Marriage? Not for me.

// 6 May 2009

Feministing‘s Jessica Valenti recently wrote a piece for The Guardian describing the difficulties she’s encountered while trying to craft a feminist wedding for herself and her fiancé. While I can appreciate some of the creative ways in which they aim to subvert the traditional ceremony, to, in Jessica’s words, take an ‘institution so wrought with sexism and […] make it our own’, I can’t help but question why one would want to do such a thing in the first place.

A younger Jessica could never picture herself getting married but, she says, you should:

…never underestimate the power of being in love. Andrew is fabulous and I want to be married to him – due in no small part to the fact that he also identifies himself as a feminist and that an equal partnership is just as important to him as it is to me.

Which is lovely, and I’m glad they are both so happy. It’s clear that this has been a huge and difficult decision for Jessica, and I do wish to make it clear at this point that I’m not trying to attack her or suggest that she is outright wrong, or antifeminist, or anything of the kind (though I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t disappointed to see one of the most well known feminists of my generation (ish) defending marriage in a national newspaper). As I’ve said previously, not all feminists will come to the same conclusions about the big issues, and I accept that. But considering Jessica has been able to defend her position in The Guardian, I think it is entirely legitimate for me to explain my own, differing opinion here.

When I feel any kind of desire to get married, when I feel it might be nice to make that kind of commitment to my partner, I question why I feel the need to take part in such a patriarchal institution in order to do so. And the main answer I come up with, once I’ve shrugged off all the patriarchal romantic stuff which I’ve never really been into anyway, is legitimacy.

Following centuries of women being considered male property, unvalued without this stamp of ownership, of children born out of wedlock being seen as a shameful stain on their mother, of the heterosexual nuclear family being viewed as the most acceptable social grouping, a married couple remains socially more legitimate than an unmarried one. My relationship would be considered more serious, more committed, more worthy of respect if we got married than if we remained happily unmarried. On a subconscious level perhaps I even feel that myself.

Needless to say, I resent that. I resent that other people’s judgements should affect my feelings about my relationship, and, what’s more, I really do believe that however hard I tried to make my (hypothetical) wedding and marriage as alternative and feminist as possible, I would not be able to escape from the centuries-ingrained connotations of ‘husband’ and ‘wife’. I would not be able to stop people looking on my wedding day as the best day of my life, the pinnacle of my achievements. I don’t want to have to spend hours explaining why I’m not taking my husband’s name or asking my Dad to walk me down the aisle. Why spend so much energy fighting to remould this patriarchal institution when I can just reject it?

However, my rejection of marriage is not just about me. It’s also about refusing to accept the social and economic privilege bestowed on me simply because I am in a relationship, and, more significantly, in a relationship with a man. Jessica says that she and Andrew considered not getting married because their gay friends are unable to, instead deciding to use their engagement to talk about same sex marriage, asking guests to contribute to organisations fighting for its legalisation. Again, that’s her considered decision, but personally I don’t want to benefit from becoming part of an institution that non-heterosexual people are barred from. Yes, we have civil partnerships in the UK, but as a friend was saying last week, these can be seen as a compromise on the part of the heterocentric powers-that-be: ok, you can have a ‘pact’, but don’t think we’ll let you in on the real deal.

As far as I can see, all I would gain from being married is more heterosexual privilege (despite being bisexual), a patriarchy and Friends induced fuzzy romantic glow and a hell of a lot of gifts and cake. Sure, gifts and cake are nice, but I’d prefer to get them on a day that really was about me and my partner, and for me, a wedding day just isn’t it.

Comments From You

chem_fem // Posted 6 May 2009 at 1:03 pm

“And the main answer I come up with, once I’ve shrugged off all the patriarchal romantic stuff which I’ve never really been into anyway, is legitimacy.”

That’s why I wanted to get married. I was tired of seeing people who had been in relationships for less time than my partner and I, treated as if their partnerships were more significant or better because they were married. People who married after mere months when I’ve been in a relationship for the best part of a decade.

I gave in and am getting married but this played a huge part in making me feel inadequate.If it doesn’t work out (I’m confident it will) loads of really cool people are divorced, it’s not a big deal :)

If I could, I’d rather have a civil partnership than a marriage. If the religious folk have that much of a problem with same sex couples marrying then they can keep their ‘marriages’ but it my point of view on this subject remains unpopular.

Jessica (a different Jessica) // Posted 6 May 2009 at 1:18 pm

I also had a reaction to this article. I am getting married in the summer. As a Quaker, I’ve missed some of what I would call the ugliness of marriage. For example, there is no giving away, no priest, no big dress (unless you want one), and no speeches. This has probably skewed my views…honestly, I knew very little about Church of England weddings until a few years ago.

Anyway, my reaction was surprise that Jessica was having so must difficulty putting together a feminist wedding. And surprise that such a wedding was news. (Then again, most newspapers think that people eating at the dining table, having weekly shopping budgets and cooking from scratch is news.) I must be lucky that none of our extended family have expected me or my partner to do traditional things. I can’t think of anyone close to me who really thinks this will be “the best day of my life”.

I’m getting married for two reasons: firstly to make my promise before God/the-network-of-human-intersubjectivity/the-light/whatever, and secondly to gain another family.

Historically marriage is not just a social institution aimed at putting women in their place, it’s also a social institution bringing families together. I see it not just as my partner and I who are getting together, but also our parents and siblings.

I think my point is that there are some horrible things in the history of marriage, but it doesn’t have to be like that now. For me, getting married doesn’t mean buying into that tradition. Especially as it’s not my tradition, but the tradition of the established church. As for same sex marriages, we’re working on those.

Janet // Posted 6 May 2009 at 1:29 pm

I got married in 1991 (and separated in 1992!) and at the time I insisted on keeping my own name (at least the name I was born with). I also insisted that I did not agree with being walked down the aisle and being “given away” (Who GIVES this woman to this man?) I ended up agreeing to my husband-to-be and I walking up the aisle together as equals. You would not believe the amount of grief I had about keeping my own name especially. People act like it’s an insult to your husband.

Anyway, we weren’t happy and parted not long after all this palaver and I swore I would never get married again. I think I only did it under pressure from my mum who couldn’t cope with us “living in sin”.

Years later I met the real love of my life and we’ve been together for 10 very happy years in unwedded bliss and we have a four-year-old son. I still have my own name. We live in a small village in Northern Ireland and we know many, many married couples with children but we don’t know any other unmarried couples with children.

Having said all this, I am so glad I have not bought into the whole patriarchy game, my partner and I really do feel like equals and I honestly don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of me and my family. I think it’s a lot easier for me this time around because I’ve already been married once and I can reject the idea but when a woman hasn’t been married she may still feel under a lot of pressure to get married for the first time. I must say I agree with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt when she said:” No-one can make you feel inferior without your permission”, so my advice would be, don’t fall into the trap of believing that you are somehow inferior if you are not married. You will be a lot happier if you strongly believe in your own choice.

Sabre // Posted 6 May 2009 at 1:44 pm

I too find it frustrating when other people consider a married couple who have been together a year to be more legitimate than me and the boy, who have been together for 7 years and are happily unmarried. The trick is to stop caring what those other people think. It’s not a competition! (And if anyone can tell me how to achieve this ‘not caring’ do let me know!)

I like that Jessica Valenti made her wedding into something she and her partner were comfortable with. As a feminist you can either reject marriage or change it for the better from within. Jessica is a good role model for those of us who want to get married because it’s a symbol of commitment to another person, but who don’t want all the sexist BS. I actually like the civil partnership model better because it isn’t rooted in sexism or religion and doesn’t have a weird focus on sex and the consumation of a marriage.

depresso // Posted 6 May 2009 at 2:01 pm

I got married last year, and had no problems making it feminist. We got married in City Hall in New York. A two minute ceremony allows no time for giving away, or silly vows that reinforce the sexist claptrap! My (very feminist) husband is American, I’m Scottish. We love each other and want to be together – immigration laws are heavily weighted towards us being married.

It is extremely fortunate that he’s male and I’m female and can be married. I don’t agree with civil partnerships in that I don’t believe a seperate but equal system is equal at all. Neither does my husband. But what can we do, in our situation? Staying engaged long-term wasn’t an option; the Home Office require the wedding to take place within a certain amount of time after settling in the UK, I think the Department of Homeland Security ask the same.

Anyway. We’re still absolutely committed to dismantling patriarchy. That won’t ever change!

Debi Linton // Posted 6 May 2009 at 2:21 pm

– and don’t forget that Friends exists in a world in which lesbians could get married in the early 90s.

Me, I want to get married for legal reasons; I want to sign a contract that legally requires me to do my best to live my life as a team, I’ve never considered it feminist or anti-feminist to do so.

Right now, of course, I can’t get married in my home country, and a marriage in my partner’s wouldn’t grant me a green card, so how I feel about it doesn’t matter.

JenniferRuth // Posted 6 May 2009 at 2:24 pm

Great article!

This is something that has been on my mind quite a long time. I think if you had asked me year ago I would have said that yes, I do want to get married and that I would make it feminist. I’m not so sure anymore. I’m not sure that you *can* make a wedding ceremony feminist. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone by this – we live in a patriarchal society and we all have to make decisions about where in our lives we are going to apply feminist ideology. The only way to lead completely feminist lives would be to buy an island and go form our own society. That isn’t going to happen outside of a Wonder Woman comic. I just don’t think that I, personally, want to enter into the patriarchal institution of marriage.

