Apparently men know better….

// 20 July 2008

cartoon male defined feminism Gary Nunn, in the Guardian, has committed that cardinal error trying to determine for feminism what feminism is. His target – weddings. Now he makes some interesting points, albeit to back up some spurious argument (like the reason business is male dominated is because men can get married – I see the link he alludes to but really, he needs to join the dots in between). But the bit I take issue with:

an online guide on How to Have a Feminist Wedding states “Part of feminism is about expressing your identity as you see fit… so if you have your heart set on a more traditional option, like a poofy white dress, go for it. You won’t be thrown out of the feminist club.” Au contraire, yes you will. Your feminist club membership will become invalid. A woman who adopts any one of the baggage-ridden conventions continues the tradition of wives enslaved by their husbands. Women – or men – who accept this damaging ritual can never call themselves feminists with any integrity. Prioritising romantic notions of “tradition” over any feminist sensibilities is failing to practice what you preach.

The Guardian

There are so many flaws in this paragraph alone… so lets unpick a few….

1. He deems himself able to tell a feminist website that their assertion is wrong and his is right. Because obviously a man knows what feminism is about better than a feminist website.

2. He assumes all weddings take place for the same reasons and are all about the romantic, traditional, patriarchal model. Frankly, bullshit, women have diverse reasons for marrying (or not) and to reduce them to the idea of simpering no-brains for it is patronising.

3. According to his logic his “fervent feminist” best friend, who he’s about to marry, will therefore forgoe her feminist credentials. Either that or he truly believes he (and his intended) are the only people able to do it differently and are therefore exempt from his own assertion that getting married means you can’t be a feminist.

4. He accords the “traditions” of weddings more influence than they can have except by the constant restating of them as rigid and enforcable rules. Part of challenging patriarchy is to show that those symbols can be redone differently and that the institutional privileges they represent can be rethought out. Does a white dress mean someone can’t be an anti-rape activist? Does having female attendants mean you can’t also demand equal treatment for women? And how does this chime with women entering civil partnerships with other women? Does their adoption of the traditions of marriage (as some have) mean they are also hopelessly and fallibly tied into patriarchal inscriptions of how it should be even if they are marrying their female partner?

Well Mr Nunn, here’s a wake-up call, you can do it differently! You can challenge the status quo and also mark out your life-long commitment to another person. No-one has called into question my feminism since I spoke my vows (although some admitted surprise that I would legally tie myself to a man). And you can do it differently, if you are not so engrained in male privilege.

We had a humanist ceremony in which we stated our pledges to each other, and shortly before that we’d had a civil ceremony (attended by us, three friends and the registrar) in which we did the legal stuff. But our vows, not the state imposed ones, and our ceremony were as far from patriarchal as you could get – both sets of parents walked both of us down the aisle to symbolise their support and that they would walk by our sides; our friends and our parents spoke and offered their advice; our whole audience vowed to support and love us. It was a marking of our relationship as the primary one we would have and also a very practical way of ensuring my partner would receive the pension rights and next of kin rights I wanted him to have should anything happen to me. Yes we eschewed most of the traditional symbols of weddings, I wasn’t “given away” but I did have my Dad on one side of me, and I was proud to as he’s been there through my thirty-odd years of life as a constant source of love and advice, as has my Mum who was on the other side of me. I didn’t give up my name – it’s much more interesting than my partners and I have professional publications in it – but we did both take each others surnames as new middle names and therefore gained new initials. I did wear cream because I suits me and because I wanted to – did it symbolise virginity – did it ****! Did I readily submit to being wed, yes, it was a joint decision which we haven’t regretted. By doing so did I readily submit to patriarchy? Don’t make me laugh.

It changed nothing about our domestic arrangements – I didn’t suddenly feel the need to wear gingham or bake more cakes, my partner didn’t feel the need to assert his masculinity more, I remained the main wage-earner and the more career oriented of the two, he remains committed to being able to follow me when my job demands we move. But this isn’t a reversal of the usual patriarchal norms, I am not an honorary “man” – we’re doing things differently.

And I don’t need a man to tell me that because I occassionally wear a silver and titanium band on the third finger of my left hand that I can’t be a feminist. Doing so doesn’t make me a fool or misguided – it marks us out as able to think for ourselves. I’d issue a word of warning to “Strife” (as he names his intended) to be wary of a man who would marry you, claim to be a pro-feminist man and then diss the vows he’s making and your right to determine what it can or can’t mean. Seems Mr Nunn may well have some more reflection on his privilege and his views to do. In the meantime, Mr Nunn, don’t presume to tell women, any woman, what is and isn’t feminist and don’t, whatever you do, presume to tell women, from your position of male privilege, what is and isn’t “feminist” – you do more to reinscribe masculine oppression of women through that than any number of feminists wearing the biggest, flounciest white meringues of dresses to get wed to their male or female partners.

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 20 July 2008 at 12:17 pm

Totally agree with everything you say Louise. Most importantly I’ll reiterate your advice to Gary Nunn which is ‘don’t presume to tell women from your position of male privilege what is and is not feminist. Think for a minute Nunn you are doing precisely what you claim not to be doing – that is presuming you because of your male status are superior to women. Well it won’t work, never has and never will.

Maevie // Posted 20 July 2008 at 12:42 pm

Silly ol’ Gary, more catlick dan de pope. He needs to syringe the meringue out of his ears.

Cath Elliott // Posted 20 July 2008 at 1:00 pm

Well said Louise.

“…so if you have your heart set on a more traditional option, like a poofy white dress, go for it. You won’t be thrown out of the feminist club.” Au contraire, yes you will”

Thrown out by whom? Gary Nunn or other so-called feminist men?

Just let ’em f*ckin’ try it.

v // Posted 20 July 2008 at 1:26 pm

I read that article this morning and quite liked it, it amused me anyway. I think youre being ultra defensive Louise because you are in a marriage. Its quite refreshing to read an anti marriage, or at least anti wedding, (and for feminist reasons too!) piece in a mainstream paper. Every corner of society has been telling us that marriage is necessary, desirable, irreplaceable, the ultimate achievement, necessary for society not to collapse, and slamming women who dont marry in various ways, and thats been going on for years and years and years. Yet one guy says its bullshit, because its anti woman, and *this* makes you indignant? Priorities seem skewed here.

Marriage is not a feminist act, as far as i can tell from the women i know who’ve done it, theres two ways they go in to marriage – either out of convenience and/or survival (usually financial), or out of wanting to fulfill some ridiculous patriarchal fairytale theyve been told repeatedly since birth to aim for. Me, i think its better to argue and stand for legal rights and representation in civil partnerships outside of marriage, for partners of any sex, and of any number. And not just to support it with words while defending your ‘choice’ to wear a ring – but to live it, and to forego fairytales and even financial security if necessary to stand in solidarity with those who dont have such a choice.

My decision not to marry is a political decision. Your decision to marry was political too, even if you didnt know it.

Anne Onne // Posted 20 July 2008 at 2:08 pm

V, the problem is, the anti-marriage point of view is from a man alleging that he knows what feminism’s (or feminisms’) position on marriage should be, and what constitutes a feminist. Who is he do decide? The very act of telling feminists what is and isn’t feminist kind of negates the good he does. Kind of like how, as a gay rights supporter, you or I wouldn’t start quoting LGBTQ bloggers and insisting that they’re wrong about it all.

