In our society that still respects the word ‘mate’ as something romantic and dramatic, lately I have been reflecting on a harsh reality: it turns out that not all women know ‘mate’ in active verbs. In fact, many women—even those who are still children—know ‘mate’ in the passive verb: betrothed. “Betting on an arranged marriage” is definitely not a pleasant experience for many (children) girls.
This reflection comes as I remember two unpleasant experiences from my childhood that are difficult to forget to this day. It turns out that I am also one of the women who know ‘mate’ in passive verbs, since I was very young—not yet graduated from elementary school (elementary school). Although, I ended up not experiencing any story of arranged marriages or child marriages.
The first experience relates to the late amangboru (husband of my father’s younger sister) who loved to make fun of me with the narrative of ‘betrothed to pariban ‘. For me, in the Batak family tradition, pariban is a very patriarchal and complicated relationship. Patriarchal because pariban tends to be seen from a male point of view (so my pariban are all sons of my father’s bou or sisters). It’s strange because pariban are traditionally allowed to marry, even though basically they are still close cousins.
If outside the immediate family, the concept of pariban also applies. Again, patriarchal, because this pariban is only seen from the male lineage — that is, women who share the same clan as the man’s mother or grandmother (not vice versa for women, so a woman cannot say what clan a man belongs to. have a personal relationship ).
At that time, I could not guess whether my late amangboru was joking or not—because this narrative was discussed again when I was an adult. For some reason, when I was a child, I understood enough that my position as a daughter was not very strong in Batak customs—even though my father’s position, as the bone and the eldest son, was very strong. So, I’m very anxious and scared over the jokes of amangboruthis is me—every time we meet or he calls us. Thankfully, he lives in Jakarta and I in Medan, so I rarely see him. The occasional meeting or phone call full of banter alone is traumatic enough for me, I can’t imagine what it would be like if the intensity was so frequent, geez.
The second experience, related to my mother’s boss in the office when I was a child. The same. This father (or uncle) likes to corner me with the narrative of ‘matchmaking’ (with his child or who, I forget the exact details) every time I go with my mother to the office. Maybe he meant to be joking, but I certainly couldn’t take it as a joke at the time. Now that I think about it, it’s too soon and too cruel to feed a girl who’s not even 10 years old about marriage (I haven’t even hit puberty yet and have my period)—no wonder I cringe myself. I vaguely remember when my mother’s boss suddenly visited the house with other employees, I was hiding in a dark corner of Opung’s house .(grandparents) (where we lived at the time), to desperately avoid this guest of my mother.
This may also be one of the reasons why I often avoid ‘mate’ affairs until now. Those two experiences made me even more into a woman who doesn’t like to be matched up—I don’t like having to know my soul mate in passive verbs where I’m like ‘subject who suffers: not subject to doer, not to be subject to power’. Even though at this age, from friends’ stories, I realize that ‘matchmaking’ actually has a much ‘friendly’ place (among urban communities) because it can help facilitate introductions—especially for those whose circle of friends is quite limited. However, in such cases, women have started to be able to play an active role with the choice (not only saklek ‘matched’, but he is also willing for the matchmaking). Still, for me, from that childhood experience, the word ‘mate’ already goes hand in hand with the passive verb—and I hate it .
I remember how surprised and disturbed I was when at this age, an aunt I know (a boarding house neighbor) suddenly offered to let me be ‘settled’ with his nephew. Or, acquaintances of my parents who recently also offered about this ‘matchmaking’. I appreciate their interest in me personally, so they are interested in ‘matchmaking’—but to be honest, I can’t control my discomfort. I realized that maybe these two aunties thought I was arrogant because my response was flat and tended to avoid—if they knew, I have my own trauma about this ‘matchmaking’ (other than that, I do n’t really want to be reluctant to get married, hehe).
Going through this experience makes me sad. It’s sad to realize that the subject of ‘matchmaking’ can actually have such a big impact on a girl—even into adulthood. I really can’t imagine what impact arranged marriages that end in child marriage have on girls. I really can’t imagine how the impact of one-sided matchmaking (only based on the choices, wishes and decisions of parents) is also experienced by many women who are young adults (and it still happens in Indonesia, especially outside urban areas). .
It saddens me to realize that many women know ‘mate’ in passive and not active verbs. For me, this is not a matter of romanticization-or-dramatization, but of women’s right to choose their own path in life. Moreover, arranged marriages that end in marriage in a patriarchal culture tend to benefit men and harm women. Women are also often ‘matched’ unilaterally by their parents because they are considered vulnerable, it is necessary for a man to bear-protect-and-protect: women are not considered equal and as powerful as men. Not to mention, patriarchal thinking that considers it is the duty of women to take care of the family and the domestic sphere – so it is better if women get married quickly, rather than being sent to school.
How many girls end up having to sacrifice education for marriage, because their families feel it’s better for girls to get married and be free from their parents’ care, even than to get a junior high and high school diploma? (This is a real case that I encountered when I went down the field in the outskirts of Cikarang, 2016). In the end, many women are ‘impoverished’ and increasingly trapped in a chain of poverty that is difficult to break.
When I remember that my choice to be able to ‘avoid’ this mate turned out to be a privilege too—I’m at a loss for words. Privelese, as a woman who grew up in an urban area, can take higher education, from a well-to-do family, even with a mother who tries to understand her child by giving freedom and future choices, not dictating one-sidedly regarding marriage and marriage. I am at a loss for words, because I know that not all women or girls have the same privileges as me, to be able to avoid arranged marriages and marriages they don’t-or-don’t want. I’m at a loss for words, considering that there are still girls who are trapped in marriages that are too early—many because of poverty, which leaves no choice.
If patriarchy were no longer present in our families, women would not have to know their soul mate in passive verbs since they were children. Girls have other options besides matchmaking and marriage. Women can also choose to get married when they want and are ready, not when they are betrothed and inevitably have to be ready to marry. Women are no longer impoverished because of unilateral arranged marriages and early marriages.
I want to close this reflective post with a naive but desperate prayer : may God protect girls and women all over the world, including parents and families who are still attached to patriarchal culture.*