Fighting with the Sky

Some Thoughts On Marriage

Posted on: September 15, 2009

I would like to start this post off with a disclaimer.  These are only my opinions and in no way an attack on people who choose to get or not get married.  It is merely my ruminations on the issue of marriage.  Also, in this context, I will be exploring heterosexual marriage mainly because that is the type of marriage I will be entering in to.  It is in no means meant to discriminate against people who do not have heterosexual marriages.

I have mixed feelings about marriage.  I have always seen myself getting married, though I am at no point in my life for that right now and don’t see it happening or considering it happening in the near future.  But I always figured that when I was ready and when I was with the right person, that I would get married.  But the more I think about it and the more I develop my investments in feminism, I not as sure.  I haven’t ruled out the idea of marriage, but I am starting to question it.

Traditionally, marriage is about the selling of the woman from the father to the husband.  Granted, that has changed in most cases, but it still has that root.  Does marriage always have to come along with a power dynamic between the man and the woman?  A level of this depends on the people involved.  The man that I would even consider marrying would have to agree with (or at the very least, respect) my feminist beliefs and values.

I attended my cousin’s wedding about a month ago.  The ceremony made me very uncomfortable because it was highly religious and highly patriarchacal.  I know that not all marriages or weddings are like this.  It was largely an expression of my cousin and her husband.  But at the very root of marriage, is there this understanding of the man owning or at the least having some sort of power over the woman?

It is also possible to have heathly relationships without getting married.  Marriage does not have to be the “next step.”  People can spend their lives together without ever getting married.  There are commitment ceremonies.  Or you could just declare your love for each other and commitment to each other without a ceremony.

There are obvious social benefits to marriage.  But I’m still not sure in my own head what the true values behind the institution of marriage are.  I know the roots of marriage.  I know that there are still definite examples of marriage as a patriarchal institution.  But does it always have to be, depending on the people invovled?  (And what does marriage as a patriarchal institution mean for same-sex couples?  Patriarchy still affects their lives, but does the power dynamic between men and women factor into same-sex couples?  I am asking here.  I honestly do not know because I have never been in a same-sex relationship.  Does anyone have any insight?)

I don’t think I’ll have a definite answer to these questions for myself until I am in a place where I would consider marrying the person I am with, which I am no where near right now.


16 Responses to "Some Thoughts On Marriage"

Like you, when I was younger I always saw myself getting married one day, but started to question it when I became a feminist. The older I get, the more anti-marriage I become. It’s not the commitment – I think that’s nice – or the idea of wanting to share the happiness of finding a life partner with family and friends. It’s the traditions that so often go with it (giving away, name-changing, female silence during receptions), the way it is expected of me and seen as every woman’s dream, the terminology associated with it (other half? Ball and chain?), the way gay people are excluded, the fact that even civil ceremonies are still so tied up with religion (to the extent that the religious lobby feel they have a right to decide who can have what is called a “marriage” and pressure the government to legislate accordingly – I’m talking civil partnerships), the way some people just do it because they think they’re at that age and can always get divorced later if it’s not what they want – it all really hacks me off! Will have to get a blog post together on the subject. But I can recommend the following reading: “Ball and Chain – The Trouble with Modern Marriage” by Nicky Falkof, and this article on the F-Word (from 2004 but a very neat summary):

I totally agree that marriage should not be seen as a “next step” in a relationship! It bugs me that we tend to think of relationships as either “going somewhere” or “not going anywhere.” What’s so difficult about being present AT the present? I figure that relationships are either good, and therefore worth being in … or not! I have been with my partner for three years, and the relationship is good. It may or may not be a lifelong partnership, but that’s fine – especially since as we all know, being married isn’t a predictor or guarantee of that, either!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! (Oh, and don’t worry about it – just concentrate on being with the person you can’t help but be with. 🙂 )

My thoughts about marriage is that it’s religious. If you believe in the religious sacrament then get married. Otherwise Government shouldn’t be in the relationship business – there should be no tax differences privileging coupled over single, no bans against certain types of relationships…just people living their lives in the ways that make sense for them.

I think you’re right – whether or not a marriage can be feminist does depend on the two people in it.

My husband is committed to encouraging my independence at every turn – socially and economically (we decided to keep separate accounts), and in personal ways by doing his share of domestic chores without hesitaiton. He puts my career ahead of his own simply because I’m further advanced on that path than he is.