Admittedly, whilst it would be great to see a feminist perspective on why traditional marriages are flawed, why monogamy has its roots in the possessive patriarchy, and why cohabitation may be more feminist, that doesn’t validate his arguments. For someone who insists that people doing a wedding X way are unfeminist (who gave some random bloke permission to refute our Feminist Cards?!?), he’s not exactly written much about why he chooses to enter into marriage himself, if he himself is a feminist, and it is apparently so evil. He may subvert the symbolism (and power to those that do), but he undoes the good of that by then insisting that only his wedding can be feminist, and that feminists who choose anything other than his idea of a subversive wedding are damaging.

I’d like to think that, living in this 24/7 war against patriarchy, where we have been bombarded, since before birth, with misogyny in all its forms, that we get to choose what fights to fight, which ways to be radical. We’re women, we live the reality of the patriarchy in a way he can only sympathise with, having been brought up with suggestions and pressures he’s never encountered. Therefore, if a woman wants to wear a white dress, because she used to have a thing about princesses, is a diehard fanatic of fantasy-esque clothing, or simply likes the look of it, it’s her right to. Granted, it’s important that we as women examine the traditions, realise what lies behind them, and then choose where to go from there. But you know what? It’s really not the business of some guy who thinks his not being a complete arsehole gives him the right to tell feminists or other women what to do or wear. He doesn’t live with the pressure of families expecting tradition, or having been brought up to expect the rituals. Maybe he feels no need for ritual whatsoever. Either way, it’s irrelevant.

His point to men that they shouldn’t force women to take part in sexist rituals is good, and necessary.

I also think it’s a bit disindenuous to blame men’s roles after marriage (no housework, expecting their wives to do it all alongside work, not valuing housework) on white wedding dresses and giving the bride away. It implies that the bride’s acceptance of these rituals, traditions that she has been taught to desire, and led to believe would be offensive if she didn’t have them (how many fathers would be offended if their daughter refused to be given away? Quite a few probably!) is directly responsible for how she is treated after marriage. In short, it takes the husband’s own choices and actions out of the equation. He may also choose to insist on traditions that are also misogynistic. He will probably choose to do far less housework once they get married, even if it was more equitable before marriage. He will choose to take less time looking after any ensuing children, and will probably not take paternity leave. He will probably not value her contributions to the home if she does the housework. These are all the husband’s actions. He is to blame for them, not the ritual, not the dress, not the bride.

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 20 July 2008 at 2:31 pm

I certainly think it’s stupidly arrogant for Mr. Nunn to be confidently telling women whether or not they’re feminist.

However, I’m not entirely certain that the words and reasoning are his own. Given that there are some feminists who insist that to be a good feminist, one must be a “political lesbian” (whatever that means), Mr. Nunn might simply be repeating their rhetoric. And, of course, there are feminists out there who are very eager to throw women out of “the club” based on such things.

james // Posted 20 July 2008 at 6:25 pm

This used to confuse me a lot. I think the problem is most guys think feminism is about equality, which is a mistake. The way I figured it out it is to realise that feminism’s basically an emancipation movement, rather than about equality.

If feminist was a movement for equality, then men would be able to say what the feminist position is. Many key socialist were rich, and you didn’t get the Prols saying they had no right to contribute. That’s where most guys get it wrong.

Because feminism is actually about emancipation, feminists are basically interested in not being oppressed and told what to do by men. So that’s why it’s not appropriate for men to get involved. And that’s why you get the “You’re a man, you have no right to criticise women, STFU.” response all the time, even when women have internalised it all and behaving like total hypocrites.

Anne Onne // Posted 20 July 2008 at 7:17 pm

There is no ‘feminist position’. That’s the first rule of feminism. There’s no official party line, no motto, no universal rules. That’s really the point. It’s not merely that men shouldn’t say what feminism’s about, but that nobody, women included, should be going around telling other women that their liking white dresses or whatever negates whatever contribution to feminism they may make. In short, feminism is about not ordering people what to do with their personal lives. We fight so women can work, so women can have choices, but we also fight for their right to choose each choice, even if it’s not the most radical. Allowing that choice, and analysing the action, not the woman for choosing it, is what this is about.

In this case there’s another dimension because this is a man talking. Yes, that does make a difference. If I told gay couples who didn’t want to get married they were letting down their movement for not wanting equal marriage rights, I’d be a patronising privileged idiot for expecting someone else to change their preferences to prove some wider political point. This is the same thing. We work with other movements, both as the oppressed, and as allies from the group oppressing, because we care. Part of caring about changing something, even if it isn’t meant to benefit you the most is realising that sometimes, your opinion is irrelevant.

Why is it so hard for white, heterosexual men in general to understand? That, when talking about someone else’s choices, especially when as an ally they admit women/POC/LGBTQ face pressures you don’t, that you realise your opinion on their choices is irrelevant?

What exactly is so ‘equal’ about men having to have their opinions on wedding dresses listened to? I mean, what does it actually have to do with them? Do women make a habit about talking about what clothes men should wear, and which clothes kick them out of the feminist club that men have to get their own back? Feminists in general aren’t a group to tell random people they don’t know what to do with themselves, as long as they treat other people respectfully. Therefore I don’t see where this expectation that being male means men should have every opinion they offer on any subject (regardless of how little they might know, how unlrelated to them it is, and how much more it affects women) be treasured. Sure, you can say whatever you want. Freedom of speech also means people are free to poke holes in shoddy arguments or ignorant ramblings, though. And of course, we have the freedom to not listen and not give a damn.

Am I missing something? Because I just see some privileged dude writing some general rule about how women who do something he disagrees with are oppressing themselves and aren’t feminists. No real useful contribution that feminists should be noting down eagerly.

James, if you really think that means feminism’t not about equality, do you think white people should go around telling people of colour how to run their movement, what racism is, etc?

The point is, if you do not directly experience a discrimination, you are not ideally placed to tell those who DO experience it how to deal with it, or that they’re doing it all wrong. You can tell them what you think, but don’t expect them to treat an ignorant, irrelevant opinion with reverence.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 20 July 2008 at 8:00 pm

Feminism is not just one thing. That’s the thing.

Regardless of the type of wedding you choose, whether it’s self consciously political or not.

I think that if you believe that women are entitled to inherent personal value equal to men (which I still don’t think we are), then you are a feminist.

It doesn’t men that you then have to have the same opinions about everything, even though there are some things that most feminists will broadly agree on.

I don’t think feminists have any *right* to decide who’s in and who’s out when it comes to matters beyond that fundamental question of personal worth.

I love traditional weddings! I know the format, having grown up singing in a church choir and seeing about five a week through the summer. New fangled ones confuse the hell out of me.

That doesn’t for a second stop me believing that women are entitled to equal value to men.

Cara // Posted 20 July 2008 at 9:29 pm

Hmmm. I am torn.

On the one hand, yes I agree with a lot of the arguments he makes against marriage.

He doesn’t really explain *why* he and his partner chose to get married despite these things, though.

Also – the self-consciously pretentious “aren’t we clever and ironic” tone grates.

Although I do like the idea of taking wedding traditions and subverting them. If I get married I am wearing red (traditional wedding colour in much of Asia and also nice symbolism, if white is the virginal colour…!) and I am certainly not getting married in a church!

