I find it quite contrived that I am even asking this question.
But I think it’s an important one to address, especially after the most curious conversation popping up on my social media feed recently about our use of the title ‘Mrs’ and its patriarchal meaning and how marriage plays a part in that.
Throughout my upbringing I always saw marriage as a positive. Something that provided my brother and I with a firm foundation. Something you did when you found your soul mate, your life’s companion.Where I learned how to serve, give to each other, to nurture, selflessness, generosity, to be loved and love. I was raised in a household where my Dad did his fair share of the household chores and cooking. Where my mum worked and so did my Dad. So I didn’t notice some of the patriarchal traditions associated with marriage until I went to my grandparents house (!) but mostly when I got much older.
In my early twenties, I remember feeling conflicted by marriage.
I was always an advocate for the underdog, I hated inequality in all its forms. I had grown to be a feminist, incredibly independent (possibly too much) and definitely did not need a man to complete me or to sweep me off my feet. (Then Mr Nu Bride came along and I had to eat my words – but granted – it took a while to win me over. Thank goodness he was persistent or I could telling a very different tale!) I wasn’t into Jane Austen AT ALL and I definitely didn’t need someone to support me, I earned my own money and was not afraid to be proud of my independence, or my desire to carve a business and life for myself with or a without a significant other in it.
So because of that, I didn’t expect to get so swept away with the romance of weddings, don’t get me wrong I always knew I would want to settle down and build my own foundation, but ‘the fairytale’ was not something I previously dreamed of.
Feminism and Marriage
The correlation between feminism and weddings continues to come up a lot. This video on the Guardian last year argues that
You cannot be a feminist and get married because the institution of marriage curtails women’s freedom…. J Bindel.
Powerful statement isn’t it. And yes, in some communities sadly this is true if we are talking specifically about child and forced marriage, absolutely yes and these are prolific issues still ongoing within certain communities that need much more work to be done to eradicate. But can the same be said for all women, for us, in the western world, for me and those of us choosing to do so?
Feminism essentially means equality.
In black and white = the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes
So can you be a feminist and still get married? I believe so. Absolutely yes!
With equality, with equal rights, we have the beauty of choice.
Being a feminist doesn’t mean we are solely masculine, it doesn’t mean we hate men, it doesn’t mean you have to be female, it doesn’t mean we can’t be feminine, it doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate traditions that mean something to us and it certainly doesn’t mean we are devoid of romance and oppressed by marriage.
I remember vividly when Mr Nu Bride and I first started living together, both working long hours and doing demanding jobs, we made a deal, I would do most of the cooking if he would do the ironing (that deal didn’t last long by the way). We share the chores, I cook, he cooks, we both do household chores, we help each other with DIY. Our household is not run based on out-dated gender roles. So do I feel marriage has oppressed me or made me unequal to my husband? No.
We must absolutely define your own wedding day rules and relationship roles. If you are feeling unequal in your relationship, it’s time to do some ground work and it’s time to start having communicating.
What’s in a name?
And then there is the whole dialogue about identity. Many who feel marriage prevents you from being a true feminist feel that by changing your name, you become someone else’s ‘property’ and this is where the debate in Facebook popped up.
The question was posed; can we simply get rid of ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ and simply just have one title: Ms, like ‘Mr’ For example, you cannot tell if a man is married or not by his title, yet, you can be identified by marital status as a female. Which goes hand-in-hand with the assumptions and generalisations made if you are still a ‘Miss’ past a certain age, or god forbid divorced!
I remember a colleague telling me once I would be taken more seriously as a professional as a ‘Mrs’ more than a ‘Miss’ and to consider changing my title to ‘Ms’
Interesting isn’t it.
I did battle with the idea of changing my surname, of “losing” the identity I had worked so hard to build up, (especially as performance artist which I was back then) but I also loved the idea of being a Mrs, starting new, the anonymity a new surname gave me (well almost, there aren’t many women name Nova on this planet LOL). I spoke about it with my husband at the time and aired my concerns around changing my name and he understood, but he was so disappointed look on his face if I didn’t take his name.
So we spoke about it and I chose the best of both worlds, my maiden name was always my professional name and continues to be so and my married name well that’s just for us, for close friends and family and while it took some getting used to being referred to as Mrs (I felt so OLD!) and I still sign my name ‘wrong’ almost five years later, I have grown to love it.
Some couples work round this by taking on each-others names and introducing double-barrelled surnames, which often happens with same-sex marriages but we are seeing more modern heterosexual couples too.
Your rules, your way.
We have the beauty of choice with what traditions we choose to uphold and those we choose to ditch.
Some women choose to have their father walk them down the aisle to be ‘given away’ a tradition that dates back to our ancestry, a tradition that has seen daughters as a father’s possession or property. Did I want my father to walk me down the aisle because I felt obligated to because of tradition? No. I chose to have my father walk down my aisle because I love him dearly and I wanted him by my side with his love and support as he has shown every day in my life, on my wedding day too.
But, others choose to walk down the aisle on their own, with a sibling, their mother or even their spouse-to-be. In Sweden for example its tradition to walk down the aisle with your partner-to-be. Is that an outdated marriage tradition that oppresses women? Clearly not!
Vows were a big one for both of us. I knew from the myriad of Church weddings I had been to that we would not be having a church wedding, to us they were too restrictive. Honour and obey? Honour and obey who? Hell no! (such a rebel. lol!) for that reason we knew we wanted to write our vows and tell our own story.
I attended a friends beautiful catholic wedding recently and they had chosen their nearest and dearest to play important roles on their day, as we all do, the traditional role of the best man, was in fact a best woman, the grooms very best friend and the turmoil this caused the day before the wedding by one of the priests because of the best woman’s gender and going against tradition was unbelievable in this day and age. All was well in the end, but it certainly highlighted the patriarchal system being so incredibly unprogressive.
Lets look at the tradition of the white gown which goes back centuries, in western tradition meaning purity, but this is dependent on culture. For example in other cultures it means wealth, others even bad luck. But for others such as Chinese, Indian and many African cultures they don’t wear white at all during traditional marriage ceremonies! The context is everything. It changes infinitely and our cultures will influence what traditions we uphold.
To be a feminist and get married means better understanding the traditions that we have become accustomed to, that have been passed down from many generations. That have become formality that we follow and we don’t really know why. To the ones that have become part of our culture or religion. Once we have better understanding of their meaning and the history behind them, we can choose to ditch those that don’t resonate and stick with or re-create the ones that we feel are important to us or are aligned with our values.
Feminism means equality, so if you are choosing to marry the one you love, to share your world with another and celebrate your love in front of friends and family, you do it feminist or not and you do it your way and you do it proudly.
What do you think can you be a feminist and get married?