So I woke up at 5.30am this morning. And after a long, hard day at work, I just could not wait to return home. Home: your haven. The one place you can relax, unwind….Wrong. Fate had another prank to play on me. I arrived home to find a rishta (potential suitor) waiting for my arrival. He was the second of this month, but he was different. There was a twist in the storyline. He was on Skype.
This is the desperate stage my family has come to in their attempt to get me married. Do not for one second be mistaken; my family is not the typical “backward” Asian family you so often see represented in the media. My parents are both graduates, have been British for over thirty five years and have always been fully supportive of my career choices. But it all changed the night I… turned twenty five. From that pivotal moment, I suddenly turned from a child to a middle aged woman, a blessing to a burden… I turned from a “she’s too young” to a “please put her on eBay”.
These days, I seem to get questioned daily on why I’m not married and the silent conclusion that society has come to is that I must be hiding away a secret boyfriend- or girlfriend. It seems to be quite impossible for them to comprehend that to be unmarried is actually… my choice. It is hugely surprising that as a “young” Asian woman, there are other avenues I wish to explore rather than a four day celebration of lavish bankruptcy followed by a lifetime of compromise. I say “young” loosely, as being twenty five years of age, I am most definitely on the shelf, if not completely past my expiry date. Perhaps if my parents had got me married off at 18, I would have happily gone along with it, but over the years I have observed and developed far too many issues with the concept of marriage to just give in.
For starters, there seems to be a completely blurred line between cultural expectations and religious expectations from women in marriage. Over the years, Asian expectations have become disguised as Muslim expectations, to the advantage of men and in laws. For example, the majority- not all- of Asian families expect the daughter in law to move into the same house as her in laws after marriage. I don’t understand. How can you expect a fully grown woman to suddenly adapt and change the entire way she has been living to now be in accordance to someone else’s house rules? I know what you are thinking, all you pro-living-with-in-laws people out there: “You can live how you want in our house.” But let’s be honest, if I really wanted to wake up at 1 in the afternoon during my week off and watch Jeremy Kyle back to back for a few hours in bed, would I feel comfortable in doing that in someone else’s house? No. Can you imagine walking in from an awful, tiring day at work with a splitting migraine, only to be told that a dozen uncles and aunties and babies are coming over for dinner? Whether you like it or not, you have got to help with the cooking, you have got to help with the cleaning and you have got to serve them until 12am, knowing you have to be up tomorrow at six. You can’t say no or have a nap in your room… because that will cause the ultimate defamation of your character: “Oh Kausar, where’s your daughter in law?” “She’s just upstairs soaking in a nice hot bath”. It would be the equivalent of saying “she has become an escort”. When I get married, I expect to start my own home- not join someone else’s. It is no doubt your duty as a daughter in law to embrace your new family, love them, care for them and respect them. But it is also your duty as a husband or as in laws to give her the rights she is entitled to. It is clearly stated in Islam that “It is necessary for the husband to provide the wife with a shelter (home) that is free from his and her family members…. taking into consideration both their economic standings.” So don’t be so quick to accuse the daughter in law of wanting to “break the family apart” just because she, as a human being, deserves her space and her privacy. Surely if the man and woman both move out, they both miss their families, they both start a new life together, it’s fair. The woman isn’t singled out and experiencing this sadness alone. She doesn’t have to live as a guest in her “own” house.
What’s more, the hypocrisy that surrounds the expectations of how a “wife” should be never fails to baffle me. Boys, put your hand up if you’re looking for a “decent” girl. Lovely. Now keep your hand up if you’re “decent” yourself. I thought so. Asian boys want to go to a shisha place and wait for the hottest girl to walk in: heels, dyed hair, false lashes, a big bum. She’s perfect. They want to date this girl. They fall in love with her. BUT… now that they want to marry her… she must put on a headscarf. Do you remember all those things which made you fall in love with her? Her confidence, the fact that she loved going out and trying new things, her academic and professional success, her sexy dress sense, the fact that she danced… yeah, she has to stop all of that. After all, she has to make sure she is “religious enough” for the boy. The irony of all this? Men can still be out every night until the wee hours of the morning and live their life in an identical manner to how they always have. I have friends who are now in headscarves while their husbands are out impregnating other women and it utterly confuses me. How are women expected to cover their hair and yet men don’t have to cover their penis? You see, I’m super rebellious; I have the bizarre ideology that if I were to ever wear a hijab it would be for God, not for a man. But what do I know? I’m still single.
