The Changing Face of Marriage: Patriarchy, Women’s Choices, and Society’s Reaction


Traditionally, the institution of marriage [in the context of a ‘male-headed’ nuclear family] has been viewed as a significant milestone in a woman’s life. This is true for Zimbabwe and the rest of the world.

The changing face of marriage why women no longer want to be married and patriarchy and society's reactions
 Wedding ceremony signifying the exchange of vows; what is called ‘marriage’ – PIC/Focus on Family

Women are repeatedly told that marriage is the sine qua non of existential achievements, and are socially conditioned to aspire for marriage from very young ages. 

Generations of men propagated this belief (and still do, on the basis of hegemonic patriarchal dominance), often asserting that marriage was and still is an inherently essential pursuit for women.

However, as times evolved through the ever-changing dynamics of history (ditto the classic concept of dialectics), women have gained more independence in contemporary times—and there has been a massive shift in conventional attitudes towards marriage.

One could argue that the greater majority of women, particularly those of the subaltern classes still grapple with the whims of patriarchal dominance imposed on them (constituting structural violence)—but we cannot gloss over the truism that throughout the 20th century crossing over into the 21st, women across the world have won significant, fundamental rights and freedoms through spirited feminist, anti-colonial struggles to assert their humanity and independence as humanized Subjects not dehumanized Objects.

Increasingly, women are expressing their autonomy and opting to forgo the institution of marriage altogether. 

A simple understanding of feminist intellection lays the truth of what marriage is without convoluted circumvention: With the rise of private property and surplus capital, the institution of marriage emerged as the basic production unit of the capitalist system in which women were relegated to second-class citizenship; burdened with childbirth and housework under the patriarchal dominance and oppression of the husband who views women and children as his property.

Patriarchy and capitalism vis-à-vis marriage

Marriage, in the context of the monogamous nuclear family, emerged as the site for the oppression of women and children by men who were simply objects of labour in the capitalist and imperialist machinery. 

Even for women who would find employment in the oppressive capitalist labor market, they suffered ‘double oppression’—that is, exploitation at the workplace and exploitation in the home.

For men shackled under patriarchal social conditioning, women exist to serve the whims and dictates of men. Marriage is the avenue to this state of affairs. The entire raison d’etré for women is to be married someday, failure which they are subjected to all sorts of derision, marginalization, and exploitation.

The logic goes like this: Men spent generations telling the world that marriage is for women and that men are pressured to be married, but when women say “yeah, we don’t want to get married anymore,” suddenly it’s “women are being brainwashed.” (See this tweet for more details.)

What is marriage, its history and types, new marriage laws in Zimbabwe

Some women are choosing to forgo marriage. Or, if they were previously married and opted out of that particular marriage, they do not find it worthwhile to pursue another marriage. 

Surprisingly, this choice has triggered a plethora of both sensible and sheer dead-end debates; and has sparked accusations of women being brainwashed (but brainwashed by who, really, by what forces?) Let’s delve into this topic a bit and explore the dynamics at play.

Throughout history, marriage has been chiefly tied to societal expectations placed on women. 

And such expectations are borne out of patriarchal thinking, inextricably tied to notions of imperialism, white supremacy, the dichotomy between inferiority and superiority complexes, racism, religion, capitalism, and traditional cultural practices.

Women were often seen as the homemakers, raising children and nurturing the family unit. 

However (as previously highlighted in the preceding paragraphs that women have won notable rights and freedoms through the course of modern history), women have since pursued higher education, entered the workforce, improved their self-perception and esteem; and as they have expanded their horizons, the narrative around marriage has conspicuously and massively transformed.

Historical changes and the changing face of marriage

Women are now free to pursue their dreams and choose their own paths, including whether or not to get married. 

Important to note is that in modern times, women can now own their property without the need of the husband or any man perceived to be her “major” being involved. The majority status that women won cannot be reversed, even if vast sections of conservative men wish for the opposite.

The decision by some women to eschew marriage is not indicative of a societal brainwashing. Instead, it’s a reflection of changing priorities and a desire for personal fulfillment. It is women realizing that men and women are equal human beings, and society ought to operate with this in mind. 

Men are not above women by dint of perceived gender, racial, or class superiority. Women are now more confident and capable of making independent decisions about their lives. They question whether entering a marriage is the sole route to happiness and fulfillment, rather than accepting it as a societal expectation.

Unfortunately, the greater majority of society has not universally embraced this shift in women’s attitudes towards marriage; with many hell bent on maintaining their intransigent conservative views that exude insufferable levels of bigotry.

Some individuals, often influenced by deep-seated patriarchal and traditional beliefs, mistakenly perceive women making this choice as being brainwashed or influenced by external forces. They fail to realize that the same forces that oppress and exploit women are the same forces that exploit them.

Since they are socially conditioned to accept the status quo as natural and universal—as a given—they lack the articulation and capability to fight against these forces that oppress all human beings across the face of the earth. Hence they oppress and exploit women.

This reaction undermines the agency of women to make informed, independent decisions and perpetuates outdated gender roles. And this is why marriage, bedeviled by record-breaking divorce cases and other horrendous atrocities, is becoming less fashionable. 

It is not due to any brainwashing; these are simply historical factors at play. Again, ditto the concept of dialectics—dialectical and historical materialism. Nothing ever remains the same. Society is constantly undergoing changes due to the underlying contradictions at play.

Double standards at play

Interestingly, no such accusations are hurled at men who choose not to marry. Society has long accepted the idea that some men may prefer a life without marriage, focusing on their careers or personal aspirations. 

This discrepancy highlights a lingering gender bias and a double standard that women continue to confront. It is a menacing patriarchal attitude that obstinately refuses to wither away into oblivion.

Instead of seeing the choice to forgo marriage as a problem, society should acknowledge it as an indication of progress concerning women’s autonomy. 

It boldly represents their empowerment and the recognition that women possess the wherewithal to determine their own destinies, free from societal pressure. 

This current phenomenon presents humanity with the inescapable chance to radically change the ways we view marriage so that we gesture towards partnerships that reflect equality, co-operation, solidarity, humanism, and transformative love.

The way forward? Dismantle ‘The Patriarchy’ and all regressive societal structures

It is time to reframe the narrative surrounding women’s choices about marriage. Instead of labeling women as brainwashed or misguided, we should celebrate their autonomy and support their decisions. 

This should enable us to dismantle capitalist patriarchal beliefs, attitudes, and practices that forestall progressive human development. 

Embracing diverse paths to happiness and fulfillment can pave the way for a more inclusive society that respects individual choices and fosters equality.

The decision by women to reevaluate marriage is not a result of brainwashing or external influences. Instead, it is a reflection of the progress women have made in society and their desire for personal fulfillment and autonomy.

We must challenge the double standards and stereotypes that persist and strive to create an environment that allows women to express their choices without undue judgment or criticism. It also means that we have to radically change our marriage laws in Zimbabwe and across the whole world so that they reflect these recommendations.

Ultimately, celebrating individuality and empowering women to make decisions that align with their personal aspirations is crucial for a truly egalitarian society. 

It is supremely important to remember, everyday of our lives, that all human beings are equal.

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