According to a research, 30.8 per cent of 'Bride Wanted' ads and 43.2 per cent of 'Groom Wanted' ads mentioned the requirement of the same caste as important for match-making. 25 per cent of 'Brides Wanted' ads were obsessed with a particular physical appearance of a woman, especially in terms of her skin colour, height and weight and only 11 per cent of 'Groom Wanted' ads prioritised the same for grooms. Despite being questioned and defied a million times, patriarchy manages to seep into our lives through regressive matrimonial ads. When I began writing this article, I was wondering what I can say that hasn't been said before? Turns out, a lot.
Isn't the freedom to choose, marry, earn or study every woman's right? Marriage is a union of two people based on mutual love and understanding and not on body type, caste, gotra, character or occupation. Haven't we argued enough that a woman (or any person) should not be judged and shamed on the basis of her body and skin complexion? Don't we know that the obsession with a person's caste has led to many heinous crimes against women and men?
Then why even today the leading newspapers dedicate pages to regressive matrimonial ads that enclose women within the categories of sasnkari, non-feminist, fair cook and mother? Moreover, why do our families fall for these ads that undermine their daughters' potentials and shame her as a normal human? It is high time that we as a society stop promoting these regressive ads and change the way we perceive men, women and marriage.
So here are some of the common matrimonial ads that undermine women. Read, spot and change.
1. Brahmin Bride
The obsession with a person's caste and the hatred towards inter-cultural, inter-faith and inter-caste marriage is not new in our country. In older times, the society was divided on the basis of the Varna system which became the reason of caste discrimination that eroded the lives of the underprivileged and humanity in general. But it is 2021, why do matrimonial ads still legitimise caste discrimination? Don't we have enough reasons and statistics to back the claim that discriminating any person on the basis of religion and caste disrespects their dignity and subjects them to life long oppression? Doesn't a woman from an underprivileged class deserve to get married and have a happy life with freedom and dignity?
2. Expert in raising a child
Many matrimonial ads even today mention "good mother" as an essential characteristic of a desirable bride. Doesn't this sound as if the marriage is being conducted for the sole purpose of raising progeny? Will a woman ever be respected as a human and not as a child-producing uterus in such marriages?
Motherhood is important, but before that, it is a choice. So it is equally necessary to get your choices about parenting sorted before getting married. But this doesn't mean that a woman's ability is measured by how good she is as a mother. Whether a woman wants to be a mother or not, she has an identity of her own that is determined by her achievements, hobbies and adventures. Not every woman wants to be a mother and not every mother is a good mother by birth.
Regressive matrimonial ads: Why do our families fall for these ads that undermine their daughters' potentials and shame her as a normal human?
3. Excellent in cooking
Today, women are leading the world in various fields but still cooking and cleaning are considered as essential characteristics to be accepted as a "good woman". Doesn't this undermine the potential of a woman who is much more than a good cook and a cleaner? If food and hygiene is the basic need for any human to survive, why even today people expect women to be the primary cooks in the families? Shouldn't men too know how to cook and clean? Why do matrimonial continue to legitimise the gender roles that we are struggling to defy everyday?
4. Fair, beautiful and tall bride
In Indian families, being a dark-skinned woman with a short height becomes a curse that overshadows all her achievements and hard work in life. Why? Because she doesn't qualify for the desirable bride in the marriage market which then raises the overarching question of who will marry her and be her protector? Moreover, if a family judges a woman by her physical appearance, will it respect a fair, beautiful and tall bride for her achievements, choices and talents?
Dear families, a woman's identity is not determined by how fair, beautiful and tall she is. She has many things to achieve in life than worry about fitting in the beauty standards set up by patriarchy. So can matrimonial ads now stop being racist and hypocritic?
5. A non-working bride
The demand for a non-working bride coincides with the stereotype that women should essentially take on the domestic roles. Indian families even today are apprehensive of educated and empowered wives or bahus because their liberated thoughts and lifestyle defies the patriarchal control on a woman's life. Will such a family ever support a woman's agency and freedom? And if it believes in restricting women within domestic space, will that family ensure the happiness of a woman who is a housemaker by choice?
Moreover, it has always irked me how families do not allow their daughters to earn and handle money but put all the pressure of running the house on the man. Doesn't this perception objectify and suppress both men and women? Why should men alone bear the pressure of running a household when women too can earn and take care of the family? Why is the male-ego okay with self-destruction but not with women empowerment?
6. A bride never married before
Widows or estranged women are the most underprivileged sections of society. Their lives are rampant with gender discrimination and oppression even today. Even though some widows or divorced women are reclaiming their rights and life, regressive matrimonial ads continue to legitimise their discrimination. The major idea behind this is the question of virginity. Indian grooms do not prefer to marry a woman who isn't a virgin. If women lose their virginity before marriage, they are labelled as immoral. And if they lose it after marriage (but are widowed or divorced) their bodies are objectified as used goods.
Dear families, stop shaming women or your daughters on the basis of their sexuality or marital status. Being a virgin or a widow doesn't deprive her of her agency and identity. She can still choose to excel, marry or live her life on her own terms.
7. Non-smoking and non-feminist bride
Character is another major category that determines the desirability of a woman as a bride. It is no hidden fact that society has set up a very narrow definition of a 'good woman' which is synonymous with being submissive, quiet and meek. A woman who drinks, smokes, roams around at night or has male friends is labelled as unsanskari. And it is only unfortunate that the growing debates and struggles of feminism impact matrimonial ads negatively. Now being feminist and outspoken too makes an unsankari woman who cannot have a happy marriage.
But let us understand that every woman who pursues her dreams and claims her rights is a feminist. It has nothing to do with her marriageability or her character. Moreover, will a woman ever be happy if she is married in a family that doesn't believe in gender equality and women empowerment?
Views expressed are the author's own.