A matrimonial listing in the “Brides Wanted” section in an Indian newspaper starts with these words “Professionally qualified beautiful, slim, tall, fair bride for handsome, smart…”. Fair enough, you might say. The man knows what he wants and states it quite clearly. You might not even feel a slight awkwardness if you were unaware that the bride in question could be considered fair even if she was a scam artist. For you see fairness here simply means white skin color. This is not an unusual thing. In traditional arranged Indian marriages fairness of the bride ranks high in the list of requirements.
I was recently in India on vacation and I came across this particularly cringe worthy advertisement for a new fairness cream for men.
But what about modern relationships among the current generation? As Indian society becomes slightly more liberal and more and more people have a marriage which is a result of a normal relationship, would these requirements also change? What about the educated young men of today? Maybe this is just a bias propagated in Indian society like the caste system?
The closest to a complete Indian dating site is shaadi.com. While technically a matrimonial site, it is used as dating site by the more liberal Indians. I thought it would be interesting to see if this bias for fairness could be found among Indians living in the US too.
PrettySweetGirl and SnowWhitePrincess
I created almost identical profiles of two 25 year old girls living in the US seeking someone also in the US. I gave them both bachelor’s degrees in travel and tourism, and settled both of them down in New York city. I also gave them some very unimaginative and dull descriptions.
PrettySweetGirl says “I am a very beautiful, intelligent girl looking for her handsome prince in shining armor. He should be caring, loving and intelligent. I am a fashionable and modern girl who keeps up to the latest fashions. I expect him to be also up to date and cool like me. I lie laughing, movies, reading and music.”
SnowWhitePrincess says “I am a very fair and beautiful girl who is looking for her Prince charming. I like to laugh, dance, watch movies and enjoy life. I am looking for stylish guy who is aware of fashion trends and knows the latest info about such things. He should be a cool like I am and be very serious about marriage.”
One of the attributes for profiles on this website is ‘complexion’. It cannot be left blank or unspecified. It has to be set to one of ‘Very Fair’, ‘Fair’, ‘Wheatish’, ‘Wheatish Medium’, ‘Wheatish Brown’, and ‘Dark’. So, I set SnowWhitePrincess to be ‘Very Fair’, and I set PrettySweetGirl to be ‘Dark’
I tried to make PrettySweetGirl more desirable by giving her interesting hobbies/interests and also making her a reader.
Hobbies : Dancing, Painting / Drawing, Singing
Interests : Movies, Museums / Galleries / Exhibitions, Technology
Favorite Reads : Love reading almost anything
On the other hand, SnowWhitePrincess was not a reader and also not too bright as you can tell from her hobbies.
Hobbies : Astrology / Palmistry / Numerology, Graphology
Favorite Reads : Not much of a reader
I also had SnowWhitePrincess sit at home doing nothing, while PrettySweetGirl was an Advertising Professional!
The Results (In almost the same amount of time)
Number of profile views: SnowWhitePrincess – 345, PrettySweetGirl – 100
This disparity is because the complexion is one of the criteria that can be set when searching. The fact that less than a third of men viewed PrettySweetGirl indicates that they had set their search preferences to not list girls that have a dark complexion.
Interests I received: SnowWhitePrincess – 64, PrettySweetGirl – 16
So, PrettySweetGirl loses out big time despite her interests in the arts and literature and having a career. A clear indication of the traditional bias for skin color carrying over in modern times. Now technically it’s not quite racism, since Indians of the same race can have different skin colors. Maybe it could be called Epidermicism.
I don’t want to make a simple judgment of racism in this post, as it is a very complex topic with a lot of things to consider. Skin color is not the only distinguishing racial characteristic. Bone structure, and other anatomical features may also be different. In addition, the preference for fairer skin is almost always restricted to amongst those from the same caste, culture, religion, or country, and these usually take precedence over it, which means a darker girl will be preferred over a much fairer girl from another unacceptable caste, community, or religion. Non-Indian Caucasian mates are usually not even an option despite their greater degree of ‘fairness’.
So, you can draw your own conclusions from this experiment. I think it is certainly a valid experiment, given that both the girls were identical in almost everything except for the biases I deliberately introduced. It would be interesting to perform the reverse experiment and see if the girls also have this bias. The results of that would certainly validate or invalidate the above advertisement.
The dark lining in the silver cloud
Some of us like rain too. So if you’re someone like me whose dictionary entry for fairness is unencumbered by biological terms like the epidermis, then the good news is there is much less competition for these ‘unfair’ girls.