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How Patriarchy Dictates When An Indian Girl Is ‘Ready For Marriage’

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By Saanya Gulati:

There is a ‘coming of age’ in Indian society at which every girl is asked the uncomfortable question, ‘when are you getting married?’ by her relatives and friends. If you so much as attend a wedding after the age of 22, you can be sure that someone will crack the classic ‘your turn is next’ joke. While I am aware that this phenomenon applies to Indian boys and girls alike, I speak for the latter, as I write from experience. Moreover, this story is about marriage in an Indian girl’s life.


Let me clarify that I have nothing against the idea or institution of marriage. Like most desi-girls, I have fantasized about having a ‘big fat Indian wedding,’ which we are socialized into believing is the most important event in our life. But my real problem is the patriarchal norms that this attitude toward marriage perpetuates in the Indian society.

Consider this conversation, with a well-educated and well-to-do friend of mine, about my future plans. I tell her that after completing a Masters degree in the next year or two, I am considering a law degree, as it is related to my interest in public policy. A ticking time bomb suddenly explodes at the back of her mind. ‘That’s another five years! How much are you going to study? Don’t you want to get married?’ Apparently, it is absurd for me to think that I can pursue my academic or professional goals, and get married. I assure her that I will try to fulfill both tasks in the next five-years. But she’s still unconvinced. ‘Don’t wait too long. All the good guys will be gone by then.’ So, now the logic is that you either compromise on your ambitions, or you lose out on marrying a ‘good guy.’ Needless to say, I do not want to know what the definition of a ‘good guy’ entails.

I have had variations of the above conversation with several people in the past. The emphasis that our society places on marriage creates an artificial pressure on families to start hunting for that ‘good guy’ sooner than later. This is because the expiry-date on a girl’s marriageability is much earlier than it is for guys. If a guy decides to give marriage a thought at the age of 29, chances are he will find tons of eligible bachelorettes, because marrying someone even five to ten years younger is socially acceptable.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for girls. This also leads to the typecasting of Indian women as being ‘marriage’ or ‘career’ oriented. If a girl doesn’t believe that there is an ‘expiry-date’ to her marriageability, then she is the career-type, because she is not putting enough energy into finding that ‘good guy.’ This is a remark I heard in reference to a girl who had recently broken off a serious relationship: ‘but she’s the career-type, so it’s okay!’

This same typecasting is not applicable to Indian men, because they are the breadwinners. Convention dictates that they can and must do both, career and marriage, which gives them more leeway to focus on the former before the latter. The stereotype that ‘women are better at multitasking,’ of course, does nothing to change this.

Growing up with a mother who works full time, and is as dedicated to her career and family, I never saw marriage and career as mutually exclusive goals. But I realize that this is the exception and not the norm for a large segment of India’s urban middle and upper classes today. Sadly, this mindset is reflective of the undying patriarchal beliefs and structures in our society.

Marriage is supposed to represent the beginning of a beautiful journey, but our society has successfully turned it into a race, in which no girl wants to be left behind. The pressure to fulfill societal expectations often causes one to obsess over marriage, rather than allowing it to happen in its natural course of time. While there is nothing wrong with a girl wanting to prioritize her marital pursuits over her professional goals and ambitions, we need to stop stigmatizing those who do not. More importantly, our society needs to stop categorizing girls as being marriage or career focused, and recognize that they too can be both.

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  1. Kaushiki

    Spot on! Indians make marriage out to be a girl’s ultimate goal in life. Whatever else she may have achieved remains secondary to the fact that she is not yet married. The worry that too much studying/being career-oriented is going to affect her marriageability is because the men and their families’ mind-set is still completely patriarchal. They want a woman who is smart and educated but who will be willing to put all that away at the drop of a hat if they ask her to.

    1. Ms. I’m happy with my life but parents my aren’t

      I’m a 26 year old girl/woman, call as u feel like. I have great job, I have been in a steady relationship for the last 6 years!! And my parents have even agreed to get us married although it took time for them to digest the fact that I was choosing my life partner and not them! Due to some personal reasons, our wedding date isnt fixed yet.. and its been a couple of years since we broke the news to them..and that is the biggest worry of my parents!! You are already 26, you have a younger sister, she wont find suitable guys if you don’t get married soon, your dad will retire next year, How can you do this to us etc etc…!! Needless to say every time there is a social gathering, my parents have to face uncomfortable quesries as to why their perfectly eligible daughter isnt married yet..!! I cant help but think that India is not a country to be born in as a free spirited, independent strong willed girl.. The society leaves no stone unturned to make you feel gulity about these very same attributes..!

