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A woman making the choice of being single knows what she is doing, and no one has any business judging her only based on her relationship status.
Ostracizing a single woman never goes out of vogue in patriarchal set-up. A woman without a man is a fish without water; that is what patriarchy has preached since centuries. That is why an unmarried woman or a widow has been put in a box together as less fortunate one, facing the wrath of bad karma of past life.
Sounds disgusting, right? To me as well; however not to many. Unfortunately, we live in a society where without a man in her life, a woman’s whole existence is questioned. There is no concept of women making the choice of being single, until and unless she is a witch. She always has to be a damsel in distress, waiting for a man to uplift her status.
I was in my early twenties when my mother asked me about my plans for marriage. It was an awkward discussion for me because at that juncture in my life, I was going through an existential crisis after not having the first great job offer and a terrible heartbreak.
The question which would reverberate in my head all the time was, ‘what do I want to do with my life?’ Such existential questions are the most horrific reply an Indian mother can get from a single daughter. In an attempt to help me out, she tried to dig deeper and advised me, “You have finished college, have degrees which can find you a decent employment and the only thing you need now is a man.” In addition, she cited several examples of 22-23 years old girls in her friends’ networks who married ‘stable’ guys and appeared happy on their Facebook profiles.
After a pause of a minute, I answered, “I do not have enough money in my bank account. What if I have a fight with the man someday and I just want to divorce him? But since I would be financially dependent on him, I may feel morally obligated to serve his needs.”
My answer baffled her and this question never got repeated again. I have been labelled crazy several times, by making such arguments in various social settings. Last evening, a childhood friend, a 31-year-old woman who had made the choice of being single, and leading a team of numerous people, told me that her parents were dissuading her from buying a new car. They say that she should save the money and buy a car when she gets married. The car can be shown as a dowry!
The other globe trotter single friend ecstatically called up her mother to inform her that she had been invited to give a talk in an international forum. Her mother congratulated her but added, “with all your accolades and solo travel to so many different countries, it is going to be very difficult to find a guy for you. Make sure you do not put a lot of your pictures on social media. Your profile picture should look traditional with touch of modernity”!
The bone of contention here is that why should a single woman be assumed to be desperately waiting to get married? Why can’t an alternate trajectory, usually acceptable for men, where she decides to choose or not choose a man for living her life? The situation is so dire that many times women themselves give up on their professional lives for getting married. This is because of deliberately designed faulty system where a woman is given her due respect only when she gets married. It seems as if their spouse’s professional life will compensate for the void which created in their lives in absence of a professional life.
The phenomenon is not country specific. In China, the derogatory term ‘Sheng-nu’ which literally translates to ‘left-over women’ is used for women who are unmarried till their late 20s and early 30s. As per the census data, single women comprising never married, divorced, separated, widowed 21% of India’s female population.
This is rapidly expanding. Between 2001 and 2011, there was a 39% increase in the number of single women in India. The increasing percentage of women who are rejecting marriages in deeply patriarchal set up signals that professional and personal lives in an ossified patriarchal set up is not in synergy for women at all, and hence they are making the choice of being single.
From my own experience as a single woman staying in the national capital, I have heard labels like ‘fast’ and ‘loose’ for myself. The neighbours and the house-owners are deeply intrigued to know what is happening in your life, and more of what is happening in your sex-life. You are scorned, and looked down upon because you are assumed to be polyamorous, a pre-step before becoming an official prostitute.
In the fast-growing world, where people are experimenting relationship choices ranging from being asexual to polyamorous, it seems an extra orientation program is required to change the mindsets of people.
Sometimes, single women are often assumed to be coming from not very well-off backgrounds because of which they remain unmarried. While ‘modern yet traditional’ is the new ‘fair and tall’ in the arranged marriage market, there is a need to acknowledge the heterogeneity in women, ranging from short and dark, to ultra-modern and completely homely. There is a need to change the discourse in women empowerment. The traditional way of empowerment of women by getting them married to high earning elder men is no longer serving the interests of women. With rising education levels and professional growth, women are likely to reject all the redundant practices which holds them back.
In common parlance, we need to refrain from using a language which makes the status of single women sound dubious. For instance, a woman in her late 20s or early 30s has her own life including a sex life which is very personal to her. If your mind race sin that direction, just stop yourself. This is 21st century and we need a new definition for determine the character and not virginity.
Also, single women who are aggressive in their career aspirations are not doing so because of a void in their lives. They may be having a fulfilling relationship with a man or a woman. It is not your business to intrude. The most important in the Indian context is that do not dilute the happiness & pride of the parents of successful single women by focusing solely on their daughter’s relationship. A million-dollar smile that lights up a woman’s face and unconditional love for her own self is the barometer of success. This can be irrespective of any relationship status.
Image source: pxhere