Is arranged marriage a happy and long-lasting marriage option over other modern marriage options that dispute with gender inequality, racism and sexism?

By Faruk Arslan

Arranged marriage promotes racism and the patriarchal class system, which is considered to be a violation of the basic human rights of women and where the dating or courtship phase is extremely limited or removed altogether that assumptions suggest the bride and groom being in love is not a priority, and that arranged marriage offers less independence and freedom as compared to love marriage. The modernization assimilation model as a sociological theory explains how the immigrant marriage cultures changed while living in North America. Immigrant youths mobilize their own abilities/skills and adapt to the standards of their new surroundings, such as going into dating and marrying whom they love; however, arranged marriage is still in practice among the new generation of immigrant origin families because it is believed to have a high, successful rate and to bring more happiness than modern marriages. In this paper, I argue on social changing intimacy relationships about the arranged marriage after the 1960s in the current family patterns in the Diaspora culture, and I question why the arranged marriage stays as one of the options, as long lasting relationships lead to more pure love relationships than others when compared with the alternative of the modern type of trial arrangements, such as the blind-fast-food or Internet dating.

Nancy Netting (2006) observes interesting findings about Indo-Canadians who are guided by their heritage and realize that romantic passion was idealized in the West and was no guarantee for happiness and long term marriages. Her study has shown that most of the respondents desired to choice their own future partner but also wanted their parent approval as mandatory (Netting, 2006). As matter of fact, the spouse being chosen by the parents may cause more conflicts in the cross-cultural and multigenerational contexts that exist today (Mitchell 2008; Bonnie, 2009). In contrast, Castell (2004) sees that falling in love within the arranged marriage is perpetuated as either accidental, as being the result of fate without choice, or as it is slowly engaged, whereas new romantic but plastic sexuality relations have spread out among the new generations in the last three decades (Castell, 2004). Coontz (1992) explains that “arranged marriages make women full-time, perfectly hard-working housekeepers and caring mothers in the traditional heterosexual nuclear family” (Coontz, 1992). Lawson and Lick (2006) have found out that there are now arranged meetings in the modern time in which challenge the preparation of a new type of living arrangement or common law relationship. After the 1980s, the generations have adapted to the dominant dating and “love” scripts, whereas chaperones are no longer workable, though they are still important for some racial/ethnic groups, and where there is little distinction between dating and courtship, the rules of endogamy, homogamy, and hetero-normative assumptions have weakened (Lawson and Lick, 2006). Diaspora communities have transformed since the 1960s alongside the social change on arranged marriage traditions and family behaviours. Similar to Netting’s findings, Chitra Divakaruni (1995) indicates in her book, Arranged Marriage, that family-arranged matchmaking is a very old tradition in India and is still practiced in the Indo-American community where parent supervision is crucial. This collection of 11 true stories focuses on both liberated and trapped women from India who are caught between two worlds and who struggle to carve their identities (Divakaruni, 1995). One of the winners of the Nobel Prize of Literature, Orhan Pamuk (2009), is a writer who captures how the arranged marriage tradition has changed since the 1970s in Turkey, and his book, named The Museum of Innocence, is a great love story that takes place in Istanbul and concentrates on sexual freedom, liberation and the replacement of sexual expression about the arranged marriage from the religious/cultural perspective to the European style and the individual perspective, even though habitual assumptions are not easily let go of (Pamuk, 2009). Interestingly, the book Fast Food Dating Your 2 Cents, which was written by Peter Andrew Sacco and Jennifer Schott (2007), claims, about the dating options, that the arranged marriage could be one of the options and should stay as optional in modern society. The “Fast Food Dating” authors wanted to scope the complete playing field of all dating venues including internet dating, fast food dating and other arranged types. According to the authors’ interviews, arranged marriage could either be good or bad as there are also benefits to having or being in an arranged marriage (Andrew Sacco; Schott, 2007). Some of their interviewers mentioned that most failed marriages have come from non-arranged marriages, whereas a majority of the happy families are from arranged marriages in which is a very contradictory assumption.

