By Abhiruchi Ranjan
China and India are not just infamous for their burgeoning population, but also for being male-dominated societies in terms of their sex ratio and culture. The twin giants have often boasted of being ‘culturally rich’, while emphasising on men leading the way in every aspect. However, in recent times, there may be some winds of change, and I am not just talking about escalating GDP numbers here.
Despite a highly male-skewed population, women in these heteronormative societies are finally finding a firm ground of their own. Traditionalists have always viewed marriage as not just an institution but a way of life. Many continue to do so, even today. A woman’s life is considered to be incomplete if she doesn’t have a husband or has not embraced motherhood by bearing children of her own.
When Chrissie Evert, the female tennis player who won seven singles championships on the clay court, was questioned as to why Rafael Nadal was the undisputed King of clay court while there was no Queen, she lauded his heavy topspins and raved about his perfect technique. But there was one thing that stuck with me—her jokingly putting forth that a woman’s hips are for childbearing. While she also stated that there might be no King of clay after Rafa, and used the reference to merely point out the difference in a man and woman’s physicality, it made me ponder about how much society has evolved when it comes to women, their definition of marriage and motherhood.
The number of single women painting the town red has seen a sharp escalation over the years. Be it women who are unmarried or divorced, the taboo surrounding these words has been dampened, if not eradicated, to a certain extent. Be it women choosing to change cities and living their lives independently, the so-called weaker sex has taken charge of their own lives. However, this progressive step seems to be hard to digest for various fragments of societies.
The Leftover Women of China
Sheng nu or ‘leftover women’ as they call them, is a derogatory term used to describe women by the Chinese who are in their late 20s and are unmarried. The term was popularised by the All-China Women’s Federation, mind you, a women’s rights organisation. A group that has been established with the agenda of protecting and advocating for women’s rights is ironically the one that is shooting down their dreams and putting down the diversity in their identity. This phrase that emerged based on two mere factors: age and your relationship status has become the worst nightmare of every Chinese woman.
Irrespective of her reasons to remain unmarried, her professional success and her sexual orientation, she has to face the brunt of her parents, relatives and society as a whole, especially during social gatherings. The pressure to be married at the ‘right age’ has led to a lot of women to believe that they are not full adults compared to women who have their own families. The words ‘must marry’ are, simply put, dreadful, something that the marriage market in Shanghai reiterates.
The shift in Indian society
With marriage becoming a delayed affair, it is seen to be a lifestyle which has risen more out of compulsion and less out of choice, something which doesn’t go down well with societal conformists. According to the Youth in India 2017 report published by the Ministry of Statistics and Program Implementation (MoSPI), there has been a rise in the average age of females at effective marriage across rural as well as urban populations. Between 1995 and 2017, the mean age of females at effective marriage rose from 19.0 to 21.8 amongst rural population and a similar upward trend was observed for the urban population where the average age increased from 20.3 to 23.2.
If an improvement in marital statistics is what we term as progress, yes we have progressed. As women continue to climb the social ladder and claim greater shares of the economic pie a greater need, marriage is pretty much put on the back-burner. Being someone’s wife is no longer every woman’s priority at a time when being highly educated and securing lucrative roles are ranked very high on their priority list. Marriage is no longer a parochial, compliant and binding institution.
If being alone by choice wasn’t enough, separation, divorce and marriage dissolution exist to add fuel to the already raging fire of taunts. India and China are very customary in nature. The concept of spouses separating or getting divorced is yet to be normalised. Social and cultural acceptance is not something that has taken place for women in these societies, especially if they are the ones who have initiated the divorce. Women are expected to be the sex that sacrifices and compromises in each and every situation, abides by her in-laws, mould herself into the perfect wife, daughter in law, mother and every other relation that she has decided to be by entering into ‘holy matrimony’. This norm continues to dominate our misogynistic societies, irrespective of the husband being a drunkard, a womaniser or shifting the responsibility of his parents on the woman who is as much responsible for her own parents.
Even if a woman decides to get married, her woes of dodging her husband’s family, relatives and neighbours don’t just end there. After marriage, it is motherhood that is looming over her. The constant unsolicited advice about starting a family and how birthing a child is the only way she will fulfil her purpose of existing in this universe, are drilled in her head. And God forbid she puts forward her opinion about delaying motherhood, not choosing to have kids or speak about adoption, she’s called for trouble. Motherhood, let alone marriage are also not in one’s hands.
The ‘penalty’ of Motherhood
A lot of working women who decide to walk down the aisle are not willing to pay the motherhood penalty. The phenomenon of motherhood penalty has taken various spectators and surveyors of society aback. Sociologists state that women who decide to have children have to pay a price in the form of being kicked out of the labour force as firms view working mothers to be less committed. Moreover, they are not willing to bear the economic burden by complying with requirements for daycare facilities and flexi-timings for their female workers. Not letting go of a leadership position that a woman has toiled for, holds greater importance as compared to expanding her family for a many in today’s times.
Let’s face it. No society can be heteronormative. Assuming every man is supposed to be with a woman renders the debate over section 377 futile, while discouraging individuals from being transparent about their sexual preferences and orientation. By overlooking these factors, coupled with already distorted sex ratios, marriage squeeze is the corollary. A marriage queue forms for every ‘bride-to-be’ as she is flooded with proposals from a rather large number of potential husbands. As the groom is chosen from a pool of testosterone, the other ‘candidates’ are left out. They become part of a new group which would have younger men who become of marriageable age. The gender bias is evident with the number of males outweighing the number of females, tipping the scales rather unevenly, making some men even more uncomfortable with the idea of their masculinity.
The Age of Modern Love
We are a society that lives in the times of modern love. The market for online dating caters not just to the young and straight. The rise of online dating users has given a new ray of hope to people of varied sexualities, age groups, races and nationalities by reiterating their faith in the fact that there truly might be someone out there for everyone. People are not just treating this as a casual hook up place but look at this as an opportunity to help them reinvent themselves and their relationships. It is a realistic avenue which can help one find true love and not just someone merely suitable.
With millennials creating and rewriting their own destiny, they are more than happy to let dating apps like Tinder, happn and OkCupid and even matrimonial websites like Shaadi.com play cupid. In the age of online dating, people are willing to go down the unconventional path of looking for a right match and subject themselves to the scrutiny of a complete stranger.
Discriminatory attitudes are rooted in our societies. Attitudes that only destroy individual’s self-esteem, inflate certain egos and lead to humiliation. When beauty and age are put on a pedestal over personality, outlook and dreams, it spells horror for every woman. For some marriage is important and for some it is as good as being stuck in a rut.
Lauding the unique decisions of every woman, as with every other individual, is the need of the hour. The mere decision of being single or married or openly gay or straight does in no way say anything about one’s character and demeanour.
Although politically democratic, the right to freely think, speak and act are still in shambles being slaughtered by the butchers of our society.
Abhiruchi Ranjan is a writing analyst at Qrius.