There is an alternate reality episode of FRIENDS in which a married Rachel asks Monica if she’s in a relationship, Monica says she’s single to which Rachel replies ‘Aww, that’s okay’.
A surprised Monica answers, ‘Yes, I know.’
The same scene has no doubt played out for many Pakistani women at family dinners and weddings where self appointed well wishers have looked upon single women either as prey, to be fed to the rishta aunty on prowl, or with pity.
What society now at large needs to realise is, that its women can take care of themselves. While they may want to be in a relationship and settle down, that’s a decision they want to take in their own time and on their own terms. Unfortunately, this fact is difficult for society to accept and such a way of thinking is often termed radical, which in itself is quite hypocritical when you consider the leeway men get when it comes to marriage.
Perhaps the problem does not lie with individual mindsets but with preconceived notions that have been indoctrinated since even before the partition. While the ‘value’ of men increases with age as they become self-aware, independent, and financially stable, the very same qualities are seen as a negative for women; somehow, somewhere we are still stuck on the idea that the ideal woman is young, naive and most of all, amenable to someone else’s will.
Maybe what all rishta aunties are looking for is a heroine from one of Judith McNaught’s books: a young girl who will mistake possessiveness and dominance as a display of romance and be more than willing to give up her independence for the meagre promise of love.
Whoever said age is just a number was right, it isn’t the age of women that worries society but it’s the experience and independence that women gain with it. However, when you add the ‘age factor’ to an already brewing broth of men being given the upper hand since birth, discrediting women for their educational and financial achievements, what results is no less than a recipe for disaster.
The mindset of this social collective eventually trickles down into families where women are told to settle down (get married) as quickly as possible and men are told to settle down (become financially independent) as quickly as possible. As a result, a woman’s age seems like a ticking time bomb, ready to go off at any moment, with parents sitting closer and closer to the edge of their seat with every passing year, waiting for when their daughter will finally settle down. It is not only women who are shamed for being unattached and made to feel as though they are incomplete and have not realised their full potential, but entire families.
Possibly part of the problem is that we still cannot see women as an independent unit, they are always someones daughter, sister or mother; we perceive their value to lie in their relationships with men rather than on their own merit. How many times has a woman who’s been divorced or widowed been referred to as ‘bechari’, not because of the pain she endured but because of the lack of a man in her life.
The truth of the matter is, an unattached woman, regardless of her age is not someone to be looked down upon, to be pitied or feared for. We’re well past the time when women needed men to protect them and provide for them. It’s 2020, we’ve been through an entire pandemic, if we cannot see women for their unbridled potential now – beyond the role of a wife – will we ever?