The more I have thought about it, my only real motivations for getting married would be for social approval and because…that’s what people do. I don’t really need other people to legitimise my relationship. I don’t really want to spend a load of money on a dress or cake or party. I don’t see how it would make my relationship more stable/romantic/whatever. Once I had thought it through, I couldn’t see any reason to get married. So, at this point in my life, I don’t think that my partner and I will get married.

But who knows, I might change my mind…

Holly Combe // Posted 6 May 2009 at 3:08 pm

I don’t agree with civil partnerships in that I don’t believe a separate but equal system is equal at all.

I agree, Depresso. Like Chem_Fem, I like the idea of civil partnership and my partner and I would prefer to sign up to an institution without heterosexist rules on who can take part. However, here in the UK, the fact we happen to be a woman and a man (i.e therefore “suitable” for marriage) means we can’t opt to do that. As far as I’m concerned, the heterosexism inherent in the UK ruling that marriage can only occur between a man and a woman is upheld by the ruling that only same sex partners can have a civil partnership. We lack an institution that everyone can take part in as equals and this helps marriage to retain its unfortunate golden status as the bedrock of society, with all the Conservatism, Family Values and heterosexism that come with that. The unspoken implication is that marriage, as the union between a woman and a man, is the Real Deal and that sacredness and status should somehow be protected.

That said, I wouldn’t want to knock Jessica Valenti’s strategy of helping change marriage by attempting to push it into the 21st century. I just don’t think we’ll get anywhere near real change until either marriage or civil partnership is available to all.

Kate // Posted 6 May 2009 at 3:32 pm

In my more cynical moments I tend to think taking issue with the patriarchal symbolism of who walks whom down the aisle is like fiddling with the proverbial deck chairs on the Titanic.

But, I am increasingly aware that at some point I will want to make some kind of public declaration of hideously optimistic legitimacy to some one and yes, gain a bit of that dreaded legitimacy. As it stands marriage is how our society recognises commitment, and societal recognition and backing is precisely what you want at times (isn’t that why we’re pushing for society to accept and embrace gay marriage?).

Historically, there’s undoubtedly a lot wrong with marriage and some pretty uncomfortable connotations to take on. But I don’t think we can or should overlook the progress that has been made; women no longer “obey” their husbands, rape now exists, divorce is now obtainable on equal terms. That’s not to forget the more social inequalities that persist in marriage, but many of these (I’m thinking loo brushes here) can flare up in cohabiting relationships as well, although I am aware of various studies that have suggested previously equal couples shift into more “traditional” roles when legally spliced.

I think my problem with the original article was it tended to focus on that rather tedious Vogue Bridge obsession with the wedding day, rather than the marriage itself. For me it’s the many odd years after the vows that really matter, not the symbolism of the day itself. Having said that I would never have my father walk me down the aisle, nor any thing else which makes the day resemble a cattle market, but I’d like to think that would be a no-brainer for my family, not some radical move that needs 2,000 words to defend.

harpymarx // Posted 6 May 2009 at 3:36 pm

Marriage is an archaic institution, a 21st century anachronism, patriarchy personified. I am against marriage for political reasons outlined in the article (father figure walking woman down aisle, taking the husband’s surname and so on). It exposes the position of women in this society along with the age old idea of women being ‘given away’ as a chattel, property. Again, it is up to people how they choose to run their lives including saying ‘I do’ at the altar or registry office etc.

I have been questioned by former woman work colleagues about my views on marriage and some think I am ‘strange’ for my political position. I don’t care how people want to express their love for someone but I certainly won’t be bringing in the state/religious institution to bind me to a patriarchal norm that is marriage.

Lucy // Posted 6 May 2009 at 3:48 pm

I don’t feel any motivation to be married, and even less to have an actual wedding.

I can understand why officially making someone your partner can make sense for legal reasons involving immigration, inheritance and childcare, but additional benefits, like tax breaks seem completely senseless. I can’t really imagine what marriage means to anyone beyond this.

I’d rather a legal partnership that was flexible enough to encompass homosexual, platonic and familial relationships. For example, if i chose to live with my best friend, why couldn’t they be the one with the hospital visitation rights etc. ?

Becky // Posted 6 May 2009 at 4:05 pm

I actually had a huge discussion that very nearly turned into a bit of an argument with my partner about this. He is very supportive of all the rest of my choices – he actually helped me feel confident enough to go out with unshaven legs for the first ever time, etc. He’s a wonderful man, but he desperately wants to get married. He just sees that as the natural point a relationship gets to, he sees it as something that actually means you’re more committed as a couple than if you’re unmarried. I utterly disagree – I said that I don’t need anyone to validate my relationship, but he took it as a personal insult. Saying “It’s not you, it’s me,” in this situation doesn’t help either! I tried and tried to explain, and he’s more than happy with the idea of me keeping my name, us making it as feminist-friendly as possible and everything, but I just don’t know that I’m happy entering into it at all. A civil partnership would be fantastic, but it’s not going to happen. Plus his family are incredibly ‘traditional’ too, so I would have to be constantly explaining and justifying my choices, in the wedding and in the marriage. Hmmm, it’s a toughie!

liz // Posted 6 May 2009 at 4:20 pm

I dunno, i found the article in the guardian annoying and I’m not exactly sure why.

Perhaps it was the smiley white middle class representation of modern feminism? Not to disparage Jessica, it’s not really her fault – but the portrayal of feminism as some lifestyle choices for the happy middle class grates.

SAM // Posted 6 May 2009 at 4:52 pm

I think there is something to be said for ‘marriage’. I’m a feminist and a lesbian who had a civil partnership last year. (We’ve been together 11 years.)

For us it was practicalities. We wanted legally to be each others person – the chosen person who can act with you and for you in times of strife. We wanted to be each others family.

We were ‘lucky’ that the civil partnership, and I believe, the model for a registrar based union – enables you to do nothing except declare that you are who you say you are, and sign a piece of paper. A piece of paper in Scotland that makes it clear you can chose whose name/s you want afterwards.

You are requested go into the partnership honestly expecting to uphold it. You don’t promise to love, honour, obey, or really, anything. You don’t make promises you don’t know if you can keep. It’s honest.

Why this is any way patriarchal is beyond me. Why people don’t chose to do this (in terms of a registrar ‘wedding’) for a feminist union confuses me. You only have to say what you want, you only have to feel what you want; you only have to make of a ‘wedding’ or union what you want it to be.

Complaining that it’s inherently patriarchal is a complaint against your own imagination.

A traditional wedding where the bride is given away in the site of God by her father is patriarchal (and each to their own) but that is not the only option out there.

If the complaint is how other people will see you once you are married, then you’ve got to fight them and their views, not marriage. As an institution it doesn’t have a personality. Fight the family forcing you into a dress, fight the ridiculous wording suggested by registrars, fight the assumptions – but remember that they are only assumptions.

Civil partnership for all would suit me. Those who wish to could then ‘top-up’ with the religious ceremony of their choice.

Laura // Posted 6 May 2009 at 4:58 pm

Civil partnership for all would suit me too, SAM, for the reasons Holly outlined. Unfortunately it is not availble for heterosexual couples in the UK, and if I underwent a registrar wedding I would still have to stand and cringe at the ‘marriage is between one man and one woman’ bit that forms an essential part of the ceremony, not to mention having to write my father’s profession on the certificate. An indication of the ceremony’s patriarchal nature if ever there was one!

Ruth // Posted 6 May 2009 at 5:11 pm

Jessica (other Jessica):

Kudos to you for having the ceremony you want, but just to add that “Church of England weddings” absolutely do not have to have all the faff people load onto them. 24 years ago I and Himself were married in his parish church in the middle of morning service – no white dress, no bridesmaids, no aisle walk, no nothing apart from the marriage service slotted in between the communion prayer and the sermon, and signing the register afterwards. You just have to know what you want and have confidence people will listen, in my experience. And no, I didn’t have to spend “hours” explaining or justifying our choices. Our friends and family know us better than that, heh ;-)

More generally:

If people don’t feel the need to marry, fine. But I believe it is possible to craft an equal partnership even within the formal, legal parameters of an institution which yes, the patriarchy has colonised. (I am less sure of the ‘it’s in essence pure patriarchy, period’ argument, because, for example [please note, I am not being prescriptive but descriptive here , and am aware that having children is no longer mandatory], socially sanctioned unions to bring up children through the long period of human immaturity make logical sense to me).

Because patriarchy has also colonised pretty much every other social institution (parenthood, for example is, I would argue, even worse). We can choose to reject them outright or work/fight to transform them. I choose the latter.

I am certain this, like the “thin privilege” post, will generate a lot of comment. There is nothing like hints that you’re just not feminist enough if you do this or don’t do that, to get people writing…

Jane // Posted 6 May 2009 at 5:17 pm

I”m with Sam. I’m a heterosexual woman who got married ten years ago and have kept my own name.

I was married in Finsbury registry office and we made up our own non-traditional vows, and the female registrar who married us went through the service beforehand, taking out anything we felt uncomfortable with. We had to state our names as Sam says and sign a piece of paper. How this is patriarchal is beyond me.

Jessic (the same one who commented above) // Posted 6 May 2009 at 5:30 pm

I have to disagree with what seems to be a growing consensus: a civil partnership might be good for some but would not suit me.

