Social structural differences in how single women relate to the institution of marriage might help explain why single women have been organized in India and not in the U.S. Yet, two insights I gained into differences between Anglo-American and Hindu culture in regard to marriage and singleness seem to me to best explain why the women’s movement in the U.S. has not yet recognized singleness as a problem.
Trimberger describes two key differences between the two movements:
- There is no negative cultural image in India. Single women seem to be almost revered as having special powers for voluntarily submitting themselves to sexual abstinence. In contrast, in the U.S., “spinsters” are viewed rather negatively and the women’s movement created the expectation that women can do it all: Have a career, kids, and be married, too.
- In the U.S., coupledom is portrayed as essential to happiness. Indian women do not face this “cultural legacy.”
Trimberger explains the second point:
Marriage in India is more highly valued, but its purpose is family ties, not coupled happiness. Compatibility between spouses is not linked to finding a soul mate, but is seen as the result of patient work, along with family support. Personal happiness has less cultural significance, and is not linked to being coupled.
India might offer us ways of moving beyond matrimania to a culture that values every individual no matter what their single status. Of course, Indian culture has its own prejudices and certainly the Indian women’s movement is fighting a lot of them. Trimberger mentions several of those issues. But discrimination of singles because of their single status does not seem to be one of them.