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Arranged Marriages have been around since the 1400s and beyond (Undiscovered Scotland, 2010). The practice of finding a suitable marriage partner for one’s child has been greatly discussed in all forms of literature and media and hearsay. As a second generation, Australian-born female, the idea of having my marriage arranged has always seemed like the most awful form of torture my parents could ever inflict upon me. I would rather scrub the entire house clean with a toothbrush than be subjected to, what I believe to be, a cruel life and love-less marriage. Although my parents have never once proposed this arrangement, it always seemed to me, that the mere idea of doing so was the equivalent of not trusting your children to make the right choice. It seemed that trust and over-protectiveness were the main issues at hand.
To understand this thought-process, the judgemental heuristic must be accounted for. Throughout my friendship with a girl we will call ‘A’, the only information I received with regards to arranged marriage, specifically regarding parents, trust and over-protectiveness, was skewed in a negative fashion. An example of this is when I was told that her grandmother was coming to stay for six months with her and her family. In my family, having another family member, especially my grandparents coming to stay, is always an exciting event, since we rarely visit them. Yet, my friend sounded less than pleased and it was only later that I found out why. It turned out that her grandmother’s extended visit was to aid my friend’s mother in searching for an appropriate husband. ‘A’ at the time, had a boyfriend that her mother did not know about, and if she were to find out, it would cause much chaos. This was the first time I had heard about her prospect of an arranged marriage and I was deeply shocked. ‘A’ and I had been at school together, and we had been friends for 7 years. It was the first I had ever heard about anyone I knew of having an arranged marriage. Nonetheless, because of the Fundamental Cognitive Error, I was completely unaware that I had made an interpretation, let alone a negative one. Thus, when preparing for this assignment, I used the availability heuristic to include information, which I had previously interpreted in a negative way, about arranged marriages, based on the life of my friend.
As I had, formerly questioned ‘A’ in relation to the process of arranged marriages, I am ashamed to say that I didn’t hide my disgust and pure fascination for the topic, and in ‘A’s’ attempt to change my opinion; however, I took the “passive, but unconvinced” route and pretended she was right. By taking this route I was, in my mind, acting in the best way to maintain our friendship and avoid a quarrel on a topic, which was evidently esteemed, or at the very least, respected by the other party.
Realising that I am not a parent, and have never had to contemplate a decision to arrange marriages for my children, and considering I have only experienced two decades of life (the first three-quarters of which I have always put my needs first), I recognised, with much hindsight, that perhaps I wasn’t the best judge of the situation. Hence, the idea of challenging my extremely negative beliefs arose. Furthermore, I have had none of my own experiences with the topic at hand. All the information I had interpreted came secondhand, from my friend ‘A’. When I posed myself the question “What do I really believe anyway?” I realised that all my values were all based in supremely hot cognitions. That is to say, all my feelings towards this topic were based on my emotions, and negative ones at that.
What I truly believed was that an arranged marriage was the ultimate form of suppression any parent could place upon their child. My judgemental heuristics informed me that not only were women bound in a modern-day form of slavery, but additionally that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/) had been violated. Where was the sense of freedom? To me, there was no freedom in this arrangement. To fully understand my beliefs on this topic, I will present an extract of my notes from when I first began this assignment. I laughed at my emotive language, not because it sounded silly, but more so because I was so enraged. For example, I said “It is wrong, immoral and unjust and just medieval that these girls have not a chance at finding love, but instead are forced into a marriage where perhaps eventually, they will come to be fond of, or have respect for the man they are married to. It is also an equal possibility that they are ill-treated to lengths that I care not to think about. They could be raped, kept in dungeons, mutilated. The girls are no longer people (well, they barely were to being with) and now they are another man’s possession. These women have no lives, they are there purely for the men, and the thought enrages me. We should disallow this practice in Australia, it is foul, unjust and un- Australian”. Not once, in that entire tirade did I consider the potential benefits of an arranged marriage.