I am in fact slightly put out by the idea that my marriage is something the state is involved in. I am annoyed by the fact that my marriage is registered by the state. I have to pay the state £30 to get married. Thank goodness for the 1689 Act of Tolerance and the Marriage Act of 1949: without which I would have to choose between a civil service or a Church of England wedding complete with priest and vows.

For me, this is a purely personal affair between me, my partner and our family and friends (particularly those present on the day, who all sign our religious marriage certificate and uphold us it our marriage). I don’t want a religious “top-up” to a civil partnership: I want a marriage. And I want my sister to be able to make the choice: does she marry her girlfriend or have a civil partnership?

(On a side note, it is only some religions which expect a women to obey, or be given away by her father. Quaker marriage promises have remained the same since about 1650, although have only been legal since 1689. The couple simply promise to take each other as husband and wife, in the presence of witnesses. Sorry, I just felt I had to put that in…)

Troika21 // Posted 6 May 2009 at 5:38 pm

No-one gets married to be miserable, I don’t think I need to spell that out.

But I don’t think that they do so for the legal benifits either.

I think its about showing commitment to a larger group. Thats why it got started/taken over by religions. And once nationalism took hold of nations in the 1800’s the state also held an interest in its citizens commitment to the state, except of-course, the state just used the church as its intermediary and absorbed the patriarchal nature of the ceremony into its own instuitions.

I think that this ‘marriage-as-commitment-to-larger-group’ can be seen in the number of sub-cultures that have their own ‘marriage’ ceremony the members go through, even though its not recognised by the state.

Shea // Posted 6 May 2009 at 5:44 pm

@ Sam, I want to second Laura’s point, there isn’t the option of a civil partnership for heterosexuals. Not only do you have to put up with a bizarre interrogation (are you related? are you getting married for immigration purposes?), but you have to have your father’s profession, (great) and have it on record the you are a “spinster” with all the negative connotations.

I have to add, I have been happily married for nearly six years, (it was mainly because he was a foreign national that we got married). But I have never had a “traditional” wedding and I wouldn’t want to. In all honesty if the situation had been different I don’t think we would have got married. It proves nothing and it is shot through of patriarchal connotations. Further, just the thought of it, parading around in a white dress, spending thousands you don’t have, for the benefit of everyone else just seems especially pointless.

I would love to see the idea of a common law husband and wife made reality, in law and in fact.

Alex T // Posted 6 May 2009 at 7:03 pm

I think a lot of people are confusing ‘wedding’ with ‘marriage’ here. I did my best to have a feminist wedding and only managed to a limited extent, but frankly, it WAS the best day of my life! I celebrated my union with my absolute favourite person in the world, had all my mates and family there and a fantastic party! I’m annoyed that I was given away, that so much money was spent and at some of the wording in the ceremony, but it was only about one day.

What I have had since then is a feminist marriage. We have our own names, split the housework, I earn the most, blah blah blah, and whilst we could still have this without getting married, we get the benefits of a legally recognised union as well.

Both a wedding and a marriage are what you make them. If you allow yourself to think that you are buying into some patriarchal or societal crap, then I think feminism has some way to go – because I feel where feminisim has suceeded is that it has given me absolute freedom and control over these aspects of my life. If you don’t feel that we then we all have some work to do.

clare // Posted 6 May 2009 at 8:16 pm

Laura wrote “… not to mention having to write my father’s profession on the certificate…”

In Scotland your mother’s profession is recorded on marriage & civil partnership registrations. Still have the man & wife nonsense however. But you can ask the registrar to leave out masses of unwanted verbiage. My friend’s registry office marriage was over in mere minutes, with more time taken by the registrar turning the unread pages than actual words said.

Mary // Posted 6 May 2009 at 9:18 pm

I am SO all about the separate-but-(in -my-opinion)-far-superior! I actually flinch a bit when I hear queer couples (or straight allies) complaining about gay couples being “denied” the option of entering marriage. I mean, obviously I don’t speak for all queer people and I support any queer person who would prefer to be married rather than civil partnered – but my civil partnership is so exactly and completely and perfectly what I want, that I can’t conceive of a world in which marriage is seen as somehow “better”.

Laura // Posted 6 May 2009 at 10:07 pm

@Ruth “There is nothing like hints that you’re just not feminist enough if you do this or don’t do that, to get people writing…”

I really tried to make it clear in my post that this is about my own personal feelings and what’s right for me. It’s inevitable that others could feel offended when I try to explain why something that’s right for them isn’t right for me, but that was not my intention, and I certainly don’t think that anyone who gets married is ‘not feminist enough’.

Qubit // Posted 6 May 2009 at 10:12 pm

What is the difference (other than the sexuality of the people involved) between marriage and a civil partnership?

I am quite surprised how shocked people were by Jessica having an unconventional wedding. Most of the weddings I have been to recently have been fairly unconventional (no white dress, no changing of name etc) and nobody seem to upset. I guess it might be the difference between populations.

I am not desperate to get married and actually have no real dreams of it but if it seems right in the future I will. I think unconventional weddings will become more popular as people decide they just aren’t keen on white dresses or fruit cake etc. In the end though the marriage is more important than the wedding and marriage can be entered on an equal footing hopefully without too much work.

It is worth noting that the white wedding dress actually became a tradition after Queen Victoria decided on it and its connections to virginity seem to have come about after then.

Woodruff // Posted 6 May 2009 at 11:48 pm

Marriage is what keeps women from aiming high… It keeps women as house slaves, when men tend to lose interest in a woman after 35 anyway…

It’s being half of the person you were previously. This is why it’s so socially acceptable, cause marriage is the ultimate lessening of female value. Most of what is socially acceptable is moulded by the patriarchy, this is something feminists have to live with… we either become trail blazers or live a life we know is wrong, living out the ‘fantasy’ of what the patriarchy wants us to be.

From my experience marriage sticks women in a rut. When the man loses interest in her later years she is there for her domestic slavery value. While he sleeps around/ with prostitutes (I’m told by a bloke 80% of men do), she has no financial security or net to fall onto, where she to separate.

Married women become shells in my experience…. I think of ‘married woman’ and it’s a shame, because I think the status is so beneath me.

Hopefully marriage will be left along with whatever century it came from. The trouble is marriage is drenched in culture. And anything drenched in culture is usually soaked in prejudice and silliness in the long run.

SAM // Posted 7 May 2009 at 12:31 am

I didn’t want to come back on this but I do feel I have to. There seem to be a lot of opinions (which is a damn fine thing) floating round and some rather strange assumptions regarding actual facts.

Firstly I apologise for any implication of offence (Jessica) in the idea of all partnerships/weddings being civil and religion being a choice. I do really believe everyone should be able to have the ceremony of their liking – I personally thought the way I mentioned seemed fair and inclusive rather than exclusive. I’ll reiterate that I did mean each to their own!

Thanks to clare for pointing out the bit about Scotland. The M10 form lists both mother and father with EQUAL information on both. Information which I am happy to give as without old marriage records, and records in general it would be hard for many of us to trace our past – both maternally, and paternally. These social records provide information for the future and enable many lines of enquiry – both feminist and otherwise.

And to quote Shea: ” Not only do you have to put up with a bizarre interrogation (are you related? … and have it on record the you are a “spinster” with all the negative connotations. ”

Again “spinster” does not appear on the Scottish forms.

And as for the ‘bizarre interrrogation’ they just need to know if you’re related… I was quite happy to provide such information, it would be a bit of a shock to discover that you were really marrying/partnering a half sister/brother. And legally, it would get messy due to incest being a crime. I find my bank wanting my date of birth and mother’s maiden name more intrusive!

I also checked the legal wording required when a wedding (and I do mean wedding, not civil partnership) is conducted by a registrar in either England or Scotland (I assume Wales and Northern Ireland also) – you only have to state or agree that you are legally free to marry. And in the shortest legal form, say the following line: “I …………. take you …………. to be my wedded wife (or husband).” I agree that you do refer to each other as husband and wife – but these can be done equally, each to the other.

And we should note that the word wife really just means woman – whereas husband has to mean man married to a woman. So the references to husband and wife are linguistically in favour of the woman.

The entire wedding ceremony conducted by a registrar is literally one line long as a legal requirement, if you’re being told anything else – it’s just not true. The legalities are not conformist, the legalities are very slight.

Just ask for what you want – or if it’s not for you, don’t do it. With luck no one’s going to make you.

zak jane keir // Posted 7 May 2009 at 12:46 am

INteresting post and interesting comments. I am a humanist wedding celebrant and happy to do as feminist a ceremony as the people getting hitched want (humanist ceremonies are not legally binding and I personally make no distinction between het and gay/lesbian/transgendered couples and am happy to do ‘weddings’ for threesomes if required).

I am also unmarried, have never been married or lived with a partner: I am happily single and have been for years as I am not interested in monogamy. That’s something some people seem to have a peculiar cognitive problem with: my least favourite unintentional insult is ‘I can’t believe you haven’t been snapped up, your’e so lovely/attractive etc’, always said with *no* understanding of the idea that couplehood is simply of little or no interest to some people.

Jehenna // Posted 7 May 2009 at 5:22 am

It seems to me that a lot of the problems that feminist people have with weddings, is with a particular type of wedding. The traditional Christian type.

