Friday, July 30, 2010

Love and marriage in 1962 and 2010

Many young people today may not understand the unions arranged by match-makers. Picture by Ahmad Kushairi.  

I am doing some research on a project which entails going through back issues of the The Straits Times in 1962.

As I scrolled through the 1962 articles (which have been stored in microfilm) at the NSTP Resource Centre yesterday, an article by Esme Baptista (Vital questions for a girl about to wed) caught my eye.

It was on Page 12 (The Straits Times, September 4, 1962) and the strap line read MAINLY FOR WOMEN. Baptista wrote for urban women in Malaya including Singapore and her article referred to changing attitudes towards marriage in the East at the time.

Young Malayan women were then beginning to discover the freedom to choose the men they want to love and marry.

Arranged nuptials were no longer the only option for them, and, as noted by Baptista, "unions arranged by match-makers are becoming fewer".

Parents in independent Malaya must take into account the realities of the time. "However 'modern' some parents may think themselves, they still do not always understand their daughters are able to think and decide for themselves," wrote Baptista.

Even so, she cautioned young women against making hasty decisions.

"Marriage like other careers calls for some preparation. But the important qualification can be summed up in one word: commonsense", she wrote.

She offered a list of questions for those contemplating marriage (see below). "When you have answered those questions you will have some idea whether you are ready to take the plunge. Marriage at any age is a question of having the right attitude, the right aptitude and the right man."

  • Are you prepared to submerge your existence in that of another?
  • Is it infatuation? If in doubt, give your love the test of time.
  • Are you fully aware of responsibilities of bringing up a family?
  • Will you relish the prospect of being a maid-of-all-work, and expect nothing in return?
  • Can you go through domestic troubles for the sake of a man who will very seldom re-affirm his love in the way you are always longing to hear from him?
Baptista's list is relevant now as it was then. Parents today are still asking their children, who want to tie the knot, the same questions.

Malaya in 1962 -- five years into independence -- was in the throes of evolutionary change. And this was true of social and cultural life too.

The more developed outside world was talking about the advancement of "science, free speech, the acceptance of divorce, jet travel, the bomb, materialism in life and 'realism' in the arts and the uncensored use of four-lettered words" (The Square Generation, Anne Scott-James, The Straits Times, September 3, 1962).

It was against this backdrop of bewildering changes or progress, depending on your viewpoint, that Baptista reminded Malayan parents "that they are living in an age different from that in which they spent their young life". 

Young Malaya was making the transition from jungle and undeveloped areas to a nation exploring its place in the international community.

We are now going into the eighth month of 2010 and we will be celebrating 53 years of independence on August 31.

Yet our concerns about love and matrimony remain the same. And that is the whole point of this post.

Parents continue to suffer from anxiety about their children's well-being. There is cause for concern. Stories of people, who have had a series of miserable relationships, are fodder for the gossip files.

What do parents do when their daughters want to marry cads or men 25 years their senior or men of different races and religions. What happens when they opt for same-sex marriage and refuse to mull it over before making a decision? What about those who declare that they are not the marrying kind?

Baptista's list of questions is a telling comment on the state of love and marriage then and now.

Malayan women in 1962 and Malaysian women in 2010 want pretty much the same things from their relationships. Look at Baptista's list again.

I wonder if the journalist had crafted the questions based on  her personal experiences or her observations of relationships between women and men in Malaya? Perhaps it was a combination of both.

I have my own questions.

How did young women and men in early Malaya conduct their courtship? Where did they go for dates? Was premarital sex common? P. Ramlee movies offer a fascinating glimpse into life in that era.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that virginity was a prized asset then although I have heard stories that showed that this was not altogether true.

Independent Malaya was largely jungle back then; that presented plenty of opportunities for secret meetings between lovers.

Most of the jungle had made way for villages, new towns which later became cities, farms, factories, shopping malls, residential areas, among others, and I guess that's why young couples in this day and age do it openly, if guest blogger Jehan Mohd's comments are any indication.

"Virginity seems to be a non-issue nowadays. You have 12-year-olds giving it up to any Tom, Dick and Harry who ask for it. I find it disturbing," she says.

As young girls, Jehan -- who recently celebrated her 31st birthday -- and her sisters had it drummed into them that they should never have sex outside of marriage no matter how they felt about the boys they were dating.

Since marriage is a selective process Baptista's check-list is required reading for those thinking about getting hitched.

2 comments:

justmytwocents said...

I think many women fear tying the knot for various reasons. First, the cold and harsh truth that men are at the other end of the spectrum compared to women when it comes to not just expressing love and affection in words but also actions. Many of our men don't hold their wives' hands because they think such romantic act should be done at home or in bed and it's never meant for publc consumption. The truth is, sadly, behind the closed door of home, it doesn't happen either so why waste your time and energy loving someone when you get next to nothing in return? My good friend spent the last 10 years living with her boyfriend and he doesn't like to be held! Whenever she rests her head on his shoulder, he would push it away. He was not like that in the honeymoon period of their relationship. The second reason, I feel, is the fear of being left with nothing. Marriage is a roller coaster. It's a bit like gambling, only worse because you not only lose your source of money if your husband leaves you for fuller, younger lips and smooth foreheads sans frown lines, but also possibly a roof over your head. I'm not generalizing because it would oversimplify this issue but haven't you read or heard about women who were divorced or God forbid, had their husbands went MIA? These victims usually are non-working women who failed to smell the trouble brewing. Again, this is just my two cents as my nickname reads. I'm not against marriage. I think marriage is a wonderful union of two hearts who are committed to be with each other forever. The intention should be purely and solely out of love, not money or using the spouse as a stepping stone or desperate that your age is catching up and you think your life is getting nowhere. Much thought should be put into deciding the right path to choose.

Faezah Ismail said...

Thank you for a wonderfully crafted response. I am deeply moved by your observations.