Saturday, May 03, 2008

I Do - but I have a really good excuse

A commentary on marriage and feminism
by guest blogger Adrienne

Recently, I became engaged. After a life time of basically eschewing marriage and four years of blatantly telling my partner that I was not interested in creating a legal union with him, he proposed to me on a snowy March morning and I accepted, cried, giggled, and put my arms around the man who I am hoping will be the only man that I ever accept a proposal from.

I've never thought very highly of marriage—even as a young girl, before I could have really considered myself a feminist—I didn't really think it was that good of an idea. That is probably due, at least in part, to the volatile example that I had from my own parents, who have been married for 30 years and love/hate each other fiercely, every day that I've known them. Once, when my partner and I were fighting, my dad gave him this advice: "Here is how I've stayed married for 30 years. When she tells you to get the hell out, don't."

It isn't really that I had any thoughts that I would be single for my entire life. I thought that eventually, at some point, I would probably settle down in a monogamous relationship with someone—it just so happens that my partner turned out to be a man, I think to a lot of people's surprise and maybe a little bit my own—which is one reason that I never thought I'd be getting married. As someone who identifies strongly with the LGBT community, I didn't want to participate or patronize an industry that is exclusive to heteros. Although, I did giggle at the very non-PC comment made by Dolly Parton, who said that we should legalize gay marriage so that they can go through hell along with the rest of us.

Likewise, I don't really understand what a wedding is for. The image of the triumphant bride and the defeated groom doesn't do anything for me.

Like, "Whee—lookit! Trapped him!" While the groom shuffles his feet nervously and goes out binge drinking with his buddies 'ONE LAST TIME' (as if after we get married I am going to lock him up in our basement) and asking strippers for marital advice. How could I possibly funnel all my energy and excitement into the ultimate goal of, as an ex-virgin, wearing a white dress, surrounded by my ladies-in-waiting, all giggly and holding their overpriced calla lilies to symbolize virtue while I get married to the man I've been living with—in open sin—off and on for the last four years? What is there to look for post-wedding? Then I can funnel all my energy into being a brood mare and putting my career aspirations on hold in order to push out babies? Crude, maybe, but come on. The minute we step off the plane from the honeymoon everyone's going to be asking when we're having babies. Not bloody soon.

And, ergo—what is a MARRIAGE for? At times I find myself staring down the next 50 years of my life, living up to expectations of what a 'wife' is supposed to do, like have dinner ready at 6 and drive the kids to and from soccer practice and help them with their homework while Hubby watches sport center in the next room, being blamed for any inadequacies in my children or husband's appearance, grooming, and nutrition—I've even seen women blame each other for how RUDE their husband is-- constantly explaining that yes, I am married, and yes, I kept my maiden name, yes my husband is okay with that and no, I didn't really have to convince him.

Not to mention the guilty pleasure of NOT and daring other feminists to try to vote me off the island (which WILL happen once I'm married, for some).

Sometimes I feel like feminism is just an endless pissing contest—who can outdo the others dedication to 'the cause.' By getting married, what am I saying to 'the movement'? Am I setting back years of women's lib by wanting to be pampered for a day and spending an obscene amount of money on it? Am I setting it back any more than I do accidentally every other day of my life, but randomly doing or not doing things that I don't see as being significant until I find out later that, indeed, they were? Yuck. The only problem with feminism is feminists. Sometimes it seems like no matter what I do I'm setting back the movement in some way.

So now why, after all that, have I decided to go ahead and get married?

Well… I guess I don't really have one good excuse, I have a lot of bad ones that I

can hold up to make at least a flimsy one.
My partner really wanted to. He felt that it was important for financial reasons and that it would streamline the process of buying cars, buying houses, getting loans, etc. If something should happen to him, or me, where would death benefits end up if we don't have any kids? I get way better health insurance at my job than he does, but I can't put him on mine until we're married. Guiltily, we both knew that our parents—and more so, our respective grandparents to whom we are both very close—wanted us to. The general feeling about marriage is one of security and (iffy) permanence.

