What’s Wrong with Getting Married?

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I just spent two full days on a road trip with my oldest daughter. We got along great most of the time. The only time we came close to arguing is when we were talking about people having children without getting married. She’s convinced that I’m critical of women who have children “out of wedlock.” Which is ludicrous because when she had her first child she didn’t marry the father and I have always supported her decision and even thought that she was wise to handle it that way. But that was mainly because she had no interest in being in a relationship with the baby’s father.

Now she’s pregnant with her second child, but this time she’s with the guy that she intends to marry—eventually. They’re (he is) apparently not ready yet, and that worries me. When is he going to be ready? Will he ever be ready? Or will he just be content with being involved with her without making that final commitment?

She said that her dad (my ex) has never said anything about them not being married. But she’s not exactly being fair to me. I’m not critical of them not getting married because I think it’s immoral or bad for society. I did say that I thought celebrities who don’t get married help to perpetrate the idea that marriage is an optional, even obsolete, institution and I don’t think it is. But I realize that you can be married without that sense of commitment and not married and have it. I hate that when celebrities get married—maybe when anyone gets married—people ask themselves, “I wonder how long it’ll last?” Instead of thinking, “Isn’t it wonderful that they want to spend their lives together?” How did we get so cynical about marriage?

It’s funny how gay people are fighting for the right to get married while straight people are eschewing it. I think marriage is important because of what it symbolizes: that you’re committed to one another and plan to make a life together. I know I tend to think that people who don’t get married aren’t willing to make that commitment and that’s not necessarily true. But if they are committed, why don’t they formalize that commitment and announce it to the world?

People blame marriage for causing bad relationships when it’s people who cause bad relationships. When a marriage fails, it’s not because the couple got married. It’s because people change. Or they realize that they don’t have what it takes to stay married to this person, which of course is something they should have realized long before they considered marrying him or her. But I don’t think it’s right to blame marriage per se for making people unhappy with each other. It’s not marriage that’s the problem; it’s that people see it differently than they used to.

Some people are against marriage because they’ve been burned before. My daughter’s boyfriend (intended? significant other?) is one of those people. He married once before and it was a disaster. But that’s obviously because he married the wrong person. Now he’s supposedly with the right person and he’s dragging his feet.

Part of my reaction is on behalf of my daughter. She deserves to be with someone who loves her so much he wants everyone to know that he’s totally committed to her. I tend to see marriage as “proof” that you can’t live without each other.

I guess part of my “problem” is that I’m almost 60 and “I just don’t understand” the younger generation. But I came of age in the era of free love and distrust of anything that smacked of the Establishment. Plus I’m a feminist. It could be that I’ve gotten more conservative in my old age. But I don’t think that’s all of it.

Marriage just seems like a logical step to take when you’re ready to make a life-long commitment to another person. If you’re not ready to do that, then for God’s sake, don’t get married. But even I’m not clueless enough not to realize that getting married doesn’t ensure that you’re going to stay together forever. And that getting married before you’re ready will almost guarantee that you won’t.

The fact that I’ve been married four times could mean that I really, really believe in the institution of marriage. Or it could mean that I just don’t learn from my mistakes. But the thing is, I don’t see a marriage that ends as a failure. I see it as a good try. At least I feel like mine have always been the result of my commitment to that particular person at that moment in time. The fact that my first three marriages didn’t last doesn’t mean that I failed at marriage. If anything, it means that t took me a while that it was okay to not be married.

In between my marriages, I actually enjoyed myself. By the time my third marriage ended, I had come to prefer my own company to that of a man I couldn’t completely count on when the going got tough. If I hadn’t found a man like that, I wouldn’t have married a fourth time.

The only negative I can see about marriage is that if it doesn’t work out between you and your spouse, you have to go through the legal machinery of getting a divorce. But anytime you’ve mingled your life with another’s you’re going to have entanglements that won’t be so easy to get out of. I’d rather risk having to get divorced if things go wrong than to not risk banking my entire life on another person.

