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Feminism: Sex & gender discussions

Marriage and Feminism

42 replies

LadyBlaBlah · 17/02/2011 18:28

I am having trouble justifying my marriage in feminist terms.

I can now see that marriage is the sum of its history, and that history encompasses subordination, drudgery, property theft, and even the legal impossibility of rape.

When I look at marriage in this context, I am quite mortified to participate in such a structure.

How do other feminists justify it, if you are married too?

OP posts:
Quodlibet · 17/02/2011 18:42

I'm not married yet but wouldn't rule it out, despite having always been conscious of the history of the union as you state it (had a feminist mother...)

However, the way I see it (and I think my view is influenced by the introduction of civil partnerships for gay people, which somehow recasts marriage socially for me) marriage can be a construct which is socially remodelled and adapted. If I were to marry my partner, none of the things you state would be part of the contract we were making with each other. Our contract would be based on equality, respect and fair division of labour, and would be part of a wider social rethinking of what male and female relationships had the potential to be.

It would be important to me that my marriage didn't ceremonially involve any of the property/ownership trappings, ie diamond rings, dad giving one away etc, sitting silently looking pretty whilst a succession of men talk about your union etc.

Quodlibet · 17/02/2011 18:43

...should say 'have a feminist mother'.

thefinerthingsinlife · 17/02/2011 18:44

I'm married to a man that I chose. DH didn't ask for my dad's permition as he doesn't see me as a possession. He is also knowledgable about and supports feminism.

So I don't feel a need to justify it as it is an equal partnership not a traditional patriarchal marriage IYSWIM.

FlamingoBingo · 17/02/2011 19:51

My marriage is about me and the man I want to have a family with and have a partnership/team for life with. We promised eachother that we would work hard on our marriage, even when times were hard. At no point did I promise to obey him; or for him to care for me any more than I promised to care for him.

Our marriage certificate is a contract to work as a team in life until one of us dies, because we love eachother and both wanted children and, if they had come along, both recognised the benefit chidlren get from growing up in a stable family.

None of our reasons for marriage have, IMO, anything to do with patriarchy.

My wedding...well, I wish I hadn't had my dad give me away, particularly as he is a git. I wish I had not cared about how awful he'd have felt and had my mum do it. To me, that's the only non-feminist part of my marriage.

HerBeX · 17/02/2011 20:17

Nearly every society there's ever been has had some sort of hand-fasting ceremony. In the early days of the Soviet Union when they were really trying to throw off the shackles of bourgeois living, lots of communist weddings were celebrated, which did away with church and whatever other ideas the soviets decreed bourgeois at the time. They were trying to re-draw marriage for the needs of the society they saw themselves as building.

Each society develops its own version of marriage, that meets its needs, I see civil unions as being in that tradition (although the fact that they aren't given the name and therefore status of marriage is something I have a problem with), I don't see why feminism shouldn't re-model marriage for the needs of a society which sees women as human beings not chattels

toddlerwrangler · 17/02/2011 21:56

OP I can now see that marriage is the sum of its history, and that history encompasses subordination, drudgery, property theft, and even the legal impossibility of rape.

I will be honest, I am a bit bamboozled by the feminist movement (or maybe the feminisim I find on MN?). I want to write a post to ask a few questions which may help me understand, but I can't quite articulate my views at the moment so will hold off for the moment.

But, OP, do you REALLY think marrige is about the above? To me marrige encompasses love, companionship, compassion and partnership?

HandDivedScallopsrgreat · 17/02/2011 22:15

toddler - I think the OP is looking at the roots of marriage which is as she described (and was like that for 1000s of years for many many women) and trying to reconcile that with the fact that she willingly chose to get married herself. It was only 20 years ago that rape within a marriage was made illegal. So some of that legacy history is really quite recent.

I am sure her marriage encompasses all the things you say but that historically hasn't been the case. And she is trying to examine why she has become part of something that was originally so detrimental to women.

HerBeX · 17/02/2011 22:46

Interestingly, the literary myth was that marriage was everything toddler describes, while the reality for many women was everything the OP describes.

There must have been a mixture of both.

TeiTetua · 17/02/2011 22:50

Well, in spite of marriage's awful past, we're at the point now where there aren't any legal privileges that it gives a man versus a woman, and every couple is free to "work it out for themselves". So if you want to have a legal contract linking you to someone else, you can do it on whatever basis you and your partner choose. Many people think marriage is especially important if you plan to have children, but lots of others don't bother even then.

Some women choose to drop being given away by Dad, and the change of name and the word "obey". It's too bad if there are conflicts about those things, but they aren't inherent in marriage itself.

I think "With my body I thee worship" ought to stay, though. The "Anti-marital sex conspiracy" business is a tragedy.

AgeingGrace · 17/02/2011 23:54

TeiTetua makes the crucial point, imo. Marriage grants no legal imperatives to a husband any more. This is massive! All those laws have been changed, passed & enacted in order to free women from the shackles that marriage has so often represented. We all believe it's meant to be a willing union of equally loving & caring partners. Now it is.

Instead of bewailing what it used to mean, how about rejoicing in its liberation to be what you intend it to mean?

In the UK you can marry legally with two simple undertakings: that you're free to marry and are marrying of your own will. All the rest is trimming :)

mdavza · 18/02/2011 07:28

I got married in a church, and I made absolutely sure that the reverend did not include the phrase about 'obeying' in the pledge. I was also given away by my dad, it's not bothering me that much. My DH did not ask permission to marry me, we announced it together to my parents.

I think your feminist beliefs are something that should be lived in a practical way, in your everyday life and the choices you make, like flamingo. If you worry too much about the theory, we would stop functioning completely as everything has some f-upped root/origin somewhere.