Therefore, in order to consider the possible advantages, I outlined what I believed to be the Pros and Cons of Arranged Marriages. To my surprise and with explicit use of cold cognitions, I was able to intellectually see that there were indeed benefits to having an arranged marriage. Astonishingly, I was able to generate four rational reasons as to why arranged marriages should be allowed. My reasons, granted, were not of the highest intellectual value, I was pleased to note that I could at the very least produce reasons for something I was vehemently opposed to. My reasons were; all the hours that would be wasted searching, dating prospective others are returned to you, so you can focus on the rest of your life, such as your career, and so on. Furthermore, parents generally know your taste fairly well, so choosing a partner in marriage, although not quite as returnable as material objects, is nonetheless an achievable goal. Additionally, you will always have some form of support system, be it financial, or hopefully even in terms of friendship. Finally, and to be honest, it would save me a lot of heartache, and maybe even lead to procreating in a better gene pool than it would be if I chose my own partner.
Was my opinion swayed however? Not in the slightest. I had acknowledged that there were benefits; sadly, none of these profits seemed to outweigh the disadvantages. I was even, in my own mind, using inverted commas when referring to ‘profits’, as though they weren’t really profits at all. Feeling stumped and with no foreseeable way to challenge my own opinion, I set out to research the topic and either bring back evidence to support or contradict my opinion.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon an online article from the Brisbane Times (2010) entitled Fleeing Arranged Marriage which at the time, given the use of the term “fleeing” was an apt description of how I felt regarding arranged marriages. The article outlined the case of a 14 year old Melbourne [school] girl who was legally prohibited to leave the country by a [federal] judge. It was found that the girl (a mere teenager) was to marry a boy (of only 17 years) whom she didn’t know, had never met, but to whom her parents had arranged a marriage to.
Immediately after reading this article, a sense of social righteousness overcame me. Although I wouldn’t call myself a human activist of any sort, nor have I a huge interest in the area, this article was enough to move me to a state of hot cognition whereby my emotions tumbled forth and led me into a frenzy of “but of course the judge is right to act in this way”. Although there was no report which contradicted my thoughts, I began to suspect that perhaps I wasn’t the judge best of arranged marriages. My close friend in high school was, unbeknownst to my schoolgirl naivety, more likely than not, going to have her marriage arranged. Yet, I had failed to notice anything unusual- some friend I was.
What I didn’t realise, however, was that the phenomenon of Arranged Marriages was far more complex than what I could ever have realised. Taking into account the fact that I had little contact with those who would be involved in arranged marriages, I still believed it to be an easy moral decision. For me, arranging the marriage of your child is completely cutting off their sense of independence. Being the autonomous person that I am, I was repulsed by the idea of being forced (although in theory no arranged marriage is ever forced) to marry someone I don’t know, based on traits that, research has shown will not actually make me happy (i.e. the weak correlation between income and expected happiness; Kahneman, Kruegar, Schkade, Schwarz and Stone, 2006) was an awful idea. The parents might be well-meaning, but for me, it resembled a life of enslavement and even the possibility of physical abuse.
These feelings came from my availability and judgemental heuristics, which had taken the small amount of information I had on arranged marriages and skewed and extrapolated to huge measures.
Once I started my research, however, I observed that not only were there many research articles on the topic, but also that the idea has been around for longer than I cared to imagine. Once I began reading, I realised that the practice was not limited to Indian cultures, instead, there have been several Western cultures that have brought the practice into norm. The most startling revelation was to realise that in one of my favourite novels, Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, the practice of arranging the marriages for all five of the Bennett daughters was considered the norm for the time period. Moreover, it would have been considered social suicide were it not utilised to benefit the family and the family name. Although there is never any explicit talk regarding after the marriage, the state of the surrounding society indicates that there were few problems that arose with arranged marriages. The stories (within the story) which did emerge were seen as the exception, rather than the rule.