Lament of an Old Woman

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It’s a curious thing, getting old. When I was younger I thought it would feel like slowly walking into a blank future, a kind of nothingness. Instead, it feels like life is sliding out from under me as it races backward. I’m not moving; I’m staying exactly the same. It’s my context that keeps changing. I continually find myself in a completely new environment but I’m the same person: from the inside, I think I look the same, I’m the same eternal (but indeterminate) age, I have the same values,  and I live by the same rules.

That’s why it’s such a shock sometimes to look around me and see others aging. My daughters are all over 30 now. My grandson is almost 12 already. But me? I can’t quite grasp the fact that if others are getting older, so am I.

I went to an office party the other night and I was the oldest person there by almost 30 years. I didn’t feel out of place, but I afterward I wondered if the others felt funny being around me. When they looked at me, were they thinking: this woman could be my mother! When I opened my mouth to make a comment or tell a story, did they brace themselves for something irrelevant and stuck in the past? Do I seem as old to them as a 90-year-old person seems to me?

I was reading a book the other day where one of the characters referred to a 40-year-old woman as “middle-aged.” Wait a minute, I thought, that’s not middle-aged. I’m middle-aged. But by some guidelines I’m practically a senior citizen. Now that I’m almost 59, I don’t think you should be considered a senior citizen until you’re 70.

What bothers me the most about aging is the presumption that I don’t know anything, when in reality the older you are, the more you know. I at least know what it’s like to be young. But young people don’t know what it’s like to be old. That gives older people an edge when it comes to life-wisdom. Old people have lived through almost everything. The only thing that’s new for them is new technology. Even history repeats itself.

Young people think they’re changing everything, but in reality, they’re only reinventing the wheel. Every old person remembers what it was like to drive the older generation crazy. It’s only the particulars that have changed. What our parents thought was shocking may seem old-hat to our children and grandchildren, but the feelings of shock were just as real as the shock that they will feel when the next generation comes up with its own brand of language, art and fashion.

Continue reading Lament of an Old Woman

The Feminist Generation Gap

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How is it that a feminist can look so different depending on her age? I don’t just mean physical appearance, but also behavior and attitude. Obviously, Second Wave feminists are older than Third or Fourth  Wave feminists. But that isn’t the only difference.

My daughters would probably consider themselves feminists, but they don’t talk about it. They take a lot of things for granted that Second Wave feminists fought for. They’re so busy going after the things they want out of life, they don’t stop and think that if they’d been born thirty years earlier, they wouldn’t have all the options they have today.

When I was growing up, babies born out of wedlock were called illegitimate. Couples didn’t live together without being married. Married women didn’t keep their names. Help Wanted ads were divided by gender. A doctor, lawyer or minister was almost always a man. Nice girls didn’t talk about sex. (They might be engaging in it, but they weren’t talking about it.) Abortions weren’t legal anywhere. Single people, including gays, couldn’t adopt children. There were no female Supreme Court justices. No one in his (or her) right mind would have considered voting for a woman for President. High schools had dress codes. (I was a sophomore before we were allowed to wear slacks—not jeans—to school.) If one parent stayed home with the kids, it was always the woman. You never heard a swear word on television or in song lyrics. And women always wore bras.

And I haven’t even touched on the technological changes!

The world looks a lot different these days. Movies and even television are much more explicit, in language, violence and sexual activity. Girls are openly giving blow jobs at high school parties. Women’s clothing is see-through, peek-a-boo, and barely there. Couples often have children before (or instead of) getting married. Not one but two women have had their names bandied about as possible Presidential candidates.  Lesbians and gays and single people of either sex can adopt children. Children are started in test tubes. There are more single mothers than ever and living together before getting married is so commonplace, we see unmarried (and gay) couples buying houses together on HGTV!

It’s no wonder that Second Wave feminists seem out of touch with present day-reality. We’re in shock. We can’t imagine growing up in a world where women don’t automatically put their husbands’ careers before their own, where they keep their own names, talk freely about sex, become astronauts and CEOs, wear maternity wedding dresses, have the same amount of access to sports as men do, and often make more than the men in their lives.

