“So, when are you planning to get married?”, I was asked for the 126th time or was it 127th? I usually laugh away these questions but this time they came from a dear friend, so I gave it a thought. “4-5 years, maybe.”, I said after thinking for a while; “What about you? When does marriage fall in your life plan?”, I added. “Same – 4 to 5 years”, he responded. “Goodness gracious! We will be 31 by then. Damn! You would be so old, Charul”, he said.
“What do you mean by I would be so old? We would be the same age. Do women age faster than men?”, I responded with my signature eye-roll.
“I mean…you are a girl. 31 is quite old for a girl to get married but not so much for a guy”, he replied in a seemingly matter-of-factly tone. I rebuked him and called him names, something like a patriarch, an asshole or a sexist. I think I called him a patriarchal sexist asshole.
Even though I rejected my friend’s words, the conversation with him got me thinking because he clearly reflected what a huge fraction of the Indian society believes in. The thought urged me to write this piece hoping optimistically that maybe it will drive the point home to at least 1% of my meager blog audience.
I want to start by deconstructing the famous ‘Girls mature faster than boys’ notion. This notion is highly unhealthy for young girls to be fed with. It is popularized and even encouraged to justify women handling more emotional labor than men are ever expected to bear. Girls are conditioned into believing that they are more mature than their ‘naughty’ brother, and hence more qualified candidates to help mother with the household chores. This grows into women being expected to remember birthdays, keep the groceries stacked, organize parties and maintain family relationships.
This notion is the reason why men are often encouraged to engage in romantic relationships with much younger women(in which there is a substantial power gap) while women are often rebuked for dating men much younger to them. This notion excuses boys from being held responsible for their actions but holds women accountable from a much younger age. There is little to no scientific evidence suggesting that emotionally girls mature faster than boys. Yes, girls generally hit puberty sooner than boys but there is no substantial scientific inference to link early puberty to early emotional maturity. More than science, this is more of a gender-stereotype passed on from generations without being challenged leading to girls and boys essentially responding to behaviors that are expected of them.
Women are viewed as a declining asset whose worth post 30 in the marriage market exponentially drops. There is a constant pressure on women to figure out themselves and their career as soon as possible – there are hard deadlines imposed on schooling, college and settling down in the dream job. All of them need to be met precisely on time and there is little to no negotiation allowed in the timelines. In most Indian families, you are expected to achieve these milestones by 24; if you are from a more liberal family you may be blessed with 3 more years and if you have been extremely lucky you may be allowed to touch 29.9 but not 30…30 is blasphemy! Women bear the pressures of these deadlines from a very young age. These are not only unfair but may also restrain them from realizing their full potential and living their dreams. While men get more freedom and breathing space to achieve their goals, women are forced to accelerate their career timeline to stay relevant in the marriage market.
Another argument often sought when debating in favor of early marriage for women is that their fertility may go for a hit if they marry too late. It is important to understand that women are more than baby breeding machines and their fulfillment and happiness is more important than that of the life they will bring into this world. Their priorities and expectations out of life may be beyond having the perfect family or maybe their perfect family does not have children or maybe it has adopted children or maybe the children are produced through frozen eggs. All of these expectations and priorities are important and correct in their own regard.
Can we just let women be? I could have referenced ‘people’ but the world’s sometimes a little harsher to women, so I chose women for this article. Can we give them the space to breathe, to figure themselves out and settle down in life when they want to and not when they ought to? Marriage can wait and so can children, but personal goals and dreams cannot. If women require those three, four or how-many-ever years to be at peace with themselves, can we please stop shaming them for it?
The woods are lovely, dark and deep but can we not for once hold people accountable for the promises they never made and let them venture into the deep, dark woods to their hearts’ contentment.