On the other hand, some people who don’t practice or believe in arranged marriages have thought that arranged-marriage couples were weird, creepy and sick-minded in the West (Andrew Socco; Schott, 2007). I will focus on these contradictions and argument on why arranged-marriage couples generally seem to be happier than romantic love couples, even while they have been facing multi-generation and cross-cultural conflicts in transnationalism. Though under this racist patriarchy and gender discrimination, why do they not engage much to other arranged meetings for choosing their partners by their own, including blind dating, fast-food or Internet dating to meet, marry and stay married in modernity?

Traditionalists, rebels, and negotiators

Indo-Canadian youths have witnessed how their Canadian friends, blinded by love, have made unwise sexual decisions and jumped impulsively into marriage (Netting, 2006). Three responses to arranged marriages are developed among the Indo-Canadians who are traditionalists, rebels, and negotiators. Indo-Canadians negotiate between the ‘love marriages’ taken for granted by their Western peers and the ‘arranged marriage’ experienced or advocated by the parents, whereas in this situation, the Indian youth live two lives, with one being in the Canadian secular society and the other in the Indian ethnic community (Netting, 2006). The young generation demands gender equality and personal choice. Three processes against the assimilation theory are: families are becoming more traditional and not less, hostility and strangeness is felt towards the new environment with keeping close ties with the motherland, and the young want to retain the aspects of their culture but expect to make their own selections, and reconstruct their individual traits in their own ways (Netting, 2006). Many arranged marriages are often experienced and advocated by the parents of the couple; however, the degree to which their parents influence their arranged marriage can vary. In semi-arranged marriages, for example, the children have more say in decisions and may be free to express their preferences or may be able to reject their prospective partners. These partners are usually of the same racial or ethnic background and socio-economic background, and ironically a majority of the arranged marriage couples end up in happily-ever-after marriages, while only some of them are broken through divorce in short-terms.

The divisions of gender inequality, race and economic disparity

Arranged marriage has been conflicted among the first generations of immigrants since the1960s; however, traditional mothers and fathers have tried to negotiate and enforce the arranged marriage since the 1980s. Within the new family patterns in which have been shifted from old-fashioned traditions and patriarchal relationships to different types of romantic love intimacies, new motherhood and fathering patterns maintain and bring a variety of values into the equalitarian gender relationship in the modern family. The stories in Chitra’s Arranged Marriage captures the experience of different classes of Indian immigrants, the professionals as well as the lower class workers. In fact, not only Indian immigrants, but also many migrants have been facing the changing arranged marriage pattern that is weakening in the Diaspora culture, and they are seeking for its adjustment as they are dislocated in the face of the white dominant culture or even multiethnic setting. Divakaruni’s stories praise and defend the arranged marriage and claim that it can bring true happiness and love, but there is no clean cut as a strong conclusion as she also expresses many issues related with gender equality within the arranged marriage, including racism, interracial relationships, economic disparity, abortion, and divorce (Divakaruni,1995). As matter of fact, the Pakistani Muslim or South Asian women living in the Western culture have faced patriarchy, gender inequality and racism, where the man-dominant world may still exist among the immigrant populations. That is why South Asian immigrants are not willing to integrate or assimilate into the Western family values (Zaidi, Shurayd, 2002). Since so many different cultures have immigrated and brought their customs into the new world, those who practice their cultures on their homeland continue to practice them locally in North America, whereas many first generations have amazingly great success on staying married and being happily married (Andrew Socco; Schott, 2007- p 7), though not everyone is lucky in the arranged marriage model. For example, Chitra’s first story, The Bat, criticizes that arranged marriages are not always perfect, and that there are many abuses and gender inequalities that exist because the wife always feels to be in a helpless condition and is trapped. Many of Chitra’s stories, such as “Silver Pavements, Golden Roofs”, portray dysfunctional marriages and those that are disturbing, and for instance, even when a husband always promises to his wife and asks to go ‘back home’, abuses will most likely occur again (Divakaruni, 1995, p 11). Women expect the roles, oppression and gender inequality that are portrayed when marriage is broken in a short amount of time, where barren wives are sent back to their parent’s homes in shame (Divakaruni, 1995, p 217). The interesting story of “Affair” explains how the Indian culture assimilated into the Western culture. When two temperamentally ill-matched Indo-Americans had been perfectly arranged for an arranged marriage on the basis of their horoscopes being matched, divorce is fortunate after many years of affluent living in Silicon Valley because of cheating. Chitra’s stories prove that the family patterns that come with arranged marriages among Indo-American families have been socially and culturally changed over time toward the romantic love relationship.

