work, surely the family gains more financial stability, but that could be at the expense of bonding with one's child/children and maybe even partner, which could lead to tension and dissonance in familial relations. Single mothers also find themselves having to fulfill the role of both the caregiver mother and breadwinner father. These are merely a few examples of the many influences variations in work could affect the family.
The aforementioned examples all have a variable degree of choice from at least one aspect. One could argue, for instance, that single mothers chose divorce. In the case of single (or widowed) Saudi Arabian mothers, though, choice is a factor that has long been unfamiliar. One can quickly assume that in the severely patriarchal (or male-dominant) Saudi Arabian society, restrictions are bound to be placed upon this particular type of women. What one may not easily understand, though, is the extent of the restrictions placed upon single Saudi Arabian mothers by the country's male guardianship system, the finest example of extreme patriarchy.
Let us assume that a working single Saudi Arabian mother––after she has been granted permission to work by a male guardian, of course––earns enough money to support her children. She has the choice of enrolling them in the city's best school. She could easily save enough money for their futures. She may even choose to travel with them simply because she wants to. They are her children, after all.
Unfortunately, choice is not an option for single Saudi Arabian mothers. Unless the children have a cooperative, responsible father who is in mutual agreement with their mother for the sake of their well-being, irresponsible fathers often opt to place children in incompetent schools due to free or meager tuition fees, despite the mother's capability of affording better educational options. Fathers also have the right to immediately "claim ownership" of the children, not through legal procedures, but by simply barging into the mother's home and taking the children away (otherwise known as kidnapping). According to the male guardianship, such insane measures are technically allowed (although certain courts may overrule such measures).
Widowed mothers, who are often old in age, must begin relying on their son(s) after their husband's death. For instance, my paternal grandmother must ask for either my father or uncle's permission in order to travel, even having at nearly eight decades of age. My uncle has often expressed strong dislike towards this policy, saying that a responsible and mature woman should not require the constant permission of her youngest son, an opinion shared by other Saudi Arabian men alike. My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, has no sons nor brothers. Instead, travel permits must be approved by a government official––a strange man, no less. Honestly, the incompetence of the male guardianship system can be proved merely through that ridiculous example. The irony.
What choice do these women have? What happens when the male guardianship system places the fates of these women into the hands of irresponsible men, unwilling to perform their duties that are so integral to the guardianship system? While the option of "switching" the rights of irresponsible husbands to responsible fathers or brothers does exist, the legal process is both lengthy and daunting, similarly to many other legal procedures in the country, which follow an often obscure and unnecessarily complex hierarchy.
In some ways, the Saudi Arabian male guardianship system echoes the breadwinner system. Never mind the fact that both are male-dependent. Both are absolutely incompetent in today's demanding world, which demands for women to have a choice, whether it is the choice to work or to invest in the lives of their children––choices that are "basic", to say the least.