I agree with others that feminism is not a “club” where everyone has to toe a party line, there is room for different views.

And yes, men telling women how to be feminist…hmmm…no. Just no.

Guardian, some views from female feminists on this subject please!

Lara The Second // Posted 20 July 2008 at 10:35 pm

What is wrong with this man? Has he forgotten that the first rule of the Feminist Club is you that don’t talk about the Feminist Club? …oh shit.

Clearly he has no idea what he’s on about. Anybody with half a clue who’d spent some time actually researching would realise that feminists aren’t some homogeneous mass.

james // Posted 20 July 2008 at 10:45 pm

Anne; you presumably expect me to live my personal life in a manner which will help bring about a more equal world. Why are you so reluctant to ask that women do the same thing?

It seems rather odd to expect men to behave in a particular way because of your egalitarian ideals, but then to excuse almost anything a woman does so long as she chooses her choice.

Qubit // Posted 20 July 2008 at 11:23 pm

I think it depends whether you define marriage as inherently unequal. While there is a less than perfect history to marriage I don’t believe it is inherently sexist and that it can’t be equalitarian. It depends how you live within marriage and how the relationship works. Some people do believe marriage is inherently sexist however they accept that other feminists don’t agree with this.

Similarly sex positive and radical feminists disagree and although they may argue, calling the other group not real feminists is considered a strong insult and is not really fair.

Feminists have varies opinions and for someone to read a feminist website and say it isn’t feminist without debate can be quite rude. For this to be a man makes it feel like to some that men are telling women what to do again. He has a perfectly valid opinion however a lot of feminists would disagree with him on this aspect. To say his opinion is the only one feminists hold misrepresents the movement.

There are some aspects which I think are fairly undebatable such as equal work leads to equal pay and that women should be respected on the street. Also that is should be possible for a woman to have a career and children if they wish. I may be wrong and there may be more debate on these issues however they seem fairly settled.

A lot of things involving how genders interact is highly debated in feminism and there is nobody to say what the feminist and equalitarian thing to do is.

I presume by disagree with the arguments saying feminists can marry on here you believe that marriage is inherently prejudice against women in all its forms, including civil partnerships for gay couples? Or at least women who choose to marry are leading to the repression of other women and furthering inequality. Out of curiosity I’d like to hear why this is. Do you believe straight relationships in general are unequal or does marriage make things worse?

Sunny // Posted 21 July 2008 at 4:44 am

James, if you really think that means feminism’t not about equality, do you think white people should go around telling people of colour how to run their movement, what racism is, etc?

Well, white people can certainly disagree with people of colour about anti-racism movement, and to me that’s part of the discourse. It certainly isn’t right that only people of colour can dictate what goes on in anti-racism.

Secondly, in anti-racism too people constantly argue about what position to take. You have differences between generations. Which does mean that accusations of being an “uncle tom” constantly get thrown about.

I’d rather of course that no one said who was part allowed to be part of the club or not. But unfortunately, anti-racists do it and feminists do it. Which is why when Dunn says that, I can see his point.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 21 July 2008 at 6:17 am

Well, Qubit, having observed my mother’s gay relationship over the last 20 years, I would say that her partner is a bully and that it’s never been slightly equal, civil partnership or no.

The situation was the same with my dad for 20 odd years until she woke up and saw what a bum deal she had. I’m hoping she does it again soo, but then I’ve been hoping THAT for years, too.

Someone’s relationship and what they choose to do with it is so individual that layering it with political overtones is quite patronising (though personally I prefer to be matronising lol).

I seems that Gary Nunn has extensive experience of one feminist, but clearly, just one, because he’s generalised her views and perspective to all feminists.

And when it comes to the political act of taking your husbands surname, after the initial faffing around with passports and bank accounts, it makes things so much easier, especially when you have kids. Also, a lot of women take their husbands last name because they prefer it to their given name.

Louise Livesey // Posted 21 July 2008 at 8:38 am

Sorry V, I’m not defensive because I’m married, I’m defensive because a man is trying to tell me what feminism should mean. People can judge my relationship (which differs in no way to the unmarried relationship I had before it except that if I get hit by a bus my partner has a legal right to turn off the ventilator) when they know us.

I do think Nunn alluded to some good points (point by the way made better by women in other places) however I don’t ever agree that male pro-feminists can determine what feminism is (look at the cartoon, it encapsulated the problem neatly).

As for the troubled institution of marriage – it’s about intersections isn’t it. hooks have ably written about why black feminists have to maintain connections with black men because of racist society. As a disabled woman I have to consider who will be in a place to carry out my wishes – I don’t have the privilege of not thinking about that.

In the end, I was as surprised as anyone that my life partner was a man, but he was and given we therefore didn’t have the option of a civil partnership (damn those unfair laws) we had a legal wedding and we made our vows to each other separately. Did it change anything? Not a damn thing, that’s my point – my relationship is entirely undifferent to what it was before except for a piece of paper. My point? Either Nunn has to go to the logical conclusion and say feminists should not have intimate relationships with men (in which case he loses out and Julie Bindel makes those arguments rather eloquently in the Angry Wimmin documentary) or he should review his argument for its massive inconsistencies. The institution of marriage has been highly oppressive. The modern practice of marriage doesn’t have to be as long as you are aware enough to challenge heterosexist privilege in others responses to it.

James, If feminist was a movement for equality, then men would be able to say what the feminist position is. Many key socialist were rich, and you didn’t get the Prols saying they had no rightto contribute. That’s where most guys get it wrong.

Actually working class activists have long had issues with rich socialists taking over – read some of your trade union history.

I do live my life in a way designed to bring about a more egalitarian society – I aim for a day when gender is entirely a non-issue including who I may or may not wed. I don’t want to see woman-woman relationships privileged or fetishised as “better” for all the reasons, and more, that ConservaTory Girl points out. But I don’t aim for equality because that’s usually phrased in terms of “equality with men” and I don’t want to maintain the current patriarchal system which impacts men as well as women (although women more). I’d rather see something else entirely in it’s place please, something truly fair and just rather than something in which white women get privileged alongside white men but without tackling the myriad injustices this involves. Plus I wouldn’t get those privileges as a cripple – only some of them.

Qubit // Posted 21 July 2008 at 8:42 am

I don’t doubt many relationship have unequal power dynamics and possibly one partner being treated badly however I don’t believe all relationships have to be like this. It depends on the people involved. I think an individual marriage or civil partnership can be equal.

By James telling Louise she is failing feminism and living in style that promotes inequality by being married, he is implying that marriage is inherently about repressing one party, particularly the woman. I disagree with this opinion. I also feel James is suggesting that every feminist should do what someone calls feminist to make society equal independent of whether you agree with it. For example if I wrote a column in a newspaper saying true feminists always wore a purple tie then all feminists should do that. He doesn’t ever say if he agrees with the article, he just criticises Louise for being a hypocrite which I think is rude.

Elsie // Posted 21 July 2008 at 9:41 am

I don’t understand why people have taken such offence to Nunn’s comment about the wearing of a traditional white wedding dress being incompatible with many feminist positions. As an educated feminist woman, I completely agree with Nunn here, and I can’t help feeling that if a woman rather than a man had made this remark she would not have been attacked nearly so much. Remember, it is possible for some men to be more feminist in their outlook and actions than some women. Not a pleasant fact perhaps, but a true one.

