Podcast: Can marriage ever be feminist? An interview with Nicola Barker

Not the marrying kind

Though many of the more oppressive aspects of marriage have been removed, the institution itself continues to represent and reinforce a patriarchal and heteronormative ideology in many ways. Marriage seems barely relevant in this day and age and yet we continue to marry. In fact, one of the key struggles towards gender equality appears to be the fight for same-sex marriage. But can marriage ever be progressive? Is this an institution worth fighting for?

Your host, Meghan Murphy, speaks with Nicola Barker, the author of the book: Not the Marrying Kind: A Feminist Critique of Same-Sex Marriage.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • marv

    I would like to complement Nicola Barker’s analysis of marriage with a few other considerations. Women are privatized in marriage which obscures their sex class status but they also mediate class relations between men when they marry across (and within) class lines. Women serve to ease class antagonism by allowing men of different classes to bond across women’s bodies providing political stability and legitimacy to the economic class system. Now this can and is also accomplished by common law relationships so why then do people marry?

    Most people want to be socially validated by friends, family and society. Within patriarchy, marriage is one of the most exalted ways to have social recognition. The wedding with its costumes (quasi-mystical gown and tuxedos), elegant setting, limousines, floral arrangements, ceremony, photographs, confetti, sumptuous banquet, music and dancing are all a means to lavish attention on the couple. And hey, let’s not forget about the presents. Few rituals are as life affirming as nuptials. I think this is one of the reasons many people prefer the marriage mystique to less thrilling unmarried cohabitation

    • Meghan Murphy

      Great points, Marv! To be honest, I quite enjoy weddings — primarily because it’s an opportunity to get together friends and family all at once for a celebration. I have to say that I wish there were more opportunities for these celebrations that weren’t solely focused on marriages. Certainly there are several traditions that could/should go out the window as well (white dresses, the ‘giving away’ of the bride, as well as, of course, things like taking on a man’s name, etc). The fact that weddings tend to be represented as the ‘bride’s special day’ is off-putting as well…

  • marv

    Amen to that, sister. Yet,just as male power has to recede for women’s power to advance, I can’t see how alternative feminist relationships can reach celebatory standing without a greater decline of marriage. The latter garners too much prestige for new arrangements to be acclaimed and flourish.

    • Meghan Murphy

      I agree. I should clarify that I think marriage is both ridiculous and exists in opposition to the creation of a feminist world. I support abolishing the institution of marriage. For the time being, though, I will continue to reap the benefits of other people’s weddings via the open bar and free cake.

      • An atheist Amen, sister! Surely intelligent adults can concoct ways to an open bar and delicious confection without witnessing archaic subjugation rituals.
        And the reality is it’s not free anyway. The cost you put into a new outfit, the gift, the shoes (that one’s for you, Meghan), could easily go into a casual affair with a reasonable cover for all your friends.
        Show up, give me $10 and I’ll provide the place, the cake and the kahlua.

        A gold-edged formal invitation to my un-wedding is in the mail…

        • Meghan Murphy

          Ha! Yes to all of this, Andrew!

  • marv

    LOL!!! Yes it would be a shame to not indulge in the perks of a patriarchy especially since it offers so few pleasures for women.

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