Waithood: Gender, Education, and Global Delays in Marriage and Childbearing. Marcia C. Inhorn and Nancy J. Smith‐Hefner, eds., New York: Berghahn Books, 2020, 414 pp.
Waithood: Gender, Education, and Global Delays in Marriage and Childbearing. Marcia C. Inhorn and Nancy J. Smith-Hefner, eds., New York: Berghahn Books, 2020, 414 pp.
Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad
Waithood: Gender, Education, and Global Delays in Marriage and Childbearing, edited by Marcia C. Inhorn and Nancy J. Smith-Hefner,explores the intersections between time, temporality, social becoming, and bodily contingencies. The volume makes thematic interventions in several areas: how states and policy interventions shape experiences of waiting and self fulfilment; the impact of gender and education on the quest for social and personal autonomy; and the relationship between delayed reproduction and the fulfilment of social roles and expectations. Reproduction and reproductive technologies are at the crux of the forms of waithood discussed in this volume. Emerging practices of assisted reproduction such as in vitro fertilization and social egg freezing not only extend the life cycle, they also complicate notions of time and temporality. Taken together, chapters engage themes as varied as waithood, choice, delay, migration, masculinity, and religious conservatism.
Central to the volume is the idea of “waithood,” which refers to patterns of delayed marriage and adulthood, and has elements of economic and social suffering, as well as choice, attached to it. Manifestations of waithood are also gendered, as it impacts women and men differently across different cultures. Thus, ideas of being “stuck” jostle with social and structural conditions of neoliberalism, hypergamy, and individual/collective choice. Diane Singerman, for instance, discusses the cultural, political, and global context of waithood in her research in the Middle East and North Africa, where economic and social debilities lead to delayed employment and marriage among young men and women. Due to economic restructuring and neoliberalization in many of these countries, the challenges of waithood are exacerbated among the young, leading to popular student movements such as the Arab Spring.
Notions of choice play a significant role in the context of waithood. In Spain, according to Beatriz San Roman, “choice-based motherhood”—which may include postponement of motherhood or the use of eggs from younger women to achieve pregnancy—helps women understand and pursue their desire for parenting. Marcia Inhorn analyzes these choices through the idea of “reproductive waithood,” wherein women in the West are unable to find preferred male partners, leading to an extended wait in the fear of declining fertility. In India, on the other hand, singledom among women in different age groups is a difficult lifestyle choice and Sarah Lamb finds that never-married women are not single by choice but by circumstance, as they must support their families financially.
State practices also reveal social understandings of reproductive delays. In Manon Vialle’s study of French women seeking fertility intervention through assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), legal regulations project deep social prejudices regarding age and motherhood. French law limits access to IVF for women at 43, which as Vialle argues, is out of touch with French women’s “readiness” to parent as they seek financial and domestic stability and partners ready to become fathers. In Guatemala, marriage and reproduction have come under intense scrutiny both from the state and non-governmental organizations, exacerbating what Nicole S. Berry identifies as “emergent waithood.” Within this emergent waithood, indigenous women are again stuck in pursuing modernity and education while state-supported motherhood impedes their route to self-fulfillment.
Various chapters elucidate the role that migration plays in exacerbating the conflict between modernity and traditional familial ties. In Jordan, Fida Adely’s research shows how migrating to Amman from rural Jordan means multiple opportunities for economic and personal advancement yet comes with its own obstacles. Migration and marriage in Jordan are interlinked in terms of increased romantic opportunities but also becomes a liability in the choice of potential spouses. In China, on the other hand, Zachary M. Howlett demonstrates how migration from rural to urban China highlights the nuances of the unintentional singlehood that many Chinese women are thrust into.
In its focus on men and masculinities, the volume engages with challenges to traditional, hegemonic ideas of masculinity when forced into economic and social waithood. Recurring themes of postponed or delayed adulthood emerge in the experiences of educated young men seeking employment. In Niger, for instance, Adeline Masquelier speaks of “tea circles,” or fada, where educated young men wait for suitable employment. Due to the social prejudice against manual labor, Nigerian men seek to attain employment in occupations that are more suitable in terms of their educational qualifications. In Uganda, Dorothea E. Schulz reveals how young Muslim men are thrust into involuntary waithood economically and socially as they increasingly fear female autonomy.
Finally, the volume addresses conservativism and the clash with individual and collective youth desires in pursuing routes to self-fulfillment. In the Caribbean, Brendan Jamal Thornton elucidates how men navigate religious requirements of marriage through “extended singledom,” as church requirements to adhere to legal marriage seriously impede economically strained communities. Similarly, in Nancy J. Smith-Hefner’s study of Indonesian young men and women, conservative Islamic institutions are anxious about the emerging practices of “extended singlehood” (p. 202). Here, young Indonesian women are educating themselves and seeking employment through parental support, wherein marriage is not prioritized. The source of anxiety for religious heads emerges from the need to maintain gender relationships within religious precepts where sexual intimacy before marriage is not encouraged, and marriage itself is important within prescribed practices of choosing the right spouse.
This volume makes important interventions in research and ethnographic literature on marital, medical, and economic delays to self and social fulfilment. In extending the concept of waithood to encapsulate marital, sexual, and reproductive delays, understandings of age and aging become more fraught. A more detailed conceptual engagement with the study of temporality and time in anthropology would have strengthened the volume. Nonetheless, this volume will serve as an excellent resource for scholars of reproduction and kinship and is a necessary addition to any undergraduate curriculum on the study of time and temporality.