Also, the feminist website’s claim that wearing a white pouffy dress is ‘fine’ is simply adhering to the (confused) line that feminism is *just* about choice and that *all* choices are good. This is not true: in the same way that a woman *choosing* to be objectified does not represent a feminist action, it follows that wearing a white wedding dress (whatever it can be made to stand for) *does not* represent a feminist stance either.

I will probably be criticised for appearing to tell women what to do and for promoting the notion that there is one feminist school of thought (there isn’t; I know that) but I do think this point of Nunn’s is important and should be acknowledged as such.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 21 July 2008 at 10:09 am

I *slightly* agree with Nunn here. Just because I am a feminist doesn’t mean that all the acts I engage in *are* feminist. Marriage is a patriarchal tradition. Whatever you wear, say or do during the ceremony is never going to make it into a feminist act. But that doesn’t mean I might not get married – it just means I’m not going to pretend that it is progressive. Same goes for wearing heels, shaving your legs and accepting the sexist status quo.

Doesn’t mean that you are a bad person if you do these things. I wear heels, I don’t always have the energy to fight the status quo. But it isn’t feminist. But it would simply be exhausting to fight every aspect of the patriarchy all the god damned time. Capitulating to the patriarchy brings rewards (even if they are, in the long-term, not worth it) and sometimes we want those rewards. Cut yourselves a break! But don’t pretend that you can magically opt-out of the patriarchy and make everything you do a feminist act.

Sunny –

“Well, white people can certainly disagree with people of colour about anti-racism movement, and to me that’s part of the discourse. It certainly isn’t right that only people of colour can dictate what goes on in anti-racism.”

Hmmm – but don’t you think that people of colour should have priority to speak on issues of race? Since they are the ones who have to bear the weight of most of the discrimination and prejudice. Same goes for women in situations of talking about sexism. I think that more is going to get resolved if people listen to those who are mainly affected by the subject first.

Sarah // Posted 21 July 2008 at 11:05 am

I do find it odd that a feminist woman would want to have a traditional wedding, with the white dress and everything, and can’t imagine myself ever doing that – just about everything about the ceremony offends me or goes contrary to my beliefs and values. I know the dress is only a superficial symbol, and doesn’t necessarily imply a traditional patriarchaly relationship – I just can’t begin to imagine wanting to do it.

But I guess I have to accept that not everyone is exactly the same as me, maybe some people just like to play dress-up, maybe for some couples it’s a kind of consensual role-play as part of a progressive relationship (I’m thinking of S&M practices as an analogy here), maybe it’s an ironic ‘post-feminist’ thing, maybe it’s a comprimise to keep family members happy – and we all make such comprimises to some extent.

So I want to be respectful of other women’s choices, and I think feminism is big enough to encompass different opinions and expressions. But honestly the whole thing *looks* so much like a public rejection of everything feminism stands for, even if that isn’t the intention, that it does make me uncomfortable. So I’m divided as to how I feel about the whole thing.

But one thing I’m sure about – a man publicly dictating to women what they may wear and how they must behave, and berating them for failing to reach some arbitrary standard of moral purity? That doesn’t sound like feminism to me.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 21 July 2008 at 11:24 am

I agree that there is something problematic about a man telling female feminists how ‘to do’ feminism.

But that said, I agree with Elsie. Feminism isn’t all about choice; it’s about trying to create an egalitarian society.

Some wedding traditions are indubitably patriarchal (e.g. wife being ‘given away’, changing her name, all-male speeches etc.) and it seems odd for feminists to refrain from criticising those traditions on the grounds that doing so may offend women who have gone along with them.

Danielle // Posted 21 July 2008 at 12:15 pm

“Well white people can certainly disagree with people of colour about anti-racism movement, and to me that’s part of the discourse”

I agree with Jennifer-Ruth on this one. Of course white people can disagree, no one ever said that being black makes you infallible with regard to race theory, but the said white people have to accept that people of colour have more authority on the subject of racism, because they’ve lived the experience in ways that we haven’t. I disagree sometimes with my (black) friend about racism and how to tackle it, but I would never dream of telling her that she’s wrong and that I know better. That’s not what discourse is about.

And that’s why telling women that they shouldn’t get married because it’s “not feminist” is patriarchal in a different way. Nunn is assuming a superiority that he can’t logically have if he wants to be a feminist.

hazel // Posted 21 July 2008 at 12:18 pm

@ConservaTorygirl: “when it comes to the political act of taking your husbands surname…it makes things so much easier, especially when you have kids”

How so?

I am married, I didn’t change my name, we have a son who has my surname and we have had no problems whatsoever with having different surnames.

Sian // Posted 21 July 2008 at 2:15 pm

You wouldn’t think this guy would have the nerve to actually be this hypocritical, would you? There’s loads of men who like to tell us what feminist is actually about, but that’s definitely the most blatent example. Almost hilarious if it wasn’t so annoying.

About marriage:

1. Yes it has been traditionally a patriarchal institution in most societies.

2. Therefore I do understand why some feminists feel uncomfortable about getting married. There’s also religion (or lack thereof) to take into account for what amounts to a personal decision.

3. But I also understand why other feminists want to get married. You could see it as taking what should be a nice gesture with the one you love back from the patriarchy (e.g. by not getting ‘given away’ etc), you might be doing it for the all-important legal reasons, you might find it important to yourself for religious reasons.

I don’t know what side of the fence I sit on, but I wish people would be more respectful of those decisions; the way I see it EITHER could be argued to be a feminist position. I don’t see it as feminists trying not to offend those who have chosen to marry. I especially think that the way that the law works at the moment those against marriage should understand that’s a reasonable reason to marry, at the least.

Anna // Posted 21 July 2008 at 2:22 pm

I don’t think I’m any less feminist for wanting to get married [albeit to a certain person – I’ve never had the desire to get married in general], wear the dress, and get given away – I can imagine my [non-feminist] father causing absolute ructions were I to leave that part out [not to mention the rest of the family]. I’ll probably take the surname, too, because I like his more than mine and my surname has already been changed during my childhood so I’ve no real attachment to it.. Whilst I agree it is important to think about why you’re doing it, I don’t think that means you should write off a wedding that may be more traditionally patriarchal.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 21 July 2008 at 2:26 pm

the sad thing is that its another example of an article that makes people alienated from feminism. imagine the dream bride reading the article! i seem to find the worst turn-offs to feminism are written by people claiming to be feminist that talk anti-feminist stuff. im not saying they cant be feminist and have those views of course, but that often people are labeled as feminists or write that they are feminists when they dont know or disagree with most feminists in the article its put to. i think it can do more damage to the misunderstanding than the mocking of feminism sometimes. and here is an example of patriarchy on my mind. im blaming the “feminists” for people not paying attention to/ignoring/hating other feminists. lol.

