A male friend of mine who believes in equality once asked me whether I believe in marriage or not, being a feminist. Yes! was the answer. I as a feminist do see myself getting married one day. I do believe that the institution of matrimony is patriarchal and that is the point why feminism and marriage do not mix well for many people. But instead of criticising marriage, we need to focus on what makes it worse- patriarchy. So if patriarchy is taken away from marriage can it become a valid concept?
At the end of the day, feminism is all about providing equal rights and freedom to choose without coercion. So if I have a partner who treats me with the utmost respect, counts me as equal, validates my opinion, takes equal kitchen duties, respects my space, and completely leaves to me what to do with my life, then doesn't matrimony seem the right step?
I am not the first woman who thinks that equality will make marriages better. Earlier, way back in 1923, feminist Amelia Earhart wrote a letter, in which she asked her fiancé for an equal partnership in marriage and to ensure no hindrance in pursuing her dreams. During her wedding vows, on the aisle, she reiterated her maiden name, instead of taking her husband's last name.
Married Feminist: A Valid Concept?
I do understand the concept of love is characterised by jealousy and possessiveness, which is against the values of feminism. For instance, feminist Carol Smart once identified love as an aspect of patriarchy's ideological armament through which women became hooked into dependent relationships with men. But what if we all have our own definitions and contexts for love and commitment?
I don't justify marriages, unless they are done out of choice- as I intend to do. By choosing marriage I don't nullify the struggle of all feminist waves, instead, I am trying to be part of the new wave. A wave in which making choices, and having control of my agency is supreme. Also, men deserve a chance to change. In my experience, I have seen feminist men, who are willing to curb the years of prejudices, which they inculcated through patriarchal social conditioning. Men are also the victims of the patriarchy as feminist author bell hooks once said. They also require feminism to get over it. We shouldn't shut the door over it.
Another negative aspect of marriages is that they automatically give privileges to men, which women are not allowed to have in the given dynamics of society. What if I build a marriage where we have equal privileges? Some may also argue, why can we build such relationships only with marriages? Can't live-in relationships achieve the same goal? Again, it's a choice, and phase of life. I am up for live-in, but what does such a relationship hold for me in future? Isn't change and development the truth of life? If I want to celebrate my relationship with friends and family, shouldn't I be able to do it?
I know that my stance on marriage sound convenient, but that is the whole point- choosing, what you like. I am not trying to re-claim the institution of marriage but to make it a better version of it for myself. Historian Stephanie Coontz in her essays extensively wrote how the institution of marriage has evolved over time. Coontz points out that marriage may not be inherently oppressive but has been oppressive for a very long time, so there's a lot of sediment built up that needs to be excavated. The generation of new feminists like me and you needs to excavate this and set new concepts in society that calls for equality, instead of completely shutting doors.
Suggested Reading: Ned Fulmer Controversy: Marriages On Public Display Aren’t Always Perfect