And not only does he listen when I talk about feminist perspectives on a range of issues, he goes away and actively thinks about it.

But all of that was true before the ceremony. To be honest, I don’t think marriage changed our relationship to each other at all – we already felt like we were committed – but it did make other people see me as a mature adult, finally.

Ariadne mentions, and I think it’s important, that marriage changes the way a couple is seen. Marriage is a way of announcing a commitment to a partner, and it’s also a marker of adulthood. Marriage is a way of telling everyone “I’m serious about this person.”
That’s what makes marriage desirable to, say, a same sex atheist couple.
The legal rights are valuable in some ways but also problematic, because of the way they privilege married relationships over other (not necessarily romantic) relationships and assume a retrograde single income family structure. Also, religion can be a reason to get married, but is hardly the only reason to do so. (I balk at the idea of surrendering marriage to the religious people who claim that it’s always been religious.)
I’m part of a same sex couple, and planning to get married. Patriarchy isn’t really relevant to my thoughts on marriage. There is a power dynamic in all couples, but ours isn’t based on gender. We don’t have to worry about feeling pressure to act like a “husband” or “wife” in a way that a heterosexual couple might. I have some issues with the word “wife” because of its overtones of rigid gender performance and servitude, so we’ve been talking about how to refer to each other. And marriage is still about proclaiming a commitment to stay together forever, instead of actually doing so, which I think has more value (in as much as lifelong commitments are valuable).

Interesting viewpoint, puffalo. Do you not feel, though, that a separate legal status, different from marriage, would be a good option? I would like to indicate that I intend to stay with my partner for life, but I won’t enter marriage to do so, for the reasons I listed above. If civil partnerships, which exist in the UK for same-sex partners as an almost identical but completely new and separate legal union to marriage, were extended to all couples, that is something I would like to do. But I won’t enter a marriage, will all its associated negative history and baggage, for any price.

I think that if only conservative, heterosexual people get married, marriage will never stop being patriarchial! I’m big on changing things from the inside, rather than abandoning them to set up an alternative.

I also completely separate things like the traditions and the wedding from the marriage itself. Things that commenter #1 mentioned like name changing, giving the bride away, and female silence at the reception are NOT the marriage. I hope to get married someday should I find a relationship that is worth it, but I do NOT want a wedding.

I think it’s clear how I feel on these issues, as I’m sure you read ( ). I also think there is a lot of theoretical stuff going on in your post that is problematic to me. Maybe that’s because I have chosen to get married and chosen to have a traditional (NOT religious) ceremony, and feel sort of attacked whenever a fellow feminist questions my motives. Not saying you questioned my motives at all, but people have, and I find that incredibly problematic. It’s my decision, not theirs, and they should just be happy I’m happy.

As someone who has pondered marriage for a LONG time in a theoretical sense and always thought I would NEVER get married, I realize now you never know how you’ll feel about marriage until you actually do find the person you will spend the rest of your life with, and then you ponder the issue WITH that person, not alone, because when you decide to spend the rest of your life with someone, how you do it is a joint decision, not a solo one.

Instead of rehashing a bunch of stuff that’s already said here, I’ll just post the pieces of comments I really agree with:
Puffalo: Ariadne mentions, and I think it’s important, that marriage changes the way a couple is seen. Marriage is a way of announcing a commitment to a partner, and it’s also a marker of adulthood. Marriage is a way of telling everyone “I’m serious about this person.”

Brooke: I think that if only conservative, heterosexual people get married, marriage will never stop being patriarchial! I’m big on changing things from the inside, rather than abandoning them to set up an alternative.

Also, feminists are not man-haters. Too many people do not support the feminist cause because they don’t want to be seen as man-haters. ( ) Women who identify as feminists that choose to enter into heterosexual marriage can show people that feminists are not man-haters and that marriage can be a partnership, not a male-dominant situation.

See also:

I look forward to hearing your musings on the subject. 🙂

I am a woman in a same-sex marriage, and I am also a lifelong feminist. Just for context.

My personal belief is that, whatever it used to be and to mean, “marriage” is now a concept that can accept whatever definition an individual wants to put into it. It’s a vessel, not a closed object. The question of “What does marriage mean to you?” must come before the next question; “Is that (your definition of marriage) something you want for yourself?” I think that “sex”, “faith”, and “parenthood” fall under this principle as well.

