The Wedding issue

Married While Feminist

Getting Married Was Easy—Explaining It to People Was the Hard Part

Married While Feminist

Levi Hastings

I always said I would never get married. For most of human history, marriage has been a horrible exercise in restriction, a transaction that has disenfranchised women to an astonishing degree. Getting married meant becoming property to be traded, meant being threatened by false notions of purity (you better be a virgin so we know that baby will continue the right family line!), and sometimes meant legal rights disappeared entirely. That's not even mentioning what an impossible shitshow marriage is if you're gay or trans, since you have to jump through extra hoops to prove that you're worthy of entering this supposedly hallowed space, and even then you're not always legally recognized as married. Sometimes, as in the case of Utah last week, you're legally recognized as married and then you're suddenly not legally recognized as married. Just because.

In 1998, I started talking to this really funny guy on an online comic-book forum. We were friends for eight years before we finally met. When we started dating, I made it clear that I wasn't interested in marriage or kids or any of that. I just wanted someone cool to hang out with. Then we moved to Madison, Wisconsin, so I could go to graduate school. I got health insurance through the school, but my boyfriend didn't have health insurance at all. I hate saying that we got married for insurance because that makes it sound like we had some sort of illicit arrangement, when really we were just a couple of dopes who wanted to make sure getting the flu wouldn't kill us.

We got hitched on Halloween in the least goth way possible. Our costume was Two Dicks Getting Married, and we wore Nixon masks! I had to come to marriage on my own terms: Here was a person who I loved and wanted to protect. We only told our families and the two friends who would be our witnesses. Then we spent $40 on some rings made out of an old skateboard, filled out some paperwork, went to a lawyer's office overlooking a lake, and—boom—we were married. Our friends were nice enough to rent us a hotel suite as a wedding gift, and my new husband and I sat in a big tub eating cupcakes and watching Doctor Who. It was perfect.

Since my wedding didn't involve a lot of fanfare, I didn't think my marriage would, either. But I was pursuing a master's degree in gender studies. I was met with a series of questions like "But I thought you said you weren't going to EVER get married?" and "Isn't that kind of anti-feminist?" I found myself in the disorienting position of constantly defending marriage—strange for someone who never planned on getting married in the first place.

I never thought marriage would come coated in a slick sheen of guilt. I had to wonder if I had betrayed my ideals in some way because, yeah, I did say I was never going to get married, and I do think marriage is bullshit on many levels. It is really difficult to sit in a classroom full of post-gender, post- binary feminists and tell them you just did the most archaic, gendered thing in the world and still maintain your cred. But by that token, shouldn't I also feel guilty when I sit down to knit, or cook, or do dishes? The backbone of feminism doesn't dictate that you can't engage in domesticity, just that it shouldn't be your only option. I wish we were cool enough to favor civil unions like France, but we're not, and I'm still a feminist even if I love someone enough to declare that love to the state.

Addressing my guilt was really about addressing the ways that I've changed my mind about marriage. I never thought marriage was a good idea, because in my life it was always done in such a batshit crazy way. Shotgun weddings! Cheating spouses! Weddings that cost more than a house! This mom hates the in-laws! This dad shot at the in-laws! If you're judging it by the awful examples we often see played out, marriage can seem like the worst decision on earth, and anyone would feel guilty saying they signed up for that rodeo. But my marriage isn't like that—our low-key wedding complements our low-key life, and I don't feel guilty about finding the exact right person to spend time with on this planet. recommended


