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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

'... an institute you can't disparage'*

It would be something to raise children in a world that has no need for feminism. But since that is unlikely to happen in my lifetime (the world without feminism bit, not the children bit), I shall consider myself a success if I have raised my son to be a feminist.

In the meantime, I take heart from the fact that there are men like this woman's fiancé. He identifies himself as a feminist ... how many men do you see doing that, on any given day?

The article ties together two of my favourite topics for debate: marriage and feminism. It's going to be a long post, bear with me.

It shall have to begin with what the author states shortly into her article, '... there is no such thing as perfect when you are a feminist getting married.'

She's referring to the reactions of family, friends, colleagues, fellow-bloggers and feminists when they hear of her unconventional wedding plans (Among other things, no proposal, no ring, no white wedding gown).

From non-feminist acquaintances, the reaction has been one of utter bewilderment. Compounded on hearing that she intends to keep her last name (and here I was, thinking it had become more common and accepted). In a society where the rock-on-a-gold-rope and a white dress are the symbols of marriage and every girl is brought up to dream of being given versions of these two items for her very own, it is perhaps ... understandable, why they may react so.

After all, it's very hard for the Indian society to calmly accept a woman who does not choose to wear a mangalsutra or changer her last name when she gets married. As a feminist however, the questions that arise are the ones that I am asking when I read about such reactions: What is the need for symbols of marriage? And why does the onus of sporting them fall upon the woman? (I am also wondering why a diamond is the stone of choice for an engagement ring here. Anyone knows where the tradition comes from?)

Valenti goes on to talk about 'the misogynistic traditions that accompany marriage'. " have always thought of marriage as involving the loss of a certain amount of autonomy ... plenty of issues that continued to make me question marriage: the father "giving" the bride away, women taking their husband's last name, the white dress, the vows promising to "obey" the groom. And that only covers the wedding." she says.

Described that way, marriage does seem misogynistic. When the burden of keeping house and rearing children falls onto the woman alone, yes. But that is akin to saying parenting is misogynistic if you take into account that traditionally daughters have not had the opportunities and liberties that sons have been given. The way society has come to interpret marriage is, unfortunately, the way marriage is being defined these days.

Which is why there are feminists who voice disappointment at Valenti's wedding announcement for "seem[ing] to find flaws with patriarchy, but fail[ing] to find a way to bring it down".
And this is where I find myself parting ways with this sort of a feminist. I do not see marriage as a product of patriarchy. True, patriarchy has managed to assert itself in a manner that influences marriage. But marriage in itself was never a concept that was meant to cage women, in my very humble opinion at least. Marriage is about two people making a committment to each other. How they divide duties and responsibilities is therefore a product of their union, unique and very much their own. It is unfortunate that it has become the norm for the women to be the inferior partner in this institution while having to do the donkey's share. But it does not take away from marriage the chance that it can be different.

And that is why I am amazed at feminists who think of marriage as being patriarchal, misogynistic and anti-feminist. Feminism has always been about equality. About having choices and the freedom to choose. Feminism gave women the right to vote and the right to own property. It does not necessarily mean that every woman must/will vote (if you think voting is bounden duty, please read this), must/will own property, then it isn't so. Because both of those are still choices. A right, any right, is still a choice (Again, if anything is a must, it becomes restrictive itself, even if aiming to free). Therefore I do not see how marriage is an anti-feminist institution. It is a choice. To be made by an individual. Being married does not take away from the fact that one is a woman and/or a feminist. The two are not related, in my view.

Vetoing marriage in effect negates feminism. It is taking away the very essence of that ideology and taking women back to square one albeit by giving them a different set of must-dos.

The repercussions are that both marriage and feminism/feminists invite criticism. In trying to be independent, ambitious and emancipated, living up to the impossible ideals set by fanatic feminists, women might choose to be rigid and walk out of marriages which could well have been saved, bitter about the concept of marriage itself .

On the other hand, feminists (and here I am loosely grouping staunch feminists as well as those open-minded, liberal, independent and ambitious women who do not choose to identify themselves as feminists), are viewed as a threat to the institution of marriage. In reality, neither of them are mutually exclusive.

I am a feminist and I am most certainly going to get married. I won't need an alter-ego or a body double to juggle those roles.

*From Frank Sinatra's 'Love and Marriage', I rather think the line describes both feminism and marriage.


  1. first - Loved the whole post! and of course, being linked up makes it even more special! :)

    Next, to the post in itself -

    "I do not see marriage as a product of patriarchy. True, patriarchy has managed to assert itself in a manner that influences marriage. But marriage in itself was never a concept that was meant to cage women, in my very humble opinion at least."

    While, this is very true, its not a very popular way to define a marriage!! Very few of us actually believe in this statement and bring about these small instances of equality in our daily lives...
    The whole thought that a man has a superior hand in marriage and the women is the follower is so ingrained in our mindset, that its difficult to actually change that.

    How many women have you seen or read about who speak in volumes about "guilt" or "how lucky they are" because they have husbands who make an effort to ease their burdens?

    Many choose to remain single than be bound by these restrictions that marriage has imposed on us women over the years...

    And, you are right - you don't "need an alter-ego or a body double to juggle those roles."
    For, when it comes to actual equality in thought and actions - you will not feel that you are juggling...

