The Times Online article "Show us your loo before you woo, Indian men are told" reports a new wrinkle in the mating dance:
Courtship can be an intricate business in India, but the mothers of the northern state of Haryana have a simple message for men who call on their daughters: "No toilet, no bride."
The slogan - often lengthened in Hindi to "If you don't have a proper lavatory in your house, don't even think about marrying my daughter" - has been plastered across villages in the region as part of a drive to boost the number of pukka facilities. In a country where more households have TV sets than lavatories, it is one of the most successful efforts to combat the chronic shortage of proper plumbing.
Much like the World Toilet Organization's efforts to develop lavatories for water-short regions of the world, this is an extremely worthwhile effort. Proper sanitary toilet facilities contribute greatly to public health and in particular to maternal health just before and after childbirth.
A pregnant woman walks the valley of the shadow of death anyway; sensible mothers want to be sure that their daughters will have the best possible chance to survive pregnancy and childbirth. Insisting that the groom provide a toilet along with a house is a good start.
Lower-income women are gaining leverage in premarital bargaining because India has about 8% more men than women, and we're beginning to see the same choosiness once reserved for daughters of better-off folks. In "Ineligible Bachelors: Indian Men Living in U.S. Strike Out," the Wall Street Journal reports:
Vikas Marwaha would normally be considered a good catch by Indian parents seeking a husband for their daughter. The 27-year-old software engineer earns $80,000 to $100,000 a year and comes from a family "of doctors and engineers," according to his profile on a matrimonial Web site.
But Mr. Marwaha works for a start-up Internet phone company in San Francisco. And because the U.S. economy is wobbly, that's a problem. Many Indian parents now are balking at sending their daughters to the U.S. to marry.
Indian women are becoming more independent as India becomes richer:
Anisha Seth, 26, has been looking for a groom for two years now. But she feels "jittery" about considering nonresident Indians as possible options.
Ms. Seth says that if she were to move to the U.S. or to another developed country, she might not get a job quickly and would have to be dependent on her husband for a while. While she's open to the idea of giving up her independence, she worries that given the state of the U.S. economy, a groom based in America might not be earning enough to support her. For instance, Ms. Seth says she likes nice clothes and would like to have a flat-screen TV. "Is he really prepared to provide the kind of lifestyle that I have right now?" She expects a husband to earn more than she does.
Feminine concerns about a prospective husband's income are nothing new and are not limited to Indian women, of course. The Telegraph reports:
Men who drive expensive cars really are more attractive to women, according to a study by university researchers.
Dr Dunn said his findings confirmed that women judge a man by his wealth and status whereas men are primarily concerned with what a woman looks like.
"Females focus on questions of wealth and status because if the male possesses those, that male would be in a better condition to rear healthy offspring." [emphasis added]
There is nothing the least bit sexist or predatory about any of this behavior: Men and women act in precisely the way that natural selection drives them so as to maximize their reproductive success.
For most of human history, a woman had to nurse each child for at least a year after birth. Carrying a crying baby around made it impossible for her to hunt and the energy demands of making milk made it difficult for a woman to farm. For thousands of years, a woman maximized her chances of reproductive success by affiliating herself with a wealthy, high-status male who could afford to feed her and her children.
It wasn't essential that her husband be particularly healthy because she could find a stronger, more virile male to get her pregnant at the right time. Being associated with a man meant he had to feed her, but didn't necessarily mean she'd bear his children. Natural selection figured this out a long time ago, of course; men are selected to be possessive, jealous, and to hire eunuch harem guards if at all possible.
Men care about a woman's appearance because clear skin and a symmetrical, reasonably voluptuous figure are signs of good health. Given that a man had to assume the cost of supporting a woman, he's better off in terms of passing along his genes if she's healthy. A woman's fertility correlates with her health; a good-looking woman is apt to give him more children.
The mating dance is simplicity itself - the best-looking women end up with the wealthiest men. In lower-income parts of India, a wealthier man not only provides better, giving his wife a toilet improves her health and her ability to survive childbirth. The better looking she is, the better marriage bargain her parents can negotiate and the more children she'll be able to raise.
Further up the scale, women are realizing that if a husband loses a job, being where she can get help from her parents is better than being stuck in America where she'd have to clean her own toilet instead of hiring someone to clean it for her.
We make a huge fuss about the complexities of the mating dance, but it's simplicity itself - the richest men get the prettiest women - always has been, always will be. Or is it vice-versa?