Love and marriage: I do

While I’m a huge fan of Feministing, I’m a little upset with them right now. They’ve had a series of posts lately about how marriage is bad, mm-kay. (Sorry but I can’t figure out how to trackback to their site.)

I’m not going to say that marriage is perfect, for everyone or even available to everyone. (Full-disclosure: I’m married.) Many of my hetero friends who are my age have told me that marriage is not for them even though they are in long-term, monogamous relationships that would appear on the outside to be very similar to marriage. And I would never defend the homophobia surrounding the same-sex marriage issue.

It’s true that there are people, including some in my own family, who view marriage as the 1950s-sitcom thing, complete with standard gender stereotypes. And there are some, like my own parents, who aren’t necessarily the gold standard of marriage considering their serial divorce records (total between them so far? 5). But just because there are some bad apples, doesn’t make the whole bunch rotten.

It’s the labels and fucked up societal crap that give marriage a bad wrap. It’s only if you buy into that stuff that marriage becomes the “inequitable, homophobic and sexist tradition” that Samhita called it yesterday.

When I got married (10 years ago next week), my husband and I crafted our own ceremony and it came from a very punk DIY aesthetic. I wrote our vows. We had our best friend marry us because we didn’t want a traditional churchy, sexist experience. We decided for ourselves what traditional customs to keep (I wore a dress, we had cake) and what to throw out (over-priced “necessities like special cake-cutting knives, sexist vows, etc.). We had three punk bands play our reception. As Sinatra sang, We did it our way.

But even before I got married, the anti-marriage folks (sadly, many of whom were my feminist friends at the UO Women’s Center) started in with their expectations and fevered rants. And I say that as an ardent feminist who was actively working as an activist on feminist issues while planning my wedding! I’ll never forget the day that an all-out fight erupted in the Center about the issue of changing your name. Someone asked me what I planned to do (at the time I was on the fence, but did decide to change my name). Suddenly, the conversation escalated from a back-and-forth weighing pros and cons to an attack on me and every woman who would even consider taking her partner’s name. Two women in the office that day began to literally shout at me, an emotional response I felt was totally unnecessary and mean-spirited.

(And an aside about why I changed my name … I decided to change because I did want for us both to have the same last name. We discussed changing to my last name, but isn’t that another form of patriarchy to take my dad’s name? We talked about creating a new last name that we would both take but then when we found out how hard it would be for a man to change his name, it just seemed more practical for me to do the deed. Sometimes, you have to take one for the team, but it doesn’t diminish me as a feminist or as a person to play the game!)

I’m not going to say that the institution of marriage is perfect. It’s not. But that’s why you have to throw out the crap that’s out-dated, irrelevant or problematic. You don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater. And much like the child-free by choice issue, I don’t think it’s fair to gang up on those who make different choices than you. It’s not an indictment on your life choices if I make different ones. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that some of my hetero friends are choosing not to marry even though they are certainly with their life partner. And I think my friend’s upcoming summer marriage to his boyfriend will be beautiful and just as real and meaningful as my own wedding day. (And I’ll keep passionately working on getting them the same rights I enjoy, because it’s wrong that same-sex couples are discriminated against on the marriage issue.)

There are things that are wrong with marriage and the wedding industry. I’m totally against all the hyped-up crap being sold as “love” for your “most important day of your life.” But that kind of materialistic, consumer-driven crap-fest is something I would hate in any form (including Christmas, but I’ll save that for another day). No, you don’t need a white dress. You don’t need a church. You don’t need bridesmaids, groomsmen, diamond rings (especially considering the whole conflict diamonds issue), tiaras, veils, or any of the other bloat that somehow attaches itself to a ceremony that at its core is supposed to be about truth, love and commitment.

Since I got married my husband and I have sculpted our marriage experience from who we are and what we want. We divide the housework as evenly as possible (although you can’t really keep score). We make decisions together about our finances and major issues.

The fact is, I know I’m lucky to be able to marry my best friend. But the same-sex marriage issue aside, everything about marriage isn’t broken. Just like everything else in society, I think the power of feminism is that we can point out the flaws and then work to change the parts that are broken. I don’t advocate marriage for everyone. I don’t think it makes me better than those who aren’t married. But for me, it was really important to stand up in front of my family and loved ones and declare my love for the man who always encourages me to follow my dreams.

For me, marriage is about being your own special team of two. There is a power in that for me. It fills my cup up. If that’s not your cup of tea, that’s cool. But don’t hate on me for making different choices than you, especially you ladies at Feministing, because I hate to be mad at you.