  2. long comment warning!

    marriage does not mean end of individuality. THAT, is still a choice. but we need to know, understand AND believe that.

    women like you and me constitute a VERY small percentage of the total population. the majority does not know that they're not inferior. irrespective of their education, their marital status.. anything! and i doubt any of those women would read blogs or feminist articles without thinking of these as corrupting influences.

    for them, marriage IS when they are handed over by the father to the husband - for the rest of their lives. IF they have a husband who cares abt their feelings, does not beat them... they think they're "lucky". they do NOT think that they should retain their maiden name, live with their parents if they so wish... and their parents agree with this thought. the parents believe they're being 'modern' by adding the "as long he doesn't physically abuse you" clause - IF at all.

    i don't think there is anything you and i can do about them... but we can ensure that we raise kids *if we do* who would understand and appreciate their rights. including the right to equality.

    all this said, i'm married. i don't associate with "feminism"... i have retained my maiden name. and i attribute the fact that i married a nice, sensitive, liberal, straight guy to my smartness - NOT luck! we have our individual opinions... and we respect and love each other all the more for the differences. we now have two sets of parents, and we have learned to use that to our advantage ;)

  3. La Vida Loca6:36 PM

    I agree w/ Rayshma. Marriage does not mean end of ndividuality/being staid and uptight.Or inferior to the man.

    To me feminism is equality and the ability to choose- last name/job or stay at home/who does the chores etc.

    Although I have to say that men and women have to be lucky to get a spouse that respects, loves, cherishes and adores them.

  4. Anonymous7:33 PM

    Today, in the name of Feminism, women have been relieved of one set of rules and given another. Where is the choice in that?

    First, if you did not cook or listen to your husband, you were considered bad. Now, you HAVE to not cook to prove you are a feminist.

    If I tell people that I enjoy cooking, dressing up my home, somehow I cannot be a feminist. Because you know, cooking is traditionally women's work and you should rebel against it, even if you really love to cook. Choice? what choice?

    My husband will never call himself a feminist. I don't think the idea even crossed his mind. But he always corrects people when they use my name with his surname, does a bulk of our household chores, makes sure all important financial decisions have my input and even lets me drive on a long road trip (somehow, I have always seen that guys never let their wives drive!). And when I point out all this to him, he gives me a look that says - isn't it SUPPOSED to be this way? Now, thats what I call Feminism.

  5. I'm on the fence about this one. I'm certainly not against marriage as an institution but do have problems with all the patriarchal rituals and traditions attached to it, right from how a girl has to leave her parental home, change her surname, wear a mangalsutra and sindoor (in Indian tradition) and be addressed as Mrs. If we can have marriages without any of those strings attached, we could say it is not an extension of the patriarchal system.

  6. Wow, I wouldn't paint myself as a chauvinist, but this is just trying to solve problems where they don't exist.

    I don't think getting rid of marriage (or marriage traditions for that matter) changes anything from equality PoV. As you said, marriage is a social contract, and must be decided between the two parties, not by outsiders.

    Plus, I would have thought that getting rid of domestic abuse, dowry (though not in western cultures) and suchlike was more important than the mostly symbolic bride-giving-away ceremony and name changes.

  7. it was inevitable. the two most debated notions clashing against one another. unfortunately though, true feminism has mutated along the way, blown out of proportons by the ignorant. marriage is what you'd make of it. as long as there is a clear understanding between the two, why care about the rituals. please the people, do your bit, and move along! I too fail to see how rituals before the marriage would affect the aftermath, unless one had a flawed, orthodoxed mindset set upon by others in the first place, in which case you'd have to remove that first.

  8. Wonderfully written! I am a feminist and I never changed my name, refused to hyphenate it as well, don't wear a mangalsutra/wedding ring and would sooner jump off a skyscraper than do Karvachauth *vomit* YUCK!!!!!!!

    I do love cooking, interior decor, gardening and a host of other so-called 'wifely domains'. If anyone thinks I am not a feminist because of these things, they clearly don't know what feminism is about.

    To me, it's about living life on your own terms. No more, no less. And not considering yourself a shadow of ANYONE- not your dad, not your husband and not your son.

    One of my proudest moments was when I got my mom's name engraved on my gold medal from Bombay Univ- so it went *My first name- Dad's name- Mom's name- Surname*. My mom almost burst into tears but it was obvious to me :-)

    But I do recommend marriage, it's awesome. Especially if you're married to a man who is a feminist-but-doesn't-call-himself-one. I could never live with an MCP.

  9. correction- it went *my name- mom's name- dad's name- surname*

  10. lovely post!

    I do want to point out though... marriage is definitely more convinientfor the male of the species.

    and that's not because of how "it should be" but ultimately how it is.

    When u say marriage is about two people coming together, that's what u and I think, and will make our marriage be that way, but that ain't the norm. A lot of women the world over end up losing, not only their inheritence but also their independence and individuality.

    So that way when someone critixizes marriage as non -feministic, its more out of experience and how it has turned out for millions of women. Equal marriages, are still but rare.

  11. Diamonds came about thanks to gerat world of advertising. After the WWII (as far as I recall it), since there was a financial crisis on, people weren't really buying jewellery. To counter that De Beers came up with an aggressive marketing campaign which aimed at the woman who had just got engaged and wanted a symbol for that but nothing too expensive.

    They advertised and made a diamond engagement ring practically mandatory get married.This was a good strategy since a diamond ring came available for all pockets and yuet showed the woman that her man was willing to invest some money for her and show he loved her despite the financial crisis. It has now become a part of the great American tradition.