Even in the advent of social media, the newspaper remains an important source of information in present day Sri Lanka. According to a Central Bank’s Economic and Social Statistics report, 538.82 million newspaper copies alone were sold in 2016, up 6.06% from 2015 (“Newspapers Still the King in Sri Lanka,” Daily Mirror, 2017, August 30). Being one of these many readers, I came across a “case” of sorts in the Daily Mirror, against the denial or delay of marriage in Sri Lanka, directed at our supremely beautiful, supremely patriarchal nation’s women specifically.
Why do I care about one poorly written article, with no concrete “sociological,” or “biological” references to back it up?
One article is not the problem. What is important is what the article perpetuates: norms of femininity that are based on motherhood, subservience, and dependence. While a number of the claims that the writer makes (such as all women having a pseudo-biological yearning to be a mother, which has no sociological, biological or anthropological basis behind it), his point on the societal taboos of “waiting too long” to get married is indeed an issue faced by dozens if not hundreds of families around the island (just take a look at the matrimonial sections in any newspaper!)
The solution is not to push women – indeed, a “female past her adolescence” no less – into marriage.
If we want to discuss the “sanctity of marriage,” and the religious and traditional roles of this type of communion, we need to first answer the question: What is marriage?
While there are dozens of definitions of marriage worldwide, across religions and traditions, one can argue that overall, marriage is a commitment one makes to another, to live as their partner, for better or for worse, till death (or abuse) does them apart.
So how can we force our daughters, “young ones with no experience” as we say in Sri Lanka, into such a commitment without any discussion, or consent, of their own? Isn’t it possible that a woman may have career goals of her own, that may allow her to delay her marriage given her specific circumstances? Isn’t it possible that a woman simply hasn’t met a man whom she wants to spend the rest of her life with? By pushing women into marriages of convenience in the fear of “delaying or denying” a marriage, aren’t we quelling a workforce that can help our country move forward?
Marriage is not the institution to be fought here. Whether one chooses to marry or not, have children or not, have a career or not, is one’s own choice — regardless of whether you are a male or female. As a trained social psychologist, I can list hundreds of studies by Deborah Prentice, JaneMaree Maher, Lise Sauggeres, Jean Baker Miller: sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, etc. from around the world who discuss the various reasons for subduing the female workforce: threat, procreation, intergroup relations, evolutionary biology etc. Spewing that research from the ivory tower is not going to change anything. What we need to influence, to bring about change, are the norms surrounding marriage in Sri Lanka.
What are norms and why are they so important?
Social norms dictate behavior. It tells us right from wrong: it tells us certain things should be like this, or certain things are like this. They are dictated to us by our social institutions; schools, parents, and the media. The norms around marriage nowadays are such that females should be married (the age range can vary as a function of geography, socio-economic status etc.) They should be married around a certain age.
But times are changing. And so are norms.
You are not going against your religion or culture if you choose to put your career ahead of finding a mate in your twenties. This is the time when you are most able to work, to put in the hours that will get you ahead in your career. We need to set the precedent, change the norms around marriage, to make it more acceptable to say, “I choose when I will get married.” Or even, “I will get married when I find a compatible partner.”
We need to put our daughters first, to truly care about their well-being and prosperity. They now have a chance at carving out their own life and not depend on their male counterpart to protect and provide for them. If we accept that our social norms are such that it is unsafe for a woman to live by herself in this day and age, isn’t it time we take steps to change that? Instead of making her even more dependent on a stranger, why not change our rhetoric, our norms, to better protect, and help the daughters of this country stand on their feet?
Marriage is, ostensibly, for life. Why not take the time to find someone you won’t despise in 20 years?