    2. MG

      Well I am a woman and I think its good for a girl to get married in the right age. Right age doesn’t mean 22-23, but by 28-29 after all you can never change your biological clock. This is a fact and we have to accept it. But yes of course its about your own priorities. In case Marrige , kids etc is not your top priority you can delay it to any time you want but point is you should be happy and have no regrets later. I myself will be turning 29 next month and I really wanted to be married by 27-28 but circumstances didn’t allow me unfortunately, my fiance cheated on me. I am earning good and working in one of the top fortune 500 financial firms, but for me career , marrige and a wonderful family are equally important. What is the point of earning tons of money when you don’t have cute kids to share your life with 🙂

    3. angryIndian

      Agree. I hope things get better man.
      If you think about it, our country has the largest % of youth in the world and to think we are still so controlled, confined and limited by rigid thinking is atrocious.
      But if more people like you stand their ground, I am sure it will inspire younger people to carve their own lives no?

  2. Milan

    How true!

  3. Amrita Roy

    This is so true! Sometimes the hypocrisy of the so-called “modern families” kills me. On one hand they want their daughters to be educated. And on the other hand they don’t want them to be “too educated” as that would reduce her desirability in the marriage circuit. They want their daughters to be independent and progressive. And the next moment they want their daughters to give in to the whims of their to-be husbands and in-laws. Its like raising a lamb only to slaughter it later!

  4. Mehul Gala

    All is not well for guys either. Even though guys have a little bit more liberty in terms of the ideal marriage age, they are subjected to constant social, financial and family pressure to find the secure, high paying job before they tie the knot with their life partner. Every ‘who’s who’ uncle and aunt never fail to give them free career planning councelling. Every Guy must ensure that it’s income is higher than his future wife’s spending capacity. Our ex are getting married with the Richie Richs of our society who, in most cases, have a well settled ‘Dad’s business’. In the midst of higher studies, corporate rat race, education loan re-payment, home loan planning and what not, marriage is just another responsibility that comes their way. The problem here is that the decision of when to get married is mostly driven by force of the family, relatives and the age factor. Your personal choice and ambitions hardly matter.

    1. Saanya Gulati

      Mehul, I completely agree! Like I said, I’m writing my story from experience, but would love for a guy to write about the societal expectations when it comes to marriage for a guy.

    2. Mehul Gala

      I understand you wrote this article from your perspective and I respect your opinion. I genuinely hope that things do get better from here for both of us. Good luck.

    3. angryIndian

      it is interesting to see the male perspective. oh yes the ‘Stable Job’ criteria. So Both sides have it quite bad.

  5. Akshat Seth

    There’s this joke about a girl being continuously hassled by her aunts whenever there was a family wedding.
    “e, ab teri baari hai!” They used to tell her, simultaneously nudging her with their elbows.

    Fed up of the repeated remarks, the girl decided to hit back.
    From now on. during the occasions of mourning for the dead, she’d go up to her aunts, nudge them slightly with the elbow and whisper-
    ‘Auntiji, ab aapki baari hai.”

  6. justnehajha

    I recently turned 22, and yes, I completely get what you are saying. I’m almost done with the 1st year of Masters degree and most girls in my class have already had their marriage plans. I find that weird! In this day and age, contrary to your belief, I seriously think career has to be a priority for everyone. And, getting a job is just the beginning! U have to excel in it; be on the top! That requires time and undiverted attention. Marriage will just be a hindrance! Plus, I hate this attitude of the older generation to make marriage the be all and end all of life, especially for a girl! Its extremely frustrating. Unfortunately, most Indian girls are taught to be less ambitious and more docile. An ambitious girl ain’t marriage material! I feel very sad when I see many girls of my age being so dreamy about marriage and all….sometimes I feel, don’t they feel the need to prove they are better than what society thinks?? How can they do the same thing willingly which their mothers did forcefully? It sucks!!

