Thursday, February 23, 2017

To marry or NOT to marry

I tell you, I am yet to meet a person as much worried about my marriage as my landlady. Others have generally asked about my marriage plans but she has been the persistent one; insisting that I should marry: the sooner the better.

The first time she showed her concern was just after I had returned from Pondicherry, India; fresh out of University in 2014.

‘You should marry, Smiti,’ she had stressed, ‘It’s the right time.’

Even after two decades of being her tenant she is yet to say my name, correctly. Sometimes I am Asmita, sometimes Smiti, and sometimes even Smriti; but never Smita. Nevertheless, she has constantly shown her concerns for me about ‘not getting married’.

Okay, I acknowledge that it was a genuine suggestion. Not very difficult to understand for a girl who has been brought up in Nepali society. A society where as soon as you are born, you do not belong to the family you are born to. While growing up, you are always reminded that your true home is somewhere else. Nobody knows where, but it is there. It is revealed only after marriage.

It also seems to me that before the family realises the girl of the house has reached the marriageable age, it’s the neighbours who notice it. They carry the burden of telling the girl and the family about the ‘right time’ for her marriage. So, while my neighbour (in this case, my lanlady!) was fulfilling that duty, I had stood there, on the threshold of a half-opened door, sweating from my unfinished mopping of the house.

It infuriated me that before my family had even suggested the ‘right time’, I was lectured too by her. But being a polite person, I had shut the door, softly, on her face. However, this event has not deterred her from suggesting time and again “studying is okay, but marriage should be done in time”.

So, it should come as no surprise that I take a lot of precautions to avoid her, like I do from things I am allergic to! But, with no negative feelings, I take her suggestions to do with keeping up with socio-cultural practices and biological ticking of my womb - very typical and common reasons used to convince women for marriage. This conviction is so used that now it is understood without telling. Hence, I was obviously shocked when my decision to not marry (at present) made my male colleague fire a question at me: “Are you a feminist?” followed by advice, “talking and writing about women’s rights is okay, but don’t be like those extremist women hai!”. He had asked the question with such an accusing tone that it not only shocked me, but also confused me. I could not understand such a prejudiced tone from a journalist who has been working in one of the top media houses of the country for more than a decade. But most of all, it had never crossed my mind that me not getting married could mean being tagged as a feminist and the other stereotypes attached to feminism.

I wish this was an isolated event, but it is repeated again and again. Similar questions, similar tones and accusations. Only the faces change. Most of the time, these faces manage to leave deep psychological and emotional bruises that a patriarchal society refuses to notice.

And yet, there are amusing sides to it. Out of nowhere, once a while I get “You are not a lesbian, are you?”. I always answer, “I would love to be! But, what do you think?”. The conversation that ensues generally ends up revealing the face of another homophobic.

So, you see staying unmarried for a woman has its side effects. You are harassed with unwanted suggestions regarding the ‘importance of marriage in your life’, stigmatised for being a feminist, and even questioned about your sexual orientation. Funnily, these are the same people who question why we have child marriages in the country? Shouldn’t it be obvious? When girls are taught that only after marriage will their ‘real home where they belong’ be revealed; taught to see marriage as an achievement; and when 25 percent of child marriages are by a girl’s decision and the trend is growing. They berate those women who speak of equality and gender justice, harass those who don’t take marriage as a priority, stereotype those who don’t laugh at sexist jokes and tag as extremists or not womanly enough, those who speak their minds. And, they dare to ask such stupid questions.

The women who do not marry – at the ‘right time’ or with the ‘right gender’ – become such a challenge to the society. We are feared because we are skeptic; we question established notions; we don’t follow the rules that define gender behaviours and roles. We become different and defiant and hence stigmatised as being a feminist. But, what a badge of honour it is to be a feminist.

FOR REFERENCES:

[This blog post was selected by UN WOMEN Asia and the Pacific for 16 Days of Activism for gender equality - Youth's Voice from Asia-Pacific - and was published on 21 November, 2016 @ http://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/in-focus/youth-voice/smita-magar#sthash.7LlJCo6o.dpuf ]