I’m religious, but not Christian. No vows of obedience to my husband, no one walking me up the aisle, total control over every aspect of the ceremony except the dedication to God. So I don’t really have a huge problem with the wedding from a feminist perspective.

I think its important to realise that the marriage/wedding you’re critiquing or being put off by is a particular kind. And it leaves me cold too. I remember attending two Christian weddings when I was about 20 and being genuinely horrified by the archaic nature of the ceremony.

I don’t see how marriage or weddings can be anti-feminist unless you allow them to become so. But my background does put me at odds there, I guess.

JenniferRuth // Posted 7 May 2009 at 9:08 am

Hi Alex T –

I have to disagree that “Both a wedding and a marriage are what you make them.”

I don’t think it matters how feminist you try to make marriage, you can’t escape the fact that is inherently a patriarchal system. This doesn’t just apply to weddings and marriage – it applies to all areas of our life because we live under a patriarchy. It applies to make-up, to the jobs we are encouraged or discouraged to take, to the clothes we wear, to everything. The simple truth is that we all make concessions because it is impossible to live a completely feminist life in such a system. That doesn’t make us bad people *or* bad feminists! But it doesn’t mean that we can claim high heels are feminist just because we say they are – or weddings. We are just doing the best with what we have in the world we live in.

I may have decided that marriage is not a path I wish to go down but I can assure you that I do plenty of non-feminist things on a day-to-day basis. I’m not going to agonise over it but I do think it is important that I analyse what I do and why through a feminist lens.

I don’t think that Laura’s post was trying to make out that anyone was failing as a feminist, but rather pointing out the sexism in the system.

I agree that we still have a lot of work to do, but I think that the work is in changing our patriarchal society rather than changing how we personally feel about it.

Lindsey // Posted 7 May 2009 at 9:09 am

My problem with marriage is that by being legally registered I can be easily slotted into the statistics of a patriarchal government: I’m being a good girl, doing what I’m supposed to and not contributing to “broken britian” by having children out of wedlock. I don’t want them keeping tabs on me like that and I don’t want to tick their boxes that they use as a sign of their self-inflated sense of success.

@SAM: I would take wife meaning woman to work against me, since if I’m not a wife wouldn’t that mean I wasn’t a woman? Just my opinion.

Sabre // Posted 7 May 2009 at 9:40 am

@ Woodruff

‘I think of ‘married woman’ and it’s a shame, because I think the status is so beneath me’

You clearly have a condescending view of married women, which is a shame and rather rude.

You may not want to get married but I don’t think it’s right to look down at all married women (and men) this way. Plenty of married women do aim high, do have financial security and independence and aren’t ‘shells’.

I’m sad that this has been your experience but I find your comments offensive, (and I’m not even married).

Laura // Posted 7 May 2009 at 9:46 am

@Woodruff – I really don’t think your comments are applicable in 2009.

Anna // Posted 7 May 2009 at 10:17 am

This has always been a tricky one for me. I’d always rejected the idea of getting married before I met my current on/off partner who (before meeting me) was engaged twice.. the most recent one had got as far as the stages of wedding planning and it was mentioned it was to be a proper church wedding, which surprised me massively as he is atheist and doesn’t care much for the church at all.. but yeah. Before I’d met him, I’d never thought about it.. but it’s evidently important to him (though I’m pretty sure not to the extent he’d leave me or even grumble much should I not want to get hitched). And.. it ended up being quite important to me, too.. I don’t know.

Kez // Posted 7 May 2009 at 10:22 am

Woodruff – “men lose interest in a woman over 35”? “80% of men sleep around/with prostitutes”? I have no rose-tinted view of marriage or men, but I don’t believe either of these sweeping statements to be true.

And as for you considering married women to be beneath you, well, words fail me.

Jen // Posted 7 May 2009 at 10:23 am

I thought that Valenti’s article was pretty obnoxious, with its assumption that how she chooses to get married has implications for feminism.

I’m personally not into doing the whole marriage thing, I have the privilege to be able to bypass it for the moment. However, women get married for lots of different reasons that depend on their situations, if you speak to any gay or lesbian couples who have tried to do stuff like get a will and actually provide for each other should anything happen to one of them, or become next of kin to each other, that’s definitely one good reason to get married (also because, if you’re nice and middle-class, no one’s going to look at you funny if you’re recorded as an unmarried couple, however for many people a lot of assumptions are going to be made).

The reason I find Valenti’s article annoying, also, is that she’s still essentially choosing the decoration of the ceremony and how it’s all going to be choreographed. So it’s feminist-themed, I still don’t see how it’s much different than women who throw a wobbly because they can’t get a bowl of blue pebbles on each table at the reception.

I think it would be far better to accept that, well, women get married for a host of reasons, and there’s no need for them to justify that choice, and there’s nothing about being feminist that makes your choice to get married special – especially when you’re the most wishy washy lifestyle feminist.

I’ve known women in arranged marriages who were at least ten times more tough and independent than Valenti – they have to be, or they’d have to give up on life pretty much.

To be honest, I think marriage itself is less harmful than tying the idea of “true love” to it. It’s a business partnership, always has been, and attaching some Hallmark greetings card sentiments to it is what makes it insidious. And I think it’s really far more relevant to question the idea of “true love” from a feminist perspective, because far more women become slaves to that than to their marriages.

Hazel // Posted 7 May 2009 at 12:05 pm

What is the point of getting engaged? That is the part that puzzles me.

I’m married. It was a small affair in a registry office and it was all about us celebrating our relationship in front of family and friends. As others have pointed out if you don’t want the trappings, don’t have them.

Madeleine // Posted 7 May 2009 at 12:49 pm

Woodruff, you’re never going to be on to a winner when you tell a group of people that their lives are basically crap and they have no status.

Sure, there is continuing evidence to show that many men in the world today (married or not) do not take responsibility for their share of domestic work or childcare. The gender pay gap exists. I think it’s true that a lot of women (again, married or not) are trapped in a bleak situation because of those inequalities. Having said that, to look at any person, any human being, and say that they have (in your subjective opinion) become a “shell” is cringingly nasty. Just not on. Does it make you feel better because your “status” is higher?

Ruth // Posted 7 May 2009 at 1:17 pm


I didn’t mean your post was saying “not feminist enough if married or comfortable with marriage”, I meant it would bring out the commenters who may think so, is all.

Kristin // Posted 7 May 2009 at 1:36 pm

I’m probably one of those shameful, no-status “shell” women Woodruff describes.

I’ve been married for about ten years and recently I lost my job. I’m now financially dependent on my husband. And yes, should he choose to abandon me and go and “sleep” (?!) with prostitutes, I would be worried about how I was going to manage financially. I also find myself doing more housework because I spend more time in the house. I also do other things though, things I enjoy. I still dare to think of myself as a real, live person!

I don’t actually feel shamed by my husband supporting me. I’ve supported him in the past. Maybe I’m naive, but I regard our marriage as a loving partnership in which it’s not a disgrace if one person becomes financially dependent on the other.

If someone’s going to insult my husband and dismiss me as a married woman “shell”, and think an organic cabbage on a market stall has probably got more status, well, whatever. I wouldn’t want to know someone who thought that way. They can fuck off.

Woodruff, I hope you get left behind in whatever century you came from.

Laura // Posted 7 May 2009 at 4:27 pm

My apologies for misunderstanding, Ruth.

Ruth // Posted 7 May 2009 at 11:10 pm

Hey, no probs Laura, I probably didn’t express myself clearly enough.

Woodruff’s blanket (and inaccurate) ‘anti’ statements fit the bill I was referring to. When a subject touches so closely on people’s intimate partnerships and publically-expressed life choices, hackles are bound to get raised: I mean, have a discussion in feminist circles even about such relatively unimportant (IMO) subjects like dress or makeup, and opposing opinions are likely to end up entrenched pretty quickly, let alone on something as significant as life partnerships/marriage.

That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be discussed, but it’s unlikely that people will move much from whatever position they hold, and it’s often quite scary to contemplate a rejection of that, especially if they’ve committed a lot of their life and energy to it (*holds up hands* :-))

Shea // Posted 7 May 2009 at 11:19 pm

@ Sam –

” they just need to know if you’re related… I was quite happy to provide such information, it would be a bit of a shock to discover that you were really marrying/partnering a half sister/brother. And legally, it would get messy due to incest being a crime.”

Hmm, I thought the whole idea of marrying some one was because you love and trust them. If you don’t know that they are your brother/sister two weeks before the wedding, well somehow I don’t think you should be getting married (incest or no). Also if you were closely related and determined to get married, a bothersome bureaucrat asking nosy questions is probably not going to stop you. Incest actually relates to sex with a close family member rather than marriage per se. You could be single and commit incest.

The question irked me because it reveals the underlying rationale for marriage that is still apparent; that is, it is for the procreation of children, and that the state considers marriage to be the best institution for this. Marriage is, and has always been an instrument of social control, by the church and by the State.

You can still see the rhetoric in the Conservative/ Daily Mail/Daily Express insistence of blaming all those unwed mothers for multitudinous social problems.

Ignoring Woodruff’s antiquated and trollish notions of women who get married, he/she has a point – the expectations of you change. Suddenly you are seen as “belonging” to someone and your union is subject to official scrutiny.

