South Asian Women and Marriage: Experiences of a Cultural Script

Abstract

Although the South Asian community is one of the largest and fastest growing immigrant populations in the country, there is a paucity of social science research about these communities. A number of authors have assumed the importance of gender, marriage, and family within South Asian diasporic culture; however, relatively little research has explored South Asian women’s lived experiences from their own perspectives or across generations. This study sought to understand how first and second generation South Asian women in the US understand their experiences of race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and diaspora. Through qualitative analysis of interviews with 30 South Asian women living in the US, I show that across generations, messages about (heterosexual) marriage emerged as central to how women understood their gendered experience and, as such, marriage and being marriageable function as a “cultural script” for middle-class South Asian womanhood. Women’s narratives elucidate some of the specific messages of this “cultural script” and everyday ways this script is indirectly and directly communicated to women within family and community interactions.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    For a fuller discussion regarding marriage paths for second generation South Asians, see [32].

References

  1. 1.

    Abraham, M. (2000). Speaking the unspeakable: Marital violence among South Asian immigrants in the United States. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Appiah, K. A. (1994). Identity against culture: Understandings of multiculturalism. In B. Doreen & Townsend center for the humanities (Eds.), Occasional papers series presented at the Avenali Lecture (pp. 1–34). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Appiah, K. A. (1996). Race, culture, identity: Misunderstood connections. In A. Gutmann & K. A. Appiah (Eds.), Color conscious: The political morality of race (pp. 30–105). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Badruddoja, R. (2009). Eyes of a storm: The voices of South Asian (Bengali)–American women. San Diego, CA: Cognella Academic Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Bhattacharjee, A. (1992). The habit of ex-nomination: Nation, woman, and the Indian immigrant bourgeoisie. Public Culture, 5(1), 19–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Chatterjee, P. (1993). The nation and its fragments: Colonial and postcolonial histories. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Das, A., & Kemp, S. (1997). Between two worlds: Counseling South Asian Americans. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 25(1), 23–33.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Dasgupta, S., & Dasgupta, S. (1996). Public face, private space: Asian Indian women and sexuality. In N. B. Maglin & D. Perry (Eds.), Bad girls/good girls: Women, sex, and power in the nineties (pp. 226–243). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Dasgupta, S. (Ed.). (1998). A patchwork shawl: Chronicles of South Asian women in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Dasgupta, S. (Ed.). (2007). Body evidence: Intimate violence against South Asian women in America. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Dyck, I. (2005). Feminist geography, the ‘every-day’, and local–global relations: Hidden spaces of place-making. The Canadian Geographer, 49(3), 233–243.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Espin, O. (1995). Race, racism, and sexuality in the life narratives of immigrant women. Feminism and Psychology, 5(2), 223–238.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice: Psychological theory and women’s development (6th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Goel, R. (2005). Sita’s trousseau: Restorative justice, domestic violence, and South Asian culture. Violence Against Women, 11(5), 639–665.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Gopinath, G. (2005). Impossible desires: Queer diasporas and South Asian public cultures. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Gupta, S. (1999). Walking on the edge: Indian-American women speak out on dating and marriage. In S. R. Gupta (Ed.), Emerging voices: South Asian American women redefine self, family, and community (pp. 120–146). Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Handa, A. (2003). Of silk saris and mini-skirts: South Asian girls walk the tightrope of culture. Toronto, ON: Women’s Press.

    Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Hussain, Y. (2005). Writing diaspora: South Asian women, culture, and ethnicity. London: Ashgate Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Islam, N. (1993). In the belly of the multicultural beast I am named South Asian. In The Women of South Asian Descent Collective (Ed.), Our feet walk the Sky: Women of the South Asian diaspora (pp. 242–245). San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.

    Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Jeffries, M. (2011). Thug life: Race, gender, and the meaning of hip-hop. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Jones, A. (1993). Becoming a “girl”: Post-structuralist suggestions for educational research. Gender and Education, 5(2), 157–166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Kallivayalil, D. (2004). Gender and cultural socialization in Indian immigrant families in the US. Feminism and Psychology, 14(4), 535–559.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Lamb, S. (2002). Intimacy in a transnational era: The Remaking of aging among Indian Americans. Diaspora, 11(3), 299–330.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Leonard, K. (1999). The management of desire: Sexuality and marriage for young South Asian women in America”. In S. R. Gupta (Ed.), Emerging voices: South Asian American women redefine self, family, and community (pp. 107–120). Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Majumdar, A. (2007). Researching South Asian women’s experiences of marriage: Resisting stereotypes through an exploration of ‘space’ and ‘embodiment’”. Feminism & Psychology, 17(3), 316–322.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Mauthner, N., & Doucet, A. (1998). Reflections on a voice-centered relational method. In J. Ribbens & R. Edwards (Eds.), Feminist dilemmas in qualitative research: Private lives and public texts (pp. 119–146). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Merriam-Webster. Pressure. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pressure. Accessed 15 Aug 2015.

  28. 28.

    Padgett, D. (2008). Qualitative methods in social work research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

    Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Purkayastha, B. (2005). Negotiating ethnicity: Second-generation South Asian Americans traverse a transnational world. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Rathor, S. (2006). Importance of marriage for Asian Indian women in the US: An Exploratory study. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ.

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Rudrappa, S. (2002). Disciplining desire in making the home: Engendering ethnicity in Indian immigrant families”. In P. G. Min (Ed.), The second generation: Ethnic identity among Asian Americans (pp. 85–112). Walnut Creek, CA.: Altamira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Salam, R. (2014). Negotiating tradition, becoming American: Family, gender, and autonomy for second generation South Asians. El Paso, TX: LFB Scholarly Publishing.

    Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Samuel, L. (2010). Mating, dating, and marriage: Intergenerational cultural retention and the construction of diasporic identities among South Asian immigrants in Canada. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 31(1), 5–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Sandelowski, M., & Barroso, J. (2003). Classifying the findings in qualitative studies. Qualitative Health Research, 13(7), 905–923.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Sharma, A. (2006). Girl seeks suitable boy: Indian marriage dot com. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. ON: University of Toronto, Toronto.

    Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Shukla, S. (2003). India abroad: Diasporic cultures of postwar America and England. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    South Asian Americans Leading Together. (2000). Demographic characteristics of South Asians in the US: Emphasis on poverty, gender, language ability, immigration status. Washington, DC: SAALT. http://saalt.electricembers.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Demographic-Characteristics-of-SA-in-US-20001.pdf. Accessed June 2012.

  38. 38.

    South Asian Americans Leading Together. (2012). A demographic snapshot of South Asians in the United States. Washington, DC: SAALT. http://saalt.electricembers.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Demographic-Snapshot-Asian-American-Foundation-2012.pdf. Accessed June 2012.

  39. 39.

    The women of South Asian descent collective (Ed.). (2003). Our feet walk the sky: Women of the South Asian diaspora. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gita R. Mehrotra.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The author declares no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mehrotra, G.R. South Asian Women and Marriage: Experiences of a Cultural Script. Gend. Issues 33, 350–371 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12147-016-9172-7

Download citation

Keywords

  • South Asian women
  • Marriage
  • Qualitative research