Romantic love or arranged love

Family patterns have been shifted from an old-fashioned kinship to different types of romantic love, motherhood and the equal gender relationship since the beginning of industrialization and globalization. An American Sociologist, Talcott Parsons, advance- argued in the structural-functionalist approach that “the relationship of marriage and blood are the only ones that truly involve a strong commitment to people’s welfare and the nurturance of children” rather than a romantic love without legitimate marriage, and so this ideology supports to the “division of labour based on gender relationship where the man assumes the instrumental role and the woman the expressive role” in the breadwinner and homemaker relationship (Parson and Bale, 1955; Zelditch, 1960).

The Parson approach is found to partially not be true in the light of Pamuk’s pure love story, where a rich man named Kemal and his chosen partner/arranged love, Sibel, do not have a relationship that works out, even when Sibel’s profile was suited to her partner’s class, power and economic conditions. Kemal had made love with Füsun hours before his engagement party, even when he had an already-arranged marriage with Sibel, where this situation was abnormal for the Turkish society in the late 1970’s. Kemal had wanted to accept both the tradition of the Turks and the rules of the West, wanting to take pleasure wherever it suited him. His desires lead him to his lover, Füsun, who was a non-arranged person for him, but was a true lover (Pamuk, 2009-p101). Kemal had broken his engagement with Sibel and left her to spend every evening with Füsun and adapt to her parents’ low classed lifestyle in a modest flat by watching TV and having dinners with her family. He was seeking for pure love and tried to be an ordinary citizen for the sake of his love. Kemal became less caring about tradition and gave the right meaning and pace to love, favoring courtly romance over contemporary passion to find happiness (Pamuk, 2009-p 224). Kemal visited 5,723 museums around the world, and then came up of the idea of making a ‘Museum of Innocence’ where the two lovers gather together items associated with their courtship, and as a result, Kemal collected 4,213 of Füsun’s cigarette butts and visited her family’s home for supper for more than 2,864 days, in which he was building a pure and dreamer relationship, also building a monument of love and hopefulness (Pamuk, 2009-p 449).

Pure love relationship or plastic sexuality

It is in fact that the romantic love relationship, motherhood and equal gender relationship ideas have always surrounded arranged married couples and the appropriate gender roles and behavior in the context of heterosexuality (Fox, 2009). Bonnie Fox (2009) suggests that feminists push the ideology of mother responsibility roles in general, as well as with education and equal gender relationships at the workforce and at home (Fox, 2009). As matter of fact, arranged marriages contain gendered racism in the home, and a cult of domesticity describes the woman role as being a perfectly hard-working housekeeper and a caring mother as the perfect example of the “traditional heterosexual nuclear family in which women are home full-time” (Coontz, 1992; Gairdner, 1992). It is by the popular family style that not only migrant communities, but also the average American family exists because of a strong family hold value. Currie (1993) mentions that the “family wage economy” was very popular during the 1960’s until the time of the Hollywood movie culture, whereas Hollywood companies promoted a fake “romantic love to sell their production” (Currie 1993). Love and intimacy have changed over time and intimate partnerships have become best conceptualized as “pure relationships” in Pamuk’s story, but today it is rather emphasized openly and is based on “ plastic sexuality”(Gidden, 1992). The family wage economy and the status of a mother and her motherhood are now the central roles of women who either deal with a transnational identity or not. The image of their home is not a “haven in a heartless world” anymore, whereas Nancy F. Cott defines women in terms of domesticity and men in terms of the breadwinner (Cott; Fox 2009). Ironically, to avoid becoming assimilated into the foreign culture, a woman in an arranged marriage should still be happy because her “happiness, and the Welfare of a husband” are more important than her wishes (Cobb, 1822). In addition, “Arranged love between spouses should develop slowly and steadily after marriage, in family context of shared responsibility and experience” (Netting, 2003).