But the alternative, being in a hetero r/ship and unmarried gives much less legal and financial to women especially. In fact if you look at the new poor in our society I would bet it is a demographic heavily composed of single mothers and divorced women with children. When you consider it this way, marriage is a more attractive prospect. It shouldn’t be.

Polly styrene // Posted 7 May 2009 at 11:33 pm

Anyone can make a will leaving their money/property to anyone they want. The only difference between married people/people in civil partnerships and people that aren’t is that if you leave property worth over £325,000 people to someone who isn’t your spouse/civil partner they will have to pay inheritance tax on the portion above £325,000 (unless you’ve set up some good tax dodges of course).

There is NO legal definition of next of kin for the purposes of medical treatment. You can nominate whoever you want to as your next of kin. There’s a next of kin card here to do it with.

Gay men and lesbians who cohabit are not recognised as ‘next relatives’ for the purposes of the mental health act. However a heterosexual partner with whom a person has cohabited for more than six months will be.

Intestacy rules kick in if you don’t have a will, and there ARE laws on who inherits there. But the answer to that is to make a will.

But bear in mind that if you get married/have a civil partnership you could end up a lot financially worse off after the divorce/separation……

Polly Styrene // Posted 7 May 2009 at 11:56 pm

Qubit, one of the main difference between the rights accrued in marriage and civil partnerships is pension rights which aren’t as favourable in civil partnerships. However some others (including international recognition of the ceremony) are listed here.

It’s also noteworthy that there is no implication in civil partnerships that the relationship is sexual, and the two partners don’t have to sign the partnership agreement at the same time.

SAM // Posted 8 May 2009 at 1:00 am

To repeat:

I checked the legal wording required when a wedding (and I do mean wedding, not civil partnership) is conducted by a registrar in either England or Scotland (I assume Wales and Northern Ireland also) – you only have to state or agree that you are legally free to marry. And in the shortest legal form, say the following line: “I …………. take you …………. to be my wedded wife (or husband).” I agree that you do refer to each other as husband and wife – but these can be done equally, each to the other.

@Shea – anyone can be adopted and not know until the time. I think anyone would want to reassess in that situation. Both my parents were adopted and one didn’t know until they looked into getting married. (Lucky for me they weren’t related!)

My apologies for assuming that people getting married might be having sex, however I do understand what incest is.

Can you explain where in the legal marriage ceremony mentioned above there is any indication relating to procreation?

If you see marriage as for the procreation of children, and as suddenly one person ‘belonging’ to another that is fair enough, and your view – however the legal necessities have no indication of either of those things.

Also it’s your notion that suggests that you’re marrying someone because you ‘love and trust’ them whilst simultaneously complaining that people are marrying due to financial incentives. Sadly, I’m not sure you can have it both ways. (And obviously there should be no incentives to marriage – you should either want to, or not.)

@Lindsey, to quote:

“I would take wife meaning woman to work against me, since if I’m not a wife wouldn’t that mean I wasn’t a woman? Just my opinion.”

Emmm, no, the word ‘woman’ also means … woman … hope that clears up any misunderstanding.

Foldered // Posted 8 May 2009 at 5:20 am

I plan on not getting married. As a male feminist, I recognize marriage as a patriarchal institution that cannot escape sexism in many ways. Not only that, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting married until homosexual marriage is universally allowed; while I am not homosexual, marriage’s exclusitory practices are equally as socially damaging as its blatant sexism. Anyway, that’s my two cents.

Louise // Posted 8 May 2009 at 9:20 am

I can’t help but question why one would want to do such a thing in the first place.

I got married and as a feminist it was a difficult decision. But one made easier (in some ways) for not being in privileged positions. Firstly as a woman with disabilities I had to think about what might happen if I were to die. Whilst a will bequeathing my goods to my partners may have covered us in terms of property it doesn’t reassign next of kin rights should I have a medical emergency. Whilst I trust my parents as much as my partner to do the right thing for me they are far away and it’d take time to get them down to any situation I am. (And beware – the old “common law” thing is a myth with no legal status).

Secondly some of the death in service awards jobs have given me have specified that unmarried/registered partners won’t count for a payment (parents will though). Add to which the fact that I am the main wage earner in the relationship and want to ensure that my partner is financially secure when I die.

All very practical reasons. And they were the ones that prompted us to think and do marriage rather than just carrying on as we were. Not legitimacy, not ideology but the plain hard cold truths of financial planning. Whatever situation you are in I would recommend that discussions of whether to marry or not include consideration of financial factors – investigate what would happen and work out who would make next-of-kin decisions as well.

We discussed holding out until we could have a civil registration but wasn’t practicable. We did, however, celebrate with a humanist ceremony written by ourselves (preceeded by a legal thingy which we saw purely as a civil registration). We emphasised our values in ceremony – community, trust and support and we were both walked down the aisle by both our parents, who also all spoke as part of the ceremony, as did our friends who preceeded us down the aisle as our celebrants.

Has it changed anything between us? Nope it’s just given us peace of mind. Remember that decisions about marriage aren’t being made by all people on the grounds of perfect ability to do anything they liked – I’d love to have debated it purely from a viewpoint of ideology. But for various groups practicalities often outweigh other considerations as in my case (and I’d remind people of bell hooks (amongst others) powerful reminder of why intersections of race, class and gender mean people of colour are face with different decisions too which are painfully pertinent here).

Ellie // Posted 8 May 2009 at 10:07 am

interesting to know that stuff Polly Styrene.

I’m a lesbian, and when I figured that out I knew that I wouldn’t be going down the traditional path of womanhood (ie. meeting a man, falling in love, getting married, sprouting childen, etc.). This at the time was a tiny bit scary and a massive bit exciting. I sometimes think it must be hard being a straight woman because most of the time you’re more expected to live up to what it is to be a woman in our society than if you’re gay and already ‘abnormal’. You know, like if I got to 40 and wasn’t married and had no kids it wouldn’t be seen as a failing whereas if you’re straight it seems like it would and you would be deserving of sympathy or whatever.

Also, politically I have no interest in my relationship being legitimised by a state that is inherently biased against me so fuck them. I don’t want to be assimilated into a society that only recognises your worth and the value of your relationships if you’ve been defined, categorised and ratified.

Lindsey // Posted 8 May 2009 at 2:16 pm


But to be a “woman” woman and a “wife” woman makes you doubly reinforced, whereas being only a “woman” woman and not a “wife” woman I’m missing that extra level of status. That’s what I meant: by equating wifehood with womanhood you take away a chunk of womanhood from non-wives.

lisa // Posted 8 May 2009 at 5:08 pm

Marriage is about pooling resources, maximising wealth, keeping overheads down, building up family wealth – always has been and continues to be for many people. Poor people had no reason to marry and didn’t, they still have less reasons to marry and many don’t. Check out how many wealthy people marry and, most importantly, don’t divorce because they know it decimates the family wealth. Children (now adults) whose parents did divorce know full well the financial consequences and go to great lengths to ensure that they don’t follow in their trail-blazing but short-sighted parents’ footsteps.

The ‘romance’ is a veil that makes it harder for people to get down to the serious financial and practical issues that living together-marriage-civil partnership entail. All of these options are now merging into one entity. What surprises me is the speed with which people move in together and yet believe that this is less committed and they are ‘trying’ each other out with a view to marriage ?! To all intents and purposes their day-to-day life is the same as a married couple.

From a personal perspective we needed to marry because we move around a lot and in many parts of the world living together, unmarried, with a child is not possible (work and residence permits would be witheld or at best very complicated and there can be security problems in the event of war or civil unrest). Marriage certificates can be extremely useful when dealing with some beaurocrats ! The real change to our relationship came with the birth of our child and THAT is the big difference to our personal lives – moving from being 2 individuals to a team of ‘parents’ working together for the benefit of our child. For us it’s impossible to say ‘this is my money’ ‘this is your car’ etc. Everything is ‘ours’ for ‘our’ survival and ‘our’ benefit and it’s becoming parents that has really changed this for us. (Perhaps our nomadic lifestyle creates more of a team mentality though too as we have to rely on each other more than if we had stayed in the UK).

If we were a same-sex couple we would not be able to live together in many parts of the world so whether we had a civil partnership or marriage wouldn’t make any difference. On the other hand children often aren’t an issue either for a same-sex couple which has many advantages too – including not having to worry about ‘proving’ who they’re related to and has a ‘right’ to take them onto a plane !

Alexis // Posted 8 May 2009 at 5:12 pm

I find it interesting how almost every anti-marriage argument is based on either history or general trends (except for the argument about not getting married until marriage is availible to everyone… which is probably something I’d consider if I were to get married, and if I didn’t live in Canada where same-sex marriage is legal). It’s true that marriage is an institution with its historical roots in the patriarchy. When it started, it was about women being property. However, avoiding marriage because of that is like avoiding schools because when they started, they were a way to educated males and exclude females. Marriage now offers people the choice to make it whatever they want, and does not have to follow its patrarchal roots any more than the schooling system, or anything else that’s been around a long time (since just about anything that’s been around for the last hundred years has patriarchal roots).