Comments (38) RSS

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I never thought I would get married either. I thought it was a dead institution. Then all my gay friends were all up in arms about the right to marry. So I looked into it and thought "hey, wait a minute, I want those things too!"
I wanted health insurance. And the unquestioned right to visit the person I love in the hospital. And the stability of combined finances. And the right to a legally rendered divorce if things went awry. Not to mention the social acceptance, the party, and the loot.
Thus, when I found someone I wanted to share my life with in that way, damn right I married him, and I made sure to do it in a state that acknowledged the right of all my friends to get married.
Being married is awesome. And I blame the gays. Thank you, gays! You homos are rescuing the institution. One lawsuit, one ruling, one state at a time. Changing this outdated property swap into a more meaningful social and legal contract. A contract of equals, ratified by love. Now that is the kind of marriage I could want.
Posted by kiddlydivy on January 15, 2014 at 12:45 PM · Report this
Great! Now I suppose you're going to try to dump a bunch of guilt on me for raiding the neighboring village and siezing a war-bride! Now I'm a sad :(
Posted by ctmcmull on January 15, 2014 at 1:15 PM · Report this
I got married to give my dude health insurance too (and then lost the job a few months later, yay!). It's a social contract. Use it as you see fit.
Posted by some random lady on January 16, 2014 at 7:47 AM · Report this
Big Matt G 4
I'd like to use this forum to thank my didn-t-know-if-she-ever-wanted-to-be-married, kept-her-own-name-thank-you, feminist for finally saying yes to joining me in this bullsh!t, patriarchal, property-exchanging anachronism of a social structure.

I love you so very, very much. Thanks!
Posted by Big Matt G on January 16, 2014 at 1:13 PM · Report this
and this, girls, is why this civilization is in its last gasps.

Posted by the late great US of A on January 19, 2014 at 2:30 PM · Report this
this guy I know in Spokane 6
@4 awwwww
Posted by this guy I know in Spokane on January 19, 2014 at 5:08 PM · Report this
Some of the more sophisticated social conservatives say that they oppose same sex marriage because it is part of a larger leftist agenda to make marriage a partnership between equals in which the particulars of each relationship are negotiated by the people involved. Conservatives want to make marriage an authoritarian institution that facilitates the creation of nuclear families. To Maggie Gallagher, it is the image of Danielle and her man in the tub, not pictures of homos in leather vests, that is truly the face of evil.
Posted by Ken Mehlman on January 19, 2014 at 5:44 PM · Report this
TVDinner 8
I was ok with legally yoking myself to a man with dubious taste in women, but what really freaked me out is how other people reacted to it. Shortly after we made it legal in a similarly inexpensive, unconventional way, we moved to Spokane. The whole five years we lived there people would ask me, "So what does your husband do," before they ever asked me what I did, and no other married women I knew kept her name when she made it legal. It was so weird.

Then when we had a kid in Spokane, holy jeezuz, the peanut gallery REALLY ramped it up with the politics of my kid's last name. She got mine, and my husband's last name is one of her middle names (yes, we're those people). And people regularly asked me if my husband was her father, a fact complicated by him being biracial and our kid looking like wonderbread without the crust. Seriously. People thought it was ok to ask. /facepalm

We live in Olympia now. This hasn't been a problem since we moved here.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 19, 2014 at 5:59 PM · Report this
Feminism is about choice. Get married, or don't. Keep your name, or take his or her name. As long as you're staying true to yourself and you and your partner respect each other you're probably good, no need for guilt.
Posted by Spokandyland on January 19, 2014 at 6:34 PM · Report this
And yes, TVDinner, Spokane is a horrible place. You should never come here.
Posted by Spokandyland on January 19, 2014 at 6:42 PM · Report this
11 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
I didn't think I would get married, either. Until I met the right guy, it frankly never seemed like a good idea. Then, very suddenly, it did. And because we're a couple of heteros, there really weren't any obstacles to our deciding to go ahead and get hitched, so now we are.

While I did get a couple of sarcastic responses to my marriage announcement (family: "Did I miss something? When did Hell freeze over?") I haven't heard anything else about it. Of course, I'm also well past old-maid age, so maybe they were just relieved.

Also, about names: there are just about as many reasons to change/not change your name as there are women, and it's really nobody's fucking business why you choose to do whatever you wind up doing with your own. Anyone who proposes to tell you that you're doing it wrong by doing it however you chose to do it? is exactly the brand of douchecanoe that thinks any of your other life choices as women are available for public scrutiny and dissection, which is to say exactly the people who need to be told to fuck the fuck off because they're assholes.
Posted by happyhedonist on January 19, 2014 at 7:00 PM · Report this
word3 13
I am shocked - shocked - at what wimps you youngsters are. I have a long-term relationship and spawned kid. No marriage needed here.

