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Why is marriage still considered a substitute for a career for women? Why is career just a variable option, while marriage is projected as a life constant?
For the record, let me state that I am a happily married woman and my career choices aren’t accidental either. I am very content with the way my marriage and career are blooming.
Mine is a love marriage and that’s too in a country where opting for it is a single act of protest against our so-called traditional Indian values. Likewise, I have been very cognizant about my career choices since childhood and a huge piece of credit for this goes to my parents who were broad-minded, supportive, and encouraging at the right times and places.
So, you see I have a happy family and work-life hence this blog is not resulting out of a bad, unsuccessful, bitter marriage and spoiled relationships. And to sum it all, marriage was never an ambition or matter of achievement for me ever. I do not consider myself being over-confident saying that I have very clearly known the place of marriage and career in life.
I trust the institution of marriage, so I am definitely not against it. Having said that doesn’t mean I am against the idea of singlehood. No, I am not. Both are just a matter of individual choice and I respect both.
But what I am not able to grasp is how, why and when marriage becomes the only ambition of young girls, even the bright ones.
Why are marriage and career not treated as two different aspects of life but made one?
Why are we still not able to decipher that marriage is not an achievement but one more relationship in life which may turn out to be the most important one due to the physical intimacy involved?
Why is the idea of marriage still fed to our girls as a substitute for career, ambitions, and achievements?
Why there is more pressure on young girls to train for marriage than career skills?
Why, indeed! Let’s examine the reasons.
First the social conditioning wherein, girls are brought up with marriage as their ultimate goal. They are reminded on several occasions that their maternal home is not theirs but husbands’/in-laws’. That they can do what they want to do when they are married, and more importantly what their husbands/in-law allow.
Even the broad-minded parents have their own constraints, and this comes out in subtle ways. Almost all desires of girls are subjected to marriage. Does this ring a bell?
Net-net girls in their formative teen years are told time and again that their life can and would only turn out right if they are able to get into a good matrimonial bond, fulfil their duties as cultured daughters-in-law/wives, and hence marriage should be their only ambition. Instead of building life skills, girls are trained to build wedding skills.
That is when the race of getting the best groom out there elbowing each other begins. And if you end up with the only son in this race then girl you have hit the jackpot! After all, who wouldn’t want a comfortable, fulfilling life? And if marriage is the way, then why not prepare for it like those who want a career – the girls who haven’t been brainwashed to replace marriage with their ambitions – prepare for competitive exams/ interviews/ start-ups, etc. which leads them towards a career?
Unfortunately, girls are not told that they can achieve this all by building life/career skills. That they do not need to depend on a relationship like marriage to fulfill their basic needs and desires unless they choose to.
Some of these girls are forced to not prioritize their careers, and some are ‘allowed’ to pursue a career, but for a short term only until they get married, after which they must do what the husbands/in-law want them to do. These girls are also not told that marriage is something they can have independent of their a career.
Another lame excuse that I have often heard non-working, married, self- proclaimed elderly wise women give is that a working woman/daughter-in-law/wife can’t run a successful household, can’t rear kids with good values, and ends up spoiling relationships. In fact, ‘non-working girl’ becomes one of their topmost criterion when they go out looking for a to be daughter-in-law through arranged alliances. A majority of parents do not want their daughters to be ‘rejected’ on this pretext. Do they? Hence the status quo.
Let me not get into the nitty-gritty of plethora of relationships that these elderly women so much worry about for their daughter-in-law to maintain. Relationships that do not matter and relationships that go even beyond extended family are forced on a newlywed girl to prove that she is ‘cultured’ and ‘rightly raised’ by her parents.
So why let a petty thing like career affect these relationships adversely? After all the success criterion for these women is the count of unnecessary relationships that they have reared and would pass on to their daughters-in-law as a heritage that must replace their need to work.
This is nothing but a well-thought cover-up of a void in their own lives; why should younger ones have anything different when these self-appointed custodians of our cultured society couldn’t rather didn’t choose anything different.
This has seeped into the brains of young women to the extent that they start advising their younger sisters/cousins the same thing. I was advised to stop working after marriage by one of my own cousins whose ambition was just to marry.
