Saturday, January 23, 2010

A “Macroscopic View” of Arranged Marriages in India

The concept of marriage plays a significant role in traditional Indian culture. While I was growing up, my great grandmothers would tell me about how they had arranged marriages. About three generations ago and before, parents would force marriages on to their children. My great grandmothers did not see my great grandfathers until their wedding days; there was no option of refusing the marriage either. At first glance, arranged marriages give a false sense of equality among women and men.

Through considering Marilyn Frye’s analogy of a bird cage, the arranged marriage system in India needs to be examined through a “macroscopic view of the whole cage.” Before the man and woman actually meet, the woman is judged based on her looks and physical appearance from a photograph but not based on her educational experience, while the man is judged on his educational and professional expertise and wealth before considering his physical looks. The undertone that the woman’s education or profession is not important is the start of a traditional arranged marriage. The first step in an arranged marriage is for the man and his family to come to the woman’s house- the woman does not get to go to the man's house though. Then the woman is expected to serve the man and his family tea or lunch. After both sides agree to the marriage, the woman has to ask the man’s parents for blessings; however, the man is never asked to do this in return to the woman’s parents. Dowry is also a significant part of arranged marriages in a traditional Indian setting. The woman’s parents give dowry to the man’s family as a way of paying the man and his family to marry the woman. In addition, the entire cost of the marriage is bared by the woman’s family. Lastly, the woman understands that after the marriage she will have to give up her education or work and begin taking care of the house while the man continues to work and earn.

On the offset, arranged marriages seem equal to both men and women. However, after looking at the steps before the actual marriage takes place, the oppression of women has already started. These steps are the many tiny wires that form “the bird cage” or arranged marriage which unable the women in traditional Indian culture to break away from such oppression.

Over the years, such types of arranged marriages have become less frequent but the expectations and dowry for the women are still a prominent part of marriage in traditional Indian families. To this day, the inferiority of women still exists in Indian culture.


  1. When considering arranged marriage through the bird cage view that you described, it is easy to see womanhood as a burden. It is very obvious that the woman burdened by her own womanhood. She loses her own individuality and self and now must define herself according to her husband. She must go through a process that a man does not have to subject himself to. However, the family can also be considered to be burdened by their daughter's womanhood. They are burdened with providing a dowry and finding an "acceptable" spouse for their daughter. With a son, these burdens are not as obvious. In light of this, how can Indian society make womanhood less of a burden?

  2. Ciara, thanks for the response back. I have never thought of the family being "burdened" by their daughter's womanhood, as you said- that is a very interesting interpretation of the arranged marriage system.

    To answer your question, womanhood has over the years become less of a burden to Indian Society; however, some families still pay dowry etc for their daughter's wedding. The woman and man who are getting married are the two sole people who can make womanhood less of a burden. The man can convince his family to pay for part of the wedding and not to demand dowry. Again, over generations some men have begun to do this but in traditional families there is no room for discussion about the budget or dowry involved.
    In order for there to be any real change, not only the woman but also the man and his family need to look at the arranged marriage from a different outlook and divide the financial burden that comes along with womanhood.


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