    1. Damien Hanet

      If your life just turns around your job then it is not worth living. Finding a good job that you like is important but it can’t be the goal of your life. I am not saying that marriage has to be your goal in life. I honestly think that you have to aim for happiness and that it can only come trough personal achievements, friends and family. I don’t work work colleagues at my burial, I want friends. I do no wish to be remembered as a hard worker but has a good father/husband/friend/whatever.
      Marrying a girl with ambition? Yes! That wants a wonderful career? Yes! That has no time for friends and family? No!

    2. MG

      True ! Just what I feel. Whenever I read these columns I remember Parveen Babi and her sad ending. A happy Life is all about having a balance of everything

  7. Anon

    This is really true. I have completed my undergrad and now I am doing law. In uk to become a lawyer I will have to study for one more year after 3 year llb. And this is the question I get all the time…. So you will have 3 degrees? So how will we find a guy for you? Why so you want to study more? You won’t be able to get married. It will be too late. I feel like screaming at all those relatives and telling them that that’s not the only goal of my life. Plus I was in a long distance relationship. And I didn’t want to do law in india. So I came to uk. My boyfriend actually told me this, ” I know many women who get married and have a career. Why can’t you come back from uk and run a boutique here? You are like one of those ambitious girls.” As if being ambitious was a crime. He actually wanted me to return to a small town in india…after a LLB degree from one of UK’s best universities and open a boutique! This is what even educated men expect of their wives. To have small dreams and sacrifice their dreams for the husbands. No article could be truer than this.

    1. Pranay Sherke

      (I am male, 30, single)This is because of the typical “shaadi hi to karni hai” attitude towards Indian girls. And these “men” who want you to quit your career and open a boutique are actually dead scared of living with an intellectual woman. Feeling competitive is in the nature of a man. But a TRUE man is the one who lovingly ‘competes’ with his wife to EARN her respect and rightfully assumes his place as the “man of the house”. There are numerous examples of power couples, where both the husband and wife are highly placed professionals, and whose marriages are smoother than any typical Indian marriage. Why ? Because the power dynamic in such relationships ensures that each one has earned his / her stripes 😉

  8. mihikajindal

    Am soon turning 25…the apt age before marriage market dynamics start depleting for me. I feature on matrimonial websites and talk to random men on my parents insistence. The “strange man” who scared my parents away in my teens is now their favourite. The prime parameters for finding the “good guy” are three – Pics (like Picasa and Photoshop left anyone not-so-presentable), career graph and family background. How is he as a person is so not the point of concern – so it is only obvious that he could be one of those chauvinistic men telling me to quit my job and have no friends!

    1. Mehul Gala

      Nice thoughts Mihika! Just read your article on
      Being of a ‘marriage-property’ age, I can completely relate myself to it. Thanks for writing this article and give me some solace. I need it desperately.

    2. SK

      Ditto for me… I reminded my parents that just a few years bak you questioned a particular guy’s name from college on my whatsapp list.. and you kind of told me to get rid of him!! (Parents,,, sigh) and now, just because you like some dude’s family background and career pattern, you are forcing me to add him on my whatsapp and chat with him everyday… and i am not even interested in him!! They like him is all tha matters, my opinion is secondary.. true, this SUCKS BIG TIME!

  9. sushant

    For a guy things are no more simple, they should either be nri or already own a home, car etc. While he is still not sure if this haphazardness city life worth leading; living in a box (oops apts.) takes a toll on his creativity, the job for which he was passionate during initial years, now is dull enough to make if difficult to reach office even at 11. While some gets into the societal pressure and start living others’ dreams by making a donkey out of themselves but gets known as eligible bachelors. Others says, screw it, I’m better off alone!

    1. angryIndian

      interesting perspective ! Totally hear you…You graduate from college bursting with dreams and start a job and immerse yourself…but after a few years, either due to over work or various other factors, you burn out…and just as you want to explore something else…the shaadi bell rings…and many decide to focus on that and forget this…until they feel stuck, frustrated and trapped.
      Ah I fail to understand this madness. I feel its more like the elders want to have it off their chests and relax and retire. But if only they didn’t take this much T

  10. karthik

    Tell all of em its none of their F*&^%$G Business. Period.