Now please help me understand why someone who claims to be my well-wisher, wants my good, would want me to sacrifice my career, growth, and progress? Shouldn’t it be the opposite? And if these people in any role force me to give up on my work then, are they really my well-wishers?
It’s high time we realize that this is nothing more than an act for a weak, insecure husband and in-law who are threatened by a self-sufficient woman. They can’t bear a financially independent woman in their house, a woman who is up to date and can take informed decisions, who would sooner or later claim her rights and would be difficult to exploit.
It’s a pity that girls are still raised to undermine their merits just to keep a husband/in-law happy when they can do so much better.
Another culprit that I see which supported marriage as ‘everything there could be’ in our lives is our very own Bollywood.
We all millennials grew up on a staple diet of Bollywood romance where the only ambition of the heroine (and in many cases the hero) is always to get united with love of her life in form of a marriage. She observes fasts for the well-being of the would-be life partner, gives up everything for marriage, husband, in-laws, etc.?!
I mean there is no dearth of rituals showed on screen that didn’t support the idea of marriage as sole purpose of life.
What lacked in a three-hour movie was filled in by prime-time daily soaps which fed us the standards of an ideal daughter-in-law and wife, which is nothing but a jewellery laden epitome of self-sacrifice.
What I really could never understand was how come heroines in the majority of movies/ serials in the 21st century didn’t have a job/ career on screen, while they do in reality. Acting in those movies has been their work, and we simply bought ideas of relationships from a work of fiction without any reality check. Do you really think that these characters lead the life that they depict on screen? Are you really convinced that marriage is their only ambition in real life? I am sure we all know more than that.
Bollywood showed a happy go lucky picture that always ended with marriage and union of some kind. But did it show what happens after the marriage?
And here I call upon all those who grew up and got married in the last decade – with careers and without – does marriage or its equivalent suffice for a career? Does life after marriage prove that it was worth leading your entire life about it up until now?
I understand that there can be women who did not/ do not want a career by choice, but my questions are to those who took marriage as their career choice instead. When would we start questioning? What is depicted in movies is not the complete truth or not even a partial truth always!
Now whatever the reason is to confuse girls to believe marriage as their sole ambition, and a substitute for a career, when would we start questioning these stereotypes that are so rigidly set against women?
I am sure we all know and have seen that marriages do not always turn out to be fairy tales, be it love or arranged. Marriages do not turn out to be happy for all women, and we all know a few of those in our circle.
Who does a bad/ broken marriage leave crippled in the end? It’s mostly women, and especially non-working women in our country that take the social, financial, psychological brunt, when the most hyped ambition i.e. ‘marriage’ doesn’t work out. Haven’t we all seen a few of our friends/cousins struggle to find their balance in comparison to a woman who has a work-life when marriage falls flat? Haven’t we all heard these same friends/ cousins/ sisters say that it would have been better if they would have had a career?
Now, why am I ranting about this? Because we are and going to be mothers of this generation and how we rear our girls is totally in our hands. How girls perceive their careers depend on what we show them in their formative years.
Not letting girls freely think and act about their career choices is like not buying life insurance. You do not turn down the idea of buying life insurance because it would mean that you are ‘preparing for your death’ or ‘of the loved ones around’, but to cover the risk of the inevitable as and when it happens.
It’s the same when you decide to enable girls to have a fulfilling career, to have financial independence. It’s not about telling them that marriage would necessarily fail, but preparing them to cope up and cover the risk of the untoward happening, or lead a better life if all works out well. It’s telling them that career and marriage are mutually exclusive.
Eras have changed. Our lives can’t only be dictated by our biological roles. This world needs women workers and leaders in the same way as it does the men. Why would the government, companies, world economy be so supportive of women working, keeping their biological roles in consideration if it’s not the right thing to do.
Look around and see who is manipulating you to carry on with the same outlook towards women – the government, companies, workplaces, economy, or the stereotypical social acquaintances?
There cannot be any better time to start rearing our girls right, to start telling them the difference between marriage and career, training them to acquire career skills, letting them identify their ambition and pursue it, supporting them to cover the risks in their lives.
A version of this was first published here.
Image source: a still from the movie Queen
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