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Sunday, February 6, 2011

I do...or do I?

The sham of marital health, wealth and happiness

Happily ever after!
I am writing after what seems like a long long time. And I don't have the usual reasons for not writing - didn't have enough time, was tired, busy with exams; no, none of that happened to me. The only reason I didn't write for so long was because I didn't come across anything provocative enough to set my grey writing cells buzzing. Either (hope so) the world is gradually becoming more sensible or (hope not) I am becoming apathetic. Whichever the case be, the good news is that I happened to read something which annoyed me quite a bit and so here I am, writing again!

It was yet another day of braving the shoving shuffling underground crowd when I, for a change, decided to pick up a copy of the London Evening Standard and chanced upon Sebastian Shakespeare's article entitled 'Marriage keeps us happy - don't let laws erode it'. It was a response to Sir Nicholas Wall's recent stance on the legal rights of unmarried couples. Sir Nicholas Wall, head of the family law division, is of the opinion that unmarried couples should have the same legal rights over property and money as married couples in case they split up. And Sebastian Shakespeare can't digest that.
He fears it will discourage people from marrying altogether by undermining the already lessening value of the institution of marriage. And he says this with the full 'and then the world will come to an end' gravity! His self-contradictory rant is even more annoying.

He believes in marriage as a 'solvent of the society', as the symbol of the final 'Commitment' (yes, that's a capital 'C') and as an ideal valued even by our political leaders, such as Nick Clegg. He even quotes some nondescript medical studies that suggest that marriage increases longevity and mental health. He is, at the same time, concerned about the rise in the number of divorces, rise in the number of unmarried couples living under the same roof and rise in the number of illegitimate children. Surely, if marriage was such a happy state of existence, every human being, driven by their 'pursuit of happiness' would not hesitate in jumping into marriage and happily-ever-afters.

Why then are more and more people opting not to get married? It's certainly not because they don't want to be happy as, in the words of Kant, "to be happy is necessarily the wish of every finite rational being". Maybe it's the realisation that the fairy story of the prince charming rescuing the princess and living happily ever after is what it is - a fairy story. Even later versions of Cinderella (the movie) have tried to grasp the issue of marital problems. But then there are problems even between couples who are unmarried and living together. Why am I then against preaching that marriage should be valued and encouraged?

To start with, unmarried couples living together don't have notions of health, wealth and happiness fogging their heads. They are therefore, in a more realistic and simple relationship. Marriage, on the other hand, has been, as an institution, ridden with the (false) promise and charm of happiness. Perhaps it is this very difference in expectations that changes the terms of the relationships and maybe, makes cohabitation much stabler than and preferable to marriage.

Secondly, to encompass a wider perspective, we need to be aware of what marriage means in different cultures and to different individuals. Of course, marriage is globally professed as a promise of domestic bliss but I, coming from a patriarchal and Indian background, tend to see marriage as more responsibility and expectations rather than commitment. When I think of a married self, I don't see romantic dinner parties, I see myself getting blamed and feeling guilty for not making sure that I do every little thing (that might not be the actual case but that's how I feel).

Which is why I believe pushing everybody into marriage is pushing women into almost necessarily patriarchal relationships. And denying equal legal rights to cohabiting partners is denying equal rights to women who often end up losing most money and property in case they decide to split up. Plus, it reeks of not only an anti-women but also an anti-homosexuality stance. But that would take up another post. So, I'll close my diary here and wait to hear back from some of you about what marriage means to you. 


  1. Hi Asiya,
    I married an Indian man when I was quite young (21) and I learnt very quickly that marriage promotes an unequal situation between men and women within the Indian society. After we separated, and I returned to my home country, I looked around me at other marriages and found a similar thing here as well. I am currently living with my partner in an equal, loving and sharing relationship but I don't feel the need to marry again.
    Marriage may be important to some people, and I respect their choices, but it isn't for everyone and I think this choice should also be respected.

  2. Hi Cassandra,

    Thanks for your comment! It's interesting to know your perspective on and experience of marriage. I don't think I would go as far as to say that marriage is inherently unequal but yes, the more I look around, the more I find it to be a patriarchal institution. The question then remains - should marriage be transformed or abandoned? Food for thought!


    P.S. - I went through your 'Lost in India' blog, great work!

  3. I wonder why "feminists" dont talk against sex. Sex is also very oppressive. Infact the entire process of sex is , were females play the passive role and males are mostly on the "top" and "active". What is your standpoint on this? Should feminists get into everybodys room to make sure that women get rid of this "social construction" ? Also, if marrige is a patriarchal institution , i do agree, but getting rid of marrige is not the solution...

  4. Hi Arshiah,

    Once again, I would request you to consider stop using 'feminists' and 'feminism' as singular terms.

    Sex, as an act, is not inherently oppressive. It is a natural act that may have become oppressive over time but, to reiterate, is not inherently so.

    Not all couples in the world engage in sex in the missionary position which is what you are describing here - man on top. I am pretty sure you already know that, so I don't need to waste words here.

    I don't think anybody needs to get into anybody's rooms to change the way people have sex. It's all a part of attitudes towards women and, as I am sure you know, there are many other ways to change attitudes and raise awareness.

    I would be interested to hear any ideas that you may have for transforming marriage if you think getting rid of it is not the solution.