I read this in a book I borrowed from my freshman year roommate. It was a fictional novel about a dystopian America, set in the future. I cannot remember the title at this moment, but that’s not important right now.
Traveling as an American comes with a lot of privilege, but is also accompanied by a lot of ignorance. IHP has offered a ton of knowledge on this topic, and thankfully so. Americans make numerous assumptions about cultures we have little knowledge of, and India is no exception. [I will be using the pronoun ‘we’ when referring to Americans for the sake of simplicity, though I am aware not every American has these beliefs or is as ignorant]. Trigger words/phrases exist for us, including, but not limited to, “segregation,” “female dependance,” “dowry,” and “arranged marriage.” I will admit that I probably felt like many other Americans about these terms; I felt disgust. I simply was not able to understand why women would be okay with such lack of freedom, and how in today’s world a society could exist with such miscarriage of equal rights and lack of choice. I now offer two ideas, one being that Indian women have far more choice than we could ever culturally understand (though I am trying to break this wall of ignorance everyday), and that Americans actually have less choice than we know.
I am not an expert on India, nor will I claim to be, but I can offer my opinion, after all you are reading a blog solely written and editing by yours truly. I have been lucky enough to have a host family very open to discussing these issues which garner so much fuss from ‘the western world.’ Arranged marriage is something I understand much better in a cultural context and will share my knowledge with you…
It is basically a blind date, set up by your parents. Sound weird and uncomfortable? I challenge you to step out of what you believe to be ‘normal’ and think of it like this: the parents of the girl and the parents of the boy realize that their respective son or daughter have a lot in common and desire the same things in life. They decide to set up so-called blind date. The son and daughter (we’ll call them Jack and Jill) meet up for dinner. At this point one of two things can happen. A) Jack and Jill both really like each other and decide to keep dating, B) one or both do not feel any chemistry and tell their families they do not wish to continue the relationship. Sound like there’s no choice? If option A was selected then the two continue on, but the difference is the families are more involved than in the US. All baggage is aired very early on, as both families are in communication often. The two know exactly what they are getting into, including what their in-laws will be like (bonus!) all before marriage. Arranged marriage also offers much more security and stability, as both parties have a network of support to turn to when things are bumpy. There is also less of a chance one will leave the other (I believe in this case, mostly protection on the part of the woman) because their connection goes much deeper than between just the two of them. That’s the watered down and simple version from what I learned from Uncle Ji. Still sound super scary? I hope not.
This brings me to my second thought; do we have as much choice as we think we do? My short answer would be no. We have come a long way in equality, but what does equality mean? Has it ever occurred to some that some women desire arranged marriages, or to wear concealing clothes? And while we are a society that covets egalitarianism, we have not yet reached it for many. One such example would be the laws in place that discriminates against same-sex couple getting married. While maybe not all of us agree with same-sex marriage, as is your right as an American, why do you get to decide who is allowed to get married based on a religion not shared by everyone, or interpreted differently by those who do. Another example is the overwhelming statistics on how unequal pay is for women compared to men. The main character in the fictional novel who used this quote did so in reference to America’s dependance on choice. We feel as though we must have the utmost freedom in everything we do. We must have over 500 different kinds of cell phones to choose from, thousands of brands, flavors of ice cream… we must have access to the best and worst of everything. The main character alludes to this being the downfall of our society; that our dependance on choice made us weak. America is not perfect, and even at that, our ideals are not shared by everybody else in the world, nor should they be. Can you imagine a world where everybody was the same, because I can’t. So maybe choice is good, but perhaps there is a thing as too much choice.