KOCHI: Last week, a study by an Oxford doctoral candidate stirred social media. Through a ‘covert’ social experiment, Diva Dhar found that Indian “men are demonstrably less interested in a woman who works”.Furthermore, Diva was baffled as she noted that the country had one of the lowest women labour force participation rates globally, even as the female education rate was rising.One key result she found was: ‘Working women are penalised in the marriage market.’
For her study, Diva had created 20 fake profiles identical in terms of age, lifestyle preferences and diet on an Indian marriage portal. The only difference was about career preference and income. These profiles were made for different caste groups.
Diva’s analysis showed women who had never worked attracted 15-22 per cent more interest in the marriage market, compared with women who wanted to continue working after wedding.
Now, what’s the scene in Kerala? TNIE tries to figure it out.
According to a leading matrimonial organisation in the state, the marriage market favours educated women. “About 90 to 95 per cent of applicants ask for women who are highly qualified,” says the company’s media relations manager, Hari D. “Many men look for partners from their fields. For instance, a doctor prefers to marry another doctor.”
Hari notes there is a higher preference for working women in Kottayam, Alappuzha and Kollam.
Sreejith K S, a 32-year-old photographer from Ernakulam, brushes aside the Oxford study. “I would like to have a partner who prefers to stand on her own feet,” he says. “I am looking for a partner, not just a ‘wife’.”
Sreejith insists household chores should be “equally shared”. “Men and women have different strengths. They should work on these strengths and move ahead together,” he adds.Sreejith is not a rarity. Many men who spoke to TNIE shared similar views. So much so that a senior female colleague (married) quips that some of them might me trying to sound ‘politically correct’. And, a male colleague (married) nods with a smirk.
Nasif P F, 22, who works as a sales executive at a textile store in Kochi, has no qualms revealing that he would prefer a typical homemaker wife. “I want to marry a girl who would stay at home and take care of my parents,” he says.
“I want her to be there for my parents when I’m away from home for work.”His colleague Queencilin Nivi, 25, joins the conversation. “Men don’t have the right to say women should be confined within the four walls of the house. I believe men and women are equally capable of doing things.” Queencilin, however, believes there would be “a time period when the baby would need a mother’s attention”. “During that time, I would take a break from work,” she adds.
Kottayam-based businessman Arun Prakash, 32, believes there should be “space for discussions and debates” in a marriage.“So, I am looking for a woman who is educated, has a career and her own individual preferences,” he says.
Roshindas, of Thiruvananthapuram, believes not many men and families would prefer working women. “We can all say progressive, ideological stuff. Reality is different,” says the 25-year-old content writer. “When it comes to practising what we preach, many fall short. Otherwise, there would have been more working women in our state.”
What official data says
According to the State Planning Board’s 2021 Economic Review, labour force participation of women is 26.3 per cent. Do note, women make up 52 per cent of the state’s population (as per the 2011 Census).
Social worker and Kudumbashree Matrimonial coordinator Sindhu Balan says the the post-marriage scenario is one of the key reasons for the skewed workforce ratio.“Many men say they want a wife who is educated and has a job. But, after marriage, things take a turn,” she says.
“As women are able to stand on their feet, they can assert their choices. She can reject a proposal if the man or his family insist she has to stay at home. Now, women have a bit more freedom than, say, 10 years ago. However, that freedom gets curbed in married life.” Sindhu adds many women themselves choose to drop career, as they physically and mentally struggle to balance home and office.
“In some cases, when the husband’s family forces her to leave the job, she yields to avoid separation. Many of them think of their parents, get haunted by the ‘what will people say’ thought.”
‘Managing home is a task’
Savita (name changed), a 32-year-old homemaker based in Kannur, believes few men frankly communicate their preferences. “Some hide their real views,” she says. “Also, in many cases, it becomes difficult for a woman to be career-oriented once she takes up the responsibility of managing home. Even if men say they would help, it is often limited to washing dishes or cooking a meal. Managing a household is way beyond that.”
‘Degree is just an accessory’
According to Professor J Devika at the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, women’s education in Kerala is mainly to aid them in the marriage market. Yes, it’s a paradox.
“Without higher education, it would be difficult to get good proposals. That is the why most parents ensure their daughters get educated,” she says.
“However, her career and independence are seldom given importance. That is why women’s participation in the state’s workforce remains staggeringly low. As long as domestic labour or work at home remains unpaid and unacknowledged, it will remain so.” Devika believes most men look for high education, high dowry. “It is in the nuances of the proposals.,” she adds.
With inputs fromNilanjana Nandan
What if man does not want to work?
Some women point to the other side of social norms. “You see, men are forced to be the provider,” says Mini Chacko, a 28-year-old bank employee. “There are some women who prefer to be a homemaker. The same freedom should be available to men, too. If my husband says he prefers staying at home, taking care of our daughter, I would support that.”
Writer Deepa Gopalakrishnan disagrees: “I prefer an equal partnership. I want my husband to work just like me and also take equal responsibility at home.” Human resources executive Sheena Thomas (name changed) says she “would be glad” if her husband decides to stay at home. “Then, I can advance my career, as he would take charge of everything at home. That’s important — he should take ‘charge’.”