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Is Marriage An Oppressive Institution?

When we claim women are marrying out of choice, we tend to forget that this so-called choice stems from childhood conditioning.

First and foremost, marriages are and have always been a patriarchal and heteronormative institution where women have to eventually conventionally and/or non-conventionally submit to men and which is why it’s an oppressive institution. Now, modern feminism struggles with the question of whether or not women marrying with their own choice can appear as empowerment or if the roots of institution still stem from patriarchy which is internalized in women?

While empowerment is subjective and not up for debate on an individual level unless seen from a standpoint view, a comprehensive view and take on the subject is necessary given how marriage abolition as of now does not sound like an option, the majority of us can adopt. When we look at the institution of marriage, it is seen as a settling point of life in Indian families and currently, even though working conditions of women may be seen as relatively better than decades ago, it is arguable whether we can say the same for trans women and women of less privileged castes or economic backgrounds.

The question taking in views that women choosing whether or not to marry is empowerment since feminism is about uplifting all women, we forget to address that the choice does not arise out of a vacuum and the roots are deep-seated in patriarchy, even though personal growth or direct community achievements may blind one to it. The choice to marry begins to look like a secondary question when seen through the lens of patriarchal norms disguised as third-wave feminist agendas of choice and liberation and the prime aspect becomes whether the choice to marry stems from patriarchy or a genuine choice?

For long enough, women are taught that someday they will marry and have to settle in a new family. Now, while this doesn’t sound as harmful, when you analyse it, you’ll find multiple problematic aspects to it. One, the career choices that women are given or are told to pursue are limited since motherhood is expected out of them before a business. Two, women are expected to be compassionate and kind, they are trained how to behave and how to forgive from a young age in the pseudo disguise of preparing them for marriage which indirectly implies that women have to submit to their male counterparts which is undeniably the foundation of most marriages. 

In a lot of cases, when a woman chooses to/has to submit to the role of housewife, the financial dynamic shifts between the husband and the wife. In unfortunate cases of domestic abuse or unhappy marriages, the wife lacks the economic means to leave the marriage temporarily or end it due to dependence on the husband. Furthermore, this gives society all the more reasons to blame women for living on their husband’s money and still complain, again undermining the role of housework and its importance in a healthy functioning household.

So, when we claim that women are marrying out of choice, we forget to take into consideration how the choice stems from childhood conditioning that makes us believe that the checkpoint is getting married and settling. Mainstream media representation that revolves around getting married reduces women to housemakers all while still blinding us in pseudo disguise of labelling it as empowerment or love; women managing both home and work is not as empowering, it’s just a proof of how both women and men could work and be the bread earner of the family and only women will be seen as the one who has to do household works, further reinforcing gender roles. 

The choice to marry or refuse to get married at all reeks of privilege, it is important to note that women from economically less privileged backgrounds and less privileged castes are usually not given the choice to marry and are forced into the institution which demolishes the point of empowerment considering, how for something to be categorized empowering, on a population level, it needs to uplift all women and not only upper caste, rich and cis women. 

The concern with marriages that made it something that was opposed by a lot of feminists is rooted deeper than just women being the house maker, it also lies in the fact that men feel entitled to sexual favours, convinced that women owe it to them which is very much evident considering how marital rape is still not a punishable offence, further implying that the institution of marriage is a lot more about politics whereas it is claimed to be about love. 

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The active role of power dynamics is evident in marriages and while one may argue that there’s nothing wrong with people falling in love, getting married and having a family, they fail to take into account and address how if marriages were so much about love and not about losing bodily autonomy and the right to one’s life decision (of those that lie below in hierarchy of power dynamics), it wouldn’t be so hard to not involve the government in marriages. However, dragging caste, religion, and economic status in marriage is proof that it is less about love and more about the power dynamics and social status.  

Marriages have been dissented since the second wave of feminism and are disparaged to date because it was not very hard to be acquainted with that decades ago the practices included child marriage and sati. Even today, marriages are a risk to the lives of a lot of women including, but not limited to those who might have no means to prove their abuse and hence have to live with it, women who are seen as less of a woman because they cannot reproduce which is a consequence of reducing women to their ability to motherhood and reproductive abilities, women who are shamed for pre-marital sex, and many more society created activities made to shame women. To quote Sheila Cronan, “Freedom of women cannot be won without the abolition of marriage.” 

Image Credits: Wedding Dreamz on Unsplash 

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