But, mostly, it was important to him that our children have the security of knowing that their parents fell in love with each other and married for love, and that children came later. He felt that if we didn't get married, our kids might always wonder if we were going to break up. My dad, always with his wit and wisdom, agreed, saying that if they hadn't been married, it would have been much easier to break up. A divorce—even though it is getting easier and easier these days to obtain—is so much messier than two cohabitants just walking away from each other.

And, at the end of the day, I found my soul mate. I don't feel like I need to marry him, or like he will leave me if I don't, or that I will be viewed as a loose woman if I don't. I don't feel like marrying him is going to set me up to be on easy street, or that marrying him will mean that something about my status in this world will dramatically change (in fact, we're still planning on splitting our house with roommates until we have kids. Pays the mortgage MUCH easier).

I decided to look at the wedding and marriage more as a party, and less as a ceremony, more as my partner and I wanting our friends and family to be a part of our journey and to know that they are part of our relationship and part of the reason that we love each other. We don't want to be the focus at our wedding, we want it to be a communal gathering of people that are important to us so that we can all meet and hang out. We want the 'marriage' to be more a statement of commitment than a legal bonding union—which we know is just semantics, but it changed how I viewed the wedding and marriage.

I admit, I am incredibly lucky to have a partner who I truly feel that if I had held out and said that we were never getting married, would have gone on cohabitating with me until the end of our days. And I'm even more lucky that he could care less about what traditions we choose to uphold at our ceremony, and/or marriage.

As I've said on numerous occasions, feminism is all about choices. CHOICE is the ultimate trump card to be used in every discussion of feminism: I do-because I can. I live in a time and place where, because of the movement, I can choose to get married or not too, I can choose to have children and have them keep my name or take his, he can take my name if he wants to. It isn't setting back the movement if I feel, truly, in the bottom of my heart that it is MY choice.


Bianca Reagan said...

Many feminists have gotten married. It's okay. I won't pee pee on you.

Sarah said...

You have touched on exactly what irritates me so greatly about the feminist movement. Half the time it feels like women spend their energy chatizing other women for not being feminist enough, and all those women are doing is setting us back. Choice is and always will be, at least for me, the main point, as you said Adrienne. Being able to make decisions for yourself instead of someone else making them for you is the most empowering thing in the world and we're lucky to live in a time when these choices are our own.

In past comments I've stated that I can't wait to be a mom, to stay home and take care of my kids until they reach school age. I won't do it because I am forced to by anyone, but because I want to. That doesn't make me any less of a feminist than anyone else, and for any woman to say so is ridiculous.

Congratulations on your engagement!

Tobes said...

I think feminism should be about choices as well... and really 95% of those white wedding gowns are a farce and everyone knows it.

Enjoy your day and many happy years :)

Bianca Reagan said...

But tobes, I like gowns!

sarah, one of the reasons I express concern about women (and it's usually women) choosing staying at home to take care of their kids is outlined here: Leslie Bennetts: The Feminine Mistake.

Over time, most stay-at-home wives are likely to face major hardships as a result of divorce, widowhood, a spouse's unemployment or illness, or any number of other challenges. Women who abandon their careers and become financially dependent on their husbands often look back on that decision as the biggest mistake of their lives -- even women in stable, enduring marriages. I interviewed women all over the country, of every age, socio-economic level and background, but many used the exact same words to ask an angry question: "Why didn't anybody tell me what a mistake this was?"

Sarah said...

I completely understand the concern and where you're coming from in your point of view. That being said though, I should at least clarify - I don't intend to stay home forever. I am a teacher and love my job and would find it difficult to stay away from it for the rest of my life. That would not be fair considering how hard I worked in college to get to this point. I just feel that those first few years are so important and I don't want to miss out on any of it. That's not to say I will actually be able to stay home but I would certainly like to. And once my children begin school, I plan on going back to work. Hopefully everything works out the way I would like it to, though all of this is far off in the future anyway.

Bianca Reagan said...

sarah, that sounds well thought out to me!