For a large part of my life, I held wavering opinions on the institution of marriage. My parents are divorced, and yes, I’m sure this country’s looming divorce statistics had a hand in my hesitation. However, what was more important to me was the sociological and ideological background of marriage. How did marriage fit into my personal politics? And, further, how about a wedding?
There are those who would argue that marriage is inherently an anti-feminist institution, and while I do understand that perspective, I also adhere to the belief that a long, happy relationship is certainly a possibility (although perhaps not the norm). Marriage is not a prerequisite for long-term monogamy, I know, but there is a reason that our LGBT* friends have been fighting for their right to marry: it comes with its own set of perks in the form of legal, financial and familial benefits that are difficult to ignore. And through many conversations on marriage with friends and significant others I’ve realized my own feeling on the matter: in the fast-moving world we live in—where so much of what we experience is merely temporary—it’s so meaningful to say “this relationship is permanent, this person is family.”
So where does this leave me, a person who despises the history of marriage but wants to demonstrate the way that I feel about my partner symbolically and legally?
I think the key is to eschew tradition in favor of what works best for us, ideologically speaking. I’m currently engaged to my very own male feminist, and the fact that he is someone who shares my ideology and respects the problems I have with marriage and weddings is the only reason I can marry him in the first place… not to mention it makes it a whole lot easier to explain my “nontraditional” preferences. Here are a few examples:
1. The name change. There is already an excellent article on LunaLuna about the ideological problems behind women changing their name when they get married, so I won’t go into it here at length. I have wanted to keep my last name since I was a child. In addition to the issue of inequality, I always found it strange that once women were married, their symbolic ties to their own family were severed (in the form of the last name). This of course harkens back to the days when wives were traded to men by their families for livestock or money; in this case the ties really were severed as the woman became, essentially, the property of her new husband.
Obviously this is going to be problematic for anyone considering the socio-cultural implications of the traditions of marriage. I had considered hyphenation, but even that idea bothered me—why is the onus on the woman to alter her personal identity to indicate her marriage status?
Progressive couples have gotten around this in a number of ways: sometimes neither partner changes their name, sometimes they combine to form a new name (a very cool thing that some of my college friends did when they wed). Tom and I have decided to both hyphenate our last names, making us the “Eberhardt-Smith” family (and we found out after deciding this that Beyonce and Jay-Z did the same thing, which I think makes us a little bit cooler, maybe?). This works because not only are we making equal changes, we’re also acknowledging the combination of our families—I’m not becoming a Smith, we’re both joining the other’s family.
2. The proposal. When I was younger I had this idea that I would propose to the man, just to turn the tables and be unconventional. It didn’t turn out that way, but the idea of marriage proposals is still a tricky one for me. I hear about so many women waiting for their partners to propose (i.e. the much-discussed 300 sandwiches lady) and I wonder why more don’t take the initiative to do it themselves. It’s 2013, ladies! Our men can be stay-at-home-dads while we are executives, but we can’t get down on one knee and profess our everlasting love? I’m calling for a national overhaul of marriage proposals! Why should men alone bear the brunt of planning and executing a proposal (and all the possibilities of rejection) while women anxiously await proof that they are “wife material”?
Then, of course, there’s the ring. The first thing that many people ask you when you’re newly engaged is “let me see the ring!” The idea that a man must demonstrate his love in the form of jewelry that costs weeks to months of his salary or risk being judged by his fiancée’s entire group of family and friends is, to me, ridiculous. Not to mention the sort of “I own this” implication that comes along with “putting a ring on it.”
I had always told Tom that I didn’t need an engagement ring, and I meant it. He ended up proposing to me in the kitchen while we made Christmas cookies, using the ring that had originally been his mother’s from his father (before she got a fancier one later in life). To me, that was perfect. The ring as well as the proposal was low-key, not flashy, and had sentimental and symbolic value. We talk about getting him an engagement ring as well, but we haven’t, yet. It’s still a possibility.
3. The wedding day. Weddings are events filled with some lovely traditions, along with some traditions that I’d love to never see again. Although there is often pressure on a young couple to adhere to traditions “for the family’s sake,” it’s important (at least to me) to feel like I’m comfortable with the choices made regarding how I present myself and our relationship to 100 of our closest family and friends.
The idea of being “given away” by my father (or sometimes both parents) is one that has always bothered me. My parents raised me to be an independent, self-sufficient woman and I’ve lived on my own for several years, so the idea that they need to “give me away” to my husband so that he can take care of me now is somewhat laughable. I’ve toyed with the idea of either walking down with Tom or walking down alone. This is a tricky one, as many parents (hopefully not mine) might take offense to the breaking of this tradition. I think it’s important to have a frank and open conversation with your family about what you want to do and why.
There are no hard and fast rules about what a “feminist” wedding looks like in comparison to a “traditional” wedding, these are just the issues I’ve personally struggled with on the road to our wedding. Some traditions, like the dress, are traditions that feel right for Tom and I, while others, like the bridal shower, will probably be skipped for other reasons. One of the great parts of women’s lib is getting to pick and choose the traditions that work for me and my partner, and understanding the history behind the “rules” we may choose to break. Love is not archaic—my wedding won’t be either.
Alecia is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in a little blue cabin in Woodstock with one fiance, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn.