This is a two-part series on how women are faring worldwide. Marriage is part I, and four other major concerns are part 2, next week.
Americans are great romantics about marriage. In the traditional past, women were property and were disposed of in marriage as best suited their relatives and clans. But in the past 400 years, Europeans (and American colonists) began to accept a young couple marrying out of mutual affection. Of course, we are talking about people with some financial and educational means. A young man, once he came into adulthood with an estate or profession, could propose marriage to a woman with sometimes even lesser status in society.
Americans value marriage so much (and find it more satisfying than not), that even homosexuals want to have the benefits of official commitment. We all love our marriage because, unlike elsewhere, it can be dissolved when no longer happy. Men have always had this privilege. Now women have it too.
The idea of marriage for love has been part of the human condition from the earliest of times. Human folklore has stories of youngsters who fell in love, but were prevented by their families from marrying. This is even so in the Muslim world and all of Asia, where marriages for love have never been a viable choice. But in the modern world, as the status of women has risen, marriage for love has become the norm. How goes marriage elsewhere in the world?
According to the August 20, 2011 Economist, Asia has a serious problem with women rejecting marriage. Asians are marrying later and less than in the past. This has profound implications for women, traditional family life, and Asian politics. What we are seeing is that despite the vaunted “family values” of Asian countries, when women are given a choice for the first time ever, they want no part of it. I think that we are seeing that marriage is like religion: when people have a choice to get in or out, they support it; when there are no choices, these institutions have more negatives than positives.
Many young Japanese women prefer single status because they can work and support themselves, do what they please, travel and buy clothes. This is the opposite of marriage in their society in which they are subservient to a husband and his family, have only childrearing and housework, and find that marriage destroys any sexual pleasure their partnership might have had. The same thing is happening in Taiwan and China, and increasingly in the modern middle class sector of India, where women look at their options and decide not to have anything to do with traditional marriage.
This, along with the Asian preference for boy babies, is creating a demographic crash that has politicians and social scientists unnerved. The solution, if there is one, is to finally end the patriarchal culture of Asia that is hostile to women. When husbands regard wives as loved partners, this could change.
In parts of the world where women have no choice, they marry, breed, labor, and die early. A Pakistani doctor who built a maternity hospital in rural-tribal Pakistan said (in an NPR report) that women’s lives were hideous. He tried to treat a young woman with three children who was about to deliver her fourth; she had been married at 12. This young mother was forced to carry water down a mountain side four times a day, care for her children and husband, and eat what was left over after the men ate. She was anemic and frail and would not survive this childbirth. In addition, she would not let her doctor do a pelvic examination because her husband and mother-in-law would punish her for immodesty.
There are millions just like her. When the time comes that this little slave has a choice, can you imagine that she would choose marriage? The patriarchy will have to change, or men will find themselves without wives, love, or children.
Part 2 will explore the best and worse countries for women in a 2011 global survey.
Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of How Do You Know That? You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net