Indian Matchmaking: A 22 year old, Indian woman’s perspective
I’m a 22 year Indian woman, who recently watched Indian Matchmaking, I am sad and frustrated (to say the least).
The first lesson we knowingly or unknowingly learnt in our childhood was that marriage is one major goal we have to achieve in life. These “lessons” began when we saw matrimonial columns in newspapers and videos on social media. Those advertisements were the basis of our knowledge of marriage: be fair, be thin, be homely, know to cook. To add to it, we were told we would be great mothers every time we dressed our dolls up. Then we were told we would make our in-laws happy when we played with our kitchen set. Then they said “we are really ready” when we got our first ever period.
I strongly believe that as women, each of us go to great lengths to unlearn the lessons we are taught as children. We took long enough to be independent, to take up space (and jobs), and to convince our parents, our society and ourselves that we deserved respect. Fat, tall, dark, educated, homely, or not- we still deserved respect! Personally, it took me years to learn that my self-concept is supposed to be more than “the lessons” society forced me to blindly believe. Even though we keep trying to learn better than what society throws at us, those lessons still seem to continue… but in new, different forms, and right now – it’s Netflix.
“Indian Matchmaking”, a Netflix Original series, portrays Mrs. Sima Taparia (from Mumbai), who believes that matchmaking depends on destiny and God’s help while she’s the mediator. She single-handedly shatters all the experiences women have had to deal with. The days of having uncomfortable conversations, having to deal with scary and hostile environments, not getting the same opportunities in workspaces, being scared of assaults, trying to believe that we are worth more than just marriage… all of it. But Sima mami simply explains marriage as “compromise, patience and adjustment” – she also asks for these ‘qualities’ only in women.
While I am sure most of us do agree that compromise and adjustment are a big part of marriage, the sexism and misogyny that the show and Sima Mami herself express, troubles me. Apart from the fact that the show starts with a man’s mother talking about her future daughter-in-law having to be a certain caste, height and skin tone – and of course, having to be flexible, not once did I note Sima mami explicitly telling men to compromise or adjust.
One particularly indecisive, finicky man was shown many bio-datas before he agreed to meet one girl. Sima’s aunty expressed frustration and said she was fed up when he took so long to choose. The man’s sister told him he has to care about more than just the looks, but nonetheless, Sima aunty made sure that she found him “his type of perfect” (read: a model, thin, tall, fair, smart, glamorous, earns money, will compromise) without any complaints whatsoever. But when a woman who was firm, independent and really wanted to find a right match went for more than 2-3 first dates, Sima aunty quickly claimed that the woman was “indecisive”, “too picky”, “should allow her family to guide her”, and went ahead to call her “mentally unstable”. Why?
When a particularly problematic “to-be mother-in-law” stated that the girl her son marries “had to be flexible”, Sima Mami said nothing about the equal part of the husband’s role in flexibility after marriage and she quietly agreed to the mother’s demands. But, in another episode, Sima Mami and her “progressive” associate told a confident, independent woman (who had her own business, parents’ support and love, and was not ready to leave everything behind for her husband) that she has to adjust, compromise and move away from business if required. Why?
Sima Mami also claims that she believes no one needs a ‘reason to marry’. They marry because their parents ask them to or because it’s ‘in-trend’. While she might call it a “trend”, it has another name for many of us – pressure, and sometimes, manipulation. I refuse to believe that the mental, emotional (and sometimes, physical) manipulation a person is put through in order to look for a suitable partner is “a trend” in this society. A man being emotionally blackmailed by his mother, where she gives him a deadline of three months to choose and marry a woman, and blames him for her health problems because he is not married is problematic to say the least.
“Indian Matchmaking” might be representative of less than 1% of the Indians in the world. It represented the extremely privileged – people who hired five servants, expensive cars, mansions, tonnes of jewellery, gourmet food, and not to forget, different dresses personally stitched for the Gods. The show is caste-based, religion-based and more than anything, privilege-based. For example, in one episode, a visibly privileged high class man from Mumbai, tells the woman he met from a smaller town (who travelled by train for more than 12 hours to meet him) that he wasn’t ready to travel to any place that is not just a flight away. Sounding almost condescending, he asks her questions about living in a small town, and then goes ahead to belittle her and say he’d never be able to live like that. In my opinion, the whole show portrays the misogyny that exists in privileged environments, it validates the deep-rooted sexism among the typical “mama’s boys” and “modern girls”.
Of course, it’s not only the men, the women are given a choice too. They are asked about the kind of husband they want, they are allowed to give specifics and make judgement calls too. Yes, they have a choice, and that’s how matchmaking is supposed to work. But it still does not make the sexism the show redundant. My dislike of the show stems from sexist views of Sima Mami, who is portrayed as the face of patriarchal Indian society who asks women to compromise while she overindulges the boys with their needs.
We might have watched the show as a parody, making fun of the regressive Indian society that already exists. Most of us might even relate to the intricacies of it, the layers of misogyny lying under the statements made. But the question to ask is how many of us will actually watch this as a parody and unknowingly still learn the sexist lessons our society (or Netflix) teaches us?
How many parents will give their children ultimatums or choose partners for them because “parents are supposed to guide the child”, even if they don’t want it? Even though the show specifically represented a small part of society, how many, in this queer negative society, will watch this show and decide to force their queer child to get married because they know what’s best? How many families, who are not as privileged, will look up to this portrayal of marriage in rich families and get influenced by these ideologies? And in the near future, how many of us will confidently claim to want a husband or a wife who falls under the list of Sima mami’s version of “a nice girl or boy”?
As a 22 year old woman, I am sad and frustrated by the insensitivity in the portrayal of Indian marriage and society in Indian Matchmaking. There were so many ways to move a step forward (like the inclusion of different communities, castes, and the queer community). As much as I want to believe that these shows do not affect society, we all know that they do. I wouldn’t and possibly cannot fight back sexism the the next time I hear a joke about how a woman should “be flexible and compromising” in order to get married. Why? Because Sima Mami (from Mumbai) said it on Netflix, didn’t she? And now that she’s said it, any and every one can.
And hence, the struggle of convincing society (and ourselves) begins, all over again.