Br. Daniel Haqiqatjou makes some very interesting observations about a recent Washington Post article of ‘child brides’ in Bangladesh.
This is what he writes:
Spare me the sad bride pictures, Washington Post
Comparing “child marriage” in countries like Bangladesh to marriage in the US or Western Europe — where the average age of marriage is in the late 20s and early 30s — is comparing apples and oranges. This article is at pains to portray 14, 15, and 16 year olds as innocent little children forced into an institution against their will. The pertinent comparison to make is with Western 14, 15, and 16 years olds, who, due to circumstance, are sexualized by peer pressure, the influence of pop culture, fashion, sex education, and so on. Look at the pressure “sexting” culture puts on children and how the internet and cell phone technology have dramatically changed youth sexuality in the West.
It is now very common for 12 and 13 years olds to be sexually active, and that is not see as a problem here in the West. Rather than teach abstinence, educators have decided that elementary and middle school children need to learn about “safe sex.” There is nothing objectionable for two teens under 18 to have sex (with protection), to pass around naked pictures of themselves through snapchat (as long as it’s only other teens seeing the pictures,) etc. In fact, it’s healthy, empowering, and all but encouraged by parents, schools, and society at large. But if a 15 year old gets married in Bangladesh, that is a “heartbreaking,” “infuriating” violation of a girl’s dignity.
So the problem can’t be that teen brides are “sexualized.”
If the problem is that getting married at a young age hinders a teen’s education, that is also something that can be said about sexually active teens here in the West. How much time, mental energy, and resources are spent by our children participating in all these cultural practices revolving around dating, hooking up, sexting, prom, and on and on? Again, no one thinks of any of that in terms of opportunity cost vis-a-vis education.
Finally, if the problem is about coercion and consent and that these teen brides really don’t want to get married, I would simply argue, as I have done elsewhere, that coercion is a subjective and context-dependent concept. I am sure that nowadays there are many brides in countries like Bangladesh that truly do feel miserable and coerced to have to get married at 15. But these feelings do not arise in a vacuum. They arise in context of a society that has, through the influence of satellite TV and internet, adopted Western cultural norms, norms that portray being a teenager as a time for casual dating, boyfriend/girlfriend relations, and so on. If you grow up thinking that that is what it means to be normal, free, and liberated, then of course you will have to be coerced to follow a path that diverges from that model. But absent that context, what is inherently wrong with getting married young? What exactly is it that makes contemporary Western norms superior? Ironically, it is precisely that context of casual sex being imported from Western sources that is scaring traditional families into wanting their children, and especially their daughters, married at a young age, whereas before, there may have been more of an allowance for education.
Point being, this is a complex issue but the Washington Post prefers to push a highly ethnocentric, simplistic narrative punctuated with manipulative pictures of one particular bride’s wedding. It is telling that the report includes no actual quote from the bride herself or any other Bangladeshi bride. Everything we get is filtered through the perspective and ideological bias of one Western photographer.
Also, to be perfectly clear, I am not defending all the cultural practices surrounding marriage in Bangladesh or wherever else. For example, forcing anyone to get married against her will is certainly something contrary to Islamic law. My point with this post is to highlight some of the double standards and unfair caricaturing Western media engages in in their portrayal of cultures they believe to be inferior.