The other argument is the general trends. Even excluding some of the (hopefully trolling) comments in this thread about how “all men will sleep around and leave their wives”, there are trends that suggest that married couples have more traditional gender roles than unmarried, cohabitating couples. The fact is that, while this is a trend, other trends include women thinking women’s magazines are the most important things they can read, going on diets to fat shame themselves and each other, becoming mothers and giving up all their other identities, and not expecting to be able to make as much money as their male counterparts. I thought feminism was about living outside those trends, ignoring them, and being strong enough to live in a world where those (among many, many others) are the trends and expectations, but we don’t follow them. However, some feminists seem to believe that if you get married, you will suddenly be a slave to the trends of how all marriages are (with traditional gender roles). If a single feminist can live in a world where most single women are obsessed with finding a man and yet remain independent, why does marriage immediately force the patriarchy onto this same woman? Why can’t a married feminist live in a world where most married women “belong” to their husbands and lose much of their identity, and yet defy these traditions?

Obviously weddings are not for everyone, and I see real issues with getting married because you think it legitimizes your relationship, implying that non-married relationships are less legitimate. But I think it’s very stereotypical to assume that everyone who gets married does it because they think married relationships are better than non-married ones, or because they’re selling out to the patriarchal system, or because they feel that marriage gives worth to a female and they want to conform to expectations. Maybe they just want legal benefits and a party, and they don’t care if there are patriarchal trends because they know they can chose to avoid them.

Shea // Posted 8 May 2009 at 8:55 pm

@ Ellie- “Also, politically I have no interest in my relationship being legitimised by a state that is inherently biased against me so fuck them. I don’t want to be assimilated into a society that only recognises your worth and the value of your relationships if you’ve been defined, categorised and ratified.”

Yes! Hell yes! That was the point that I was trying to make. It really is none of their business.

@ SAM – I really think you are being wilfully naive if you don’t believe the social control/prevention of children born out of wedlock aspects of marriage. I suggest you google the origins of the word “bastard” or even the “purpose of marriage”. Marriage has always been in the eyes of the state and society and the law a contract and a covenant with expectations of either party. Just because it no longer has this meaning, doesn’t change the fact. I’d give you something more academically robust – but y’know what, its Friday night and I’m going to the pub!

Also -“anyone can be adopted and not know until the time. I think anyone would want to reassess in that situation. Both my parents were adopted and one didn’t know until they looked into getting married. (Lucky for me they weren’t related!)” – yes but you misunderstand my point. How does someone asking if you are related two weeks before the ceremony change or prevent this? It doesn’t. It is a stupid and pointless question as are all questions surrounding marriage. Including the ones about immigration. It is because marriage offers benefits and advantages not given to other relationships. This was the impetus behind the push for civil partnerships. Because same sex couples were missing out on a lot of financial, tax, social security and legal loopholes. And of course they were in love.

Although back to Laura’s point- why should a relationship of seven years standing be valued less than one of six months just because the partners in that situation decided to get married? If not for the financial and other incentives – what are they trying to prove? And to whom?

And FYI – I have been through a wedding (and a not a civil partnership or religious ceremony ) in England. I know the wording can vary according to the wishes of the party and I know when giving notice (a legal requirement two weeks before the wedding) there are many intrusive and unnecessary questions being asked of you and your intended.

It is not a simple case of showing up on the day and saying one line.

Theresa // Posted 9 May 2009 at 12:17 am

Marriage may have a patriarchal history but here in the UK in the 21st century it offers, in my individual situation, only financial advantages. In my analysis, I think the real issue is who has financial, economic and social power in a relationship, and marriage may increase or decrease that depending on the legal rights and obligations marriage bestows in any given society.

I find it stranger that some women object to marriage on feminist principle but they do not question the act of co-habiting, which is an exact imitation of the day-to-day situation of being married. It is odd to ape an institution that one disapproves of.

If it is the legal status rather than the day to day structure of married life that one objects to, then yes, cohabiting offers one thing different: the freedom to ‘walk away’, in other words, you are less committed, on a practical level even if not emotionally. However, while cohabitees protest loudly that they are no less committed emotionally, the statistics for people with children in fact show that unmarried parents are far more likely to have split up by the time a child is seven, and thus in some way, by some mechanism, marriage does reflect commitment under the huge strain of the early childrearing years.

While on the subject of children, marriage seemed irrelevant to me until I considered the issue of children and then I needed to see commitment demonstrated, for the sake of my future offspring, not me. Quite frankly, I could not have had children with a man who did not at least show a desire to be legally committed to me (whether or not I actually married him).

I personally have far more of a problem these days with the stupid design of the nuclear family (into which not a shred of redundancy is built when one partner is incapacitated) than I do with the institution of marriage in the UK. It is not marriage that robs you of your freedoms and options these days, it is the nuclear family design once you have children. Once you have a child, the top earner tends to stay at work to maximise family income, the lower earner gives up economic independence (at least partly) to care for the child. A marriage certificate makes not a shred of difference at this point. Let the presently child-free be duly warned!

Rhona // Posted 9 May 2009 at 12:55 am

I suggest if any of you have a problem with getting married, come and do it in Scotland – we’re one of only six countries in the world where humanist ceremonies are legally binding (hence I was confused by what the humanist celebrant said earlier about their ceremonies not being legal – surely she would know?!).

The OH and I are getting married in a couple of years – no fuss, low cost, no hassle. We’re not having an ‘aisle’ – we both get to make our own entrances, to our own theme tunes, yay! No protracted vows or anything about obeying – we’ll write our own and as somebody else pointed out, there are actually only two obligatory elements to your vows – that you’re not closely related and that you both consent. We’ll both wear wedding bands, but made of wood from sustainable Scottish forests. Neither of us are changing our names and nobody seems to have a problem with that. Follow all this with a bloody good party and hurrah!

TBH – I’m just doing it for the tax breaks. :)

Laura // Posted 9 May 2009 at 10:32 am

I do understand that people will get married for the financial and legal benefits it brings; I just don’t think it’s fair that people in relationships and heterosexuals should be privileged in this way, and I want to avoid taking advantage of that unfair privilege for as long as I can. Clearly if I were in a situation such as the one Louise describes, I would have to have a rethink. I just hope that civil partnerships will be made available to all in the future, as in France.

Foldered // Posted 9 May 2009 at 10:43 am

Marriage to maximize wealth is not something I would ever do, but I think it highlights something significant with regards to marriage being somewhat rooted in capitalism. I find that interesting from a socialist perspective.

While, yes, same-sex marriage is legal in Canada (where I reside as well), I still think there is huge social stigma surrounding it that is in its own way marginalizing.

Woodruff // Posted 9 May 2009 at 3:54 pm

Alexa – regarding your quote “all men will sleep around and leave their wives”

Maybe my views are a little biased as I work as a prostitute. Maybe it’s rosy thinking saying that the majority of married men don’t? These punters tell me themselves that 80% of married men sleep around, 1 in 6 sleep men sleep with girls doing it like me, that’s including the single and divorced! I’m no man- hater and wasn’t trying to be offensive, just stating the facts as they seem to me and as i’ve been told them by most of the men I sleep with.

It just seems marriage is something women enter thinking the man will remain theirs eternally while they do his washing up! Those are the connotations most people have of marriage, misogynist or feminist, young or old. If I have an old view of marriage and uphold views from another century, so do many people..

Rhona // Posted 9 May 2009 at 8:53 pm

Laura, Foldered:

“TBH – I’m just doing it for the tax breaks. :)”

This was a joke. JOKE. :)

Laura // Posted 9 May 2009 at 9:02 pm

Heh, I know Rhona :-) That was a general reply to a number of comments, just happened to get round to writing it after that!

Foldered // Posted 9 May 2009 at 9:17 pm

Rhona, I wasn’t trying to single you out or anything and I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that have that sort of reasoning when getting married: I was sort of just responding to that general argument. :P Sorry.

Josie // Posted 11 May 2009 at 9:51 am

Great article, thank you!

Much as I admire anyone who works hard to demonstrate how vitally important feminism still is for all people, I have major issues with Jessica Valenti and I have found her recent ‘discussions’ of her upcoming wedding very disappointing. The whole things seems to scream “I want my privilege!” and she seems to feel the need to justify this by making half-hearted reference to wearing an off-white dress and not being given away by her father. As far as I can see, she is making no attempt to examine WHY she wants to be married and while she certainly doesn’t have to justify herself to me, I resent the implication that she’s dissecting her wedding/marriage from a feminist perspective to benefit others when actually it all seems to me like window-dressing.

I agree with many other posters that without marriage for those who want it, civil partnership for those who want it, or indeed neither for those who are uninterested, we have no chance of true equality. Choice is the most important thing in life and the same options must be made available to all people regardless of sexuality. I see no ideological difference between the current UK system (marriage only for heteros, civil partnership only for gay couples) and segregation on the buses in the US in the 1960s (based on skin colour) – everyone can ride the bus, but you have to sit here, and you have to sit there. Please lets keep raising the roof about this issue and stop pretending that a segregated system is good enough. We all deserve better.

Claire // Posted 11 May 2009 at 1:44 pm

Josie: Exactly! I was eager to read the article – but once I did, I realised that she did not, at any stage, explain WHY she wanted to get married. She gave many of the reasons that made her initially unsure but never explained why simply being in a loving, equal and committed relationship was not enough for her until it had the state’s stamp of approval.

I am tempted to think that, if she had a really good answer to that, she’d have written it in…and that therefore, she doesn’t. Just conjecture, but it’s a serious omission.

The colour of your wedding dress does not change what you’re doing!

