Since the whole engagement thing happened I’ve been thinking a bit about marriage and what it means. Traditionally it’s a very conservative institution with the father of the bride “giving her away” to another man (to love and own). So can you be feminist and progressive AND married? Some groups of hardcore feminists would claim that to be married is hypocritical and contradictory of feminist beliefs.
Whatever group or faction you identify with, it normally comes with an “ideal” and a framework of traits for how to live your life. There’s a general consensus of what a feminist is, both from within and outside of the group, and when you don’t follow this framework some people would call you a “bad feminist” who don’t practice what you preach. You have to live up to everything that is feminist, or you’ve failed.
It’s not hypocritical to be a feminist and get married, it’s not hypocritical to live in a traditional family with two parents and children. And it’s not hypocritical to be a housewife. What is hypocritical is to CLAIM you shouldn’t get married, and then do it anyway, or to CLAIM that the “mum, dad and child” construction is bad, but have it anyway, or to CLAIM that you shouldn’t be a housewife, but then be one anyway cause it worked out more convenient that way.
If you make a decision based on your feelings, needs and opinions, and that decision is informed and equal and works for your life and your family, then no matter what it looks like, you’re not a bad feminist or a hypocrite.
Historically, the feminist fight wasn’t just about getting woman out of the home, it was about giving her the choice and the opportunity to leave the home, to do what she wanted on the same conditions as man (and to give man the same opportunities as woman to stay at home and have more responsibility in caring for children). So doesn’t it sound a bit absurd to say “generations of women have fought and sacrificed so that you have the opportunity to do whatever you want! Just don’t do these things that are considered traditional… OK!?“
The issue I think is that we confuse normative and norm… eh… matching? So, just because I want to counter a certain norm, it doesn’t automatically follow that the behaviors that follow the norm are wrong. Let’s take an example. A) I think it’s wrong that people are expected and presumed to be straight and want to live monogamously and have children, and that it’s difficult to be or want anything different. This is a norm that I question and criticise. B) I am straight, I live in a monogamous relationship and I will most likely have children.
A and B are not contradictory. Criticising the norm means that I question the expectation that everyone should live like me. It doesn’t mean that living like me is wrong. In the same way I question the norm that implies you should weigh a certain amount and look a certain way to be considered attractive. That doesn’t mean I condemn people who happen to fit this norm.
I recognize that none of us have true free will, free from society and its effects on us. Of course our decisions are influenced by norms and structures. That’s why I try to push for a more thought through, joint, informed and conscious decision. If you’re conscious that the choices that you’re making are problematic, if you question the norm, but still come to the conclusion that this is what you want and this is what works for you, then you at least have a better perspective.
Getting married does not have to mean submission, or changing your relationship. It can mean just marking your love and intentions towards your partner and celebrating with friends and family. Of course, beyond the emotional there are some practical aspects. We can (and
maybe should) question the law, but as it stands many things become easier when married; inheritance, children, medical decisions etc.
So although I question the pressure from society to fit into a certain ideal, I don’t see an issue with voluntarily choosing to “conform” (as far as free will goes). Obviously there are lots of other aspects of weddings and marriage that we could discuss as well (like its massive commercialisation and the fact that some people spend more than a years salary on it!), but I think we’ll leave that for next time.