‘Getting Married Isn’t A Woman’s Greatest Achievement’

Editor’s note: This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #WomensDay to start conversations on how we can achieve a gender equal society. If you have faced gender-based violence, sexism or misogyny, would like to propose policy reforms or write about what families, friends, workspaces and partners can do to ensure gender parity around them, write to us here.

The house was all decked up for the wedding. Bright lights were showing in the verandah. Loud music and laughter could be heard. Children dressed in various shades ran around, in a well-lit garden. The aroma of delicious food and mithai (sweets) filled the air. Today was Roma’s big day. It was her wedding. As I entered her house, looking forward to being a part of the celebrations, I looked around for her younger sister Riya. She was nowhere to be found. Roma and Riya are sisters, two years apart.

Roma is the more fun loving type, who bunked college, enjoyed shopping and spending time with her friends. She was never really interested in making a career. Knowing well that she belonged to a well to do business family and would marry into an equally well to do family, she preferred enjoying her life. Riya, on the other hand, was studious and had set her goals on becoming a doctor. She went to the US for her higher studies and the last Facebook update I had seen on her profile was regarding her having completed her MD with a gold medal. She was flying back to India for her sister’s wedding.

I wondered where she was. Wasn’t this a big day for her too? Not just because it was her sister’s wedding but because she had achieved something really great for herself academically. I expected the family to be thrilled as they had two reasons to celebrate. I was expecting a poster and a congratulatory message for Riya put up on the walls or played on the PPT which they had displayed. Yet, all it had was, ‘Roma weds Abhishek’ and some pictures of Roma as a child, pictures with her family and her friends. There wasn’t a single mention of Riya and her degree. I found it weird.

I finally found her. Forlorn, she sat, wearing a beautiful lehenga, but her face had lost its charm. I congratulated her with all the enthusiasm and hugged her. I saw her face glow but it only lasted for a brief moment and she was back to her gloomy self. On further prodding, she revealed that her family did not really consider this as a big achievement. In fact, they were all the more worried now about finding a groom for such a highly educated lady. Her parents were furious when she told them that she did not want to get married for the next 3-4 years as she wanted to start her practice.

I patted her shoulder and told her to trust her instincts and make her decision about what she wanted in life, to stay strong and not bow down to pressure.

This incident got me thinking about why we obsess over marriage so much and why we consider a woman getting married as her biggest achievement. Without that, the highest degree with the best marks, a lucrative job at a top notch company, a sports medal – everything loses its lustre. Unless the woman in question ties the knot at the ‘right age’. Only then is she someone who has achieved something and this achievement calls for a big celebration. Why can’t we celebrate the successes of our girls just like we do for our boys? If it was a boy in place of Riya, wouldn’t the family celebrate? Then why is this not the case with our girls?

I recall a particularly brilliant young lady aged 28 who is pursuing her PhD. Her mom and my mom are good friends and aunty is always worried that her daughter would soon pass the marriageable age and finding a good groom after that would be difficult. Her daughter staunchly refuses to even think of marriage at this stage.

She says, “Mumma, I have worked a lot to reach this far and I am still studying to complete my PhD. As long as I live with you and daddy, I don’t need to care a damn about anything like cooking, cleaning, etc. I can focus on my studies. I can do that even if I live alone. However, if I get married at this point, there would be certain responsibilities and expectations from me, as a wife, as a daughter in-law. My in-laws may not live with me but I cannot really have a carefree attitude like I have now. I would be expected to take care of the house, at least manage the maid and other stuff and at this point, all I want to think of is my degree. I have toiled for all these years and reached this stage. If I get married and I can’t devote enough time to this, all my efforts and sacrifices of the past so many years would be futile. No, I will not do this to myself. I will marry when I am ready.”

Aunty knew she couldn’t coerce her daughter, so she decided to let the matter rest and wait for her daughter to turn around.

There’s another good friend of mine. A school friend who is 30 and not married. As we live in different cities, our talks are usually limited to phone calls on birthdays. I consciously choose to avoid the topic of marriage, as I do not want to cause her any discomfort and there’s so much to discuss other than news about one’s marriage. We usually end up talking about our jobs, our old school days and she once told me of a school mate’s wedding that she attended and how everyone met and they spoke about the good old school days. We end up on a pleasant note.

When I called her on her birthday a few days back, she told me that she was getting married and I was really happy for her. Happy that she took her time. However, when I usually converse with other friends and her name pops up, people ask many questions. Is she married? Why not? Any issues? She’s 3o, doesn’t she want to get married? I usually shrug and give a tepid response but it makes me wonder yet again about our mindset in general. Why don’t people ask about her job or praise her for being that dutiful daughter who supports her parents and takes care of her younger sister’s education? There is so much more to a woman than her marital status.

Our girls are no less than boys and have a zest and passion to conquer the world, chase their dreams and make them come true. All they need is encouragement and support from all of us. Yes, your dreams are valid my dear. You can be anything you wish to be. That prize you just won at the inter-college debate, the gold medal that you received in economics, a job at the top investment bank – is a great achievement and we are proud of you. Let’s celebrate this great moment.

Your marriage would be a day to rejoice, no doubt. You will step into a new chapter of life and we will welcome a new member to our family. However, your achievements are not limited to getting married. There’s so much more to life and when we start recognising these small and big achievements of our girls, being genuinely happy for them and celebrating them with as much vigour as we would celebrate their wedding, we would have truly opened our doors to being more inclusive and gender neutral.

A version of this article has been published here.
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