A study into selective self-presentation on Indian Remarriage Websites
Marriage is a near-universal phenomenon in Indian society characterised by strict regulation of sexuality, especially that of women (Abraham, 2001). In fact, controlling a young woman’s sexuality and safely giving it to the hands of her husband is given tremendous importance in the Indian society (Karlekar, 1998).
However, remarriage following a divorce, can be extremely challenging, specifically for Indian women as a woman with a failed marriage is considered ‘impure’ (Holden, 2008). Furthermore, separated or divorced women are categorised as belonging to a ‘twilight zone of neither being respectably married nor widowed—especially those who have themselves left their partners’.
Did you know?
According to the 2011 Census, there are respectively 1.5 million and 3.2 million divorced or separated men and women in India. The relatively lower number of divorced or separated men compared with women in the same category may be attributed to higher rates of remarriage among men.
In the context of dating and marriage, many scholars have studied how men and women employ specific self-presentation strategies to improve their chances of finding a partner through newspaper advertisements, video-dating and online searches.
Online media facilitate selective self-presentation by making it easier for people to highlight the more desirable aspects of their identity and conceal the negatives. Culture, socio-economic and political context influence the meaning of marriage and expectations associated with it.
The Big Bias—
In the Indian context, previous research has identified the spousal preferences commonly announced in Indian matrimonial advertising: caste, languages spoken, living conditions (e.g., living with extended family or alone), body type (slim or average, with ‘heavy’ being disfavoured), and skin colour, with lighter skin tones.
Studies show that men and women often align the presentation of their personality traits with normative gender roles and expectations.
In a study on mate choice, Perusse (1994) found that a man’s social status served as an important criterion for women’s choice of partner while women’s reproductive potential became important for men.
Men and women seeking remarriage in India adhered to gendered expectations of society in their online presentations. More specifically, profiles of men highlighted a sense of male entitlement and privilege even as they expected women to be nurturing caregivers for their children from a previous marriage and their aging parents.
Whereas most men advertised for themselves, women showed some reliance on family and friends to advertise for them, although many also claimed to post their own profiles on the remarriage website. While creating their own profile (in a society where divorce and widowhood are generally stigmatised) indicated an exercise of individual agency, adherence to normative standards did not permit them to break out of the conventional framework.
Thus, the new technology plays a contradictory role in the context of remarriage: although it gives individuals relatively easy access to people whom they could approach for remarriage and encourages a heretofore unorthodox or stigmatised social practice, it also reinforces gendered and patriarchal roles and expectations in the process.