This article does not intend to claim patriarchy is unique to South Asia, because it is universal!
Sexist memes about Priyanka Chopra and her marriage keep appearing on my Facebook Newsfeed every now and then, by some people I know from all over South Asia, by Facebook pages I ended up disliking after seeing these vile posts. It happened when she got engaged as well. It seemed like the BIG SOUTH ASIAN CRISIS! Because it seemed like many people(not just from India, but also from other South Asian countries) could not just digest the fact that she chose to get engaged to a white man, and that to someone much younger than her. Many of these posts bashing Priyanka were downright sexist and disgusting to the core and served as a mirror to reflect on our patriarchal mindsets.
Coming back to Priyanka, it seemed like the Bollywood actress committed a big offense by choosing a younger, white man. People went as far as calling her a gold-digger, while some made fun of her choice of being with a younger man. And this is what shows the patriarchy deeply embedded in our subconscious. So here are my two cents on this issue, because this boils my blood to see a woman is being brutally degraded for finding love across cultures and breaking the norms because norms are often more flexible for men and breaking them does not cost them as much as it costs women.
First of all, often when women from other regions fall for South Asian men, many rejoice and enthusiastically share these posts on Facebook. There are countless examples of such occurrences. Such marriages are celebrated and glorified and considered as examples of love breaking norms. When women from other cultures are falling for men from South Asia, many of us celebrate it. We feel proud that the women are embracing our culture along with their soulmates. It makes us proud to see these women wearing our Sari, putting on Bindi and glowing as happy brides. But what happens when the genders are reversed? Most often, the number of people clapping are lesser. It makes us feel horrified to see ‘our women’ going ‘out of the culture’ as if they are caged birds supposed to live their lives according to some guidelines that only apply to them! Oh, such a shame! How could she do this? Is she ashamed of her ethnic background? Is she not proud of her nationality? She must have done it for a “First World” passport! She has a sexual fetish, she fantasizes the ‘other men’! And so the way women are shamed for choosing their life partner from a different culture is almost never-ending. People never get tired of shaming these women who found love beyond the geographical borders, across the cultural divides.
Secondly, the age factor is another example of our hypocrisy. When men marry women decades younger than them, they do not face such harsh criticism to the extent women do when they end up with younger men. And even when people gossip about men marrying younger women, most often it is the woman who faces the backlash, especially if the man is rich and well accomplished. It all boils down to wealth and status, undermining the women’s agency and qualifications. Those who are trolling Priyanka for instance, do they bother to look at all the things that she achieved in her career so far? No, they don’t. For them, her achievements are insignificant. All that matters is she chose to marry a younger white man and her choice makes her ‘evil’ to these people. Where are these people when countless girls are forced to be child brides and marry men decades older than them? That does not horrify them, but marriage between two consenting adults horrify them just because the man is younger!
Lastly, many are saying the marriage will not last and rejoicing over the possibility of divorce. So what if does not? Will this world end? Divorces are happening all across the world, irrespective of the similarity/differences in racial, national, religious background of the couples! The way some are feeling perverted pleasure just at the thought of a possibility of divorce in the future and expressing it on social media, claiming that this is not going to last shows how vindictive people can be when they are burning over the fact that a woman is happily breaking the socially constructed norms!
In a nutshell, these trolls and the act of supporting them is only a reminder to us of our patriarchal hypocrisy and the disappointing reality that even many coming from educated, privileged and so-called liberal backgrounds are in reality the torchbearers of patriarchy. And as a result, hypocrisy dictating our subconscious that is enabling these acts is being normalized, denying the women of their agency and capabilities. Is this ever going to change?
The writer is working as editor of Women Chapter’s English site, and Policy Director at Safety First for Girls Outreach Foundation, a not-for-profit organization based in Zambia. She is also part of the Bangladesh Workgroup at the Hague Peace Projects. Her passion includes inter-faith peacebuilding, refugee rights, women empowerment etc. She is one of the young leaders of Women Deliver Young Deliver 2018 Program.