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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Marriages’

One of my previous posts “The Fairness Doctrine?” was taken by Kinjal Dagli of Hindustan times and published as part of her article “Women are a shade better”.

Which means I’m in print in a national newspaper!

The part related to my post is almost the exactly the way I had written it. I did notice a minor change made. I had said “SnowWhitePrincess was not a reader and also not too bright as you can tell from her hobbies – Astrology / Palmistry / Numerology, Graphology”. This was changed to “SnowWhitePrincess’s interests were restricted to Astrology and Palmistry.” Objectively, rationally, of course, astrology is nonsense, so I presume the reason was so as to not cause offense.

You can click on the image to view the article in full size.

Women are a shade better.

Some other notes I wrote for the article.

I still remember some bits of the “fair and lovely” advertisements from back when I was a kid in Bombay. Being a cricket-playing Bombay boy, such girly stuff naturally did not penetrate my mind, and I never thought about it in any detail. I remember some pictures of the girl turning fairer and with more glow spreading across the skin as an arc swept round her face. But as far as I remember, it never seemed to imply that you could not get a man if you did not use “fair and lovely”.

And then thousands of “fair and lovely” advertisements later, it’s 2007, and I’m in the US. Barack Obama launches his presidential bid, and Emami launches “fair and handsome”. Because of its history of slavery, race is a very sensitive topic in the US. The history is between whites and blacks, and unlike India, there are no shades of brown in between them. The thought of such an ad in the US finally hammered in the meaning of the phrase ‘culture shock’ into me, which I had never really experienced. Funnily enough, the shock came from the Indian side. I’m pretty sure such an ad over here would cause a huge uproar and immediate disapproval.

Then Obama became president-elect, and I went on vacation to India. Something stuck in my head despite all the drama of the terrorist attacks.

Then last month, I started reading and listening to Arundhati Roy. This was the first female celebrity who made me feel like a teen feels about rock stars. And then I came across this in her writings “All I wanted to do was to escape, to get out, to never have to marry somebody there. Of course, they were not dying to marry me [laughs]. I was the worst thing a girl could be: thin, black, and clever.”

That really set me thinking. Through the haze of my memories of the Bombay trip, I remembered something about fair and handsome. So I looked it up and found the ad that I’ve posted in my blog. My first emotion was the fear of embarrassment that, as an Indian, I might be in perceived in some way to be like the people in this ad. The ad is not only offensive to dark skinned men, but also women. Are all Indian women so shallow that they’ll go nuts over the same guy they didn’t look at earlier simply because he’s now a shade lighter?

Other memories came to me. The first girl I liked in high school was dark and I remember very vividly an incident when we had a very dark skinned teacher come in. One of the students made fun of her, “Your brother is here from Africa”. I remember my surprise at being told, “But she’s not that fair”, when I told a distant relative that I thought Kajol was the prettiest Indian actress. So I knew this was prevalent in India.

A few months ago I was once out with a some guys over here in the US. I pointed out an African-American girl and said that she looked cute. His response was that she was black. Ironically, the only person who could have told this guy’s skin color apart from that of the girl is probably the “Mera wala pink” lady from the Asian paints (Or is it Nerolac?) ads.

So that made me curious. Would guys living in the US also have this bias? Surely men living in the vast cultural mix that is America could not be so narrow minded? Especially, since we are the minority. So it seemed an interesting and simple enough test to do and make into another blog post. Which, by the way is also a big motivation, since I enjoy writing.

The Reasons?

As far as the skin color preference goes, there are various possibilities. One is that people who show this bias may find fair skin more sexually attractive. This would be purely biological, and if so, there would be nothing wrong with that. Though, I wonder if they’ve thought through the fact that they might have to spend some time out of the bedroom too.  But then again, the fact that parents also show this preference goes against this being a sole reason, if at all. Also, obviously, not all women of one color are more attractive than all women of another. And I doubt that just one feature i.e the skin color could be such a huge factor in sexual attraction.

So maybe it’s social conditioning that causes this bias. In India, we notice that the poor on the streets are almost always dark skinned. Also a myriad of other oppressed people like Dalits, untouchables, and SC tend to be dark skinned. This association of dark skin with real poverty and artificial inferiority could also be a reason. There may also be some prejudices left over from the era of British rule. Being ruled over by white people might have caused an inferiority complex that might still persist despite the many thrashings of the English cricket team by the Indian. Maybe the excuse is that our team does not play fairly enough?

And then, the very perception that fairer skin is attached to superior people could also make it more desirable.

So if it’s such a social conditioning, it could be called a meme. A meme comprises a unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices; such units or elements transmit from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.

So if people really believe in this, then fair people will tend to marry other fair people and they will propagate this idea to their next ‘fair’ generation which will also marry only fair people, and so this meme survives and continues down generations propagating itself and the fairness genes (The real things responsible for skin color) too.

More info on memes here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme

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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?

An Experiment

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.

The Test

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’

The Biases

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.

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