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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

An Interview with Dr. Susan Gabel

Salam Jalal

The current issue of RDS, Volume 10, Issue 3 & 4, includes an article authored by Salam Jalal and co-authored by Susan Gabel. We are honored to present the following interview with Dr. Gabel on this insightful article that highlights physical disability, marriage, family, and gender in modern Jordanian society.

Dr. Susan Gabel

1. Why was the subject important for you to research?

The idea for this research emerged when Salam was a doctoral student and was thinking about his own marriage options. He realized that as a physically impaired man, he did not want to marry a disabled woman while at the same time his proposals to non-disabled women had been rejected.

Most studies about disability and marriage are conducted through a medical model and tend to explore whether people with physical impairments can perform sexually. We were interested in marriage as a social relationship because in Jordan and conservative Arabic culture in general, marriage is a vital relationship that establishes one as a full member of society. In addition, without marriage, in Islam it can be difficult to experience intimacy.

2. How did you choose the men you interviewed?

Salam was acquainted with the men through his relationships in Jordan. He selected these particular participants because they offered a variety of perspectives.

3. Were you surprised by the participant’s responses?

Salam was surprised because despite the fact that all three participants and Salam are physically impaired, their reasons for refusing to marry disabled women were different.

Susan was not surprised that they refused to marry disabled women but was interested by some of their pragmatic reasons for why they needed non-disabled wives.

4. How do the people of Jordan typically define disability?

Jordan is surrounded by Isreal, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia

The formal definition is similar to the definition upheld by global organizations like the UN, UNESCO, and WHO. People in Jordan usually view disability as a visible condition.

5. In Jordan, how big is the role that a woman’s family plays in the decision of who she will marry?

In Jordan, it is very hard for males and females, disabled and non-disabled, to marry unless the parents, brothers, and sometimes the extended family endorse the marriage. Marriage will generally not take place unless the woman agrees to it. In very rare situations, parents force their daughters or sisters to marry someone the women do not want to marry.

6. Why are the three men expecting rejection when they seek a wife?

One participant is married and had been rejected many times before marrying his wife. Another participant was in the process of finding a wife and was struggling to convince the parents of the woman he wanted to marry but during Salam’s research, the proposal was dismissed by her family even though the participant and the woman wanted to be married. All three men know that being a disabled man is not desirable in Jordanian culture.

7. How important is physical appearance in Jordan when a man is choosing a wife?

Physical appearance is one of the most important criteria in proposing marriage. Beauty and physical appearance are highly valued, as you can see in what the men have to say.

8. Do you feel the participants are unwilling to marry a disabled woman due to finding her unattractive or more that they find it impractical?

They are not willing to engage with a disabled woman for many reasons. As they say, they find disabled women unattractive, dependent, and unable to carry out the role assigned to them in Jordanian culture (e.g., bearing children). Further, the men expect their wives to provide them with the physical support they need as physically disabled men.

9. Sami talks about oppression…Do you think women with disabilities in Jordan feel the same? Are they resigned to the way they are treated and stigmatized?

Answering this question is outside the parameters of our study but through Salam’s interaction with disabled women in Jordan, he thinks they are even more oppressed than disabled men. They are deprived of marriage, family, and intimacy because men, even disabled men, ignore them.

10. What do you hope to achieve by spotlighting the perspectives of these three men?

We hope to provide a better understanding of the contradictions in the lives of these stigmatized men who reproduce stigmatizing by refusing to marry disabled women. We also hope to illustrate that the men have practical reasons for refusing to marry disabled women, since they view such a marriage as further stigmatizing themselves. In addition, they worry that a disabled woman wouldn’t be able to provide the physical support they need.  The men’s decisions are formed by the social and cultural barriers of Jordanian society and need to be understood within that context.

Be sure to check out this article entitled, "Physical Disability, Gender, and Marriage in Jordanian Society" by Salam Jalal, EDD & Susan Gabel, PhD, as well as the rest of the current issue online at: