Weddings should be a simple and sincere celebration of two people coming together in holy matrimony, but more often than not, traditions, reputation, and superstitions (that most of us don’t even believe in) take precedence.
We all have our fair share of woes in complicated wedding procedures that we honestly wish we can do away with. Thankfully, modern Singaporeans have simplified some of the must-dos – now we can present a can of pigs’ trotters instead of a whole roasted pig to our Chinese in-laws. However, the practice of giving cash dowries hasn’t gotten the same update and is one of the few wedding traditions that has not progressed with time.
Traditionally, because women join their husband’s family upon marriage, the dowry is used to compensate the bride’s family for raising their daughter well and ‘giving her away’. Another common practice is where a dowry is given to the groom’s family as financial relief for future costs incurred from taking care of the new wife. Regardless, the idea is the same: a dowry is given as a remuneration of sorts.
Since Singaporean men and women have equal rights to education and career opportunities, and that both husband and wife are free to visit their families even after marriage (considering the idea of ‘giving the daughters away’), there is no longer a need to ‘reimburse’ any party in the marriage.
The giving of dowries should be an obsolete practice then. So why do older generations still insist on keeping this tradition?
“It’s Not About Money!”
It’s common courtesy for the side receiving the dowry to return part of it in cash or by covering some of the wedding expenses. Ultimately, most of the money is given back or used to benefit the couple so arguably it isn’t about how much, but rather a matter of staying rooted in our culture.
With that said, a token sum of $50 should suffice to pass on the dowry for tradition’s sake, but you still hear exorbitant numbers being thrown around.
“Where got daughter worth $50 one?”
If all children are priceless, $100,000 won’t justify the worth of one’s daughter either. Only items sold in a business have a price tag justifying its worth.
If we put a price on our daughter’s hand in marriage, we’re taking a huge step back in time, undoing all the efforts made to empower the women of today. In a way, the ‘bride’s price’ objectifies women and it should never be an accurate representation of someone’s worth.
In the case where grooms pay the dowry, an expensive one can only be justified if daughters are perceived to be more precious and valued than sons – where true love and sincerity alone is considered a ‘low ball price’ for marrying a woman. Has the feminist movement tipped the scales of equality in their favour or is it just a money making opportunity?
Millennials we reached out to unanimously agreed that dowries place unnecessary stress on engaged couples. We’ve even heard of couples who had to cut back on their ideal wedding budget or loan money from their parents to afford the dowry. In worst case scenarios, wedding planning becomes a failed business deal and both families end up falling out – just because of dowries.
Clearly, the dowry only benefits one party. I thought no one would want to pay money in the name of tradition – I was wrong.
For some, being able to afford the expensive tradition gives a sense of pride because it reflects status and wealth. And for wealthier families that can actually afford, most pay for they fear ‘losing face’.
Compared to an expensive dowry, having a good job, a healthy bank balance, and properties under your name would be a better gauge of one’s net worth and financial independence. Even if one has millions to spare, paying the dowry shouldn’t be a platform to boast about your wealth anyway.
As newlyweds, there are so many better ways to spend money, like furnishing your new home or saving for your first child.
Then, there are those concerns tying the uncorroborated link between a dowry and it’s importance in the future of a marriage:
“If I don’t pay the dowry, they might treat my daughter poorly.”
Ultimately, like our chou chou, a comforting pillow we hug or smell to feel safe, the dowry is a false sense of security we cling onto.
If someone is innately a violent person or lacks the courage to stand up for his wife, no amount of money can change that. You can only trust your daughter’s choice in your son-in-law and her strength to walk away if things turn sour, or trust in the Singapore law to protect her.
“If anything bad happens to my son-in-law or if he runs away with another woman, I can use the dowry money to help my daughter.”
Where’s the safety deposit in case something happens to your daughter or if she runs off with another man? We act as if women are always the victim of toxic relationships even though we’ve all heard our fair share of nightmarish girlfriends, but that’s a story for another time.
In Singapore, the various laws and rules that enable women to achieve just as much as men makes it easy to forget that gender equality runs deeper than just equal opportunities. It’s about our perception of women. We still think females are weak and emotional beings with the inability to cope when things go south despite the many single mother success stories. The number of dual income families has not help us outgrow the concept of men being the sole breadwinner either.
Dowries are proof of our wayward thinking despite equal opportunities. It is through subtle things like this that tells of how we still can’t see a woman as an equal to her male counterpart. We are hindered by the inertia of tradition.
There is no logical reason to pass this custom onto the next generation. Instead of expensive dowry gifts, I vote for a more meaningful use of money – a bigger to help kick start the newlywed’s lives together.