The dawn of the 80's was the dawn of brown nosing conventionality. And you all bought into it. It cracks me up to read how you rationalize it. When you are 54 like me - let me know how that marriage's working for ya. And are ALL your friends able to tap into the marriage trough? Because if not, maybe you should have waited with them.
Posted by word3 on January 19, 2014 at 7:03 PM · Report this
word3 14
Oh - I meant to say - it cracks me up to read how you SHEEPISHLY rationalize it. Yeah.
Posted by word3 on January 19, 2014 at 7:07 PM · Report this
I was guy who felt ambivalent, the one who marriage was bogus. Sounds cliché when a dude says it not radical.

I remember our conversation about names - Me: you gonna change your name? Her: Are you? Me: No. and that was the end of it.
Posted by jnonymous on January 19, 2014 at 7:47 PM · Report this
@13 -- My man and I got married when he got a job in the US and we immigrated here from Canada. I wouldn't have been able to move with him otherwise (at least not legally) and I sure as shit wouldn't have had any health benefits. So we got married for practical reasons, but it totally works for us.
Posted by Amanda on January 19, 2014 at 8:31 PM · Report this
unknown_entity 17
Glad to see that your perspective on marriage evolved beyond "IT IS A TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY!!!" (which I will admit it used to be in many ways) to your current state of "I like/love this person enough to say I want to try and make a life together." I especially love the low key- no rom-com bullshit about "Our Love Will Conquer the AGES." Just an acknowledgement that life is more enjoyable when you have someone to come home to.
Posted by unknown_entity on January 19, 2014 at 10:32 PM · Report this
TVDinner 18
@10: You have no idea how badly I wish I hadn't. No idea.
Posted by TVDinner http:// on January 19, 2014 at 10:35 PM · Report this
this guy I know in Spokane 19
@18 - I was going to say "it's not that bad here any more," but then I thought about it for approximately 0.75 seconds.
Posted by this guy I know in Spokane on January 20, 2014 at 12:14 AM · Report this
chaseacross 20
"Here was a person who I loved and wanted to protect."

As much as marriage has been other things, as many marriages have been this thing. And there's nothing to feel guilty about when it comes to doing what's right for the people who matter to you. It's called being a person.
Posted by chaseacross on January 20, 2014 at 12:31 AM · Report this
pdonahue 21
Marriage is a conservative issue, of course the right wing secretly wants all people to legally register as a member of the greater whole, kinda validates the whole thing. I was married for less than two years, a disaster from start to finish, I thought it would stabilize a crazy up and down relationship, boy was I wrong. GLBT people and feminists, your troubles have just begun.
Posted by pdonahue on January 20, 2014 at 2:08 AM · Report this
mr. herriman 22
my most feminist friend gave me hell when she found out i was getting married. big guffaw of disgust followed by a huge, "WHY?" not satisfied with my response, she let me know that she could never give up her identity like that, she thought i was making a huge mistake, and "oh, and i suppose you're taking his name, too?" it completely killed the friendship, after many good years.

she's married now, too, with couple of kids :)

