For many women like me, seeing South Asian actresses, Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran, take the lead roles in season two of Bridgerton (one of the most-watched series on Netflix) was a powerful experience.
Not only was it validating to see two women who looked like me on screen, but it was refreshing to see their characters deal with the intense pressures that South Asian women still experience today. Because even though the Regency era may feel like a bygone time, many of its societal attitudes toward marriage still persist in the South Asian community.
Marriage is prized in the South Asian community and is seen as so integral to your identity that it is instilled in you from a young age. Like many of my peers, you are taught that the path to a successful life is to get a good education, a decent job, and eventually get married to start your own family.
Many of us grew up watching Bollywood films with our families depicting idealised visions of marriage. Characters fall in love suddenly, experience whirlwind romances, and suddenly break out in song and dance at each moment. When you are bombarded with these messages of the ideal marriage, it is hard for those in the community to not strive for this.
Earlier this month I was sitting in a cafe and a lady beside me smiled and struck up a conversation with me. Such moments of warmth and friendliness can be so rare in London where conversing so openly with strangers feels almost taboo. Like me, she was also of South Asian descent, and we bonded over our shared cultural experiences. The conversation inevitably turned towards marriage. Was I married? Was I looking around? And why did I not have children yet?
It is customary in the South Asian community to be faced with unsolicited questions about your marital status. As with your career and educational background, your marital status is seen to define who you are. Ask any British South Asian woman and they can recall countless scenarios like the above.
Safiya Bashir is a 28-year-old freelance writer based in Amsterdam and radio host of @RepresentAsian_podcast, which explores South Asian representation in the UK music industry. She tells me: “I’m lucky that I don’t face direct pressure from my parents to get married, but there is an expectation that it will happen eventually.” She explains “I feel pressure comes more from my wider family. It’s not a scary or intense pressure, but casual questions every time I go round to my grandparents’ or my aunties and uncles.’
Safiya and I are not alone in feeling uneasy after these questions and our experiences are shared by many in our community. I spoke to Dr. Tina Mistry, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Brown Therapist Network, to gain her perspective. She explains “the ‘community’ places importance on marriage and children for several reasons: whether it’s to continue the family name, be able to eventually take care of your parents and ensure financial stability or adhering to religious customs, such as in Islam.”