'My Big Feminist Life' or 'How Love Didn't Change my Politics'

I never wanted to get married. And I am still that woman.

It’s not because I thought I would never meet the right man and it’s not because I was witness to a divorce that shattered my faith ye old sacred institution, that which once placed women in the honourable position of chattle. Nor was it because I feared no one would ask me or, even, that I would lose my freedom and independence. It’s not because I am afraid of commitment or because I  ‘just want to sleep around’ (the pleasant response I got from most friends and acquaintances during my early 20s). It wasn’t, believe it or not, because I hated men. I didn’t decide that I wouldn’t marry, even, because I thought that my feminism card would be cut up. Nope. I didn’t wait for the ring for a number of reasons; some of which are very much attached to my feminist identity and others which are far more complex. Such as: “I don’t see the point” and “why”?

Anushay Hossain‘s recent article in Forbes: “My Big Fat Feminist Wedding” makes a perfectly reasonable point; that is *NEWS FLASH* you can be feminist and married at the same time. Yes it’s true. Even Jessica Valenti did it! In fact, she wrote a similarly titled piece back in 2009 called “My Big Feminist Wedding” in which she explains her efforts to subvert sexist and patriarchal traditions in her wedding (as well as, of course, in her partnership). There was, of course, a certain level of controversy around her marriage as well as support, and so it makes sense that Hossain would feel the desire to defend her marriage as a feminist act, ward of critics who might claim otherwise, and ensure that folks knew that you could, indeed, maintain a feminist identity within a marriage (thoughtfully and with intention, of course).

Ok fine. I buy it. I know many, many married feminists. But why this:  “I never wanted to get married. Yes, I was that woman“? Who is ‘that woman’? Why represent women who choose not to marry as some kind of anomaly? We aren’t lepers. We are feminists. We, too, are feminists.

Like, Valenti and Hossain, I never dreamed of my white wedding as a child. I never danced around my room with a towel on my head, dreaming of the day I would, at long last, be a bride. Less, at the time, because of feminism, and more because that is…um… boring. As a child there are about 500 more fun games to play than ‘bride’ (hello detective agency?? horses??? digging-up-‘clay’-from-the-garden-and-selling-it-to-our-parents???).

As I grew older and more familiar with my feminism, my anti-marriage views began to round out. I didn’t want to be a part of this heteronormative, historically oppressive institution. I didn’t want to stay with my partner because it was legal. I certainly didn’t want to change my name or be given away to another family and though this is no longer necessary for everyone, the not so distant past wherein children and wives had to, by law, take their father’s/husband’s names and be passed off into his family is not so distant that I have forgotten.

My decision not to marry was not “because I never thought I would never find the right partner” and my politics never changed once I fell in love. I don’t say this because I think that, somehow, my commitment to feminism is any stronger than Hossain’s but rather, because, the article mostly ignores the point that there are actually solid, feminist reasons not to marry. Like the fact that the institution of marriage continues to be completely heterosexist as well as a tradition that has always been about male power. Not only the ceremony, wherein a woman is traditionally ‘given away’, where the man is allowed to remain the man while the woman becomes a ‘wife’. Statistics show that women, once married, somehow continue to do the lion’s share of unpaid work in the home, such as child care and house work.

This is not always the case! There are many feminist marriages wherein these traditions have been rejected. Nonetheless, I consider the decision not to marry to be a feminist act. Rejecting that social and cultural pressure, rejecting all the marketing coming from the wedding industrial complex, rejecting the onslaught of messages coming from media that tell women that the most important day of their lives will be the day they marry or that this is their chance to be a real life princess. Pressure from family and friends can be overwhelming, nevermind the fact that common law unions and other kinds of domestic partnerships tend to be marginalized and treated as though they are invalid. All of this can certainly make marriage seem like the easy and right/natural option. That choice; the choice to reject all that and to fight against it for the rest of your life, that is a choice that is hard to make and hard to maintain.  Yes, women are free to choose marriage, but if they choose not to, well, to me that is radical. Not confused.

Marginalizing her own beliefs and politics, dismissing them as ‘confused’ (“It made me realize that I had never wanted to get married not because I did not want to be married”) plays into the notion that women who don’t marry are not really making that choice because of their politics, their ethics, or their feminism. Rather, it builds upon the stereotype that those women are either confused or that they simply ‘haven’t met the right man yet’ (barf). My politics are real. My feminism is real. My decision not to marry is real. I am not confused. I don’t hate men. I am not a freak of nature. I made a choice. A feminist one. And my politics will survive in love and out of it.

‘Ultimate feminist’ or not, reinforcing these stereotypes strikes me as kind of condescending and works to represent women as irrational flakes who will, in the end, cave to tradition, once their prince comes along. My decision not to marry is not a defense mechanism just like my dog isn’t a practice baby.

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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  • From my perspective, as a feminist who is married but not married (i.e. in a long-term marriage-like relationship but not legally wed), the only point I can see to the actual marriage event is to have a big family party to say “Hey, this dude/lady I’m with is going to be sticking around for a long time, and you will see him/her at holidays and stuff.”

    For some families, there would be real value in that, because without it, some extended family might not know the status of your relationship, which means they won’t know whether your partner is actually family or just some fling you’re with.

  • Meghan Murphy

    I agree! But that irritates me. Because I, also, feel like my relationship is akin to marriage (as per your description) and the fact that others (family / friends) would perhaps not recognize it as being ‘real’ or would see, for example, my sister’s husband as ‘family’ but not my partner makes me mad!

  • Yea! Marriage bugs me. Weddings can be fun. But the heterosexist, capitalist institution is bothersome at best. http://easilyriled.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/imarriage-bah/
    Thanks for writing this. So many of my friends have got married ONLY because it legitimates their intimate primary relationship to their lovers’ family. That seems wrong to me. Restrictive. And it is always the radicals who move over. sigh. But keep bringing this up, okay? ’cause we can change things if we keep chipping away at it. Thanks for this, Meghan.

  • Jeanette

    THANK YOU for writing this! I in a long-term, marriage like relationship that is lovely. The question of marriage has been brought up several time, and every time, my gut reaction has always been “no”. Not because I don’t love him, but for the same reason Meghan noted about: why bother? I, too, did not ever dream of weddings as a young girl, and to now go through the steps as a giddy bride would just be a lie. And I know that we “can make it our own” by doing a wedding that is more like us. Or how about not having one at all? Is that an option?

  • Give a listen to chris wind’s “Here Comes the Bride”…says a lot about why I didn’t get married!
    http://www.chriswind.com/albums/art-of-juxtaposition/