Moreover, a daughter in law for many households equates to a free slave. Mother in laws have the mentality that they have done their work now, and the daughter in law is coming to take over the house. Please bear in mind, for many households this is despite them having their own daughters who can laze around, go out, do whatever they please- oh, but that’s okay. Well, I don’t think so. You see, I stupidly believe that I didn’t study for all these years to make chapattis all day. But it’s safe to say my views aren’t really appreciated by my prospective husbands. My personal favourite anecdote is when I told a potential soul mate that I wanted to be an actress… it turns out that honesty is not a quality that “decent” Asian wives have. The truth is, today, men only use religion to aid their misogyny and these double standards make me sick; I think it’s disgusting that men get applauded for their independence, ambition and strong will yet it’s seen as a woman’s downfall. It is devastating that we are forced to put our opinions into a box of the past and live as a shadow of the girl we used to be.
I am clearly crazy. For I will never watch my family place their son in law and his family on an undeserving pedestal. I will not let us become second class citizens because we are labelled as the “girl’s side”. We will not bite our tongues and meet extortionate requests because we are weakened by my vagina. I will not have a man enter my life after twenty five years and decide he wants to change all the rules, boundaries and morals I have grown up with. I will not go to Pakistan to visit my family but stay at my in laws house instead because otherwise they might be offended. Because it simply does not make sense to me.
Recently, my Pakistani cousin was very concerned about my views and my impending eternity of spinsterhood, so she gave me some very valuable advice and blessed me with her wisdom. She told me: “Mehreen, even if you don’t want to get married, do it for your mum. Everyone is miserable after marriage. Look around you. Everyone is miserable.” (She was really selling it to me here.) “But you have to do it. You deserve to…” (be miserable?) “…have children.” I tried to explain to her that I have no intention of spending my whole life with someone who makes me miserable, nor would I expect someone to have children with me if I was making them miserable. But she reassured me: “Don’t worry, Mehreen. Let me tell you something. Asian men are controlling, jealous, possessive, they want you to be their slave… but they will never leave you. They never leave you.” Well, as wonderful as that thought was, it summed up exactly my problem with what marriage has become. No, all Asian men are not abusive and awful and you cannot enter a marriage with someone you are incompatible with just because you are “of age” or to please your mother. Sure, I may get married one day, but it will be to someone makes me happy; to expect me to do anything less is insulting.
So to sum this up, you can call me a feminist, call me a rebel or call me “white”- that’s the one I hear most often from my Asian friends. In fact, you can call me any other label that society bestows upon you when you choose to question the norm, but participating in a “tickbox marriage” is not something I am willing to do. A tickbox marriage is the Asian girl’s system of asking what the man is like on paper before she says yes. Is he Muslim? Is he Pakistani? Does he have a degree? Is he earning over 40k? Kabul hai. I do. Many of my beautiful, intelligent, successful friends are living as housewives and say they enjoy serving their husband and that is absolutely fine if that is what you choose to do. But I refuse to be a Desdemona or a Curley’s wife. You’re right- I’m not “white”. But I’m a big grown ass woman who prides herself in being able to provide for herself and I refuse to be anything less. I am not at all opposed to the idea of marriage; it can be a beautiful thing. But the definition of the word seems to have been distorted over time and until I find someone who wants to endorse in what marriage should really be, I cannot sign my life away. But I probably don’t have to worry about that because it’s safe to say after the release of this blog, nobody will marry me.
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