Un arranging the arranged Marriage
Shiha Kaur // 23 April 2010
There is one thing that I do that people think contradict my feminist beliefs. I call myself Miss, rather than Ms. It is mostly for practical reasons, as I share my initial with my grandmother who lives in the same house. But it also shows that I have reached my mid twenties without getting married. It is an achievement that I sometimes feel incredibly proud of.
I don’t have any problems with marriage, if I meet the right man I will probably consider it. I take issue with the “marriage mafia”, or the legion of relatives and family friends who subtly but constantly put pressure on young British Asians to get married. For an Asian housewife of a certain age who barely speaks English and moved to the UK when she herself got married, being Cilla Black is a full time job. Bringing a couple together carries prestige and commands respect from others in the community and the arranger can bask in reflected glory at the wedding.
A week ago I received an invitation to my cousin’s wedding. Along with panicking about finding something flattering to wear, my first thought was how had she been persuaded to go through it a third time? D is barely 30, yet by May she will have had 3 arranged marriages. The reasons for the end of her first two marriages were never made clear to me. I respected her for having the confidence to walk away in a community where divorce is a dirty word. No one should be forced to stay in a relationship when they don’t want to. But neither should one be pressured into a relationship in the first place.
My cousin J got married last year. Despite having a good degree and a successful career by her early thirties, she wasn’t considered successful until she finally got married. For years she had been subjected to pictures of suitable lawyers and speculations that she might have a non-Asian boyfriend while she was working away from home. When she finally found her own husband, her parents were congratulated whilst she was encouraged to produce grandchildren as quickly as possible before it became “too late.”
When I was little and my parents talked about my future, it was about a good education and a good job, not marriage to a suitable boy and several children. I was lucky, other friends have been brought up to believe that their parent’s home is not their own and that their “real home” is the one with their in-laws. They have been taught to cook, clean and keep a house with the sole aim of turning them into marriage material.
There is an assumption that everyone wants to get married and have children. Being unmarried at the ripe old age of 24, I am still considered a child by many of my relatives and am not a proper adult until I have a husband. I’m tall and in my teens I looked old for my age. When I reached 15, every big Asian event I attended would be accompanied by the M word. I took to wearing skyscraper heels to make myself even taller, as tall grooms are rare and a lack of height is a valid excuse to say no.
As soon as I had finished uni, my aunt asked for my graduation photos so that she could distribute them among her friends with “eligible” sons. As she had previously told me that a man’s looks don’t matter, I accused her of hypocrisy and refused to even show her my photos. I’m not that choosy when it comes to men, but my idea of an eligible man differs considerably from my aunt’s. She wants a man from the right caste, from a good family with a high-earning job so he can support me while I bring up the children. I spent several years studying so that I could make something of myself and earn a living, not so that I would be considered suitable marriage material or a baby making machine.
There are ways to beat the marriage mafia. Prolonged academic study and working abroad are two ways that I have stopped relatives telling me that they know a handsome accountant. One friend of mine pretends she suffers from PCOS, and that she is unable to have children, which puts off many would be mothers-in-law who want grandchildren.
My own parents are proof that arranged marriages work and this year they will celebrate their 30th anniversary. But whilst arranged marriages have changed with the times, those who arrange them have not. They still think it is acceptable to nag young Asians into marriage. A whole new Asian dating industry has sprung up to cater for demand from young people themselves. It seems that young Asians do want to get married, but want to do it their own way. Couples want to meet in person, even date for a while before they get married. Some couples even find each other through work, university or special dating events and get someone to “arrange” it so that it looks above board.
When and if I do get married, I want it on my own terms. Not because my relatives have pressurised me into it and think it is the right thing to do.