In which I struggle to reconcile feminism and arranged marriages

By: madaboutasia

One of my dearest friends is about to get formally engaged. It’s a modern arranged marriage, which, from my perspective, simply means that her parents have been heavily involved in the matchmaking (think of them as her wingmen, out scouting the community!), and in the end she has the ultimate choice.

I’ve known her for over 10 years now, and I’ve always known that she would almost certainly have an arranged marriage. That said, I just wasn’t expecting it to happen so soon and so fast…

Their compressed timeframe is absolutely mind boggling. They met last month. They’re getting engaged over in his hometown over Easter. They’ll be tying the knot later this year (as in, within six months or less). I don’t know about him, but she hasn’t really dated anyone else. I know it took me years to learn to be in a healthy relationship, so I struggle to fathom how two strangers, essentially, can slot into each other’s lives just like that.

That said, I really like the guy. Us girls all do, based on our one and only meeting so far – we have no quibbles whatsoever with him. In fact, he seems just about eerily perfect for her. After all, the families have spent years looking for the right match, so maybe it’s not all that surprising. I think they’ll be just fine.

Intellectually, I don’t have a problem with her arranged marriage. It’s an active, informed choice she’s made, and I support it. Given that we’re not dealing in dowries here, I don’t see anything inherently anti-feminist about an arranged marriage.

BUT. There’s a but. Most of all, what bugs me is the fact that by default, she will be moving to Australia to live. And that’s what gets my goat. That the convention is to defer to the guy – though I suppose the context for this part of the tradition is exactly the same reason many women take a backseat to men in general, arranged marriage or not: generally, the guy is older (in this case, true), his career is more settled (true), lucrative (unclear – I don’t know what he does aside from the broad industry), etc, and thus takes precedence. I imagine this is even more pronounced in an arranged marriage, where the families are probably quite concerned with finding a ‘successful’ man, while the criteria for good wife material is perhaps not measured quite the same way.

20 thoughts on “In which I struggle to reconcile feminism and arranged marriages

  1. I’ve had friends that were in arranged marriages, but it was the guys that I was always friends (well, coworkers) with. I didn’t know the wives really at all.
    I found the social dynamic of the whole thing very interesting – the guys loved their wives and were amazingly compatible. And the guys always attributed that to all the research their families had done in looking for families from similar backgrounds with daughters that wanted the same things in life as they did. FWIW, I could never trust my family to do that accurately – but am so amazed that they are able to and their families chose so well.
    I hope your friend is very happy in her marriage – and on the bright side, hopefully you’ll have a couch to crash on in Australia on your epic trip!

  2. I really like that in your friend’s case, she had the ultimate say in her arranged marriage. That makes me so much more comfortable with the idea of an arranged marriage than one where the girl (or even the guy, I suppose) don’t have a say at all and that it is all the parents’ bidding. I don’t think I could ever stomach the idea of my mom doing the same for me when it comes to picking my husband, but I do value her input. I don’t think I could be with someone she doesn’t approve of or has grave misgivings about, simply because she does know me very well and has the ~wisdom of the ages~ that I don’t have. If we didn’t have the relationship that we do, then I likely wouldn’t pay as much attention to what she thought.

  3. I believe that one of my aunts also had this sort of arranged marriage (parents/city matchmaker tried to scout a person and the “kids” had the final say), and so far, it’s worked out. If I had trouble dating, I think that I might ask my parents to try to set me up with someone as well.

    Perhaps you’d do well to ask her about how she feels about moving to Australia, maybe she’s totally okay with it! At the very least, Australia is a modernized Western English-speaking country, so it’s not like she’s placing herself in a completely foreign land. The only part that baffles me about all this is the extremely quick timeframe.

    1. It’s not the specifics (obviously she is OK with it; this is her choice). It’s the overall principle here that bugs me – that the woman always defaults. I might try to clarify this further in the post.

  4. I don’t have a problem with arranged marriages in Western countries – I’ve mentioned before on my blog that I think they have a higher rate of success because parents are more likely to be able to pick someone with the right values – the values that make sense in a long marriage, rather than a relationship at a certain time of life.

    I also don’t see the issue with moving to Australia…surely it makes logical sense given our stronger economy, more job prospects, etc? Bit biased here of course given that I’m Australian, but for a young couple starting life together, I think we have a stronger economy that can offer them a better start in life.

  5. Very interesting! I agree that her having the last say makes it seem less restrictive. And the defaulting to the gentleman’s home, etc… I just don’t even know. Certainly, to me, career would enter into the equation. But ideally the couple would decide!

  6. I knew a lot of girls who had arranged marriages as I was growing up, but unlike your friend, it was shoved on them.

    Scared me that at 19 you could basically have no say in who you got married to.

    Is she quitting her job, definitively? I know that my friend who got married ended up not being able to go to school and have a career as a teacher, but she got to work in a bakery (a big step for feminism in her culture).

    She seemed more sad than happy on her wedding day.