Modern trial marriages: Blind Fast-Food and Internet Dating

The modern system of arranged or trial marriages is categorized in the West in either Blind Fast-Food or Internet dating, where they are somewhat similar to the arranged or trial marriage in the Westernized Diaspora cultures in both of the locations of the home and abroad. Castells has proposed that we are undergoing a sexual revolution, characterized by the “de-linking” marriage, family, heterosexuality and sexual repression, and that mean sexuality and desire are being increasingly separated from marriage and family (Castells, 2004). In this research, I argue about how the arranged marriages as purpose of production have shifted to dating practice as purpose of pleasure in a cultural perspective, the multi-generation conflicts in the Western culture, and the change of an intimacy tradition for new generations today. Since the 1950s, romance, love and sexuality have been shifted as new dating practices have become established, which has symbolized the degree of “seriousness” in the relationship, where one-on-one dating is becoming less popular among young people and there is a more egalitarian approach, whereas some will try to meet potential partners through innovative activities such as “speed dating”, Internet dating or Fast Food one (Nett, 1988). “Living together” and “trial marriage” are more common now, and they refer to cohabitation or the common law unions, but as they are still not “formalized” agreements, they are identical to a legal marriage contract (Castells; 2004, Mitchell, 2001).  “Fast Food Dating” writers claimed that one in every two marriages fail today; where nearly 1/3 of women have been cheating or are cheated on by their spouses, whereas nearly 70% of men in Canada have cheated or are being cheated on. One survey shows that the average marriage lasts 2-4 years, whereas the longest of marriages last 7 years in Canada as our society has become disposable and recyclable (Andrew Socca, Sochatt, 2007- p, 10-11). These authors’ Fast Food dating-eating approach applies to the dating practice in current modernity, and so the vast majority of interviewers have said that they use the same rule when eating fast food: if marriage doesn’t work out, for instance, if you dislike McDonalds, try Big Mac, as in the number two option awaits you behind the door. Fast Food dating gives you a limitless mate menu to select from Asian to Russian mates. Internet dating and mate-matching networks have become an international food festival for meeting mates and seeking the love or lust of your life. Socca and Sochatt’s study has found that online chatter skills, such as typing, reading and writing skills, have improved, and price ranges are categorized as free, cheap, moderate, pricey and expensive with specialized chat forums that deal with romance, dating or friendship according to the type of MSN or Yahoo forums that are used (Andrew Socca, Sochatt, 2007- p, 32). There are ten good reasons and benefits for internet dating, and there are also many reasons for fast food dating and four distinct routes that are conceptualized based on the naughtiest, the easily swayed, the curious and the steadfast. Boredom, frustration and just plain curiosity or fantasy are the real reasons for seeking sex partners or cyber sex (Andrew Socca, Sochatt, 2007- p, 51-52) in which is that main differences from arranged marriage.

Sex and love have seen both production and pleasure

Since sex has not only been seen for primary purposes of reproduction but also as a source of pleasure and emotional fulfillment for both men and women, McDaniel and Tepperman (2004) have observed two trends in contemporary marriage and these trends are that marriage rates continue to decline and that the large popularity of marriage is still present. Although some Canadians continue to practice arranged marriages, the arranged marriage is still common to many parts of Africa, the Middle East and Asia and their Diaspora communities in Canada (Netting, 2006). Diaspora communities have been an influence on the modern ways of meeting, for example, with using online dating services such as personal Ads, Internet Ads and matchmaking services. Meeting a potential partner and developing an ongoing partnership involves a system of exchange where it matters that each potential partner “brings something to the table” as an equal relationship must be established, though in several cases it is not (McDaniel and Tepperman, 2004). Sexuality is seen in the formation of intimate relationships, and as the most important force behind a successful marriage, the arranged marriage love grows slowly (Castells, 2004), whereas “love is sexualized” and there is no spirit in it (Seidman, 1991).