Kath // Posted 21 July 2008 at 6:45 pm

I haven’t read all the comments as I’ve already read through quite a lot of the ones on the Guardian website. I thoroughly enjoyed the article. I did find the tone slightly odd but I put that down to the fact that the article is meant to be humorous (they are calling each other Trouble and Strife, for heaven’s sake). I don’t think that a woman should be “thrown out of the feminist club” for wearing a white wedding dress and I doubt Gary Nunn does either, but I do think that as feminists we should examine all kinds of gender roles and weddings are full of them. Why is the bride expected to wear white? Why does her father “give her away”? Why do the women sit silent while the men make the speeches? Why do women change their names? Of course it’s up to every individual to choose how much they accept or ignore/rebel against/subvert those roles. So if you think you look great in white or you want your dad by your side then go for it but as Elsie and Jennifer Ruth pointed out, just because it’s your choice it doesn’t make it a feminist act.

Anne Onne // Posted 21 July 2008 at 9:15 pm

Sunny, I agree that white people can certainly disagree with POC about racism, and that there is no universal anti-racist position. Just as feminist women debate about issues, so do LGBTQ activists, POC activists, etc. The point is not whether they can disagree, or even whether they can politely express that disagreement (yes, in both cases), but that any member of the privileged class has to be careful not to use that privilege to silence the person they supposedly want to fight alongside, whose much more relevant experiences they are supposed to be listening to. I agree with Jennifer-Tuth and Danielle here.

Elsie, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I doubt that I would have ignored it had it been said by a woman. The point is only partly that a man is telling women how to live their lives (something which, of course, feminists should criticise); it is also about to what extent we each put theory and principle before practicality and what is easy. It’s about whether anybody can say who’s in the Feminist Club.

James, the two are actually very different. I don’t expect anything of any particular person, (but that’s beside the point) though I suppose I’d like it if eferyone considered equality and how to try to achieve it. Which is to say that whilst I’d hope that men, yourself included, try to make a cosnious effort to engage with equality, struggle with their privilege etc, I understand that they are human. They mess up. They lapse. They can’t fight all the patriarchy all at once. I no more expect men to be perfect than I expect women to be. I would hope that both would try to be better, more understanding, and kinder; that with age would come the slow unravelling of layers of conditioning.

But here’s the thing: one group’s choices harm the other group, the other group’s choices harm themselves. This is essential to feminist theory: that women are overall more disadvantaged than men under the patriarchy, and that men, by and large assert more power over women than vice versa.

A man’s lapsing into patriarchy in this sense entails him harming, or at least affecting another person, a woman. (It’s not impossible for him to harm himself, because the Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too…) When a woman lapses into conditioning, she is perhaps harming herself, and arguably limiting her choices, but this is not the same thing as someone else taking control over her life.

I do actually agree with some of what Nunn has to say. I believe (and have written enough times) that opinions and choices should be criticised and examined. That each of us should look at our own motivations, be frank with ourselves, and understand how much the patriarchy has affected those choices. That the patriarchy is something that weighs in on every choice we make to some extent.

What I have also been clear about (so I hope!) is that I don’t believe we have the right to criticise specific people for the choice they have made, or blame them for their troubles. We live in a patriarchy in which it is impossible to escape all misogynist conventions. We have small battles to fight every day, from the moment we wake up. We should not fight pressure of one kind only to replace it with pressure of another kind. I do agree that not all *choices* are feminist, but I also think that in a life full of choices, we cna never make all the ‘right’ ones. I think we need to analyse choices, fight for more, and talk about this. But not judge those that pick the easier choice, given how much pressure they have.

Feminism is about equality, but to reach that equality, I don’t want to make myself miserable, or expect others to do so. It means we lose a little ground, because we can’t always fight the conditioning and the easy choices. But sometimes the ‘easier’ option is the necessity. Sometimes it’s the small comfort in an otherwise hostile (especially to feminists!) world. I will agree that any given choice is unfeminist, but I won’t expect women constantly bombarded with messages that they ought to hate themselves (that they don’t deserve happiness, not really…) to pick every single ‘feminist’ choice regardless of what they really want. I don’t want my feminism to make them feel worse, or make life harder for women.

Therefore, whilst I love discussion about how to adapt marriage to feminism, whether marriage is necessary etc. I cannot agree with the central premise of his article: that women who give in to a lifetime’s worth of patriarchical conditioning have only themselves to blame. This whole section is incredibly problematic for me, verging on being completely unfeminist in word:

”A man expecting to erase a woman’s surname and impose his own is just the tip of a glass shard. When a man knows he can have a woman “given away” to him, have all the ceremony’s speeches made by men whilst women remain silent, and have his bride wear white to signify virginity and purity, can he really be blamed for viewing a woman in patriarchal terms, if she readily submits to them?”

There is no acknowledgement that it is difficult for women to deal with pressure from the groom, his family, or even her family, when it comes to changing names. Likewise, the woman being ‘given away’, how her family would react if she refuses the tradition, or whether she would in fact like a tradition she has been brought up with, are not considered. The bride does not, apparently choose to wear white because it’s (admittedly silly and not that long-standing) tradition, but because he can ‘have his bride wear white’. The punchline is even more problematic: that if a man marries a woman with a traditional ceremony (despite the fact that this is what most people expect and pressure a couple to do), the implication is he can’t be blamed for being a misogynist thereafter, because she ‘submits’ to these traditions. Right. Because wearing a white dress means that she therefore consents to sex at all times, doing all the housework and all the childcare!

Why didn’t I think of that? I know, because it’s victim-blaming! The format (if she does X, he can’t be blamed for Y) is startlingly familair, and not appropriate to feminist discourse. So I have to disagree with Kath, because I think Gary Nunn makes it clear he does blame women for falling for tradition. He all but states that men can’t really be blamed for being misogynist after they have a traditional wedding.

Would I love frank feminist analysis of marriage? Yes. but I’m not so desperate as to consider this particularly self-congratulatory, patronising example as qualifying. There’s been so much written that says it so much better, without ignoring all the context or nuances.

zohra // Posted 21 July 2008 at 9:45 pm

I’m with v, james and Sunny on this one. Thought Nunn’s article was funny and refreshing, and lots of bits were quite right.

Jennifer-Ruth and Danielle, re ‘but don’t you think that people of colour should have priority to speak on issues of race?’

I think they should have space, but are often marginalized, and part of anti-racist politics should be about bringing those voices to the centre.

By writing his piece, Nunn hasn’t stopped other women from writing, and women generally do have priority when speaking on issues of feminism. To the extent that sometimes we complain that men don’t talk about feminism enough.

Also, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not right about racism because I’m of-colour but because I’m right (when I am) – sound evidence, good logic, etc. And a white person isn’t wrong about racism because they’re white, but because they’re wrong (expressing privilege, being prejudiced, poor logic, etc). Ditto men and women re sexism/feminism.

I think Nunn’s piece was a lot less dictatorial than it’s being made out to be. As I said, I thought it was funny – as *if* there was a feminist club that Nunn or anyone else could boot anyone else out of. So many of us feminists police each other as if there *is* a club though, that’s what’s funny about it.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 21 July 2008 at 10:51 pm

Well I *hated* getting called Mrs A and then having to say “I’m not Mrs A I’m Mrs D, actually…” and then getting into protracted conversations about how I wasn’t divorced etc. So I changed it, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Sunny H // Posted 22 July 2008 at 1:06 am

With regards to anti-racism and feminism – what zohra said above basically.

I have a different way of approaching race politics I guess. On the one hand there is institutional / structural bias against people of colour, which needs to be confronted.

But on an individual level, the only important factor is that both groups are given space for discussion. A non-white person can be racist too, and in various societies across the Middle East and South Asia – they are.