  11. Babar

    Most of my female cousins were married at the right age, in their early twenties, and still went on to pursue their ambitions and dreams. A few, however, were not so good with their academic credentials and have gotten married to rich men, who now enjoy their luxurious lifestyles as homemakers.

  12. Keyur Seta

    This is very true and very infuriating! Our society has turned marriage into something extremely anti-women. I find it annoying when just anybody pops up the question – When are you getting married? This is none of your f****** business! I am not at all sorry to say that we have turned marriage as a cruel joke on women. We live in a hypocritical society!

    I have wrote on similar lines here –

  13. angryIndian

    haha how true. I just turned 27. I visit temples (made to visit) regularly and as I am praying I am nudged to “also pray for a good husband” 😀 I am lucky that my family has still not completely lost it…but heck I see it in everyone’s eyes the minute I tell them my magic number. My relatives say …”You have lived your life the way you wanted all these its time to get married?” How in the world is that the best pitch for a marriage…you are making it sound like a freaking TRAP!

    Even girls who are 20 and in college (and who I thought would be a lot cooler coz they are in college!!) ask me…so you don’t want to get married? And I am just baffled. Arey baba, I do..I would like to find a nice guy with whom I can imagine living with…and I haven’t yet so I am unmarried…but I don’t want to marry because
    a) time is running out..this is not jab we met…No train is leaving..and I am not running to catch it.
    b) or because all the nice guys are gone or are going (although this kind of is true because yes they get to date or marry 22 yr olds even if they touch 30). So in terms of numbers, kind of blows.
    c) because of “LOG kya kahenge”. Who the f… cares?
    I’d like to do these milestone events in my life according to my terms. Why is this simple fact so hard for Indian buzurg log as well as the youngsters to understand ?

    we have ONE life…and we kill ourselves by putting such immense pressure on doing everything at the right time.

    Anyway I don’t care..I’d rather live my life without regrets than try to please the society ..90% of whom I don’t really know and hence don’t care about. Family – yes tough to handle but hopefully they will come around. Or hopefully I will.

    Anyway If I am unmarried at 30 I am migrating. Because I am pretty sure my country will kick me out.

  14. deepthi

    Very true, I also suffered similar pressures from so called norms expected from family( sometimes younger siblings start cribbing that if you don’t get married on time my chances will get reduced) and society. I am surprised how much they can influence(have power over) us even when we are well educated and self sufficient sometimes they choke us.

  15. Pooja Pathak

    Also in our society if a girl fails or gets less marks or gets job of comparatively low pay scale than parents will force them for marriage.. but will not allow her to live life as she wants. I think failing in exams or getting low marks does not stop any body’s life or it can not stop any body’s ambitious even is she is girl.. rather than encouraging her they starts finding so called good guy for her.. our parents need to change their mentality…

    1. Pranay Sherke

      Well madam, if you think about it, if a girl gets low marks or fails, it is actually MUCH MUCH easier
      for her if she gets married. I have seen even dumbo girls getting very good grooms and
      good families because the focus is on her beauty and home making skills. However, in
      case of a boy, if he fails or gets low marks, he can very surely end up single for the rest
      of his life as the focus is on his profession and earning capacity.

  16. blokes

    Such a typical “rant” from your age group! I had 2 grand aunts, if they were living today, they would be 100 plus years old. Both of them chose to remain single in the 1920s when their mother started looking for alliances. One retired superintendent of schools and another chose to marry at the age of 56 for companionship and she retired principal of a women’s college in Delhi. Both came from a “traditional” South Indian brahmin family.
    Why am I sharing their stories here? Marriage is an extremely personal choice- not even a family one. Our parents gave all 3 of us a choice- if you want us to look for a groom/wife, we will do it at this age- 20s. If you want to live single, go ahead, don’t gripe; if you want to find your own partner, our blessings with you- you save us a ton of money! And a word of wisdom at the end- if you ever choose to have a kid, please have that kid when you have enough energy to run behind them- do not expect us to bring them up!
    And yes, we are the next generation of a “traditional” South Indian (aka Tam-bram) family. Pragmatism wins the day. I live in the US where I meet women who choose to have babies in their early 40s and they dread the day they go in for the amniocentesis test to ensure that the foetus is “normal” with no abnormal birth defects- the chances of which increase with age of the mother and other factors.

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