Arranged marriage stays as an option but transformed

The arranged marriage has been the only way for women and men to find a chosen partner not only in India, but also in Turkey and many other countries, and while they don’t necessarily want arranged marriages, they haven’t known how to find men or women on their own until their exposure to Western and Hollywood movies during the 1980s when they’d watched how it was done in West (Pamuk, 2009- p 210). According to Fast Food dating writers, parents are becoming personal dating/marriage managers in arranged marriages. “Accusation of bad choices isn’t necessary in arranged married couples because all fault goes directly toward those who are in charge” (Andrew Socca, Sochatt, 2007- p, 43). It is not surprising that the illusion of love is popular in Canada for many people whose response and favor was more toward Internet and telephone dating as collected in a survey of Socca and Sochatt’s findings. Arranged marriages are forced onto the new generation by traditional families that agreed to continue their own cultures, that are not interested in assimilating into the Westernized society, and that strongly want to belong to their own heritages. The Western style gender relationship and its family value criteria, and especially its feminism approach, is hard to fit into the traditional mother and father minds, though it fits into the minds of the new generation. “Technological and other changes will continue to transform family structure, roles, and relationships in significant ways” (Mitchell, 2008), as well as with the tradition of the arranged marriage.

Is arranged marriage a happy and long-lasting marriage option?

     The practice of arranged marriages has been weakened since the 1960s, but it still stays as one of the options as a hetero-normative choice in Diaspora communities and some countries. Neo-traditionalism is still strongly bonded with the cultural synthesis, which has also been transformed into the Diaspora communities. There is no clear line or cut between arranged and love marriage, since it exists in many combinations/degrees, though arranged marriages are seen as more of a happy and long- lasting marriage option over other modern marriage options that dispute with gender inequality, racism and sexism. The modernization-assimilation theory confirms that the Indo-Canadian marriage system is converging with North American and Canadian practices. Traditionalists have their individual choices, rebels choose their own partners, and negotiators win over the parental consent on personal choice. Love is no guarantee of happiness while protection exists as a sense of caution in arranged marriages. Traditionalists have more of an individual choice within their arranged marriages, since introduced couples now have more time to decide and more freedom to refuse and often try to recast their relationship in terms of romantic love. It is hard for the first generation immigrant to belong to another country and culture, and it is difficult for the migrant family to be facing the constant dilemma of being rooted in one culture and suddenly coming forth to a different culture. The arranged marriage tradition has shifted and transformed into a modern way of the changing relationship with new identities that an ideal family approach or new family patterns and definitions play role into a modern love relationship, and new gender relationships and womanhood. Feminists push the ideology of mother responsibility roles in general, as well as with education and equal gender relationships at the workforce and at home. After industrialization, capitalism and globalization spread this idea through the Hollywood culture and media begins to change women to ‘live for others’ as they are selfless in this sense, in which challenges the cult of domesticity as well as childrearing, nurturing and their femininity (Gazso, 2009). Changing families and gender roles transform the family economy to the family wage economy (Gazso, 2009). The romantic love relationship, motherhood and equal gender relationship ideas always surround the immigrant families and their children come to act appropriately in their gender roles and behave in the context of heterosexuality because homosexuality, transgender relationships, and gay and lesbian families are still problematic and absent in the arranged marriage option. Patriarchy and the man-dominant world may still exist in the immigrant population that is not willing to integrate or assimilate into Western family values. Blind Fast-food or Internet speed dating may be a kind of arranged or trial marriage type, but individuals chose their partners rather than them being chosen by somebody else. These intimacy relationships can be dangerous, very quick, disposable, recyable and dishonest. Arranged married couples seem happier and develop pure love for long-term than plastic sexuality or romantic love couples and fast-food, blind- and Internet-dating naughty short-term relationships. Abusing women is still a problem in both the arranged marriages in Diaspora communities and modern marriages in Western customs. Furthermore, some of the arrangements are perpetuated as racist and clannishness because different nationalities and geographic regions make different decisions for choosing their partners, and for instance, some Muslim immigrants are open to intermarriage with white Western-born Muslims but not necessarily with African-Western Muslims. I don’t offer strong a conclusion on this topic because my suggested ideas and facts have limited sources and some of my literatures seem inappropriate to reach an academic result. I suggest a new direction of study surrounding this interest: Why are Diaspora communities still interested in the arranged marriage and ignore modernism if it contains gender inequality, racism, and sexism?




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