Granted, this evidence is based purely on a novel. However, further investigation revealed several findings. First, that arranged marriages occurred in a number of different countries, in both Western and Eastern societies (Merali, 2009 and Rockman, 1994). Second, perceptions of arranged marriages, from first to second generation women, living in a Western society differed (Zaidi & Shuraydi, 2002 and Talbani & Hasanali, 2000). Third, and to my dismay, the main research done on abuse and domestic violence towards women in arranged marriages, were qualitative studies (Zaidi & Shuraydi, 2002; Talbani & Hasanali, 2000 and Abraham, 2002). Though the information they yielded implied that non-English speaking “mail-ordered” brides were more likely to be obstructed by their lack of language and thus be the victims of neglect and abuse (Merali, 2009).
Yet another surprise arose from my research; professional match-makers were the new (and somehow, improved) arranged marriage consultants. Retrospectively, and using the Hindsight Bias, I don’t see how I couldn’t have realised this. My judgemental heuristic was so deeply entrenched that I did not even realise that professional match-makers were taking the exact same course of action as parents who are concerned with the well-being of their children. The New York Times presented a 12-page article on the phenomenon of the New Arranged Marriage (Thernstrom, 2005). The article outlined how Professional Match-makers, were selecting men and women, from very high socio-economic ranks and paring them up. It is a costly procedure, whereby expenses for makeovers, dinners, drinks, planes, cars, and so forth, are all paid for by the male client. In this article, the matchmakers (who were women), never took on females as clients, but kept them in their “pool of women” to select from. Interestingly enough, this article, although it evoked fairly negative emotions within me (What do you mean men were expected to pay for everything? Has my education lead me to nothing?) I was nonetheless a little perturbed to realise that I had been swayed. My half-hearted attempt to feel enraged barely worked- I was fascinated by the whole process. It might have something to do with the innate glamour of New Yorkers, or the mere idea of being wined and dined by a man whose prerequisites (determined by the matchmaker) are a “wealthy, successful and handsome” bachelor (Thernstrom, 2005). Really, is that so hard much to ask for?
Once again, it is evident that my judgemental and availability heuristics have joined forces to convince me that perhaps having my marriage arranged wouldn’t be such a bad idea. My judgemental heuristic has induced me to focus on the traits which best represent an ‘ideal’ husband. Additionally, my availability heuristic informs me that, despite what proverbs tell us (there are plenty of fish in the sea and so on), my own experience has indicated that such men are often unavailable or previously engaged. Thus, if I was ten years older, and still single, the idea of having my marriage arranged for me might actually be a plausible consideration.
Thus, what can be concluded from the above information is that first and foremost, opinion change is not an easy process. My own change of belief required extensive research and expanded knowledge into the topic area. It is plausible to expand from this and also conclude that changing another person’s opinion would prove much more time consuming, given the lack of insight into the other person’s life.
Abraham, S. K. (2002). Attitudes of second-generation Asian-Indians toward dating and arranged marriage: An exploratory study. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering 63, pp. 2997
Austen, J. (1993). Pride and Prejudice. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited
Das, S. (2010, September 16). Fleeing Arranged Marriage. Brisbane Times. Retrieved from
Kahneman, D., Kruegar, A. B., Schkade, D., Schwarz, N., & Stone, A. A., (2006). Would you be happier if you were richer? A focusing illusion. Science 312, 1-14
Merali, N. (2009). Experiences of South Asian brides entering Canada after recent changes to family sponsorship policies. Violence Against Women. 15, 321-339
Rockman, H. (1994). Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match: The art and conventions of Jewish arranged marriages. Sexual & Marital Therapy, 9, 277-284
Talbani, A., & Hasanali, P. (2000). Adolescent females between tradition and modernity: Gender role socialization in south Asian immigrant culture. Journal of Adolescence, 23, 615-627
Thernstrom, M. (2005, February 13). The New Arranged Marriage. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/13/magazine/13MATCHMAKING.html
Undiscovered Scotland. (2010). Retrieved October 10, 2010, from http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usfeatures/timeline/to1500.html
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (2010). Retrieved September 10, 2010, from http://un.org/en/documents/udhr/
Zaidi, A.U. & Shuraydi, M. (2002). Perceptions of arranged marriages by young Pakistani Muslim women living in a Western society. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 33, 495-514
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