as said above, it's about freedom to choose. and i'd tack on that it's unwise for anyone to make declarative statements, as my friend did, about what you will or won't *ever* do. life is just full of surprises.
Posted by mr. herriman on January 20, 2014 at 4:46 AM · Report this
I don't think that marriage is the problem, its the people IN the marriage that are the problem. If you marry a partner with conventional role ideals and expectations for you than you will have to deal with that. We are two unconventional people who have chosen our own way of being married for 40 years, one that assigns roles based on our skills and interests and not on gender stereotypes. I do all the cooking & dishes, she mows the lawn, I took a break and stayed home to care for the kid, she chose an unconventional career that gives her the freedom to follow other passions as well. This works for us & has provided the sort of support (insurance, income etc) that being single would not have. The trick is to examine why you are marrying & what your expectations are, If it works for you thats fabulous and people who look down on you (either for getting married or for not being married the way they think you should) can go fuck themselves.
Posted by frankdawg on January 20, 2014 at 7:12 AM · Report this
Posted by Arturo Bandini on January 20, 2014 at 10:03 AM · Report this
I don't know...I've been married for almost 30 years, I do all of the cooking, I mostly stayed at home to raise three kids...and I consider myself a staunch feminist.
Isn't feminism in part believing that all women have the right to choose the path that is right for them, without earning the scorn of others?
If you want to work (or HAVE to work, as my mom did) and make use of child care, that's fine. That is one possible path.
If you stay at home and focus on your kids, that's ok too.
Want to live with someone and skip the marriage part? Have kids, or never have kids?
Go for it! All acceptable options (except by not marrying you do pass up on some financial advantages, an issue that should be addressed).
Maybe I don't understand the true meaning of feminism, but I feel like people who call themselves feminists then spend a lot of time criticizing what other women choose to do with their lives may not be helping the cause all that much.
Posted by alexandria on January 20, 2014 at 10:24 AM · Report this
Yup. And believe me all that flack is nooooothing compared to the shit you will hear if you end up A). Having kids and B). Leaving the paid workforce to care for them. Hoo boy do we feminists still have some stuff to work out on that front.
Posted by teamcanada'sforgottenpassword on January 20, 2014 at 11:27 AM · Report this
Jaymz 27
What a terrific bunch of comments about marriage. Good job, SLOGGERS! I'm a bit biased because I officiate at weddings, but appreciate all of the opinions expressed here. Please carry on and I'll check back for more insight....
Posted by Jaymz on January 20, 2014 at 12:00 PM · Report this
Feminism keeps evolving, and that is a good thing because it means that some cultural wins of the past like getting the vote and being able to work outside the house have become so accepted in the US that new goals can be considered. I can understand your dilemma regarding marriage, but a lot of the sting around marriage has gone the way of the dodo (i.e. ye old loss of property rights, loss of personal rights, a kind of imprisonment) and what you did was what you can now do, which is to protect the one you care about. Nothing to apologize for as far as I am concerned. You were exercising your rights. The rights other previous feminists fought for you to have.
Posted by heartfelt on January 20, 2014 at 2:18 PM · Report this
Well, as long as Mr Morrissey maintains the Auld Pledge, it doesn't really matter how many people fall away.

At least this author managed to avoid the "But I Did It RIGHT" trap (for the most part?). And maybe the true moral is that they really ought to be making a fuss about marrying for health insurance, a situation which makes me think of the socially monogamous; everyone just keeps maintaining the status quo and it won't ever change.
Posted by vennominon on January 20, 2014 at 3:30 PM · Report this
@13 - hey seriously, good for you for being lucky enough to never need your partner's health insurance, SSI, pension benefits, immigration status, etc. etc. I'm sure many people here would love to have been able to go through life without having to deal/need an additional person for financial or bureaucratic support. Not everyone is as privileged as you are though, so perhaps take your purer-than-thou attitude and shove it up your over-privileged ass?
Posted by johnjjeeves on January 21, 2014 at 12:13 PM · Report this
It's nice to read about somebody still wanting to get married. I was, and for 9 out of 10 years it was great.. Loved being married. I still would, quite honestly, and I feel a little guilty about saying that out loud.

I originally got married out of a sense of love, very much so, but the ex said at the beginning that it was about my greencard and my staying in the country. Uh, yeah, that should have been a red flag, absolutely. And I never forgot that comment.
But, for 9 years, it was great! Truly, it was. We did love each other.

I wish you luck Danielle, and hope that yours lasts longer than mine did.

The feminist stuff is a conflict I have felt, too. I hate social conformity as much as anybody, but it's everywhere, it wears you down, and being married does away with so much social bullshit that you have to contend with when you're single.
I feel a lot of pressure being single and not even dating anybody, that married people, or even non-married couples, forget even exists after a while.
none of my facebook friends even really know I'm no longer dating, because I don't want to face what they will do with that. I am fed up with friends trying to hook me up with their friends, and it all being awkward.

I envy married people that much, at least. I have even contemplated 'hiring' one of my male friends to act as a boyfriend-stooge once in a while, to get out from under certain awkward social situations.

Posted by Chandira on January 21, 2014 at 2:50 PM · Report this
Feminism is not about choice, it is about equality. Women who consider themselves feminists should think critically about whether the choices they make help to establish that equality. And equality does not just mean the equal ability to make choices, it means equality of status.

Women make plenty of bad personal choices that do nothing to raise their status, from the trival such as suffering in stripper heels and faking orgasms to the more substantial, such as allowing a man to completely financially support them.

