Questioning Marriage As The 'Defining Factor' of Womanhood

Have you ever had one of those moments where it feels like you’ve discovered something at exactly the right time, something that resonates with you deeply? For me, this happens to be a YouTube docu-series called ‘Timelines’ hosted by investigative journalist Katie Couric in partnership with Japanese cosmetics brand, SK-II.   

This visually stunning docu-series follows the lives of four women who feel enormous societal, peer and parental pressure to have their lives unfold according to traditional timelines, including marriage, “safe” jobs and of course- children. These women are from all walks of life but share the “generational conflict” with loved ones as they have no desire to follow an orthodox timeline but rather, create their own paths pursuing dreams, career goals and self-love. Seeing them go about life so boldly on their own terms, I couldn’t help but feel completely inspired. 

In each episode, Katie Couric interviews the women and their loved ones who are concerned for their futures in an attempt to show them that there are many different ways to live. “I think other people’s expectations are the biggest restrictions for you'', says Chun Xia, an interviewee from Shangai. The interviewees get the chance to have two ‘timelines’ placed before their eyes- one of a linear structure representing other people’s expectations and one unstructured timeline representing the women’s personal aspirations. The aspiration timelines often include themes of self-improvement and freedom of choice. The women and their loved ones then confront each timeline together and share a moment of vulnerability (side-note: you may need a tissue or two for this part). 

In a time where it feels like practically every second social media post is an engagement or pregnancy announcement, this docu-series was incredibly refreshing to witness. While those milestones are incredible for the women who choose those paths, there are still so many who are condemned for choosing others or not having that life happen for them. It comes as no surprise that from a young age, women are conditioned to aspire to these big milestones like a checklist that should be ticked off by a certain age. This kind of pressure can begin to loom over us like a dark cloud. Whether you believe in the traditional timeline of life or not, you can still subconsciously feel like time is running out, because there always seems to be people ready to question your intentions to “settle down.” Maluca, an interviewee from New York denounces that idea, saying “we have this way of thinking, that we have to meet “the one”, and if we don’t meet “the one”, what are we here for?” 

Older generations generally seem to be set on these sentiments and it can be incredibly frustrating to see women who have achieved amazing things in their lives get diminished to “but is she married with children though?” Chun Xia sums it up quite nicely, saying “The older generation’s understanding of life is that happiness is equal to marriage.” Maina, an interviewee from Tokyo shared similar understandings, saying that women in Japan “who can’t get married by the age of 25 or 30 may be labelled as unsold goods.” As if everything we have going for us as human beings gets tossed out like sour milk if we are not married. 

These women show us how happiness and satisfaction in life can be achieved on your own and there is absolutely no misery in that. The structured timeline and marriage pressure for women is a conversation I definitely feel needs to be had more often until women who decide to take a different path in their lives are normalised. In the powerful words of Maluca, “I don’t feel like [marriage] defines who I am as a woman and as a human [...] I choose my purpose.”