I don’t view racism simply as white (privileged) vs black (oppressed). To me that’s simplistic as well as a bit patronising. How would you characterise Middle East countries where Arabs are racist against South Asians? And there are instances in the UK where South Asians are (on a personal level) racist against whites.

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 22 July 2008 at 9:50 am

Zohra – “Also, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not right about racism because I’m of-colour but because I’m right (when I am) – sound evidence, good logic, etc. And a white person isn’t wrong about racism because they’re white, but because they’re wrong (expressing privilege, being prejudiced, poor logic, etc). Ditto men and women re sexism/feminism.”

I absolutely agree with you, BUT I think that this can only occur when all the people involved are aware of their privilege and how the system of kyriarchy affects their experiences.

In many discussions which involve a privileged group and a institutionally oppressed group, it is hard to get to the core of the issue due to expressions of privilege. I don’t think that anyone can have a constructive conversation about race, class, sex etc. until they are aware of how privilege has shaped their daily lives. Without that you get the “What about the men?” popping up in conversations about women and “It’s more difficult to be a white male in this country than any other colour!” – the conversation is continually flipped over to how it affects the privileged group, NOT the oppressed.

So, that is why I think the oppressed group should get priority to speak.

last king of scotland // Posted 22 July 2008 at 12:00 pm

Apparently men know better?!

I saw the original article on CIF and lampooned it. But I did not lampoon it because it was written by a man.

So no, men don’t know better and Gary Nun is certainly not talking for the rest of us. Most men I know really would not give a *** **** about who wears what on that most frighful of days.

BareNakedLady // Posted 22 July 2008 at 1:13 pm

I want a romantic, traditional wedding that evokes memories and thoughts of my parents/grandparents/etc wedding ceremonies and the happy partnerships they have gone on to have in their marriages. I want a big fuss because two people committing to each other like that is a very big deal. I want my dad to walk me down the aisle because I want that symbol of me leaving my parents for my husband (if he wants to walk down the aisle with his parents too, that would be fine with me.) I want a white dress because it’s what makes people think ‘bride’.

I’ll pause while you throw up now.. my point is, why should I give up on all this because someone else thinks it’s antifeminist? Surely what’s *really* antifeminist is the patriarchal system whereby women are dictated to – which, yes, has included a tradition of belief that weddings have to take place in a certain way. But if someone’s telling me that my wedding now has to take place in a certain *different* way, that’s just as restrictive. It may be more feminist on the scale of individual issues to make a stand against wearing white/being walked down the aisle etc, but at least one of the overarching principles of feminism is surely one against dictation to women – so, I object to someone dictating to me what my wedding should be like.

I won’t promise ‘to obey’ in the vows. But that aside, everything else that takes place in a wedding is a symbol, it’s not the actual oppression itself. Wearing white (the example I keep coming back to, but there are others), is a *symbol* of virginity. But no one is saying I have to actually be a virgin (thank heaven), no one at my wedding will think anything differently about me because I’m already living with my boyfriend. Probably no one is actually going to think much about the fact that the tradition of wearing white relates to virginity. To me, now, it just says ‘bride’, and that’s all. That’s what I would like my political statement to be – the fact that I will not be told that a traditional white wedding can’t also be feminist.

How far could this be taken, if we don’t start reclaiming some of these symbols? Okay, so I can’t wear white because it’s the symbol of virginity. Should I also not wear scarlet, because of the ‘scarlet woman’ associations? Black would probably be frowned upon as too morbid. Pink is the stereotypical girl colour. Blue is the stereotypical boy colour. That leaves me with yellow, which looks hideous on me, and green, which was the colour of my old school uniform and I’ve never worn since. I’ll stick with white, thanks.

Kath // Posted 22 July 2008 at 1:48 pm

I think that this humorous article could have been used as a jumping-off point for a serious discussion about gender roles in weddings and marriage. Instead we are trying to apply serious analysis to the views of the author whose tongue is quite clearly in his cheek. I really don’t think the statement that someone will be “thrown out of the feminist club” for wearing a “poofy white dress” should be taken at face value. No-one would use the words “your feminist club membership will become invalid” if they were being serious. As zohra pointed out the humour comes from the fact that there is no “feminist club” that we can be “thrown out of” but sometimes we treat each other as if there was.

The “victim-blaming” paragraph is more troublesome on first reading and why I initially described the tone of the article as odd. However I think that Nunn is right to point out that all aspects of women’s subjugation are linked. There are wider implications to the “innocent symbolism” of patriarchal wedding traditions. So can a man “really be blamed for viewing a woman in patriarchal terms, if she readily submits to them?” Well no, I don’t blame men for seeing women in patriarchal terms anymore than I blame women for seeing themselves in patriarchal terms. We’re all influenced by the society we live in. Having said that, we do have the final say over our actions and how we treat people. Nowhere does Nunn say that men should be allowed to treat women badly if they acquiesce to gender stereotypes in weddings. (I even think that here he may again be poking fun at those who do blame women for not being “good enough” feminists but that mightn’t be everybody’s interpretation.) In fact his next paragraph contradicts that view as he says “Men too – like myself – should be feminists. It’s equally important we reject all conventions that degrade our future wives.” Not “we should reject all conventions that degrade our future wives unless they willingly submit to them in which case we’re allowed to view them in patriarchal terms and treat them accordingly”. His view seems to be more that progressive men and women can help each other to break with patriarchal traditions. For example women (and men) may feel pressured by their families into having a traditional white wedding with the bride’s father giving her away but as adults they can choose not to, especially if their partner is supportive.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 22 July 2008 at 1:54 pm

BareNakedLady you should never ever get married in green! That is ssoooooo unlucky you might as well do what my cousin did and say to the registrar *immediately* after signing the book:

“Does that mean we have to get divorced now?”

She’s never been great with words but that one was first class…

The one tradition I have *HUGE* problems with is carrying over the threshold. This really does stem from a time when women were sold off and had to be carried in and put straight in the kitchen before they could run away… Scary, huh?

chem_fem // Posted 22 July 2008 at 1:56 pm

BareNakedLady –

All feminists make choices that are perhaps not feminist in some way and that is their choice to make.

I like to think of it as like a buffet of choices, some challenge the status quo and in little or large ways challenge the patriachy. Examples would include bucking traditional beauty standards and other expectations placed on women. These I call feminist choices.

There are some that go along with the staus quo and do little or nothing to challenge the patriachy or sexism. I would label these not feminist and many feminists will conform in some ways to un-feminist ways of life.

To be anti-feminist though, to me, is to do something that fights against feminism and its goals. For example campaining against equal pay or putting pressure on your daughter to change her name on marriage if that is not somthing she wants to do.

A white wedding does not go against feminism rather is is just not a feminist act. You would be better in this case to use feminist critique to fully understand the choices you make and your preferences so that you go into them with open eyes. If then your choice remains the same, at least it is an informed one.

Maevie // Posted 22 July 2008 at 2:10 pm

Bare Naked Lady, how about cream or ivory instead of white? A white dress is usually harsh on any skin or teeth tone. Also cream/ivory would neatly deal with any perceived ideological implications!

Jennifer-Ruth // Posted 22 July 2008 at 2:19 pm

BareNakedLady – “so, I object to someone dictating to me what my wedding should be like.”

