Son’s Education Vs Daughter’s Wedding

It’s the year 2023. But the mindset about parents and families saving for the son’s education and the daughter’s wedding has not shifted. Budged a bit perhaps, but certainly not shifted greatly. At a get-together with friends recently, the discussion veered towards imminent expenses and a friend’s husband quickly said how a major expense was in the pipeline for his daughter’s wedding. “But she has just joined her job,” I quipped, adding, “and moreover, your son should be getting married first, since he’s the elder sibling.” The father laughed, “No, No, the brother needs to gain a few more years of work experience and moreover, his wedding will not be a costly affair anyways. After all, that’s the prerogative reserved for his would-be bride’s family!” Needless to say, it didn’t raise any eyebrows and it seemed as if the people around were perfectly agreeable to this notion.

Yes, I know, times are changing and many parents are choosing to save and spend for their daughter’s education as well. But not quite. Even after a girl is well qualified with a good job, the ultimate destination fixed for a girl continues to be her wedding. While the practice seems to be somewhat changing among middle class families where girls are being encouraged to complete their education of choice and to take up their preferred professions, but again, the ultimate mark of successfully raising a daughter is getting her married.

Even today, parents in many Indian families refuse to fund higher education for their daughters reasoning that it will dip into the daughter’s wedding budget! And some families educate their girls just because they will land good husbands. There are even those who feel that an ‘over-educated’ and ‘over-qualified’ girl is a ‘misfit’ in the marriage market!

Ironically, parents who didn’t have funds for higher education of their daughters definitely seem to have funds for their marriage. Some girls also feel guilty having their parents spend not just for their education but also for their wedding. Why do Indian parents still think the hallmark of good parenting is a good marriage for their daughters and not a good education and self-reliance?

A good job for the son and a good marriage for the daughter – is still one of the societal dictums people go by. While parents nowadays do save and spend for their daughters’ education, they save even more for their weddings.

After all the expenses for a daughter’s wedding is multiple times more than that of the son’s, hence the need to save for her wedding seems to be a logical explanation. The jewellery is more and bigger, the celebrations are grander, the gifts for the bride and her in laws’ family are lavish and then of course, there is the ‘dowry’ or whatever respectable term they are called. It’s not uncommon for marriages to be called off when the demands are not met.

I get really annoyed when supposedly well-meaning relatives remark, “you have a pretty daughter, you won’t face any problem getting her marriage fixed.” I frown openly and tell them that neither mine nor my daughter’s goal is to get her married. Moreover, good looks is not a ticket to a good marriage, I interject. I have major disagreements within my family too when close family members casually comment, “after 10 years when your daughter is married and your son is working…” It’s then I wonder how ingrained and pervasive this notion is.

The future plan set for most girls is to get them married and settle down. Such attitude not just harms young girls but also stunts their other aspirations. Young girls grow up conditioned to the notion that they not only need to marry, but also marry well. And then, continue to sacrifice to keep the marriage running.

Even today, many parents take pride in the marital success of their daughters in contrast to the professional success of their sons. It’s a matter of great satisfaction and happiness for parents to find a suitable groom and affluent in-laws for their daughters.

Undoubtedly, finding a compatible, loving empathetic partner is important for everyone. But certainly not at the cost of one’s dreams, aspirations and independence. Also, more important is letting our daughters and sons pursue their dreams and aspirations and encouraging and supporting them in meeting these endeavours.

As long as the main purpose of raising a daughter is to get her married, parents and families will continue to harbour this belief. We, as families and societies are yet to happily accept our daughters with a good education, thriving careers and other achievements, marriage or no marriage.  Only when parents start seeing a daughter as someone with potential or as someone with dreams and aspirations, will their attitude towards change marriage as the biggest goal will change.

One of the main reasons why a daughter is seen as a big responsibility (liability even) in Indian families is her marriage which seem to be dictated more by socio-cultural norms and pressures rather than her happiness as an equal partner.

Marriages puts enormous social pressure on the bride’s family to spend huge sums to fulfil the demands of the groom’s family and impress families and relatives. No wonder, parents start saving the moment a girl child is born, in certain households even today. Parents save money for years for girls before their actual marriage .

From fixed deposits and other financial schemes to accumulation of gold, the planning and saving is long and arduous. So much so that even insurance companies used to sell policies for son’s education and daughter’s wedding. As the girl grows up, so does the concern of parents to look for suitable proposals and then the wedding. And somewhere along all these, a daughter’s education, aspirations and individuality ceases to be a priority.

Popular culture too seems to have perpetuated and glamourised such conventional trends and stereotypes with movies, advertisements and television serials portraying the significance of a daughter’s marriage and displaying the lavishness of it. Almost all jewellery brands cash in on the emotions and value attached to purchasing special wedding jewellery for daughters. She is your darling daughter, give her the best. And spend a few lakhs.

Patriarchal notions of girls being ‘paraya dhan’ also dissuade many parents from educating them and getting them married as soon as possible. So, while the son is seen as an investment for the future and as a social security who will take care of old parents, daughters are considered outsiders to be married and leave their parental homes. It’s this over emphasis on marriage alone and the expenses incurred which again labels them as burdens. In the end, a girl’s education, aspirations, career and happiness are all considered as insignificant as compared to her marriage.

It’s high time we change the narrative around getting our daughters married and bring up our daughters to explore their full potential through education, exposure and support. It is not enough for parents to educate their daughters, if the ultimate goal is to get them married, and not develop them into self-reliant and financially independent confident individuals.

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