I turned 27 this year. Instead of receiving a regular birthday gift, I received a marriage proposal from a distant relative.
I knew I had officially entered the dangerous territory of being a “spinster” according to Indian society’s standards for women.
Once a woman crosses the age of 25, it means it’s time for her to get married.
RIDICULOUS, I know. I don’t have a boyfriend at the moment, and actually, my parents are not that worried about the fact that I’m single. However, a few of my distant relatives are far more upset, and frequently plea that I “need to settle down.” My Indian culture is beautiful, but I have a big problem with how easily people are influenced by social norms dictating that women should not live our lives for ourselves. It so often feels that our choices should only be based on what others will think.
“What will people say?” is a universal scale often used to measure women’s behavior in India.
Sadly, I am never asked about my achievements or my life in Paris. Rather, I’m told that my eggs are dying, and I will not be able to conceive if I marry late. Excuse me, Auntie, but I am not a baby-making machine required to push out two to three children by the time I am 30. Marriage is not the sole purpose of my life — I built a beautiful life on my own in a foreign country, and now I am expected to quit all of it and marry some guy suggested by one of these distant relatives? Are you kidding?
I am pretty much unapologetic about my life decisions, but my Indian aunties often express their utter disappointment due to my progressive thinking. I am accused of being “too Western,” but I am actually just asserting my rights and freedoms.
Once a neighbor’s grandmother gave me unsolicited advice, saying “Girls should not be too ambitious, otherwise it’s hard to find a husband.”
Why is it so emasculating? Why should I shrink and sacrifice my dreams to cater to the weak ego of my future husband?
If my future husband is intimidated by my ambitions — girl, I am ready to swipe left.
In her book Half of a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie writes:
That is a badass feminist quote — and there, I dropped the “F-bomb.” That’s a word that women cannot openly say in India without attracting criticism.
Indian society — like most societies — is influenced by patriarchy.
Did you know that marital rape is not criminalized in India? Women cannot report it as a rape, or are told not to report it because “what will people say?”
Women are told to silence themselves and obey the wishes of their families when it comes to marriage. At least I am privileged enough to express my opinions and assert my rights.
A friend of mine from India recounted a traumatic childhood experience when she was 13 years old. Her classmate’s mother, out of pure spite, expressed concerns over my friend’s “unattractive” physical features.
She was only 13, but she was brave and fought back through the tears rolling down her cheeks. But no doubt, she felt humiliated. Why are so many aspects of our personhood weighed against our chance of getting married?
To understand this problem, we need to take into account intersectional feminism, a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw.
We need to understand various overlapping backgrounds based on caste (particularly in the case of India). Class, religion, and sexual orientation affect the daily lives of women, and each woman experiences oppression and discrimination differently. For example, I am from a higher caste, and I am aware of certain advantages that I enjoy compared to women from lower-caste families. My particular experience could not possibly represent every woman’s experience of oppression in India. Many women don’t have platforms to express their opinions. Women from villages have completely different struggles than women in big cities like Mumbai. We cannot ignore this unique context.
Education certainly helps to change this patriarchal mentality, but it cannot resolve everything. I have seen many educated families force their daughters into marriages because they want to have grandchildren before they die.
Mothers need to stop telling their daughters not to pursue male-dominated professions because “she won’t get married.” Don’t tell a girl that she needs to be a great cook so she can find a husband. Stop associating every part of her existence with her chances of getting married.