I don’t think anyone is dictating anything or telling you what to do. Doing something that isn’t feminist doesn’t mean that you get your feminist club card revoked. Even the most hardcore feminists probably give in to the patriarchy every now and again – it would be too exhausting to put up the fight 24/7.

So, no, there is nothing wrong with wanting the wedding you want. But you can’t make it a feminist act. People saying it isn’t feminist or analysing the choices we make under patriarchy is not an attack on you or your choices.

I shave my legs, wear heels that sometimes hurt, daydream about my boyfriend proposing to me and dye my hair. The question is, would I do any of this stuff if it didn’t bring approval from the patriarchal system? I question my choices and perhaps realise that they may be anti-feminist.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 22 July 2008 at 2:23 pm

BareNakedLady –

Nobody is preventing you from doing whatever you want at your wedding.

Speaking for myself, what I object to is the idea that everything a self-described feminist woman chooses to do is a feminist action simply because she has chosen to do it, and that feminism is all about ‘choice’.

I’m not advocating that feminists should somehow be banned from having traditional weddings (and nor was anyone else as far as I can see). I am objecting to the insistence on the part of some feminists that traditional wedding are somehow feminist.

Leigh // Posted 22 July 2008 at 2:57 pm

If the traditional marriage ceremony is choc-full of symbols of patriarchal control over women then it is time to change those symbols. If you’re not prepared to make the effort to redefine and incorporate the old forms – modify the vows, make it clear that if any male sincerely wants to wear a dress to the ceremony that they are to be made welcome and no commented on, have both the male and female parent figures accompany the bride and groom down the aisle, then yes, I can see how a case can be made that the participants are compromising their feminist principles. Gary Nun’s language and tone were not mindful of his position of male privilege, and unless he is prepared to make THAT effort he should perhaps keep his opinions to himself.

BareNakedLady // Posted 22 July 2008 at 3:29 pm

JenniferRuth & Cockney Hitcher – yes, point taken re my use of the word ‘dictation’, that was perhaps too strong. And I’m not taking this too seriously to realise that no one is *actually* telling me what to do at my wedding. My point is that I think a traditional wedding *can* be feminist (which is obviously where we will start to disagree, but hey, that’s the whole idea of debate. :) ). I agree with both your points that pretty much all feminists (probably) do things from day to day which wouldn’t be described as feminist, and that something isn’t a feminist action just because it’s a feminist doing it. With you both on those counts.

But why can’t a traditional wedding be a feminist act? If a *non*traditional wedding can be a feminist act – and I was taking this for granted, maybe you would disagree with me there – then why can’t a traditional wedding? Okay, it’s not exactly activist, I realise that. But can we at least get as far as neutrality, perhaps? Most of the comments so far have been coming out strongly against the concept of a traditional wedding. My feeling is that that’s too harsh. The general gist of most comments seem to be that there is only one motivation and reason for a traditional wedding, and that’s patriarchy. Is that really true?

(Okay, my own motivations are obviously influenced by society, and it probably is the years of insidious patriarchal influence that are making me want this. But hypothetically?!)

Kath // Posted 22 July 2008 at 5:13 pm

Leigh –

Since you seem to agree with the thrust of Gary’s article I don’t see why you think he should keep his views to himself. He is clearly a committed feminist and he and his partner are trying to highlight issues of patriarchal symbolism in weddings in a humorous way. Some of the humour in the article may have misfired (it was certainly missed by many posters here and on CiF) but I don’t see that he was being disrespectful or patronising. Anyway surely it’s better for him to write the article so that it can be debated warts and all than for him to keep quiet in the first place? I for one think he had something interesting to say.

Leigh // Posted 22 July 2008 at 10:30 pm

Kath_ I don’t think that Gary Nunn should keep his opinions to himself. I think he should make sure his wording is self aware and respectful and his humour ‘on target’ enough that his points are able to actually get across. As it is he shoots himself in the foot by trying to dictate to women what feminism constitutes, thereby wasting everybody’s time and effort.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 22 July 2008 at 10:46 pm

chem_fem does it need to be a feminist act? Isn’t activism, voting and general awareness raising enough?

chem_fem // Posted 23 July 2008 at 8:57 am

Conservatorygirl – I think that’s for you to decide about your own wedding. I personally would rather that everyone thought about these things and were honest about not everything in their lives being feminist or activism. To live by the book completely if it doesn’t suit you wouldn’t be the way to go (I don’t know anyone who does), just be honest about it though :)

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 23 July 2008 at 9:34 am

I just don’t see how a wedding containing sexist symbolism could be a feminist act.

I suppose I don’t believe that intention makes all the difference, which is what you seem to be saying. I don’t believe that you can completely change the symbolic meaning of something purely by thinking to yourself ‘I’m not doing this for traditional reasons’. Take the ‘giving away’ tradition: the handing over of a woman by a man (the father) to a man (the husband) is going to look exactly the same whether it happens in a self-described feminist’s wedding or a Christian fundamentalist’s wedding!

I disagree that an act that looks and sounds sexist and was invented for highly sexist reasons (such as being ‘given away’) magically becomes feminist when the people doing it happen to be progressive.

A wedding that actually *changes* the traditions to make them egalitarian – e.g. having both parents of the bride AND the groom accompanying them down the aisle, or no parents at all – is clearly more feminist than a wedding that simply adopts all the traditional customs.

Kath // Posted 23 July 2008 at 9:37 am

Leigh – I understand what you’re saying I guess I just don’t see this article the same way as you. To me there is nothing in the article that dictates to women what constitutes feminism, there is just a joke about how how you will get thrown out of the “club” if you don’t toe the line. It’s playing on a typical stereotype of the feminist movement and making a mockery of it. Some people may think it is inappropriate for a man to do this but as long as he is a feminist – and I believe he is – then I don’t care.

v // Posted 23 July 2008 at 12:14 pm

I just wanted to respond to Louise: “Sorry V, I’m not defensive because I’m married, I’m defensive because a man is trying to tell me what feminism should mean. People can judge my relationship (which differs in no way to the unmarried relationship I had before it except that if I get hit by a bus my partner has a legal right to turn off the ventilator) when they know us.

I do think Nunn alluded to some good points (point by the way made better by women in other places) however I don’t ever agree that male pro-feminists can determine what feminism is (look at the cartoon, it encapsulated the problem neatly).”

I dont think we disagree wrt to men determining feminism, but you took his claims of taking away membership cards seriously, whereas I took them as a joke.

I do think that a man who takes feminism seriously is capable of unpacking patriarchal cultural practices. And I dont think he should shut up about it, although I would personally rather read an article on the subject by a feminist woman. He seems to have grasped a feminist response to weddings better than some of those here, even if he hasnt yet gone the full distance.

“As for the troubled institution of marriage – it’s about intersections isn’t it. hooks have ably written about why black feminists have to maintain connections with black men because of racist society. As a disabled woman I have to consider who will be in a place to carry out my wishes – I don’t have the privilege of not thinking about that.