Kate // Posted 11 May 2009 at 2:11 pm

Someone asked why a marriage of six months should be viewed as more “official” than a relationship of seven years. That views a worthwhile relationship from an entirely retrospective perspective. The long-term marriage refuseniks have made no claim towards a commitment for the future and claim all their status from the past, but the married couple are, in my opinion, making a more committed statement about their future together. Marriage provides more barriers to exit. Now if you view that as a way of shackling one person to another then you’re going to view marriage as a bad thing, but if you fancy a bit more security before investing in someone than it is a benefit. Personally, like the poster above, I can not foresee myself having children with someone who wasn’t prepared to make that forward-looking commitment to me. Single-motherhood is not a choice I’d actively make and having grown up with a single mother who is extremely open about how tough it is, it is one I’d like to avoid as far as possible.

Alexis // Posted 11 May 2009 at 2:57 pm

@ Josie: I think it’s possible that the reason why she didn’t state why she was getting married is that it’s her choice what she wants to tell us about private matters between her and her husband. People don’t like it when their choices to remain in unmarried relationships are questioned, yet if a woman decides to get married, people immediately question her motives and want to know why she didn’t provide them. I think most unmarried people would be (rightly) offended if someone asked them to justify their choice not to be married, or if they wrote an article about their relationship and people’s response was to ask why they had remained unmarried.

The fact is that there are reasons for marriage besides conformity. Maybe she wanted a party to honour the love between her and her husband. Maybe she liked the idea of her and her husband becoming part of the same family officially. It doesn’t necissairly mean she thinks non-married relationships are not legitimate and so she wants to conform to society. Getting married is her choice, and saying she’s “not feminist enough” because she liked the idea of her family/friend and his coming together to celebrate their love and make a committment is just offensive.

To all the people who say the things she did to the ceremony didn’t make a difference – it wasn’t about having a “feminist themed” wedding. It wasn’t about adding pro-woman things. It was about taking out what is anti-woman. It was about seperating the ceremony from the traditions of its patriarchal histroy: different wording in the vows, white dresses, father giving her away, etc. And really, if you and your husband choose to ignore the history and take it remenants out of the ceremony, that makes a big difference. They have found a way to celebrate their love and provide financial security, but they chose to leave out the patriarchal traditions.

JenniferRuth // Posted 11 May 2009 at 4:45 pm

@ Alexis

Hmmm, yes, we all have a choice about what we are going to keep private and what we are going to talk about. However, Jessica Valenti wrote an article for national newspaper about her decision to get married and about what that means to her as a feminist. Therefore Josie has every right to criticise that article and Jessica’s reasoning. It is not private – it is very much public and Jessica has made it so.

Secondly, Jessica Valenti *is* the main name at one of the largest feminist blogs in the world. Whilst this in no way means we can demand private information from her it does mean that she is the feminist “public eye” (so to speak). She acts as a spokesperson for feminism on many issues, in many media outlets – so naturally, when she announces she is getting married people are going to ask about it. Even further, some people are going to ask what that means for feminism. Personally, I think it means fuck all for feminism, but the fact remains that some people and some media outlets are going to ASK. It is up to Jessica whether she is going to answer. She did answer. Josie is perfectly entitled to say that answer was not good enough.

Janine // Posted 11 May 2009 at 5:07 pm


“…but the married couple are, in my opinion, making a more committed statement about their future together. Marriage provides more barriers to exit.”

I dont agree with this. I think marriage is simply a tradition, and a valid choice for many people, but it does not necessarily indicate long term commitment. My parents for instance, have been together for over twenty years, yet have never seen the need to get married. I honestly dont think it wouldve made a difference to them in any way. The commitment was obviously there and still is, but they’re just not big on ceremonies or traditions.

I myself am not against getting married, but seeing my parents relationship work perfectly well without it, I dont see it as something that NEEDS to happen in a long term relationship.

A Third Jessica // Posted 11 May 2009 at 7:55 pm

I too have thought about this, and personally will not be getting married. I like a civil partnership but its a hetero no-go and I would only like it if that’s what it takes for the legal legitimacy/benefits/proof of future commitment if the government really wants to know. But even then whatever this legal institution is, I would be more likely to participate if it can be between three people or maybe a group. Why should only couples have access to a privileged leagal status?

Alexis // Posted 11 May 2009 at 7:57 pm

@ JenniferRuth: Sorry, I think I may have worded it wrong. I didn’t mean to suggest that the reason she got married was private information – while I think she has the right to keep it a secret, I agree that it’s not a serious intrusion of her privacy to ask when she is writing an article on the subject. I just took issue with the way Josie seemed to be saying it was her job to provide that information for us, and justify her choice to get married. I don’t think it’s anyone’s job to justify that. I don’t know whether I’m going to get married or not, but if I were in a long-term relationship and wrote an article about it, I would be very offended if people asked me to justify my decision to either get married (if it was a marriage) or to remain unmarried (if we’d chosen not to go that route). Personally, I think it means a lot for feminism that a couple can have a wedding that ignores its patriarchal history by taking out the many anti-woman traditions. The article was about how they took an insitution riddled with sexist traditions, and made it their own. Why she did that was not the subject of the article, and shouldn’t be relevant. If it were to come out that she got married because she believes marriage is necassary to legitimatize a relationship/women need marriage to be fulfilled/she just wants to conform to society, then I agree that that would be anti-feminist (although it’s highly unlikely, considering her prominent position as a feminist blogger). However, I think it is very offensive to imply that because she didn’t state the reason, this must have been it. Maybe it just wasn’t what the article was about. There are many ways to make a wedding/marriage less patriarchal – she also didn’t touch on who’s paying for the ceremony, how they plan to divide up the housework once their married, what they plan to do if they have kids (or whether they plan to make the controversial decision not to have them), etc. There are many feminist issues related to weddings and marriages, and just because she didn’t cover them all doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a good answer to questions about them.

Anne Onne // Posted 11 May 2009 at 9:42 pm

I think we have to ask ourselves what it is we’re asking, and what we’re actually analysing.

There is such a thing as analysing a type of choice. To marry, to not marry. What is patriarchical about marriage, whether it can be reinvented, how does one show support for LGBTQI people, what the reasons are which make marriage attractive as an option, the reasons why people may be leery of marriage.

However, it’s easy to get into the territory of judging a specific actual person for their choice. Expecting them to explain all their reasoning for doing anything, insisting that anything they haven’t covered or told us, or written a long grovelling apology to us all detailing every reason for their rationale, all the ways they fail the sisterhood if they ‘give in’, and how they have to make it up to us. This is what the patriarchy does to us. As women, we’re told our whole lives we must justify our weight, our appearance, our decision to speak each time we open our mouths, our sexuality, our desire to be left alone, our desire for equality. That if we compromise ourselves in any way we’re giving in and don’t want equality.

Also, the undertone that a decision that isn’t making a radical stance on feminism somehow invalidates that person’s status as a feminist is something we need to combat. If Jessica had decided to get married because of pressure to conform (not saying she did, but if she had), would that make her less of a feminist? Nobody has been saying that here specifically, but in my experience discussions which focus on one person’s choice, especially when ‘so and so would be anti-feminist’ starts to get bandied around, usually end up in rather unsavoury and ironically unfeminist waters. The fact of the matter is we’re fighting for choice, remember? That doesn’t mean we can’t analyse an actual choice, but when we start to make it about one person, and whether they did something for ‘good’ reasons or ‘bad’ reasons, what they’re not telling us, and how their life choices make us feel, I think we start to skate dangerously.

This article itself is not something I fault: I think you put forward your opinion and your respectful reasons most admirably. The contrast in thoughts was quite interesting to read, and I’m not suggesting that Laura Woodhouse wrote anything nasty or unfair about Jessica Valenti.

Also, to introduce a new idea, the way we frame this conversation also ignores that in some ways, being able to choose to NOT get married can be a privilege. Being in a culture where being unmarried is unusual is one thing, but imagine being from a culture where you would suffer much more serious economical and social consequences if you are not married. It simply isn’t the same pressure everywhere for women to get married. People don’t always get married because it’s about the big fluffy wedding. For many people it’s the only way to get the legal recognition or status that would make a big difference to their lives. Or because their family will literally disown them or harm them if they don’t. Us all talking as if everyone in the world, or even the UK is in a position of independence, where they can safely choose to not get married, not have the legal benefits of marriage, not have the social benefits of marriage, and in a position where not marrying does not seriously compromise them. This is a privilege.

I respect if someone feels able to get by and not get married in support of same sex couples. It’s admirable. I hope it helps raise recognition of the need for same-sex couples to be recognised, and poly relationships to be recognised. But this isn’t going to be a realistic option for everyone, and we’re fighting so that everyone can have the opportunity to use these rights, have these privileges, not so that nobody can. It’s a personal decision, which means that everyone’s got different desires, different standpoints and different ideas as to how to get through life as a feminist and an ally.

But please can we avoid the ‘justify your choices’ trend? The patriarchy gives us all enough pressure, enough reasons for self-loathing without us all trying to police each other.

This conversation can be had without making it personal or making it about one woman justifying her marriage. It could be about how the patriarchy punishes people from straying from the norm, how society polices our actions, how we all compromise because it’s easy or because we feel we can’t fight every fight, or because we actually want something.

I don’t think the way this conversation is heading was the conversation Laura Woodhouse meant to start.

foldered // Posted 12 May 2009 at 6:30 am

@ kate.