For my wife and I, our marriage is an expression of the depth of our commitment to be partners in all things. But that doesn’t mean that people who find marriage oppressive and patriarchal are wrong.

Coming back to the question of “What does marriage mean to me?”, there is no correct answer. All answers are correct to the people who give them, because they are based on their own unique experience and filtered through their interpretations.

My marriage occurred because, to us, it seemed a great way to show one another that we love and care for one another so deeply, that we are making a promise to do whatever we can to “work it out” if there is a problem, that we, above all, want to be together and feel that getting married was symbolic in that way. Neither of us are religious and aside from socialized tidbits that are acknowledged and called out/stopped when they occur, it’s an equal partnership.

But, that’s my reality, not everyone’s. Marriage isn’t necessarily unfeminist, but I can see how some people would rather not get married due to sexist histories.

@antigherkin- I do think that a legal option other than marriage could be great. Something like civil unions, available to everyone, would be one option, but those would have baggage too. Civil unions, as far as I know, were created to justify keeping gay couples from getting married, even as they granted us legal rights. I have a domestic partnership and it doesn’t feel the same or have the same social weight as actually being married would. We got it at a mail and copy store after work one day. I have mixed feelings about civil unions and commitment ceremonies and all those marriage alternatives made to cater to the needs of people who are denied the real thing.

As my name implies, I am married in the heterosexual, federally legal sense of the word.

Getting married was not something I wanted to do. But, as luck would have it, I fell in love with a U.S. Marine. We’ve been together for 3 years, but have only been married for 18 months. I resisted getting married. Neither of us felt like we needed the legalities of that to complete us as people. Nor did we feel that our relationship was inadequate or not “going anywhere.” We were content to shack up.

But, after one deployment, I cried “uncle.” As in, Uncle Sam, please, please marry us. Because as his girlfriend, I was nothing, nobody to the Marine Corps. I was just another chick who was sleeping with a Marine. The fear of something happening to him and of having them send someone to notify my mother-in-law instead of me or of having something happen to him and having to cross our fingers that we had made the right legal decisions so I didn’t lose my house or my dogs was just too much for us.

I should note, though, that my husband, in fact, is a fluke–I am one of ‘those’ lesbians–who just happened to fall in love with a guy.

As a feminist, I have long been against marriage. I spent many years as a lesbian activist and I took a lot of flack from my LGBT brothers and sisters because I was against marriage then too. I wrote papers questioning marriage as the Holy Grail of the LGBT rights movement–for the reasons people have outlined here, as well as others.

I stand by that conviction. But I also understand that people get married for all sorts of different reasons. And I make it my policy to resist the urge to question my fellow feminists if they chose to do so. I assume that, as feminists–people who question systems of power–they enter into it with the same or a similarly critical understanding of it.

As stated above, the State should not be in the marriage business. Marriage is a form of social control and it is something that should be resisted to the extent that our situations allow.

That’s why I call myself “Mrs. Mastro.” Because I have found that the cultural capital I have, as a pro-choice blogger and as a military wife and in other ways, helps to shift the ways that people who may not agree with me view my politics. And I have no problem using that to its best advantage.

I am proud of my relationship with my husband. I am proud that we both recognize that our decision to marry was not about solidifying our relationship, or making either of us ‘whole’–I am proud that we both realize that marriage often turns whole people into spouses. And I am OK with the fact that we both understand that our marriage certificate is a means to gain a set of benefits that we shouldn’t have to marry to get.

@Puffalo – my perspective on the civil partnership thing may be different because I am in the UK. Civil partnerships for gay couples here do carry as much weight legally as a marriage (socially is another matter – depends very much on individual communities I would guess), and they are usually an “event” in the same way as a wedding. But as you say, they were created to prevent gay people from having something which might be called a marriage. That is one of my main problems with marriage in this country and one of the reasons I would never enter into it: I think it’s appalling that the religious lobby here still feel marriage, whether performed civilly or not, is “theirs”, and that they pull the government’s strings in terms of legislative changes which would open the union up to everyone. As a bisexual woman, it seems ridiculous and very arbitrary that I can legally marry my partner (a man), but if he were a woman I couldn’t, despite us having the exact same relationship and commitment to one another. I think extending civil partnerships to all couples and setting marriage only in a religious context might be one way to resolve this. But perhaps there are other viable solutions I haven’t considered.

I hope no-one does take this as a judgement on their own choices. Of course everyone should be happy and do what is right for them.

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