In the end, I was as surprised as anyone that my life partner was a man, but he was and given we therefore didn’t have the option of a civil partnership (damn those unfair laws) we had a legal wedding and we made our vows to each other separately. Did it change anything? Not a damn thing, that’s my point – my relationship is entirely undifferent to what it was before except for a piece of paper. My point? Either Nunn has to go to the logical conclusion and say feminists should not have intimate relationships with men (in which case he loses out and Julie Bindel makes those arguments rather eloquently in the Angry Wimmin documentary) or he should review his argument for its massive inconsistencies. ”

I am in a long term relationship with a man. We have two children together. I am bipolar and have ptsd, and so my mental health throws up problems with the system. I also have a pretty fucked up family situation, so I could say that marriage is necessary for me too. It would also be easy enough for me to get down the registry office.

But I have resisted marriage because I know it is a patriarchal, heterosexist, oppressive institution. Not just for those who choose it, or those forced into it, but also for every single one of us who for whatever reason cannot or will not indulge in it. I stand in solidarity with those who do not have the choice to marry. There should not be special legal rights for partners who marry, then denied or made difficult for those who dont. I include people who are in non sexual life partnerships – those brothers or sisters or friends who share lives but not beds, and who are thus denied the respect and legal recognitions that can only be got through marriage.

You say you dont have the privilege of resisting. I dont think resistance is a privilege – but marriage is. Marriage is full of little privileges that the rest of us are denied or have to navigate with real difficulty. What you mean is – it would be extremely hard for you to get the legal recognitions you need if you didnt marry. Which exposes the privilege, really. I think you have it backwards!

Marriage is not feminist and weddings are not a feminist act. If you try and subvert marriage or weddings then I guess you could claim that individual subversions were feminist acts, but not the whole, which no matter how you look at it supports an institution that is outdated, sexist, heterosexist, and just plain unfair.

“The institution of marriage has been highly oppressive. The modern practice of marriage doesn’t have to be as long as you are aware enough to challenge heterosexist privilege in others responses to it.”

The modern practice of marriage is continuing the highly oppressive institution of marriage. They are not magically marked with a date line! You think some really lucky feminists marrying in especially progressive ways changes the way marriage is felt by everyone else? Those women who are trapped in marriages, or those denied its legal privileges outside?

Also – I challenge you to examine wedding magazines and ads for wedding stuff, for their racism, classism, sexism and heterosexism. Then tell me how feminist weddings are!

Subvert away, but dont think your individual acts of subversion change the rules or the institution.

Cara // Posted 23 July 2008 at 12:35 pm


Agree with CockneyHitcher.

Getting married and changing traditions is one thing.

No way would I be “given away”. Eurgh.

I am wearing red if I ever get married. It suits me, and also, the “slutty” implications…nice subversion of the good girl, virginal white thing. I do not like most traditional wedding dresses, most are unflattering meringue looking things.

I can only imagine my more traditional friends and relatives’ faces if I did that! *Evil grin*.

Actually I could not be arsed with the whole spending loads of money on, and stress of planning, a big wedding. And I would not get married in a church as I am not religious (and would not assume my partner will be even nominally Christian. Not that I would be into anyone who was observant of any religion). Nope, I would go for just the two of us on a tropical beach or something equally un-stressful! I mean – some people attach more importance to the day than to, you know, the relationship they are meant to be celebrating.

It makes me want to puke when anyone says things like “all little girls dream of a big white wedding”. That is so sexist.

All that said – I wouldn’t criticise people for choosing a more traditional wedding, any more than I’d appreciate anyone criticising my / someone else’s choice not to (or not to get married at all).

Interesting discussion…there is a lot of argument among feminists of the form

A. Act X is sexist and rooted in outdated patriarchal values

B. But I *chose* to do X! How dare you criticise women’s choices!

I think it is valid to criticise *traditions* or trends – but not the person who does them.

Most feminist women end up doing things they know are not necessarily feminist – wearing heels, for example. I know I do. It is just not possible for one person to fight patriarchy all the time, to be a living saint embodying Feminist Values. It would be exhausting.

Rather than get defensive and make excuses, we should admit it – yes I am doing X, I know it’s pretty much sexist crap, but it makes my life easier. Equally as I said, certain feminists should not be holier-than-thou and criticise those who admit these things.

Feminism is not about being a prescription for a way of life, euw, enough of “thou shalt not” from religion, thanks. Nor is it about deciding that every “choice” a woman makes is great, because she’s female. It is simply this: women are human beings.

Lindsey // Posted 23 July 2008 at 12:40 pm

Can’t resist chucking in my reaction out of sequence:

“You’re not a feminist because you’re wearing the WRONG OUTFIT”

LOL – since I regard judging women’s clothing choices one of the key clues to a person’s (often unconscious) misogynist tendencies.

I believe marriage is a personal choice, but that you should consider every aspect of influence you’ve had before making the choice rather than taking it as default that you should do it. I love my partner enough to marry him, but hate everything about weddings and don’t feel the need for the legal security (probably because neither of us has anything). If straight couples could get civil partnerships I would consider doing that.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 23 July 2008 at 2:12 pm

chem_fem – it wasn’t because it was a wedding not a protest.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 23 July 2008 at 2:27 pm

I love that comment v and broadly agree but I also think that if people want to get married it’s up to them.

The government is *always* going to promote heterosexual marriage above other forms of partnership because statistically, the children of such unions have better life chances than those who don’t.

Obviously – it’s easier (cheaper) to reduce child poverty by promoting marriage than by actually addressing the problem of major socioeconomic inequality and prejudice in this society.

chem_fem // Posted 23 July 2008 at 3:49 pm


I don’t have to wait until I’m at a protest to live by my principles.

v // Posted 23 July 2008 at 4:41 pm

“if people want to get married it’s up to them.”

i dont disagree but that doesnt make it feminist.

if a feminist wants to get married they could at least admit they are doing it for their own personal benefit and regardless of the impact it has on others. we all make concessions to the patriarchy in order to survive and get by, but those concessions dont become feminist just because some feminists conform to them.

ConservaTorygirl // Posted 23 July 2008 at 9:48 pm

You don’t have to justify the choice to get married.

Marriage need not undermine feminism.

You can do it in whatever way you want with whatever bits of idiosyncratic symbolism you want. Furthermore, the day is about the couple but you have to make compromises with the people who are paying for it and also bear in mind that you don’t want (especially) older relatives to feel uncomfortable and you don’t want people you don’t know so well to be freaked out.

It’s postmodern and it’s okay.

Sarah // Posted 24 July 2008 at 10:00 am

If anyone is genuinely ‘freaked out’ by me not dressing up in an enormous frilly white ballgown and being handed over from one man to another like an inconvenient possession – they are more than welcome to not attend. If the ‘people who are paying for it’ expect me to do such a thing in exchange for their money, they can keep it. Why would anyone else be paying for my wedding anyway?

In fact I can’t even imagine having the kind of dynamics in my personal life where this sort of situation would arise. Clearly we are coming to this from very different perspectives, because what you describe is completely alien to me.

Cockney Hitcher // Posted 24 July 2008 at 11:48 am

I like your comment, Sarah. It’s sad to think of people being freaked out by a wedding ceremony that isn’t steeped in sexist tradition.

I’m freaked out by the defensiveness of some feminists when it comes to wedding customs. It’s bizarre to see otherwise progressive people desperate to justify such undeniably patriarchal customs as being ‘given away’ and wife-only name-changing.

Do all that stuff if you want – nobody’s stopping you – just don’t pretend that it’s in any way progressive or compatible with feminist principles.

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