Blackduck · 18/02/2011 08:48

I am not married and never wanted to because, for me, it was about all sorts of things the OP has expressed. It was more other peoples view of marriage that bothered me. Now I have ds I have thought about it a lot more, but more to protect him/us if either of us died. (I am not bothered he was born and we weren't married) So I am looking at it now purely from a financial perspective, I know this can be done via wills and zillion other documents, but marriage is quicker. If I could just sign a paper that says 'I Blackduck am linked to dpblackduck' that would be fine. As it is we have discussed sneaking off and doing it and not telling anyone. Although at the moment leaving him is very tempting....

AgeingGrace · 18/02/2011 15:01

Blackduck, you can get married using ONLY the two legal declarations. Probably best to decide whether you're leaving him first, though ...

Blackduck · 18/02/2011 15:52

See even those two declarations (partic the second one), make me squirm :) But, as I say, if we do it, it will be our secret!

Ephiny · 18/02/2011 16:18

I feel the same way Blackduck, we've discussed it and want to get married for the legal etc reasons - I don't see the need to tell anyone, DP thinks we have to tell/invite at least our parents. It would definitely be the bare minimum statutory words though, and I wish it didn't have to be even that and we could just sign a neutrally worded agreement and not have all the stuff about husbands and wives etc which makes me squirm too...

I'd rather have a civil partnership, is essentially what I'm saying. Though we've had much debate about that on these boards before!

Blackduck · 18/02/2011 16:21

I am with you Ephiny - something netural would do me....luckily dp doesn't think we need to invite/tell anyone!! (we have two friends we could rope in as witnesses and swear to secrecy) Weirdly despite all the 'its just a bit of paper' stuff it still feels like a horribly big step (stupid when you think we have a child and a mortgage and shared history and all that...)

Wamster · 19/02/2011 12:38

Well, all marriage really is from an objective point of view is a legal arrangements of sorts- think everything else is in your head.

I assume by 'marriage' you mean actual formal marriage? If you ALSO mean long-term cohabiting unions, perhaps I can see some sense where you're coming from, if, however, you have no problem with long-term cohabiting unions (only marriage) then I think you are being unreasonable because they are just marriage in all but name.
Plus, a sahp might as well be married if cohabiting. No, I go further: should be wed because if cohabiting partner does a bunk/has enough the sahp's role will be deemed unworthy of compensation by the legal system.

Also, cohabiting itself has no legal rights attached to it.

If you think a woman is better off single and living alone, well in MY experience, I think you are right from a feminist viewpoint.

Blackduck · 19/02/2011 13:14

Wamster you aren't telling me anything I don't already know. However, you can't argue long-term cohabiting unions (guess I have one of those) are marrigae in all but name, because, as you then point out cohabting itself has no legal rights to it. So they are NOT equal postions. Also peoples attitudes (its not just in my head), are different to the two states.

Wamster · 19/02/2011 13:29

Blackduck, OK, apart from the legal differences, I see no difference between long-term cohabiting unions and marriage.
(Some would say that this should give cohabiting unions same rights as marriage: I say, 'No' because it has to be respected that not all cohabitees wish to have 'marital rights' and wish to live together on own terms.)

In my experience, women who cohabit in longterm unions do exactly same stuff as married ones when it comes to the everyday stuff of life- so I think, 'You may as well be married'.
Whether people do or not is up to them.

I don't think you can really compare state of marriage with that of cohabitation- marriage is where two people explicitly state they wish to be together for life, cohabitation relationships vary widely in their commitment levels. I think this is true.

But I would see no real difference in two long-term, stable relationships where the two unions were identical with the ONLY difference was that one had a marriage certificate in terms of how they behave.

Wamster · 19/02/2011 13:31

I still think women are generally happier single (and this means either living alone OR with partner who lives elsewhere) than anything else, though.

Blackduck · 19/02/2011 13:49

I see what you are saying, and think we actually mena the same thing - this is why my resistance to marriage suprises me. I do behave as anyone who is married does (I think Hmm), after more years than I care to remember that is probably inevitable.

I am liking the idea of partner living elsewhere - shame we can't afford it :)

FlamingoBingo · 19/02/2011 18:44

"I still think women are generally happier single (and this means either living alone OR with partner who lives elsewhere) than anything else, though."

Wow! That's a bit of a generalisation, Wamster!? I don't think I'd be happier single - I love living with my husband! I'd really hate to be without him.


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HerBeX · 19/02/2011 19:12

It is true overall though FB. Countless studies show when people are asked about how happy they are, the heirarchy of happiness goes like this:

  1. Married men
  2. Single women
  3. Married women
  4. Single men

So women prefer to be single than married overall, and men prefer to be married. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but that's the general picture.

Men are getting more out of marriage than women are currently. It makes them happier than it makes women. Women are responsible for the majority of divorce petitions.
FlamingoBingo · 19/02/2011 19:20

Is that because of the number of dysfunctional marriages with usually are more pleasant for men than for women?

That's shit Sad. Still, I think the statement "I still think women are generally happier single (and this means either living alone OR with partner who lives elsewhere) than anything else, though." really ought to be qualified by what you've just posted, becuase it does sound rather like 'women don't like being in relationships' which is very different from 'many women are in shit relationships and therefore prefer being single'.

Have there been similar studies about being in good, equal relationships vs. being single?

HerBeX · 19/02/2011 19:29

Dunno, I guess they don't go into that sort of detail in these surveys...

But yes my guess is that most relationships are pretty unequal, which would explain why the more powerful class are happy with them...

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