Brides have the right to say No

The woman's right to choose her husband is fundamental, argues Shelina Zahra Janohamed

To assume a woman’s opinion and autonomy is so meaningless that she should be tricked into marriage through deceit is flat wrong. Cultura Photo
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Bridezillas are hilarious, aren’t they? They are ferocious creatures, created for us to fear and mock in equal measure. Those uppity women wanting to take control of their lives! Some of the tantrums thrown by women over the incorrectly coloured napkins or bridesmaids who wear the wrong length gowns feel like distinctly “First World problems”.

However, there’s a new kind of bride who we shouldn’t be laughing at. Instead, we should be standing in solidarity with her: the woman who refuses to be tricked into a bad marriage with a deceitful husband, a woman who eschews the concept of supposed shame in rejecting a groom, a woman who does not see her only possible validation coming from a ring on her finger.

This week’s global press took great delight in a story from India’s Uttar Pradesh state where a bride “dumped” an “illiterate groom” and “walked out” because he “failed a simple maths test”. A woman expects her husband to be able to calculate the answer to 15 plus 6? And then decides that the fact he and his family hid his inability to make this calculation as a reason to dissolve the engagement? Because it’s hilarious, isn’t it?

Except these stories should make us angry, stories of women being duped at the most fundamental and life-changing level. Your marriage partner totally affects the rest of your life choices, you become inextricably tied to them. I’m not saying that a person who is illiterate should be excluded from marriage, of course not. More than 750 million people worldwide are illiterate. But it is a fundamental part of someone’s life, and should be properly disclosed to a prospective marriage partner.

Recently another bride, also in Uttar Pradesh, at her own wedding married a guest when her intended groom had a seizure before the ceremony after having previously not disclosed his epilepsy. Again, health reasons are not a bar to marriage, except when such a fundamental fact is withheld.

To assume a woman’s opinion and autonomy is so meaningless that she should be tricked into marriage through deceit, banking on social shame to seal her fate, should make us all shake with fury. It perpetuates the myth that the only way a woman can have meaning and validation is by being married, and that marriage should be achieved at any cost. Bravo to the brides standing up for their rights!

Earlier this month, Saudi activist Samar Al Muqrin caused a stir when she said that many women had remained spinsters of their own choice because they refuse to have “stupid” husbands. It’s important to note that she wasn’t referring to Saudi men or men in general, but simply that women were choosing not to marry men unsuited to them. They are rejecting marriage as the only means of their validation.

These stories should make us proud that women are standing up for their rights and no longer pressured into bad marriages. And it’s even more heartening that families are supporting their daughters’ choices.

I love these feisty brides. Unlike the hapless groom who couldn’t do his maths, they know that being shamed into a bad marriage no longer adds up.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.