No. You can’t. End of.
Is it that simple? It would make for a short blog and actually I feel like there’s a lot to this very nuanced issue. It’s something I’ve been questioning a lot because (spoiler alert) I’m getting married. To a man. To the people who have been here a while, I know, I know, we didn’t see THAT coming, did we?!
Well, look, that’s the situation we find ourselves in so let’s explore it while we’re here. Let me start by saying, I am not a learned feminist. I’m a gut instinct kinda feminist. I’ve always gone with:
‘Does that feel fucked up? Then it probably is. It isn’t equality. It isn’t feminism.’
So if you’re looking for an academic analysis of the institute of marriage, you’re in the wrong place. If you want to come with me on a fumbled journey into whether this thing can in any way be feminist, let’s go.
For context, this is not my first engagement. I was engaged for about 4 months back in 2007. I was 24. It was a serious relationship, we were living together in Dublin and I was all about it. Now back then I aspired to the husband and kids path so I was delighted when I eventually wore down my then-boyfriend who proposed with a beautiful antique diamond ring. The brief nature of the engagement was because he was a lying, cheating scumbag. Hi Andrew! I’m delighted that I didn’t marry him or have kids with him, I feel truly blessed to have dodged that God awful bullet.
So how the hell have I got here, to the marriage thing 15 years later? It’s not something I’ve dreamed of. It’s not something I need to do to validate my relationship or myself. It’s not an institution I look particularly favourably on. So why bother? Let’s not harp on about the deep and meaningful love I have for my betrothed. That goes without saying and would exist regardless of marriage. But do you know what, there’s something about making a public, legally binding commitment to another person that you dearly love, that really resonates with me. And then living a life with that person, based on clear promises you’ve made to each other in love and in law, it’s kind of nice. There’s also the symbolism and the shared experience of the wedding – although I have a lot to say about weddings. Prepare yourselves. But before we get to that, for me, marriage is essentially contract law with flowers but I’m ok with it. It doesn’t trivialise it. The legal system we live in is obviously flawed but it’s the one we have and we can’t ignore it so, on this occasion, why not go with it?
Fuck me I fucking hate weddings. No offence to all the people’s weddings I’ve been to. They’ve been beautiful and romantic, but the wedding thing is just not for me. The patriarchy in every moment is entirely vomit-inducing. If I had my way, it’d be me and him at the registry office, quick, simple and then on to a massive holiday.
But I think we’re going to do some kind of ceremony so let’s do a list of things I won’t be doing. (Just for clarity, I’m not criticising people who do any of this stuff, it’s just the elements that feel particularly irksome to me.)
Wearing a white dress. The virginity ship sailed many, many years ago but even if it miraculously hadn’t, the tradition of the white dress symbolising the purity of the bride can fuck right off.
Having my dad give me away. Sorry dad but you’ll have to remain seated. I’m 40 next year. I’m a grown arse woman, I own myself. No one will be giving me to anyone.
Having bridesmaids. Google tells me that traditionally people feared that evil spirits would come and curse the bride, or whisk her away, so the bridesmaids acted as matching decoys in order to confuse the spirits long enough for the bride to become happily married. What a crock of shit. That’s a no from me.
The men doing the speeches. I will abso-fucking-lutely be making a speech on my wedding day. I am not fucking mute and frankly, I already know it’ll be the best one and everyone better cry.
Throwing the bouquet. No, no and no. Just no. Absolutely no.
Putting the single people at a table together. This has happened to me a few times and it’s so uncomfortable. It’s like we’re the children not allowed to sit with the grown-ups or worse still, we’re meant to hook up because you can’t possibly be happy being single. CRINGE.
Having a hen do. The games. The penis straws. The fact it’s a gendered event (because I can’t possibly have a friend who isn’t a cis woman). The mixing of friendship groups. You know what? I’m good. That said, I am going to a hen do soon that is promising to be pretty sick so maybe it’ll change my mind…
Taking his surname. It has always pissed me off that in mixed-sex marriages, the woman takes the man’s name. Why haven’t we ditched that already? I realise I have a man’s surname currently (my dad’s, not the fact it’s literally a man’s name), but it’s my lifelong identity and I don’t see why I should ever give it up. If he wants to take my surname or even go double-barrelled, I’d be down.
Getting married in a church. This atheist will not be marrying in the lord’s house, no matter how pretty the building.
There’s probably loads more we’ll decide not to do and there’s hopefully loads of specific stuff we incorporate that is about us, not ‘tradition’.
As for the marriage, how do I make that feminist?
Well, I guess it will be because I am and our relationship is one that works for us. We’ve started this thing going against the norm. I proposed to him. We don’t adhere to gender roles in our daily lives. We have equal power and agency whilst being different people.
No matter how I think about it, I do ultimately think the truly feminist thing is not to get married at all. I can’t articulate exactly why, but there is a part of me that is annoyed that I want to marry. But there’s no denying there is something in me that is driving me to do it. Call it the patriarchy, or call it simply love, I think what’s important is realising that we can reclaim a concept, take the bits that work for us and discard the rest. At least, that’s my take on it. I WILL report back!