I had a very weird moment recently which completely threw me for a loop. My extremely left-wing liberal family asked me why I didn’t want to get married, and just weren’t able to understand or accept that for me marriage seems pointless and ridiculous and that I feel like the term ‘wife’ has negative connotations. I did make it clear that I wasn’t imposing my views on them and I understood that for most people ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ were perfectly neutral terms.
My goodness. “You’re being silly and hysterical”, “You’re completely oversensitive”, “You just don’t love Boyfriend enough, you’ll meet the right person and want to marry them”, “Getting married is romantic”, they all said. And they just didn’t let up. My mum said it didn’t matter, but there was this deluge of belittlement and a refusal to accept my position. I really felt like they thought I was stupid and that they needed to change my opinion.
So I told Boyfriend about it, thinking he would laugh and tell me that it was perfectly ok and just to ignore my family. But I was wrong about that too, he completely agreed with them and kept saying things like “Why are you dragging women back into the 1970s” and “Why can’t you just change your opinion about this”. When I finally asked him if he could just respect my opinions there was a 5 minute silence before he agreed to. Also very weird.
So after this I felt like my feelings were probably as ridiculous as all of these people (whom I trust a great deal) were telling me. Luckily I spoke to my friend S who said something to the effect of “You feel what you feel and fuck other people”. And I checked out some blogs on the internet and I’m definitely not the only feminist who feels this way. I think that for me marriage is just an anachronism, although I can still respect that other people feel differently. But anyway, here are a few thoughts I have to get off my chest:
- Lots of people see marriage as a way of feeling secure in their relationship, as an expression of commitment. To me it is more romantic to commit to Boyfriend every single day without a legal binding tying us together. I don’t understand why this weird white dress ceremony would impact on the level of commitment in our relationship either way – it’s not like divorce doesn’t exist. We’ve bought a house together – for me that was a much bigger thing.
- The ceremony usually seems to be a hugely ostentatious display of our consumerist culture. I hate that, I hate the diamond ring (ethical reasons), and I want to believe that we’ve evolved beyond needing ridiculous displays of wealth like this.
- I feel like getting married is often a way of expressing your desire to fit in with social norms. I count myself very lucky that I don’t have this desire, and that I am content to just be who I am.
- I am quite a shy and private person. I wouldn’t even be writing this public post, except that I felt so grateful for the other posts (see below) written by women who feel the same way as me, and I feel like I want to add my voice to theirs. Anyway, as I say, I’m shy and I don’t feel like mine and Boyfriend’s relationship is something which other people are interested in. It feels like it would be arrogant of me to spend a huge amount of money and make people take an entire day out of their lives to come and watch us “declare our love” (ugh yuck). My stomach also turns at the thought of saying our vows in front of a huge group of people, even if they are friends and family. I don’t mind attending other people’s weddings though, because I know that it’s important to them and it represents something different to them than what it represents to me.
- I feel like we have had thousands of years of society where marriage was used as a device to basically enslave women. I think it’s going to take a long time and a lot of work before we can fully shake off those roots. As my friend S says: Sexism is real man. I keep thinking of a newspaper article I read about some hugely talented and clever woman who was described first of all as a ‘wife and mother’. There was a hilarious article somewhere which reversed news stories – wrote the ones about men using the language that is used when they write about women, it’s so weird to see Bill Clinton described as the “hardworking, self-sacrificing husband of Hilary Clinton”. Anyway the point I’m driving at is that it’s really sad, but we have not yet achieved gender equality. And maybe it’s all the old fashioned books I’ve read (see point below), but when applied to me it feels like the word ‘wife’ means I am subject to my husband, but not vice versa. It makes me feel uncomfortable and itchy. Maybe I’ll feel differently when the term “househusband” becomes as ubiquitous as “housewife” unfortunately still is, or when “wife and breadwinner” rolls off the tongue as easily as “husband and breadwinner”. And yes they’re just terms, but this stuff matters to me, I believe that language is so important in shaping society.
- I read a lot as a child (in fact i still do), and I feel like all of the adventures and excitement seemed to stop happening as soon as the male or female hero got married. Of course it’s not that way in real life, but nevertheless marriage just has a kind of lingering boring flavour for me. I don’t EVER want to stop having adventures, I hope I still feel adventurous when I’m 80 and that Boyfriend is there with me instigating and partaking in the adventures too.
Some blog posts I liked on this subject:
- “Now listen to me.” I was done. “This is important. Your value is not dependent on whether you are still available to other men. Do you understand? You don’t just disappear because you’ve got a ring on your finger.” I was suddenly fuming, remembering a particularly horrendous episode of How I Met Your Mother. And Scrubs. And every comedy ever that tried pulling the same running gag in which a woman literally vanishes off screen as she slips on her ring. “Your availability is not something you contribute to society. It is not something that makes you important, or valuable, or a person—it’s not something anyone should even think to care about. You are not a commodity to lose all value when you’re ‘off the market.’ Whether you are available to men is absolutely and despicably meaningless. Only the worst of people think otherwise. Do you understand?”
Well, do you?
- ” Is it so difficult to imagine that people might commit to and love one another, just the same, without that piece of paper? ”
- “I wish I had a pound for every minute of my life that’s been wasted on dealing with the question ‘is that Miss or Mrs?’ In the past, when I was young and stroppy, I used to respond by giving an obviously untruthful and absurd answer like ‘Rear Admiral’ or ‘Wing Commander’. ”
“Is it possible to use the word wife without implying that its referent is an appendage, an encumbrance, a servant, a possession? As always, context matters: there is a difference between the stand-up comedian who opens his routine with ‘take my wife—please!’ and the young woman who makes her excuses by saying ‘I should go, my wife’s waiting’. But while the specifics of context make every utterance unique, the words that compose an utterance cannot be freshly minted each time they are used. When I hear a woman say ‘my wife’s waiting’, I cannot help hearing an echo, however faint, of the misogyny of the ‘take my wife’ joke, and the casual sexism of ‘the world and his wife’. I feel the ghostly presence of a gallery of stereotypes: the nagging wife, the wife who ‘doesn’t understand me’, the wife whose selfless dedication to her husband’s career is acknowledged in books and at award ceremonies.”
One thing I’ve noticed in common with all of these bloggers is the distressing amount of hateful comments they receive on their work. Makes one a bit scared to write a post like this! Luckily I don’t have the knack for regular posts or attracting readers and only random googlers will find this!