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Marriage – The Tangled Web of Patriarchy, Religion, Culture and Obligation

October 7, 2014

As a new bride, I have had plenty of opportunities to think about the rigmarole that goes into the milestone that is marriage. I appreciate the religious and cultural basis of marriage. I understand that a healthy, committed relationship can be rewarding and I would not be entering into this marriage if I did not think that my partner and I had a strong and trusting foundation on which to build our life together. I loved that we were able to incorporate a number of cultural and religious aspects into our wedding. After all, I think it is important to celebrate our traditions and where we come from. Having said that, not everything about one’s culture should automatically be assumed to be right, correct or even appropriate. There were some reoccurring themes during the wedding process that were unsettling to say the least. I identify as a South Asian female and here are a few points regarding marriage in this context that need to be stated for the record.

Faceless’ by Desi Girls on the Rise (from South Asian Youth Action) I am my own person. I am not just someone’s wife.

Now that I am married, I seem to be taken more seriously. This has been evident in a number of different ways and it is as though having a husband finally means that I am an adult. I suppose I must have subconsciously accepted this as true, because all these years I have never had the gumption to speak up about this topic. But before publishing this, I ran it past my husband. You know – just in case.

It is infuriating beyond words that the fact that I have been supporting myself and others around me, living on my own and dealing with life never awarded me the same respect previously.

Getting married is not a must.

I was speaking to someone about marriage in our Sri Lankan, Muslim community and she said that if someone views marriage as a duty and an important obligation then, “more power to them”. I agree, it is an individual’s choice. But what I have to emphasize here is that it should be a decision that the person in question makes. This can be hard to discern because of external pressures from family and society in general. Getting married to someone shouldn’t have to be a necessity. There are plenty of marriages that fail – either openly or behind closed doors.

If someone is seeking a certain connection with their partner, then I don’t think getting married to the person with the “right” religion, job and income bracket, race/ethnicity, height or breeding is going to be the wisest decision. It is possible for a woman to be independent and take care of herself. Just saying.

A person is more than their occupation, height and country of origin.

Ask me about my partner and I will tell you that he respects my opinions and ideas, knows and accepts my idiosyncrasies and supports the fact that I want to work within public and global health.

Our first questions about a person say a lot about our priorities. There IS a problem with the doctor, lawyer, engineer phenomenon we’ve got going on. Yes, of course it is important that a person has some sort of path in life, some sense of direction or ambition. But that could easily come from pursuing the culinary arts or swimming with dolphins. There is a lot of pressure put on young people regarding who they marry, and our priorities need to be checked.

I am not now nor will I ever be “over the hill”.

I am a person (please reread above). I am not to be seen in terms of my age or in relation to an arbitrary notion of marriageable age. I find that it is helpful to look at Jane Austen’s world when it comes to marriage within many South Asian families.  There are some extremely relevant quotes even today.

“She had the consciousness of being nine-and-twenty to give her some regrets and some apprehensions; she was fully satisfied of being still quite as handsome as ever, but she felt her approach to the years of danger, and would have rejoiced to be certain of being properly solicited by baronet-blood within the next twelvemonth or two.”

Persuasion, volume 1, chapter 1

It is highly insulting to insinuate to anyone that they are only as important as their biological ability to procreate and produce offspring. This is a big problem. If my looks begin to fade, then well it is a good thing I am more than my physical appearance.

Both spouses are partners – with equal rights, responsibilities and are to be respected equally.  

Marriage. Both Spouses Are PartnersThis seems logical enough. But sadly, this isn’t as common a belief when it comes down to real life. I insisted that I be able to sign the marriage papers because I needed it to be acknowledged that I had consented. The idea of being transferred from my father to my husband is still something I have difficulty accepting, although I understand that religiously, consent from the bride is mandatory. However, since so many people are abusing this system, it only makes sense to implement cautionary interventions. I also did not like the notion of walking and sitting submissively with my eyes cast down in apparent modesty. There are customs and traditions that do not undermine a women’s intelligence and worth and these we had no problem with, and gladly incorporated them into the festivities.

Some might say that I can hold these aforementioned views more strongly because I am no longer single. I am not saying it is easy to recognize these things, these abstract concepts that are fed to us through a variety of channels. I often fall prey to these harmful concepts myself (damn that social conditioning). I had to think long and hard about what I really wanted and I needed to make my own decisions. Before being someone else’s partner, I needed to know who I was. I think this is especially important for women, to think about why we choose to do certain things, without blind acceptance. Actually, you know what, this is just as important for men. If we untangle the web of ideas and thoughts that have been pushed upon us by a society that is patriarchal (all over the world), we might begin to figure out what it is we really want. It is not easy being a South Asian female who has fallen in love. I am willing to bet it is also not easy being a South Asian female who has not fallen in love. Either way, there are problems.

To a large extent, it is engrained culturally in us that we must “save face” or look good within society, and one subset of this topic is the arranged marriage or love marriage question. It would probably help to stop thinking about what everyone else wants and figure out what you want.  Unfortunately, that is a lot easier said than done.

I must also say that (so far), I find marriage liberating. I love that I have someone to complain to about my bad day and who feels obligated to respond to my text messages. I think I am fortunate that I have found someone that I want to spend my life with. But… that is not the only option. I suppose that now that I am married, it is my husband who will have to bear the social ramifications of my apparent lack of propriety and decorum. Poor guy.


Note that due to the issues being addressed in this specific post, I am referring specifically to marriage between a male and a female. Otherwise there’s a whole bunch of other issues that get thrown into the mixture. -_-