The institution of marriage has varied in meaning through the ages, but never has it lost its importance. Sacred, obligatory or obsolete, remains an individual’s opinion. Although this opinion is shaped by the society, culture, tradition, upbringing and education, we are widely divided in our stance on it. As a feminist, I have often faced accusations for promoting western values and degrading Indian culture; as if marriage is limited to Indian culture.
Marriage, as an institution, is inherently patriarchal – most marriage ceremonies across various religions have patriarchal verses or rituals being practised. As we have not come to a stage where marriage ceremonies as a whole can be changed, feminists (regardless of genders) across the world marry, take part in these rituals.
With such a conflict of ideals, how does marriage come into play in a feminist discussion?
As a society, we are made to believe all our lives that getting married is a woman’s ultimate goal. A father on being asked what his children do, usually gives out the job or academic qualifications of his sons and unmarried daughters. If the daughter is married, her father says, “beti shaadi karke settle ho gayi”. It is almost an inbuilt programme now.
Regardless of the son’s marital status, his identity is defined by his academic or other career pursuits. For a daughter however, her other identities take a backseat after getting married.
So, the approach of the society, as a whole, and that of a feminist towards marriage, is different. The society, will vouch that the customary change of surname or moving to the in-laws house should not be overhyped. Even the MRAs join them in saying that these traditions have been carried out since ages and modern day feminists are bent upon making a big deal out of trivial issues to give it a misogynist angle.
I believe that if we just carry an evil for long enough, it seizes to be an evil. It becomes the norm. The society believes that a woman should be okay in accepting her duties and responsibilities, that might include sacrifice of identity, household and profession to start a new family.
A feminist believes that marriage is just a social construct. Two people can stay happily in love without a marriage and two people can stay helplessly distraught in a marriage. A marriage is ultimately a legal contract and doesn’t warrant a happy ever after. I am a staunch believer of marriage, but I am against making it obligatory because of age, family or other criteria. A feminist believes a woman shouldn’t be judged for getting married at twenty five or fifty. And most importantly, any relationship, with or without the matrimonial contract should warrant an equal participation from two people.
If you question it enough, it comes down to this: our society believes that the basis for getting married is to reproduce, have children, be parents to children. Feminists would question that, disagree with it.
A feminist will tell you that marriage is about two people who want to spend their lives with each other. Marriage is about the vows made to each other, and not just a pretext for having kids. A feminist won’t shame you for wanting to have kids or for not wanting it. We believe that a woman is solely entitled to decisions and opinions on her own body, and this includes having a child. And even after having a child, expecting one person to leave everything else behind is just wrong. If two people are involved in making a child, two should take equal responsibility of it.
In all this, I strongly believe that sanctity of marriage is upheld by feminists, because we make it about companionship and love and not just another social custom or a ritual to grant permission to reproduce and parent children.