6 thoughts on “Love and marriage: I do

  1. emmily- thanks for this timely post. i just became engaged, after being very sure that i would never get married, for many of the reasons cited. i’ve only just begun to seriously think about all of the questions- whose name (although my partner suggested he would take my name or we could hyphenate), vows, etc. i’m becoming more convinced that i indeed can do it my way, infusing a diy ethic into what i hope will be a memorable, stress-free, music- and humor-filled celebration with friends and family.

  2. That’s wonderful! Congratulations and happy wishes for your future!

    As I said, I don’t see how two people declaring their love to each other in front of their loved ones can be a bad thing. All the societal crappy things that get put on marriage can be stripped away. Make it your own and it will be a feminist, empowered, loving and beautiful thing!

  3. Let’s see. I have a few thoughts about this.
    i know for the past few weeks i’ve been listening to women go on and on about how they are getting married or are already married. and it’s always a long-winded justification for their part of the marriage institution. feeling automatically defensive around others (mainly feminists) and feeling as if they need to justify and prove that their marriage is still ‘feminist’ or ‘hip’ or ‘alternative’. it’s a huge deciding point, the last HIStorical institution that many are still swayed by. and you know what? that’s fine. be married. get married. be a part of the marriage institution. understand the reasons for and against. but, wearing different colors, not having rings, a punk band instead of a wedding singer, and wearing chucks with your dress – is not subverting the institution. it’s not a method of subversion or queering the institution. it’s having a cool wedding that fits your individual style. maybe it’s been that time of the year, but the past few weeks I’ve had to listen to people talk about how they’re doing or have done ‘alternative’ things with their weddings, and therefore, it’s okay that they are taking part of the privilege and institution of marriage.
    there’s no problem with getting married. but you know what? i guess i just want people to own up to it.

    Yeah. i’m getting married. it’s a shitty institution, but i want the tax breaks, the party, the pre-parties (in which i can receive free gifts for ‘our new home together’), share our love in front of loved ones, and i have the privilege to do so. so i will.

    and the feeling defensive? and feeling as if you need to justify yourself? those are important and justified themselves. you’re feeling defensive and perhaps guilty about taking someone’s name, having a wedding, etc.? well. you should. moreover, if you are – those feelings need to be understood & deconstructed. feelings of anger and guilt are justified and important. we all need to analyze the social structures that perhaps are shaping our experiences and emotions – on a continual basis – even if it’s hard and uncomfortable.

    and maybe it’s annoying to me – all this talk from straight feminist women. because i can only just listen to you talk for 20 minutes justifying your wedding pact. i can’t have any part of it myself. i can’t even think about justifying getting married, because it’s not an option for me. i don’t have that privilege.
    and would i actually choose that option if it were a choice? who knows. would we feel the same way about the institution if we all had the privilege to be a part of it? would it change anything? or would it reinforce the same heteronormative thinking? OR by even being part of a same sex couple – that, in and of itself, is subverting the gender rigidity of marriage and crumbling the institution into something completely different? it’s a complex issue..huh?

    this comment is not directed at anyone specifically, but thoughts about the subject of the post.

  4. Hey, some of us do it just for the small appliances. I’m thinking about getting divorced and remarried because I need a new toaster oven and a set of dishes.

  5. So I identify as a feminist man but full disclosure, I have never taken a feminist theory class. I didn’t spend hours on my college quad reading Betty Friedan or Susan Faludi. To be feminism has always been about choice…and I don’t mean abortion. Feminism was about ensuring everyone had the choice to live their life the way that best fit them. Now, for the better part of human history this has been more challenging if not impossible for women because they were refused the choices available to men (sex without pregnancy, the career of your choice, a college education, a vote…).

    So back to the marriage debate for me it again is about choice. The problem with the “institution” of marriage that I see is not marriage itself but that historically women HAD to get married and once they did they lost so many choices like employment or whether to have children, etc.

    It seems to me then that having the discussion with your partner as to what pieces you keep and what you get rid of is important so that you ensure the choices you make are ones you are comfortable with and not ones which you are forced into out of tradition of marriage. Actually that is exactly what I have been getting at…it isn’t the institution of marriage which is flawed, the idea of two people supporting each other and helping each other grow and develop their full potential is beautiful…it is the TRADITION of marriage which needs to be taken apart and decontructed…so it can be rebuilt by each couple who decide to enter into it…they remake it in the way that best fits them. Having said that, I am one of those couples who can’t be a part of the Traditional institution of marriage because MY marriage is with another man. Brings me back to my original thought…feminism is fighting for as a feminist I choose to get “married” but if I stop there and don’t fight so that others have as many choices as possible I have fallen down on the job. I don’t fault any feminists for choosing to get married, whether they wear chucks or prada, diy tuxes or Vera Wang..where I will fault them is if they take advantage of the priveledge and then don’t fight to ensure everyone has the same choice!

  6. Pingback: Why the inclusive history of CityLife maters | The Sin City Siren

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