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Marriage: Is it really a choice for women?

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I come from a middle-class background and was taught that marriage is necessary for finding happiness. I used to be one of the many women who aspired to find a husband and live happily ever after. Recently, however, the idea seems to have changed. I hope for a stable existence, one in which I can find some measure of contentment and dignity. A life partner might be there or not, but it's obviously not a requirement.


Sometimes I wonder what changed. I grew up watching TV serials that showed the power of marriage. Despite all the odds, the guy and girl who loved each other would eventually get married in a glorious, over-the-top ceremony. I don't mean to put down anyone who wants it, but it's too much for me. Does that make me different in any way though? I also do believe in a happy and fulfilling life, but I don't think that involving a life partner is an absolute necessity to achieve that.


Regrettably, our society has ingrained the belief that marriage is the ultimate safety net for women, due to the contrasting social upbringing of our male and female children. When I used to mess up my things and not clean up after them, the line I used to hear was, "How am I going to keep my husband and in-laws happy like this?" Meanwhile, my entitled brothers could simply have a heap of trash in their bed and all they were told was that "jokhon Bou ashbe tokhon thik kore nibe," which means that when he gets married, his wife will help him in bettering his habits. I find this to be a clear double standard!

Making my prospective future family proud should not be my life's mission. In addition, it's important not to encourage my brothers to be untidy simply because their future partners will eventually teach them how to be more organized. Partners serve a different purpose. 

Once more, the casual bias doesn't end there. I am amazed by the gradual revelation of the patriarchal system that I have come to comprehend over time. From a young age, my family instilled in me the values of tolerance, forgiveness, and self-sacrifice for the greater good. I'm still unsure about the nature of that "good." Because in recent years, I was taught that the greater good is me being a good, quiet, tolerant “Bou,” who will do whatever the in-laws want and deliver accordingly without a lot of questions. 


Given this culture of silence, it is no surprise that 9,764 women were victims of abuse in Bangladesh over a one-year period. On the flip side, my uncles and male cousins can sometimes display impatience and pettiness as they pursue their dreams and aspirations, enjoying the freedom that comes with being men. They don't need to worry about impressing any in-laws. They receive royal treatment from their in-laws instead.


Having a female-dominated household always gave me a sense of strength. My mothers and most of my aunts are working women. So I never grasped the concept of being dependent on a man.

But as I grew older, I only discovered that even though these women who earlier held the position of strength and independence in my thoughts were never actually free,

and I bet it's almost true for the rising 42.68% women who are the active participants of the labor force of Bangladesh.


They were only doing what they were allowed or told to do, and they did it diligently. Their work, their job, and their role as equal contributors were nothing but a position they were granted to hold by the men in the family. And this position can be taken away if these men said so. The sad part is that all these women will give up just like that too. The very concept of marriage over the years got a huge number of people to believe that women after marriage are dependent on their husbands and later on their sons or whoever is the “alpha male” of the family. So the men do feel that obligation to tell what women do, and similarly, women after marriage oblige to that too. In my short life, I've witnessed women close to me wage unnecessary battles. That energy was used to pursue a career and not get married. 


The so-called independent woman in my family believed a girl should marry first and then do whatever she wants at her husband's house. “After marriage, a girl is her husband's ‘responsibility’.” If her spouse and family ‘let’ her work, she is ‘free’ to do so.

The concept is that this girl who lived her whole life with her family suddenly needs another man's consent to use her qualifications!

Many families insist that the bride not be more qualified than the groom for arranged marriages. Now why? The age of the girl was a major consideration before (and still is in many families). Young is fine. Once a girl is 25, her worth drops. Thus, this belief system of the major demographic has resulted in our country being the home of 38 million child brides.


For a female who works and pursues a profession after 25 without getting married, academic overqualifications are like a bag of goods that families are exhausted of lugging.

This bag is too good for anyone. A good way to express that the female is a burden to the family that no other guy will accept since she may undermine his qualifications, authority, and fragile masculinity. Therefore, unmarried women are bartered for dowries in the scheme of marriage.


I'm in my early 20s and I have a huge life ahead of me. But so far I can say I'm not the perfect wife material and my somewhat progressive family obviously sees that as a huge failure and a great flaw. I know I won't sacrifice my dreams and hopes for my family's well-being. I know I won't tolerate it when I have to pick up after someone because it’s my "duty". And I will not be very forgiving when someone messes up my work. Although, I don't know for how long I will be able to put up this fight with a brave face.


I applaud those who choose to marry sensibly. As a child, our families at some point fail to raise good people and successfully raise a too-dutiful girl and an overly entitled boy. It is important for us, as informed individuals, to frequently engage in these dialogues and utilize our limited privilege to tackle these issues. May we transcend the limitations of our generational patterns, embracing our diverse roles and responsibilities as we strive for a brighter future.


 

Deblina, a development professional, will soon graduate from the University of Chittagong. At the moment Deblina is trying to find her true calling in the development sector where she can leave some meaningful impact.

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