As I scrolled through my For You Page on TikTok the other day, I initially laughed at a video by Chhavi Verg. Verg was hopping on a favorite trend of mine, where TikTokers poke fun at their very serious life situations with Bo Burnham’s ominous laugh in the background. But the clip became less funny, and intensely serious, when I realized that it carried heavy undertones of oppressions—all under the guise of mocking arranged marriages on TikTok.
In a nutshell, Verg’s video was a joke—painting a (not true) picture of her parents tricking her into going to her cousin’s wedding in India, only to find out that the wedding is hers with a husband her parents picked out. After reassuring concerned commenters that the video was, in fact, a joke, other women started to come forward with their real stories of actually having been tricked into marriage by their parents. One user commented on how her cousin was taken to India under false pretences, only to be married off. Another user spoke to how her aunt was forced to marry her late sister’s husband. Laid out clearly in TikTok comments, the accidental trend started to beg the question—when do arranged marriages exceed the bounds of abuse?
Arranged marriages have held a place in society for eons and were very common throughout the world up until the 18th century. In China, arranged marriages were the norm until the mid-20th century. In Russia, they were typical until the early 20th century. Up until the first half of the 20th century, arranged marriages were even common in migrant families within the United States. Today, of course, arranged marriages are most common among Indian families.
Originally, these arrangements were made to maintain the status quo around the institution of marriage—they were intended as a respectable practice of culture and tradition in order to build strong and solid families.
In Hinduism, Indian families seek out the perfect match for their child, the marriage candidate. Sometimes, they do this themselves, or they can hire a local matchmaker. This process is rigorous, and steps are taken to track family status, possible mutual interests of the candidates, and compatibility over months or years. Once a match is established, the elders of each family meet at a neutral place to talk, assess the suitability of the match, and collect a pulse on each other’s financial and social well-being.
During these talks, the families’ elders discuss factors such as each child’s horoscope, physical stature, physical appearance, culture, caste, and religion. Then the parents of the marriage candidates meet. In this meeting, the groom’s family (as well as the groom) thoroughly inspects and interviews the bride, who is typically sitting in the middle of a room for additional compatibility inspection. If the groom’s family deems the bride suitable for their son, they will then speak to the bride’s family through the matchmaker. If all goes well, marriage talks are put on the table and solidified.
The tradition plays out a bit differently on TikTok. A quick glance at the hashtag #arrangedmarriages puts the inherent gender inequality in the botching of arranged marriages on full display. For example, one user pokes fun at a wedding clip of an Indian couple, where the bride comes off as sullen and upset, while the groom appears giddy and excited. His caption reads, “When you manage to score a bride out of your league after an arranged marriage.” Women did not take the comments lightly.
It’s disturbing that videos for DIY crafting projects exist in the same app as hashtags that encapsulate modern oppressions of women, like #arrangedmarriages does.
As we know, the overall nature of TikTok is humorous. But considering how arranged marriages are a very tangible, global threat hanging over many young womens’ heads, the topic altogether must be approached with sensitivity. The romanticizing of arranged marriage by both men and women on TikTok—who laugh it off as a joke—comes off as internalized misogyny and patriarchal conditioning.
This needs to be unlearned. The practice takes away from the agency of women and reduces them to transactional objects. So the next time TikTok users and the general public desire to talk about arranged marriages in a romanticized manner, the least they can do is put "trigger warning: arranged marriages" in their captions as it is something that genuinely triggers some young women.