From my perspective, marriage is no more of a commitment than a relationship without marriage is. To deem it necessary to have “security” before having children is interesting to me in that you feel you gain that security in marriage. I would entirely disagree in that commitment is a feeling and something shared, not something gained from a ceremony.

JenniferRuth // Posted 12 May 2009 at 9:14 am


Yeah, sorry, I did misread what you meant. You are right, Jessica doesn’t have to justify why she got married at all. None of us do. But the question of why we still feel the need to get married is an interesting one.

Personally (and this is just personally!) I don’t think that you can make a wedding feminist, not matter what you put in or take out. It is still inherently based on patriarchal tradition and has no real meaning outside of the privileges that patriarchy benefits it.

This does *not* mean that I think that you suddenly stop being a feminist when you get married! I think we all do “unfeminist” things. We live under a patriarchy and it would be impossible for us to make every decision we make feminist – mainly we just do our best and point out injustices in the system. Small steps, every day.

So, by saying that someones decision is not feminist I do not mean to discredit them. I just think it is worth analysing all our decisions under a feminist lens. I think we should probably talk less about Jessica’s decision and more about what exactly it means to all of us to get married in the first place. Something which I think many people have written brilliant comments on in this thread!

Sarah // Posted 12 May 2009 at 12:15 pm

I don’t think any woman should have to justify to me or anyone else why she chose to get married – but I admit to being curious. I’ve never had the slightest desire to be married myself, though I’m in a long-term relationship with a man, and we both agree we may try to have a child together at some point in the future. I just don’t see the need for it, it seems entirely irrelevant to my life. So when I see other women of around my age getting engaged and married – work colleagues, old uni friends etc – and I can see no practical necessity for it, such as immigration issues or health insurance, I do wonder why they made that choice. I wouldn’t demand to know, because that would be rude and it’s none of my business, but I am curious.

It also seems to me that it’s not a question many people ask themselves, and they get married just because that’s the ‘normal’ thing to do. Or if asked, they’d say ‘because we love each other’ or ‘because we want children’ or so on, which don’t seem to me to be reasons in themselves for entering into such a contract.

I was very interested to read the comments above posted by married women – I’m glad you decided to share your thoughts. I can see there are many, varied reasons why people choose to marry. However none of them happen to apply to me at the moment, so I guess I will just continue happily as I am…

Janet // Posted 12 May 2009 at 1:37 pm

I will be speaking from the point of view of a heterosexual woman so I apologise in advance if what I say is not universally applicable.

@ Kate

I can see that you are coming to your viewpoint about marriage offering “security” from the perspective of someone who grew up with a single parent and you would not like to choose the same route for yourself. I have to say that in my experience marriage does not automatically bring any assurances of security whatsoever. I have been married before as I mentioned earlier and I felt much less secure in that relationship than I do in my current very happy unmarried partnership where we have a child together.

My parents were actually quite religious and made the committment of marriage in a church but my dad left my mum on their 25th wedding anniversary!

I find that if you trust and love someone you would not feel the need to have marriage as a sort of “safety net”. My partner and I stay together because we really want to. We enjoy being joint parents of our little boy and we are really each other’s best friend too.

I am not going to judge other women’s decisions as that is not up to me but it feels to me that looking for “security” in a marriage and thinking that there are more “barriers” to splitting up in the institution of marriage, is almost conceding to the old image of ‘women are desperate to trap men into marriage and men are desperate to remain “free” to enjoy themselves’-patriarchal stereotype. It also smacks of lumping all men together as feckless individuals who will abscond as soon as a baby comes along or if the going gets tough. Obviously some men are like that but there are many, many others who aren’t and hopefully if that’s what you are looking for, you will meet and choose one that is one of the good, mature ones.

Obviously, as a previous poster said there are many women out there who do not have the luxury of choice as I have had but I think those of us who do have autonomy and free choice need to realise that security comes from within and no institution or ceremony or piece of paper will make you feel more secure, if you aren’t already.

If you want some real committment from both sides — make a will.

DM // Posted 12 May 2009 at 3:37 pm

I don’t see where the problem lies in her getting married. Modern marriages are equal partnerships.

Sarah // Posted 12 May 2009 at 5:30 pm

I agree with Janet – also I don’t think having ‘barriers’ to leaving a relationship is necessarily a good thing. I love my partner and it would be nice if we can go on being happy together for ever after…but, if a time comes when we’re no longer right for each other, no longer making each other happy, being together is no good for our wellbeing or sense of fulfillment, then I hope we would have the sense and emotional maturity to end the relationship. That would be the right thing to do, and I would not want any artificial ‘barriers’ making it more difficult than it had to be. We’re both intelligent, thoughtful adults – we would not make life-changing decisions without thinking it through (especially if we were co-parenting at the time) – why would we need such barriers?

I understand the craving for ‘security’, but really there is no such security in life, there is no way of guaranteeing that everything will go the way you want or expect. And I’d much rather be alone than securely but unhappily married.

superpoop // Posted 14 May 2009 at 4:07 pm

“Why spend so much energy fighting to remould this patriarchal institution when I can just reject it?”

Sometimes you can’t afford to reject it; sometimes the battle isn’t all ideological. I was in love and needed health insurance, so my partner and I got married so he could add me to his plan. It’s a lucky coincidence of which we took advantage, and since the history of marriage is that it is an economic contract, I don’t think we’re alone. That’s why marriage should be available to everybody. Married people get economic benefits, not just social ones, and to say that we should focus on an abstract sense of legitimacy as the most important benefit of marriage ignores why equal rights are so materially important.

Ben Jones // Posted 14 May 2009 at 11:02 pm

Spot on, and by no means a feminist stance here, just a sensible one. I’m 25, in a fantastic 5-year-old relationship, and hate it every time I feel a twinge of illegitimacy, or someone asks when I’m going to tie the knot. Screw the knot. Both my girlfriend’s and my parents divorced. Marriage gives you a huge amount more to lose, and I can’t think of enough things we’d gain. Marriage belongs in the same bin as organised religion and monarchy.

Josie // Posted 17 May 2009 at 11:23 pm

“Marriage belongs in the same bin as organised religion and monarchy”

Ben – couldn’t agree more and very well put! Been in a wonderful relationship for 4 years and I’m wondering how much longer we’ve got left before we are viewed as odd creatures for not being hitched. For me, one of the worst case scenarios would be if people started pitying me because “he hasn’t proposed yet, awwww”. More like aaaaagh!

My best friend is currently planning her wedding (to a truly hideous guy, but that’s another story) and I have been feeling like a rubbish friend because I really cannot get up much enthusiasm for the whole thing. Even if he were the greatest guy ever, I would feel the same. She is aware of my views but I’m keeping a lid on them for obvious reasons.

We need places like this where people can air their anti-marriage views and even more importantly, realise that there are plenty of like-minded people out there. It can be terribly lonely sometimes on the anti-marriage side of the fence. Once again – thanks F word!!!

DD // Posted 18 May 2009 at 12:39 pm

Talking about marriage and family, the Daily Fail is back at it again. According to the paper, ‘researchers’ say that childless women are vilified by bosses and suffer greatly career wise, because they are looked upon as abnormal.

Jen // Posted 18 May 2009 at 2:40 pm

Women vilified in certain circles for being unmarried? Why, you’d have to be a terrible right-wing nutter to believe that.


It’s the second half of the article that’s objectionable – where they counter this (unthinkable!) claim with the fact that women aren’t vilified for not wanting kids or for remaining unmarried, and that in fact most women who do have kids would rather stay home with them permanently – that’s the bit where they imply that there’s something biological about women that makes them not want to work.

And could people stop saying “fail” all the time? It’s making my head hurt.

Madeleine // Posted 18 May 2009 at 4:53 pm

It’s a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Get married, that’s wrong in a lot of people’s eyes. Don’t get married, ditto. Have children, wrong. Don’t have children, wrong too. Women just cannot win – with anything! My response to all this is to stop explaining. If someone wants to know why I’ve been married for a few years and don’t have children (something I don’t think they’ve got any right to ask anyway), I just don’t answer. Then they usually get flustered and say something like “oh, tell me to mind my own business” or “I didn’t mean to pry”. It wrongfoots them and saves me a lot of energy. Took a bit of nerve at first, just not answering, not explaining, but it’s well worth it!

Sabre // Posted 18 May 2009 at 5:31 pm

In a way, I don’t mind the ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ attitude out there. I think that with so many mixed messages they often just cancel each other out and fade into background noise, leaving people to ultimately make up their own minds. Which is what it’s all about!

It’s like all the stories about how many eggs to eat in a week. Is it two a week, one a day… what??? I’ve given up worrying and now I eat as many eggs as I want.

Hopefully if people similarly get exasperated at mixed messages about how to live life; get married/stay single, have children/don’t have children, etc. – they will just reject all the advice and do what’s right for them. As we’ve seen from the comments here that’s what most of us are doing anyway!

Siobhan // Posted 16 January 2011 at 1:36 am

I agree. I think what irritates me most is the stereotype of all young girls dreaming about their perfect wedding day – not one person I know ever remembers dreaming of any such thing. I understand that marriage is a personal choice (for heterosexual couples at least…) but it’s far too steeped in patriarchy for my liking. Unfortunately, I know heaps of people who believe that a relationship is only completely valid when it ends in marriage, which is a ridiculous notion.

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