NOTE: This is a guest post written by my wife, Abigail Smith.
It’s wedding season! This means proposals, engagement shoots, flowers, magical fairy lights, pinterest perfect centerpieces and off course, the cherry on top, the first look at the bride in her fabulous voluminous dress.
This has become the norm for weddings these days…at least in the West.
I was recently talking to some friends about singleness and marriage and pretty much the typical stuff that all us women do.
BUT wait, not ALL women talk about this, young girls in an Indian village have no concept of an engagement photo shoot, let alone centerpieces, fairy lights, or a magical proposal! From the time they are born, girls in the villages are viewed as temporary property. A girl does not remain as part of the family she is born into and when she marries she is not her parent’s responsibility anymore. Since a girl does not stay in the family, she is not an investment; as a result, her education is not a priority. She is raised to think about how her actions are going to effect her chances of getting a good match and about how her actions are going to effect the family name.
When I say the family name, think Belle and her father from Beauty & the Beast. At least in that movie the slight was a little more subtle because it was done in a fun sing-along.
In real life, when the young girl reaches puberty, she is ready for marriage and the village starts to wonder when the parents will begin searching for a good suitor. Say the parents do find a suitor. His parents come to meet her and her family, things are going fine and then for some reason or other they reject the proposal for marriage. The entire village will find out about it and then will question whether there is something wrong with the girl. If any other suitors come to meet the girl, the family will ask around to see if there are any stories about the family and the girl, and if there has been a prior rejection. Questions will be posed on why the girl was rejected and whether there is something wrong with her. Her family’s name will be tarnished and her shame will continue to increase the longer she is unable to secure a suitor.
Needless to say, there is a lot hanging on a girl gaining a marriage proposal. If she does not, her family will be talked about endlessly.
Now think Pride & Prejudice, the BBC version, not the new one (the BBC version is Oh, SO MUCH BETTER). In the era depicted in that movie, women were seen in a very similar way. Mr. & Mrs. Bennett had the very difficult and burdensome task of marrying off FIVE daughters. Do you remember thinking why it was such a big deal?
In Downton Abbey the story line begins with Mary’s fiancé dying on the Titanic which results in her being forced to marry the new heir to the Downton estate in order to secure the family’s status. As the series continues on, we begin to see the shift in women’s roles. A world war throws everything into chaos. That key event opened up a whole new world for women. A woman’s role was no longer to become the perfect wife and mother.
Fast forward to today – girls are no longer being raised and molded to be the perfect Stepford wife. They are being told that they can do whatever they put their mind to and that the sky is the limit. Today marriage can be seen as a DESIRE and a CHOICE rather than a NECESSITY.
So why is there still an expectation for women to be “happily married,” with this shift in gender roles?
Why are women always asking themselves the question: who am I going to marry? Why am I single?
Singleness: Gift or Privilege?
But according to Paul, singleness is a gift (1 Corinthians 7:7-8).
Lets revisit the girls in the villages of India. If they end up single it means that they’ve been rejected or it’s been determined that there’s something wrong with them. They are labeled as a burden on their family and their singleness becomes a weight around their neck that grows heavier to bear each year that their singleness endures. In this context singleness is a CURSE.
This makes me read 1 Corintians 7:7-8 very differently. In Paul’s day, women in his society would have identified much more easily with the village girl in India than anyone from the West.
Why would he say singleness is a gift?
Maybe because he is calling the unmarried and the widows to push past the shame and the cultural expectations around them and to think radically of their singleness. To think of how they can break through the prescribed roles placed on them and create something new however hard it might be to do so without a lot of support.
How does that fit in the cultural context of the West? Singleness isn’t seen as causing shame or as a a burden on the family anymore.
This makes it hard to understand Paul’s version of singleness as it would have been understood in the original context. Does singleness for women in Corinth entail the same privileges that are afforded to women in the West or should we read his version of singleness through eyes of an Indian village girl?
Maybe singleness (in the West) is a privilege, rather than a gift?
Maybe it’s time to break free from those age old expectations where, as a woman, your only option was to secure a stable marriage. As a woman you’re not a commodity to be “handed over” to your husband on your wedding day. As a woman you are following your dreams and have a say over your future. Walk the path, discover your potential, your weaknesses, your strengths, your joys, your sorrows and along the way if you meet the one you want to celebrate all this with, then…….that’s your choice – but remember, it’s a privilege, not a gift.