Feminism and Marriage

// 27 March 2008

This article really made me smile. I’m a feminist who got married for all the unromantic reasons (next of kin rights, transferring my pension rights to him upon death). If it weren’t that legal transfer without marriage was so difficult we wouldn’t have bothered with the legal bit and would just have had the humanist ceremony – as it was we had both. Anyway, an article celebrating the fact marriage can be done differently, but it’s difficult because of external pressures, was long overdue.

When it comes to heterosexual marriage, feminism gets blamed for everything from the divorce rate to declining birth rates, or even in the case of Ted Haggard, meth addiction and secret gay affairs. Feminism is, after all, the movement that teaches women to leave husbands, kill children, and become capitalist-destroyin’, witchcraft lovin’ lesbians (thanks Pat Robertson!). But on the eve of our second anniversary, my husband and I credit feminism with keeping our marriage together.

From Alter Net

Marriage for me wasn’t a given, it was an active choice, as a bisexual I never felt my lifepartner had to be a man, in fact I think I surprised most people when it turned out he was! Marriage was also not a given as we were quite happy to live “in sin” (so much more exciting in name at least don’t you think?) except that we realised there may be a time when not having my parents (in the North West) having the next of kin rights when I’m in London might be a good idea….

The overwhelming majority of romantic traditions are deeply rooted in sexism and any deviation from those traditions left me pitied and questioning my own value.

From Alter Net

And they remain so, sadly, but you can resist them. We don’t do valentines, this year my spouse happened to buy a tin-opener on Valentines Day (our old one had broken) and that remains, for me, the symbol of how to reject Valentines Day. I didn’t take his name, we both took each others surnames as a new middle name, a convention that even our parents, sadly, took a while to get their heads around. I didn’t become a housewife (as the main wage earner that might well have resulted in no house) and I didn’t stop my life or change it substantially, our deal was always that it wouldn’t change anything between us.

Just as sexism tells women that they must fit a very narrow mold, it tells men the same thing. Any attempt to simply be yourself is met with derision and disapproval, even from supposedly equal partners who expect you to act as they’ve been told “all” men do.

From Alter Net

Of course it’s not all daffodils and fluffy kittens, making any partnership work takes energy and making a partnership work in a hostile environment takes even more. I am reminded of the time a previous male partner was seeing a therapist and was asked, in all seriousness, why he was with such a masculine, emasculating woman – I can only assume that therapist had their own issues to work out. But even in a hostile environment the commitment to each other, and to make it work, and to prod and poke those assumptions made by society and friends and family into submission so you can make unusual choices make the relationship stronger.

So here’s to all the committed, feminist relationships out there of whatever combination, flavour and style – here’s to you all. And here’s to setting our own agendas and defying all the “rules”.

Comments From You

Feminist Avatar // Posted 27 March 2008 at 10:33 am

I oft think that our feminist marriage has been great for my husband. Over the years, he has become so much more accepting of himself and, as a result, accepting of others. Because we don’t have strictly defined gendered roles, he doesn’t (appear to) feel pressured into particularly macho behaviours or roles, which gives him a wider range of choices about what to do with and how to live his life. Without saying, the same goes for me. Also, quite importantly, because we have a feminist marriage we don’t own each other, which allows us to develop as people, without jealousy or heartache, and to be happy in each other’s achivements.

Virago // Posted 27 March 2008 at 10:50 am

“So here’s to all the committed, feminist relationships out there of whatever combination, flavour and style – here’s to you all. And here’s to setting our own agendas and defying all the “rules”.”

Word. Me and my partner have been together for 6 years, and we’ve always divided things equally. We’re due to move in together soon and we’ll divide everything equally then too. He’s proud to call himself a feminist and discards gender conventions in our partnership, as do I.

If we choose to get married we’ve already discussed that I may keep my name or we may come up with one ourselves, and that the ceremony is to please us and nobody else.

