This is a response to a Guardian-produced video I saw on Facebook earlier. I thought it was an interesting (if somewhat flawed) perspective. My analysis and thoughts on this video and on this perception of marriage as a whole are below.
Firstly, some context: Julie Bindel is a notable feminist activist with a very particular brand of activism. While she’s a vocal opponent of violence against women and the co-founder of the law-reform organisation Justice for Women, it’s worth noting that her approach to feminism makes it, on a hypothetical level, very easy for her to uphold this “non-marriage” standard. She is a lesbian who opposes same-sex marriage and has previously made it clear that she advocates for the abolition of heterosexuality. I’d like to strongly emphasise that I totally respect her right to feel that way – goddess knows, lesbians have never been treated very well by heterosexual men and there is a persistent idea that “the right man” could “turn” a lesbian at any opportune moment.
Secondly, a confession – I used to think this too. When I first started considering myself a feminist, I was determined that marriage was oppressive. I’ve since changed my mind, although I’m still not convinced I will ever get married. Not because I believe it subjugates women, but because I believe it’s pointless and it invalidates unmarried but committed couples who won’t see the same legal privileges afforded to those in wedlock. My own parents are divorced and I know so many divorced couples that I can’t really see the benefit of it.
We should stop teaching girls to aspire to marriage and not telling boys that same fairy story; I can agree with that much. However, I don’t think abolishing marriage altogether as a concept is the answer. Her reducing of marriage to “this is a tool of patriarchy, stop pretending it’s anything but” is a little bit simplistic. I get what she’s saying, but the whole point of feminism is giving women freedom of choice in all aspects of life. It’s enough for us to say “don’t get married if it isn’t right for you”. Taking the argument further than that is counterintuitive and means that we’d remove that crucial element of choice – in exactly the same way the patriarchy does!
I think marriage has evolved enough that for her to link the age-old symbolism with our modern traditions is reaching, frankly. Marriage traditions – or, more accurately, wedding traditions – have changed so much: brides can wear black, they can keep their maiden name, it doesn’t have to be conducted in a church, there doesn’t have to be a bride/groom there at all, etc., etc. Our modern marriages are so far from their origin that it’s silly to suggest it’s inherently problematic. Even as far back as the Middle Ages, weddings weren’t all alike. The custom of “jumping the broom” is thought to relate back to non-church marriages, conducted by travelling “priests” (men of a somewhat-questionable cloth) in which the couple jumped over a besom holding hands. Boom, married. No giving away, no businesslike transaction.
We could delve even deeper into this argument over what constitutes a feminist or empowering act, a common dilemma among us feminists. It depends on what you think the root of inequality is. For me, stating “the patriarchy”, this faceless Eldritch horror, just isn’t enough. As far as I’m concerned, it is a feminist act to enter into marriage and then subvert expectations. For example, you can marry without becoming financially or socially codependent, which avoids the messy business of gender-based economic inequality and ensures neither party is being stripped of autonomy.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or disagree! Please consider liking and sharing . xxx