“When are you going to start saving? Don’t forget there’s a girl growing up in the house..”, countless wives have been reminding their husbands in Indian households and sometimes on TV screens. Parents in the country place too much emphasis on marriage. And if you’re a girl, this gets doubled. The moment the doctor announces the gender, the planning starts, the saving starts. And more importantly, the worrying.
Because of the pervasive dowry system that devours most families by attaching itself to destructive notions of what constitute status, honor and respect, this directly affects the family’s management of financial resources and how girls are brought up. An unmarried daughter becomes a burden to be removed which in turn subjects her to differential treatment. Giving your daughter’s marriage utmost importance means everything you do for her is ultimately influenced by this concern. You either don’t educate her beyond a basic level because you don’t have enough money to spend on both (and clearly you’ve decided marriage is to be given the bigger priority), or you educate her (often according to your own wishes rather than hers) with the prospect of fetching a well qualified groom so that she can be ‘sent off’ to a ‘respectable’ home.
Placing emphasis on marriage means raising girls in a manner primarily aimed at moulding them into a societal expectation of what an ideal bride or wife should be like, instead of fostering and encouraging individual characteristics. And in a patriarchal society, these demands are never free of misogyny. The perfect wife looks like Aishwarya Rai, talks like Mother Teresa and is willing to be submissive like Sita. She is unambitious, unassertive, unaware or not demanding of her rights, and has been blessed with extra invisible hands to successfully manage all household work and (increasingly) also a job without the slightest complaints. Girls then are taught from a young age to value their looks more than their talents and skills, to place their career aspirations or financial independence secondary to the need for being married at the ‘right’ time and having kids, and to perpetuate this vicious cycle through their own daughters, all the while carrying a burden of living up to the good girl myth so as to not ‘invite’ rape, lest they become used goods. Because rape is something that is given to us when we “ask for it”, and the unit of measurement of a woman’s worth is virginity. Right?
Imposing one’s dreams on another human being and wanting them to strictly fulfill them for you is a pretty selfish expectation and even a messed up form of ‘love’ (which is how people usually like to rationalize it). This stems from the perception that holds children as properties of parents and in particular, a woman’s identity only in relation to a man. It’s somewhat similar to indoctrinating kids into the parents’ religion at an impressionable age and closing the doors of curiosity, only even more violating. While one may be able to completely break free from religious beliefs at least on a mental level, the social costs of leaving an unsuccessful marriage in a patriarchal culture are many, especially if you’re a woman. Being a father-in-law or a grandmother is a privilege, not a right. But having the freedom to decide whether we want to give our parents that privilege is a right no one should be denied, because the decisions involved would first and foremost affect ourselves.
Not to mention the oppression it puts out for women who don’t fit into the supposed standards. Lesbian women, disabled women, trans/queer women, those wishing to stay single or those who want to have a partner but not get married. Women with physical disabilities constantly deal with ableist attitudes that infantilise them or treat them as less of a woman. Imagine the look of horror on the father’s face when he tells his daughter they’re going to start looking for a suitable match and her response is, “I hope she will let me keep my job.” Thankfully, we have an effective homophobic climate in place to avoid any such awkward situations. It’s simple, we just force them into repressing their sexuality and entering an arranged heterosexual relationship!
Marriage is not the ultimate purpose of a female life. I’ll say that again, it really isn’t. It’s only a part of it, and a choice some women wish to make while some women don’t. The important thing is they should have the liberty to do so without being coerced or emotionally blackmailed. This has absolutely nothing to do with their ‘worth’ as a person. Meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life can be found in a billion ways and if your daughter wants to include marriage at some point in that list, fine. If not, that should be fine as well. Give her education, good morals, encourage her to pursue her passions, let her celebrate her sexuality and uniqueness. The rest should be up to her. After all, if it is your daughter’s welfare that you wish for, then start by placing the control of her future in her own hands.