It is really difficult to make all of our choices feminist ones, since we still live in a society that rewards women for not doing so. However, thinking critically about the choices we make and why we make them is important. And part of that is having discussions with other women about why they make the choices they make, although this generation of feminists seems to really discourage that.
Posted by virginia mason on January 23, 2014 at 3:22 PM · Report this
Calling high heels that may or may not be uncomfortable "stripper heels", and implying that wearing them negatively impacts my status is in itself anti-feminist and reinforces negative stereotypes. In fact, it reeks of "Well, what did she expect, dressed like that?". I am a feminist who wears hiking boots, chucks, combat boots, wedge heels, spike heels, kitten heels, AND "stripper heels". I am able to be gender and sex-positive in them all.
Posted by combover commando on January 24, 2014 at 12:28 PM · Report this
#34, Oh please, don't act like you've never heard women use the term "stripper heel" in a non-derogatory manner before. Helen Mirren wears them and brags about her "stripper heels" all the damn time. They are an actual thing, and those are the shoes I was referring to.

And, jesus, I would never suggest a girl was asking for any sort of harassment because of how she's dressed. But that's exactly the kind of "Slut-Shamer!" accusation you get when you even try to suggest that women think more critically about whether the personal choices we make help to further the goal of achieving equal status. That is not at all what I said nor what I was implying, yet you didn't want to have an actual discussion, so you went for the typical presumptive shut down.

What my ACTUAL issue is is this: When a woman is hobbling down the street in shoes she can barely walk in hanging on to her boyfriend for dear life (which was the scene on Broadway on New Year's Eve) while her boyfriend is walking like a normal person in sneakers, I don't see a lot of equal status there. She spent the entire freaking night in obvious pain, for christ's sake. It doesn't take a lot of brain power to realize that this is bullshit. When women are spending ridiculous amounts of their income on products to make themselves look a certain way while men are spending theirs on fun shit to DO, I don't see a lot of equality of status there, either. And when women have sex but see their own orgasms as optional parts of sex, well, that's complete bullshit, as well. Would a man ever have sex without his orgasm as the goal?

I think women continue to make a lot of unempowering choices in their personal lives, and that is something we SHOULD be talking about, but we can't without being labeled judgmental anti-feminist slut shamers. That is all I'm saying.
Posted by virginia mason on January 24, 2014 at 3:37 PM · Report this
I agree with a lot of what you're saying, I just find it hard to accept the idea that ALL of our decisions should be empowering, or feminist decisions. Maybe I'm wrong, but can't a decision have nothing to do with empowerment? Can't I just wear shoes I think are pretty, even if they pinch my toes a bit?
Posted by combover commando on January 24, 2014 at 4:21 PM · Report this
#35, Yes, and I make unempowering decisions all the time. I too much about my appearance and spend way too much money on that stuff. I just have a problem with the "Feminism is about choice, the end..." argument that a couple of commenters above made because that means we no longer allow for questioning of ourselves or each other and the reasons we like or want to do things, which I think is a really important part of feminism that has been lost.

You can't make big civil rights changes without first changing the culture. Look at how normalizing gay relationships in the media allowed for people's views of homosexuality to evolve to the point where gay marriage is FINALLY legal.

Yet when it comes to women, it often seems like instead of forcing a change in the culture that objectifies the crap out of us, we've thrown in the towel and decided to participate in that shit and rebrand it as "Owning our sexuality," when so much of this sexuality is merely about performing for others.

I just think it's important to honestly assess this stuff and question it, and maybe try to then change some things.
Posted by virginia mason on January 24, 2014 at 6:00 PM · Report this
A lot of people get married then treat it like shit, a lot of people don't get married and treat it like shit. It's not shit. It's a lot like life. It's as beautiful as you make it. If your friends do not approve, then find better friends.
Posted by bakatya on January 27, 2014 at 5:10 PM · Report this
Virginia Mason -- you're basically saying women shouldn't dress or act a certain way, but who's forcing them to do that? Not me.

Who's holding a gun to their head to wear uncomfortable shoes, to pay a lot more for a haircut or dry cleaning, compared to men? No one. They're doing it because they refuse to look at other options.

As for the hyphenated name thing -- as mentioned above -- that is SO 1973,
Posted by KellyDB on April 8, 2014 at 2:46 PM · Report this

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