“I wish I was a boy” was one of those not-so-serious and out-of-annoyance statements you made when you realised that being a woman meant getting cramps once a month, harvesting a child for nine months and having to wax parts of your body which have a low threshold for pain. For me the “I wish I was a boy” was a statement I made when I realised that being a woman of Bangladeshi and Muslim descent meant getting married off at 18 to the first guy with a resume that addressed the criteria for a good husband. Except I wasn’t the one taking job applications or interviews, my parents were. This probably sounds appealing to those who met too many freaks while internet dating, who had a non-existing love life or who were simply experiencing the ‘A man will save me’ mid-life crisis. However, I am lucky enough to not be going through any of those phases.
During an important episode of Masterchef my parents presented me with a photo and a resume of a prospective husband. At that instance I felt like I was in a horror movie with a poorly written script. This script did not involve me getting murdered at the end by a serial murderer with an axe, it just involved me being burdened off to some other man in order for my parents to proudly boast about my newly acquired ‘Wifey’ status. One could argue that was the equivalent of being murdered by an axe murderer and in my case more preferable.
According to ABC News 55% of marriages in the world are arranged. Regardless of being raised in a culture where arranged marriages were a century old fashion trend, I believed arranged marriages carried an offensive and oppressive odour, a scent which made me squeamish. In Asian and Middle Eastern cultures arranged marriages for women involved little or no choice. Parents employed methods of coercion, culpability and contrivance to gain compliance, subliminally dismissing contemporary views of love, romance and marriage. Women were often married in their late teens or early twenties, the prime years of physical attractiveness and youthfulness. This was a view my own father held, his precise words being “With age you will lose your beauty and no man will want you”. Although the words were harsh, it was a truthful depiction of reality, one evolutionary biologists and psychologists continuously confirmed through experimental and theoretical methodologies.
Without sharing a biased perspective, arranged marriages have a high success rate with approximately 4% ending in divorce. This statistic is confirmed by testimonials of individuals who have agreed to partake in an arranged marriage. Statements such as “Spending a couple of days in the room with her, alone, I fell in love with her” and “Our first year of marriage has been crazy exciting and fun filled” suggest that the discrepancy between arranged and love marriages may not be vast and arranged marriages can lead to fulfilling futures. Nonetheless, I cannot help but wonder how transparent these statistics and testimonials are. Do these couples stay together because their society does not allow divorce, do these couples stay together in hope that the love will grow or worse do they stay because they feel forced?
From personal experience I know several women in my culture who have suffered through arranged marriages. They get tricked into visiting their homeland only to come back to Australia with a husband, a complete stranger they are expected to share their bed with for the rest of their lives. After a year or two of marriage, it becomes evident that just because you share your bed with someone doesn’t mean you share your heart with them, with divorce being the only way to resolve a relationship you never wanted in the first place.
Divorce in most Eastern cultures for women comes with a stigma. That stigma is carried around like a bad smell where the women will always be blamed for the failure of the relationship, even if her husband was abusive or unfaithful. This was my major issue with arranged marriages, that in possessing selflessness by fulfilling family duties, I would still come out looking like the bad guy for making the choice to not continue the marriage. So I must ask what do I get out of this societal system? What are the benefits? The truth is the benefits cannot be determined. It likens to the rolling of the dice on a board game, the number you roll is up to chance, or if I were to romanticise it fate. Fortunately for me I am not much of a gambler.
The importance of being a relationship or marriage was not confined to the Eastern world, it exists just as much in the Western world, often masked by the freedom of choice. Evolution into modern times did not render the traditional values of society which denoted “coupling up” as being the natural process of progression through life. I argue that it is unnatural for one to commit to a relationship due to societal pressures and for there to be correct time for relationships, marriage and children. Through experience I found what was natural was creating a loving relationship with yourself, developing and exploring yourself and having the option to choose how and who you spend your life. Without such we disregard and disrespect our individual freedoms.
I place no judgement on people who partake in arranged marriages. I believe that like with everything in life with devotion and dedication they can work. However, love, relationships and marriage is not a part of my life that I want to work at, I have a 9 am to 5 pm job for that, it is a part of my life that I just want to fit like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. When someone asks me the question of how I met my husband, “I met him by reading his resume” is not the story I want to tell, but then again I am a romantic and a rebel.
I firmly believe friendships, families, love and marriage are a beautiful part of life. However, that beauty is something that cannot be appreciated if it is enforced upon you; it has to be a choice you need to make for yourself.