It can be hard work, not just being in a successful relationship but coming up against societal barriers and expectations, but it’s worth it.

Cara // Posted 27 March 2008 at 10:59 am

All for defying the rules. :-)

Next of kin – why on earth would an adult person’s nok be considered to be their parents?

Just because someone is not married doesn’t mean they are a child!

There should be a way for everyone once they reach 18 to choose who they want to be their legal nok, whoever that is, partner, best friend, sibling, whoever.

Or it should be compulsory to make a living will so that anyone can see what you want to happen if you are ever unable to make decisions for yourself, say, in a coma.

Why the parents? Are they even in a position to know what the child would want, if “child” is a 20- or 30- something adult who hasn’t lived at home for years and doesn’t see them that often? Wouldn’t a close friend, say, know better?

The “default” position of an adult is assumed to be married, if not you are just “not yet married” or “poor thing, couldn’t find someone to marry them” – which frankly is completely outdated and stupid.

It’s time unmarried couples, heterosexual and homosexual, and people who are single by choice were recognised and stopped being treated like freaks for not conforming to outdated norms.

Jennifer // Posted 27 March 2008 at 12:33 pm

I’m totally all for defying the rules and doing what is right for you regardless of tradition.

I also agree that a lot of traditional and romantic notions are linked with sexist and out-dated ideas. In marriage, for example, taking your husbands name, being “given away” by your father – it all stems from treating women as property.

Here is my problem though – there is a huge part of me that wants valentine’s day, wants to take my boyfriends name if we marry and all those other things. It really conflicts with my feminist side, because rationally I know that I probably only want these things because I have been brought up in a world that is telling me I *should*. And I also completely agree that many of these notions are out-dated and I am aware of *why* they are sexist. Yet – I still want them.

Part of me thinks that if it will make me happy then I should just do what I want. But another part thinks that I would just be perpetuating ideas that should really be left in the past.

Anyone got any advice on that?

Edward Green // Posted 27 March 2008 at 12:41 pm

As an Anglican Priest I am constantly amazed at how unaware many couples are of the patriarchal symbolism inherent of much of a ‘traditional’ wedding service. From ‘giving away’ through ‘confetti’ all the way to ‘cutting the cake’. Sadly very few couples engage with my concerns. For me a wedding is a public confession of a pre-existing sacrament between two people and should reflect how they wish to continue living their lives together. Sadly I know of many couples where marriage has been the doorway to a change in behavior towards negative gender roles inherited from parents, grandparents and society in general. It is encouraging to read of couples overcoming this.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 27 March 2008 at 1:34 pm

I think that once you are an adult you can name anyone you please as your NOK, as long as you have it drawn up as legal document (it’s usually in a will or something like that). Sometimes when you fill in forms for insurance and stuff you can name your NOK and they are then treated as NOK by your insurance company. And, when I think about it, I think you are asked to name your NOK when you go into hospital and can choose who you want (whether this would stand up to legal scrutiny if challenged I am not sure). Parents and marital partner are just the legal default. Of course, NOK could then be contested by your parents in court, but I think as long as you were of sound mind your wishes would be valid. I could be wrong.

Rachel // Posted 27 March 2008 at 1:39 pm

If anyone is interested, these are my reflections on marriage from a christian feminist perspective http://achristianfeministjourney.blogspot.com/2008/02/love-and-marriage.html

Louise Livesey // Posted 27 March 2008 at 2:17 pm

Do what you want because you want to – don’t be tied to convention but similarly don’t reject it just because it is convention. At the very heart of feminism is the idea that women should be free to choose – so make those choices knowingly and critically but overall make them for yourself.

Louise Livesey // Posted 27 March 2008 at 2:22 pm

Sadly not. Your next of kin is legally deemed to be the nearest living relative, if you are unmarried that will be a living parent or, next step on, a sibling. Marriage trumps blood in this case but the whole common law spouse thing is an urban myth. You can nominate benefit unnrelated recipients with some pension and insurance providers, but not others.