  7. That’s cool that she at least has the final say in whether she wants to get married to him or not. Does she not want to go to Australia, but has to because he’s there? If that’s the case, I would be concerned, as well.

  8. Interesting post.

    Some years ago when I taught a creative nonfiction workshop at a local college, a middle-aged Indian man surfaced, seeking to learn how best to write and publish the story of the marriage he arranged at the request of his American-born son.

    The son was a successful engineer with an advanced degree, about 30 years old. He had dated and was an attractive enough man. Despite having grown up in the US, he decided that a marriage had a better chance of success if it was arranged by someone more objective than a young(ish) man and woman “in love.”

    The surprised dad took this responsibility to heart and launched a huge international search for a woman with education and a social background comparable to his son’s. The search took on a life of its own. It developed into a vast project that entailed trips to India, Italy, and various US cities to interview promising candidates. Many bright, well-educated, and lovely women (and their parents) applied. After a year or so, he finally narrowed the field to one woman. The son approved, the prospective bride approved, her parents approved, and when last heard from, everyone was living happily ever after.

    He wanted to write a book suggesting that the US divorce rate, which is still about 50% of marriages, could drop significantly if Americans would take up the practice of arranged marriage. And when you heard him talk about it, the idea began to make sense.

  9. It is a very different way to get married than our western culture is used to, but I think a lot of people tend to misinterpret arranged marriages with forced marriages, which are two completely different things. I recently saw a documentary of a second generation Indian immigrant, who lived a very normal western life, but wanted his parents to find him a wife. Very interesting!

  10. I can see where you’re coming from for sure. I guess it depends on how she feels in general about moving there…maybe she was on board with the idea anyway? I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams my family picking out a guy for me. It would be a disaster!

  11. I get your point: it’s fine if they chose the destination for themselves because it makes the most sense. So often the point is not discussed because the assumption is that you will follow your husband. And I don’t care for that – says who that his career choices are the best ultimate choice for the family? Why couldn’t hers be considered equally?

  12. An interesting and delicate situation, for sure. I’m glad for your friend that she not only had an opinion in whom she married but also they final say. It sounds like they picked a good match, but I admit from a friend and feminist viewpoint, her moving away would be hard.

  13. What if the woman’s career was more lucrative and solid? Say the woman were a doctor and had a thriving practice, would the male join her? It is possible isn’t it?

  14. Wow, that is tough to imagine happening to anyone close to me, but I can fathom just how strange it would be. I can understand from a friend’s point of view how much you want to trust that this guy is good, especially if he seems so. But how can anyone be sure if they’ve only known him for a short time? Mostly it’s just sad that your friend is the one who has to uproot her life, but if the two families had their best intentions for them in mind, they’ve gotta go on good faith that it will work out.

  15. I’ve known quite a few couples from arranged marriages (all Indian) and the couples all seemed surprisingly compatible even though the individual couples have their own unique dynamics and personalities. I don’t necessarily agree with the short engagement..that part is a little scary, but at least the ones in the US seem to be doing something right.

    For what it’s worth, I do know at least one couple where the man (pHD Engineer) made a career choice between two jobs based on his wife’s career prospects as well (physician). He chose to live in a bigger city so his wife could have more opportunities as a physician. They both have great careers and are still in that big city today.

  16. Sounds like she is comfortable with the arranged marriage, the groom, the length of engagement, and moving.

    You say the groom is older, but do not say how much older, only that those of her friends who have met him like him. So that should be good.

    I know when friends of ours got divorced, after worrying about both of them and their child, my thoughts were how it would affect me. They were not happy thoughts.

    Do you think some of your dismay is more about losing your friend to distance?

    Yes, women have traditionally followed the man, but that has been [anti-feminist or not] because in general the man had the better paying, more stable job. This is changing from what I hear based on the increase in house husbands. And once you are in a marital relationship, hopefully, you both look at your job situations and make what seems the best choice for yourselves.

    It is not a happy time to know a long term friend is embarking on a new course that takes them far away no matter how happy you may be for them.

    Best wishes to your friend and her groom and good wishes to you that you are able to continue to be good friends despite the miles.

  17. I can’t make up my mind how I feel about arranged marriage but one thing I’ve never seen it as specifically anti-feminist. That’s possibly because of the way I’ve witnessed it. The problems seem to cut both way.

    A couple of my close female friends, like yours, made an informed choice to have arranged marriages. Which didn’t really bother me, but deeply offended my Dad, who thought they were being brutally oppressed. This is my Dad who believes that couples should live where, in his exact words, ‘the main one, the fella’ is from. But those marriages seem to be doing well.

    On the other hand at least eight guys that I was friends with at uni had arranged marriages. And them it was different. They did it because they didn’t feel like they had a choice. It wasn’t that they were forced into it, nobody misled them or threatened violence or anything. They just were adamant that it was something that they had to do even if they didn’t want to.

    Those marriages seem pretty miserable. Their families don’t seem to have chosen, or even tried to chose, particularly compatible brides for them, and the guys spend as much time away from home as possible.

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