Today I realized that five years ago, my mother-in-law valued me at $10,000.00.
Louisa Lim’s piece on NPR, For Chinese Women, Marriage Depends On Right Bride Price, sheds light on that seemingly arbitrary check I received before my wedding day.
Can’t really fault the Chinese. It’s evolutionary survival in its purest form. Today it isn’t about finding the biggest, strongest man who can hunt lions for you. It’s about finding the richest man who can buy you apartments in Shanghai and Louis Vuitton bags. Lim’s piece provides a great portrayal of a Chinese wedding. The groom and groomsmen are expected to “bribe” their way in to pick up the bride before heading off to the ceremony. Red envelopes flutter between hands before the bride will emerge and allow the groom to escort her to his parents, who will then adorn her forearms with as much gold as they can afford. Too little gold and the groom’s family loses face for being poor. The bride better leave that place with gorilla arms anchored down by the weight of gaudy bling.
I did not partake in any of that and had the most simple of wedding ceremonies at city hall, but a few days before our big day, I received a check from my mother-in-law made out to my family’s name and me for $10,000.00. Personally I thought that was a ridiculously large amount of money to give to someone as a wedding present and refused it. I handed the check to the hubby and said here, do something about that. I don’t want it. That was the end of that. I never thought about it again.
Until today when I read Lim’s piece and it all made sense why I got the check in the first place. I was being bought.
The bride-to-be in Lim’s story, Lucy Wang, was worth $11,000.00 to her husband’s family, and she complained, “that’s hardly anything.” Yikes. And to think I thought 10K was beyond reason. For an attorney in the venture capital business who is constantly negotiating upwards million dollar acquisitions and deals, you would think I would have had the savvy to negotiate a better bride price for myself than 10K. Alas I did not.
Well, Chinese brides-to-be, it’s a bit late for me now, but not for you, my dearies. Before saying, “I do,” think about the times your mother-in-law will insert herself into your life, how she’ll treat you like her rival for the attention of her son, how she’ll nag you about grandchildren, how his family will expect you to be superwoman, holding down a professional full-time career and cook and clean and make babies, yet you’ll still be treated like a second-class servant in the family (yes, even today, in the 21st century), never spoken to unless the mother-in-law needs you to do something for her, and expected to fork over a monthly stipend to your in-laws because your husband is expected to show filial piety.
Think hard, my Chinese brides-to-be, on how you would value that lifetime of pain and suffering. What is your tolerance for the Chinese monster-in-law worth? How much do you want upfront before the big day to offset the total monthly stipends you’ll be sending your in-laws after marriage? $10,000.00? Let me tell you now you will send much more than that to them within one year’s time. $11,000.00? Not going to cover the brand new SUV the monster-in-law pressures your hubby to buy for her. Would perhaps some poshy real estate and a Ferrari maybe begin to compensate you for the pain and suffering to come?
I’m not happy with the way Lim vilifies Chinese women here. The flutter and barter over red envelopes before the wedding is part of a long tradition in the Chinese culture, so it isn’t the strictly capitalistic transaction she’s making it sound like. Granted it’s a bit hokey and weird from the American’s perspective, but it’s not the gold-digging that the article implies it to be. Sure it’s objectifying and commodifying the woman, but so is the Western white wedding where every aspect of expenditures for the event is about how to make the bride look pretty and pure. No one is ooh-ing and ahh-ing the groom. It’s all about making the bride look like a floral centerpiece. If that isn’t objectifying a woman, what is?
As for the “bride price,” back when I had no clue what the $10,000.00 check was, I did think it was ridiculous and refused it. But now in retrospect, after enduring the monster-in-law and the horrid in-law family, I’m thinking I acted a bit too hasty. Should have gone back to the table to renegotiate up at least one more zero.
Ladies, think about the pain and suffering you wil endure at the hands of those Chinese in-laws. What is the price of your sanity? Lucy Wang got it right. $11,000.00 is “hardly anything.”