She Really Did It! Feminists and Marriage

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The much-discussed marriage of Jessica Valenti and Andrew Golis finally took place on October 3, 2009. I write “finally” not because it was a long engagement but because it must have seemed like it was. From the moment her wedding plans were announced, she was subject to a barrage of media attention and feminist scrutiny. Apparently there are a lot of feminists out there who think marriage is an anti-feminist act. I say whether it’s feminist or not lies in the eyes of the beholder.

I recently heard from an old friend who encapsulated her marital history by saying that she and her long-time partner have never married because she couldn’t see the point. On the other hand, I’ve been married four times–obviously I see some point to getting married. And yet I don’t think either of us see our stances as being feminist or anti-feminist; they are merely personal choices.

The feminists who see marriage as a betrayal on the part of the feminist who is marrying are the feminists who still see men as the enemy. They also see marriage as primarily a patriarchal institution. It hasn’t occurred to them that marriage can be empowering for a woman. Anytime a woman makes a decision that she feels is in her own best interests she is acting like a feminist, whether she identifies herself as one or not.

There’s no one life formula for being a feminist. Having children can be a feminist act; parenting them most certainly can be. Marrying can be a feminist act when you do it on your terms. There are so many points of negotiation in any relationship, marital or not, that it’s simplistic to judge a relationship’s feminist suitability purely on whether or not it’s legally binding. What a woman does about her name, her freedom to choose work in or outside of the home, the division of labor, even how you argue–these are just a few of the things that offer up opportunities for acting “feministically” (on the part of both the man and the woman).

One of my daughters married a year ago. She and her now-husband had been together for a number of years and had already ironed out a lot of their differences and had learned how to fight fair about the rest of them. Marriage seemed like a logical next step to them. They had an unconventional wedding, she kept her own name, he does as much housework as she does (maybe more), he’s as invested in her career as he is in his own. They’ve even discussed the possibility of his staying home with the children when/if they have any. I can’t think of a more feminist marriage. Yet some would say that the mere fact that they married proves that they’re not feminists.

I honestly don’t think that following feminist principles was high on their list when they were contemplating marriage, nor should it be. Marriage stands for many things, but the primary thing it should stand for is who you and your partner are as a couple. If it fits your worldview to stay unmarried or to get married, then so be it. Doing what you want is the feminist act. Doing what you don’t want is the anti-feminist act.

Jessica Valenti had the wedding she and her fiance wanted, in spite of what others thought. Now they’re on the path of making the marriage they both want. Other people’s reactions shouldn’t be an issue. That’s a feminist principle that we can all live by.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

One thought on “She Really Did It! Feminists and Marriage”

  1. “The feminists who see marriage as a betrayal on the part of the feminist who is marrying are the feminists who still see men as the enemy.”

    Maybe they see the institution of marriage and its tendancies to put the wife after the husband the enemy?

    I mean “what is the point” of marraige? Espeially if you use divorce as a way out of what is supposed to be a life time commitment?

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