Family and societal pressure on marriage in a south Asian community
By: Kinza Khan
Hello, my name is Kinza Khan and I would like to start this piece by stating how much I don’t want to get married.
I live in a south Asian household and am of Pakistani descent. Both of my parents have lived in America for about 25-30 years, and while in many ways they have adapted to this country, the expectation of traditional marriage is one way in which they have not.
The amount of pressure I have begun to feel due to me getting older, has increased because I am now at the prime age to get married. The funny part is, it’s not my parents who are mentioning this to me. Sure, my mother has mentioned it once or twice, but she now realizes that it would be almost impossible to marry me off.
The reason for this is because I am not a cookie-cutter mold of a typical young girl in my culture. Several of my relatives have pointed out that I am too outspoken, too loud, not mature enough and so on.
Personally, I am no longer affected by these statements anymore. At this point in my life, I am finally happy and content with the way I am. But it took a long time to realize that.
Growing up, I wasn’t exactly what you call a “good” kid. I always made a mess of things, spoke way too much and got into fights. These things are frowned upon in the south Asian community, and that, combined with my height and slightly darker skin tone (which actually does make a difference in our community), I wasn’t exactly the best candidate for marriage.
My “bad” habits just worsened as I got older. I still speak out when told not to and I have an eclectic group of friends, none of whom are Pakistani or Muslim. I bring up topics to my parents that in most households would be considered taboo. I also like to challenge my relatives, making it more and more clear to them that I refuse to be bound by this cookie-cutter image.
The idea of marriage in our community does not just blossom at the ripe young age of 23 for us girls. It starts when we are about five years old, when the older generation of female relatives look down on us. That is when the judging starts. “Sit this way, not that way! No no, don’t talk too loud!” and “Oh, she’s a little out there. You’ll have trouble with that one,” are just some of the many phrases my mother has had to hear about me.
I constantly feel like I am trapped and I am sure I’m not the only girl in my community who feels this way. I put emphasis on the word “girl” because guys have it easier. Guys in our society don’t have to deal with the pressure of getting married. They could be 35 years old and still be considered young, but god forbid a girl reaches the age of 29. She’s no longer eligible to be married anymore because she’s considered too old.
Not only are girls pressured into the idea of marriage, but if they find a boyfriend who is Muslim and of the same culture, she’s frowned upon when dating him. That’s not considered appropriate at any age, apparently.
It seems like until women in our culture get married, we’re on constant watch. The pressure doesn’t end there though. Once you are married, the pressure of being a good daughter-in-law, the pressure of having kids and being a respectable member of your new family arise as well.
Understandably, the pressure can end up being way too much for some young women. We’re told to be a certain way without being allowed to think otherwise, and this is one of the main reasons we end up rebelling and fighting the system later in life. We’re taught to behave a certain way and if we don’t, we can’t live up to the expectations of being the “perfect” daughter.
For the outside world, it’s harder for people to understand the struggle to live this way, but it can best be explained by stating that it’s a lifestyle that we weren’t able to choose.