The situation where it becomes important is if you aren’t in a position to nominate someone – i.e. if you are in a serious accident or, worst case scenario, dead. In my case I had 100% faith in my parents but giving next of kin rights to someone has symbolic value about trusting them with your life and to make the right decision. That for me was important.

Lynne Miles // Posted 27 March 2008 at 3:37 pm

Hi Rachel

I’ve just been and read all the back archives of your blog and really enjoyed it. Especially the bits on inspirational women. You write really nicely … I especially like the part where you point out that evil Daily Mail writers are about as far away from acting like Jesus as it’s possible to be…!

Alex T // Posted 27 March 2008 at 5:13 pm

I love the term ‘Feminist Marriage’! That’s exactly what I’ve got, I’d say.

And hooray for Christian feminists! It’s nice to know there are some more out there.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 27 March 2008 at 10:51 pm

Because I am pedantic, I looked up next of kin and there is no legal definition of next of kin in England or Scotland. It is only customary that parents or marriage partner are considered to be NOK. Current ‘advice’ to medical practitioners is that cohabiting or same-sex partners should be give equal rights to married partners, while people in civil marriages are automatically NOK. The legal advice is that if you are in a situation where your NOK is not clear(such as you want a friend) then put it in writing preferably in a will or legal document. NOK is entitled to be informed if you fall ill or die and advise doctors of your positions and values aka treatment, but they are not entitled to any of your property or things like that- this is covered by inheritance law. They cannot make medical decisions for you as nobody has that right under UK law.

Lisa // Posted 28 March 2008 at 8:16 pm

Another practical reason to marry – if you intend to live in/visit a state with clear discrimination against non-married couples and especially parents.

We created a very specific marriage (outside, secular, no guests !, no white dress, pregnant but no co-habiting beforehand) and constantly negotiate they way we live. I really love a tailor-made approach not only to marriage but relationships in general. I’m particularly not a fan of co-habiting unless I’m having a child as I personally find it claustraphobic but do want children to experience a family (including extended family) home life.

From what I see around me though women aren’t very experimental even in 2008 and it can’t just be because of indoctrination as I know many intelligent, open-minded, independent women who are surprisingly conservative when it comes to relationships.

Christian Feminist 3 // Posted 15 April 2008 at 3:23 pm

I don’t normally comment on these articles, but I feel I must this time, I feel so much better having read the other comments from Christian Feminists. Rachel’s blog!

Carol // Posted 15 April 2008 at 9:06 pm

Can heterosexual couples enter into a civil union in the UK? In New Zealand both heterosexual and gay/lesbian couples can get into a civil union, giving them all the legal rights of a married couple.

While many have complained that the civil union law makes a second class union for gays and lesbians, a small number of heterosexual couples have opted for this. At least one married couple have swapped their marriage for a civil union. They see the civil union as being more egalitarian and without all the historical baggage of marriage.

Beth R // Posted 20 April 2008 at 10:35 pm

Carol – there was some discussion of including heterosexual couples in the civil partnership legislation when it was being put through parliament, but sadly they are not. There is currently a petition on the government’s website to change this – http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/civil-for-all/

The New Zealand situation really sounds ideal, especially with the ease of transferring between civil union and marriage. The lack of non-marriage alternatives have left my partner and I in quite an awkward situation – not only do we have issues with the terms husband and wife, but it seems somewhat bizarre to record only our fathers’ names (mine being dead, his having seen him once in about 8 years) and not our mothers’ on the forms. We have considered taking a trip to New Zealand to attempt to get a civil union, but given the costs incurred by the lesbian couple who tried and failed to get a foreign same-sex marriage recognised over hear, it may not be feasible. Unfortunately, whilst a feminist marriage may be perfectly do-able in a personal sense, legally we are still a long way off.

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