Un arranging the arranged Marriage

// 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.

Comments From You

aimee // Posted 23 April 2010 at 1:11 pm

I’ve just finished reading ‘Hello Kitty Must Die’ which touches on the same themes that your post is about; the pressure the marry and the culturally rooted idea that you’re somehow not a grown up until you are married (obviously in a different culture but with apparently similar values).

I’m lucky, i’ve always made my feelings about marriage known and I have never experienced any kind of pressure to get married, despite the fact that I have a child with my partner. Is part of the problem that it’s difficult to say no to the people who are pressuringyou, or do they simply not accept your protestations?

Cycleboy // Posted 23 April 2010 at 1:35 pm

Congratulations on your stand against the pressure to wed. You’ll need all the help you can get, given you’re still ‘only’ 24.

A few years ago there was a TV programme in which an Asian Brummie was putting forward the positive face of arranged marriage. However, she showed her own brother, a typical British bloke in his early 20s, being pressured into marrying a woman in Pakistan on the grounds that ‘she’d be discarded goods’ if he didn’t. Sadly, he was a decent, sensitive bloke, who caved in under such pressure. I just hope it worked out for both of them.

However, I was puzzled by the presenter’s aims. Given that she worked in TV, and had been born here, she must have known how the majority of Brits would view the pressuring of her own brother (let alone the bride). On one hand she was saying that arranged marriages could work (which is not in dispute), yet she showed an example of appalling pressure being put on her own brother. Was she being deliberately arch or simply naive?

FeminaErecta // Posted 23 April 2010 at 2:42 pm

What an interesting post, I find many of the young Asian women I work with are under pressure to get married from about 17 onwards. One girl said she was not bothered about passing her exams because she always had the option of getting her parents to arrange her a marriage- whilst this is her choice, I as someone from a culture that does not have this was quite uncomfortable about it. I understand that arranged marriages can work, but how do you feel about girls going into marriage as a ‘back-up plan’, if you see what I mean?

I am also a Miss. I know the original arguements were that why are men just Mr whilst women change on marriage, but I still like being ‘Miss’, I think the word needs reclaiming, and it annoys me when people think I should be a Ms because I’m an outspoken feminist, goes with the whole stereotypes thing surely?

KJB // Posted 23 April 2010 at 7:17 pm

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.

Haha – so true! And describing the auntie brigade as the ‘marriage mafia’ is brilliant as well.

Arranged marriages are, as you observe, a misogyny fest (my parents are of the ‘your in-laws are your family now’ school of thought, and also think that marriage is the major event of a woman’s life) – and it gets even worse when a marriage fails as my sister’s recently has. That has made my parents realise that seeing marriage as *the* centre of life might not be such a good thing after all…

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.

That’s depressing to read! I know exactly what you mean though, as I have used study as a way to deflect talk of marriage myself…

Cycleboy // Posted 24 April 2010 at 3:40 pm

Feminaerecta: “people think I should be a Ms because I’m an outspoken feminist”

Actually, I think KJB had it right when she argued against the idea of “marriage as *the* centre of life” – especially for women.

While I can see that, if you are being pressurised into marriage, sticking up for being “Miss” (ie being seen to be happy to be un-married) does have some logic. However, the whole idea of Ms was not to be identified as a radical feminists (though, sadly, many people do see it as such) but it’s main raison-d’etre was precicely what KJB was railling against – that you should be seen as a person and your marital status should be neither here nor there.

Lynne Miles // Posted 27 April 2010 at 10:37 am

“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.”

This is really interesting, Shiha, and thanks for posting this, as it’s something I hadn’t thought about before at all. I’ve been a Ms for ages now, and it really irritates me when people call me Miss. And for me, it *is* a statement (as well as a residual feeling of just…oddness that I should announce my marital status when I tell someone my name). But I hadn’t realised before that ‘Miss’ might equally be a statement of autonomy and independence for other women. So, thank you!

Kit // Posted 29 April 2010 at 10:02 am

“However, the whole idea of Ms was not to be identified as a radical feminists (though, sadly, many people do see it as such) but it’s main raison-d’etre was precicely what KJB was railling against – that you should be seen as a person and your marital status should be neither here nor there.” – Cycleboy

Okay, so why have a different title to men or even one at all?

“Only 24” and hardcore “Miss” here too ’til a better alternative comes up that I feel happy with. Congratulations, Shiha, on not getting married :) I loved this article.

Bell Bajao: Fight Domestic Violence // Posted 5 May 2010 at 9:26 am

A person should not be forced or pressurized into getting married. Parents/relatives can recommend spouses but it should stop at that. The two people set up just have time to get to know each other and the choice to get married or not should be up to them. If a person wants to have a love marriage, relatives should be supportive of that as well

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