Recently at a large shopping mall in Lahore, advertisement flyers for an insurance company were being handed to people inside the cars driving in. They featured a bride, and the caption asked after what one’s plans were for a daughter’s wedding. To quote, “vision for daughter’s marriage”. The photograph seemed to feature an Indian bride, judging from the trademark red bangles that many brides across the border wear, but that’s a minor quibble—daughters and their weddings are of great interest to most sub-continental parents. Mi bride es su bride, if you will. The point is why an insurance company would like to for one to take out a policy to be able to, someday, afford a daughter’s wedding. If one were to pay monthly installments of money for anything, would one really want it to be towards a few days of food, clothes, jewelry and photography that is all, at best a nice memory and at worst a transient waste of cash?

Women and their weddings are becoming increasingly complicated and expensive. I say ‘women’ because somehow, no man is ever told to dream of getting married—on the contrary, men are expected to want to avoid marriage as long as possible, and subsequently perpetually moan about their strict wives and all the things they aren’t allowed to do, as if women have so much power and agency that men in patriarchies are actually constrained by the wishes of the women in their lives. No, insurance agencies don’t want you to save money for your son’s wedding, because your son is meant to do more important things like go to college and make money and buy a house. Even if you are also paying for his wedding. Of course it is also true that in our culture the bride’s parents pay for 80 percent of everything wedding-related so they need the money more, but let’s stay focused on the message of advertisements like these: women’s futures are very, very specific. Women get married. Women fry kababs in the best banaspati, splash the thickest milk into tall glasses, laughingly school their mothers-in-law about antibacterial soap and walk caressingly amongst billowing laundry rendered super-duper white by a specific detergent. None of this requires a degree, a thriving career, creative vision, ambition or unique ideas. It is just domestic work that one does oneself or pays another woman to do, but ultimately is just chores, and you don’t need anything to do that. A doctor and a fifth-grade-pass woman can both wash dishes with equal skill.

That is why parents are being told to save up for a daughter’s wedding, because what other future could she possibly have that would need financial support? And that is why we should throw advertisements like that in the trash, where they belong. Girls deserve for their parents to invest in them, not in a fantasy wedding that is more a spectacle than anything else. Girls don’t need their parents to save up to buy them diamonds from forehead to feet—girls should be going to college, to grad school and on to amazing jobs. Girls should be taken to music classes and puppet festivals. Spend money on petrol. Spend money on a plane ticket to somewhere. Buy nail polish and glittery sweaters. Buy books, buy a telescope, buy a lot of glue for slime. Save money for your daughter’s future, whatever that may be—a nest egg so nobody can tell her she has no choice but to stay, a graduate degree fund, money for stocks and bonds.

When we tell our daughters marriage is the greatest experience of their life, we are telling them they don’t deserve better than that, that it’s somehow ultimately pointless to be clever and talented and ambitious because at the end it’s all about marriage. And not even marriage, but the wedding. That’s even worse. It speaks volumes to our skewered ideas of relationships if the only point of being married is having a wedding. I suppose we really don’t prioritise our daughters’ self-esteem enough if they invest all their dreams in their weddings instead of something that would actually help their self-worth in the long run. What does it matter, really? Does it matter that your outfit was Sabyasachi and there was a mountain of fish for dinner and your dances were the best ones of the season? Perhaps one is being obtuse about it, but does one really need to have an extravaganza when a pleasant little event would do just as nicely? What it say about you if you need Salman Khan to be your background dancer whilst you boogie on a gigantic stage in front of Hillary Clinton?

Maybe this is why our weddings are getting increasingly out of control, with the myriad events and the concerts and the imported orchids and outfits that weigh a ton and cost as much. It’s about the display, the theatre of matrimony. It’s about finally having your moment and making it count for all it’s worth, because there’s nothing else after that—your entire life has been a run-up to the wicket of marriage, and your wedding is your once chance to hit a six before it’s fielding for the rest of your life. So insurance policies are about saving for visions, but only ones that keep girls in their place, as if one hurrah is all they get.

 

The writer is a feminist based

in Lahore.

 m.malikhussain@gmail.com