The ‘dulhan,’ or bride, is an entire phenomenon in Pakistani culture. While most cultures focus greatly on the bride during the wedding, Pakistanis are utterly obsessed leading up to it and for long after.
And whereas the ‘blushing bride’ is the expectation in Western weddings, Pakistanis take it further. Demure doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The man that I’m marrying is someone I’ve known since elementary school.
Our families have been friends for a decade and a half, and his parents have seen me grow up. In the days following our engagement, however, my mother all of a sudden expected me to act completely opposite to how I’ve always been. I was told off for being my loud and opinionated self.
I was literally shushed when attempting to take part in a conversation because “the bride doesn’t talk.”
I know how it sounds. But what made this even more bewildering is that my mother is a self-made, white-collar professional who has always championed women taking charge of their own lives. My family is full of people who strongly support a woman’s self-determination in every other aspect of life. Both of my grandmothers earned master’s degrees and brought home the halal bacon, right alongside their husbands.
The fact that my mother still had these old-school expectations about how a new bride should act, despite her own background and experience made no sense to me. But then I realized that many Pakistanis, such as my own family, aren’t actively trying to suppress women.
We’ve just failed to re-examine our traditional practices and realize the reasons why we did them in the first place no longer make any sense at all—if they ever did.
My mother has always encouraged me to make something out of myself, to assert myself and get what I wanted. In short, she knew better… but she forgot all of that when I got engaged. The lessons that she learned from her own mother, her own culture, were too deeply ingrained in her. She wanted me to play the typical Pakistani bride, and the stereotypical and “ideal” Pakistani dulhan keeps her head down and demonstrates total coyness. The shyer, the better.
In fact, aunties are always complaining about the bride’s behavior at a wedding.
While it’s become much more common in recent years for brides to dance at their own wedding events, for the longest time they got side-eyed hard for it. (They still do if they dance any more than just a little bit.) Off the dance floor, every single move still gets picked apart.
She was talking to people too much. She was laughing too loud. Why was she looking around at everyone like a normal person when she should have been a statue keeping her eyes downcast? A bride should look like a bride.
But why do all brides have to look the bloody same?
The standard, of course, is not at all the same for the groom. Men are allowed to express their joy at their wedding as exuberantly as they please.
Now, having a traditionally cultural Pakistani wedding is very important to me. But this is one of the few traditions I’m more than okay with leaving behind. It’s just as much my wedding as it is my fiancé’s, and I deserve to actively participate in my own wedding.
You’re not supposed to stop being a ‘dulhan’ the next day either. For some time even after the wedding, there are certain ways a bride is supposed to conduct herself. In the first year or so, she should dress to the nines in the clothes and jewelry that was gifted to her by her parents and in-laws. And, as a newlywed, she’s expected to play hostess to all her in-laws in a way that Emily Post could only aspire to, even when she’s not at her own home.
Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely intend on treating my fiancé’s family with love and respect. But it is wrong to expect me to literally serve them when the same isn’t expected of him.
While neither my fiancé nor his parents have ever made any such demands, I still feel the weight of them from our culture at large and from my own parents. They want me to be the best ‘bahu’ I can be, but I want them to realize there’s more than one way of doing that.
Becoming someone’s wife does not change who I am. My ability to find a husband never defined me, and I’m not about to let it start.
It’s 2017, and I refuse to simply play a dress-up doll on the most important day of my life. Pakistani women have gained far more economic independence both in the West and back in the motherland. The world itself has changed and Pakistani culture, like every single other culture, has to change along with it.
So I’ve decided I’m not going to be that shy, modest bride. I’m going to just be a Syjil bride.
Anything else would just be a farce.