Apparently men know better….
Louise Livesey // 20 July 2008
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.
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.