Some people pronounce feminism dead just because things are so different than they were in the past. But not everything has changed, or changed all that much. Women still do more of the housework and child-raising than men do. They are still ghetto-ized in low-paying jobs. There is still a double standard where sex is concerned. Little girls still dream of their wedding day. Female participation in politics is till far below the percentage of females that there are in society. Women still worry more about their appearance than men do. And, at least for the forseeable future, women still have the babies.

Considering all the changes that have taken place since I was a girl, I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like for my grandchildren. My grandson talks naturally about getting married and having children (a girl and twin boys). He can clean a bathroom better than I can. I don’t have any granddaughters (yet), so I don’t know how their lives will reflect even more of the changes that feminism has wrought. Maybe someday feminism will be an archaic term and no one will feel the need to label themselves as feminists.

But somehow I doubt it.

Mommy Tracked

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I am way overdue for calling your attention to one of my favorite web sites: Mommy Tracked, which is dedicated to “Managing the Chaos of Modern Motherhood.” It is not a feminist blog per se, but it displays what I think of as the spirit of feminism. It is not afraid to call out society for its transgressions while at the same time putting a personal face on the issues that face modern women (not just mothers). It’s neither liberal nor conservative, pro-working moms or -stay-at-home mothers.  What it is, is honest.

I particularly enjoyed Meredith O’Brien‘s recent article on Sarah Palin, “Sarah Palin: Rogue Not Rouge.” In it she addresses the sexism leveled against not only Sarah Palin, but also Hillary Clinton, as they attempted to enter the world of politics. I don’t agree with Palin’s views on many things, but I recognize her many accomplishments and admire her for the example she sets for other working mothers. (Funny how no one talks about Clinton being a working mom. Maybe it’s because she only had one, or because her daughter is grown?)

Other columnists on Mommy Tracked include Risa Green, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, Leslie Morgan Steiner, Wendy Sachs, Kristy Campbell, and Christie Mellor. There are also comics by Betsy Streeter, a survival guide, a section for working moms, news, book reviews, and groups and forums. And don’t miss signing up for the newsletter; it’s worth it.

Girl Drive: A Feminist Road Trip

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Just released on November 1st, Girldrive is a book about “criss-crossing America [and] redefining feminism.” The road trip that was undertaken by Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Bernstein is the inspiration for the book and the blog by the same name. These videos are from the Girldrive website.

Girldrive trailer! from Girldrive on Vimeo.

Here are a few more videos highlighting different voices they heard on the trip:

Girldrive Mini-trailer #1–Redefine Feminism from Girldrive on Vimeo.

Girldrive mini-trailer #2–Be Seen and Heard from Girldrive on Vimeo.

Girldrive mini-trailer #3–Start Talking from Girldrive on Vimeo.

Baby Ladies

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Each year as many as 100,000 little girls under the age of 12 participate in what is now a $5 billion-dollar industry: U.S. child beauty pageants. A new book has captured their perfected products, what I call “baby ladies.” High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Beauty Pageants contains 90 photographs taken by the author and photographer Susan Anderson.

My first reaction when I looked at these pictures was, “What were their parents thinking?” How can they not see how it skews a young girl’s sense of self when she spends countless hours being made to look (notice the passive tense) like something she isn’t: a full-grown woman?

Feminists gasp in horror at the way these pageants make little girls into sex objects before they’ve even hit puberty. And any adult in his or her right mind worries about feeding the sick fantasies of a pedophile. But parents must have some pretty strong motivations in order to get past all the glitz and “old-before-their-time” images and behavior. (Not to mention to get them to spend thousands of dollars a year on fake tans and smiles, tailor-made clothes, fancy hairdos, make-up, and dancing and singing lessons.)

One motivation is that we love all things beautiful and we especially love innocent beauty. The natural beauty of a young child is the closest we get to heavenly beauty in this world. The irony is, these toddlers and tweens look anything but innocent by the time their parents and handlers get done with them.

But there’s another motivation which can be seen in the world of little boys as well: for some strange reason we parents are in a hurry to see our children grow up. Oh we don’t want them to have sex, get married and have children too early, but what we do want is to know is that they’re all going to be successful. And because we equate success with physical beauty for girls and physical prowess for boys, we push them into beauty pageants and Little League sports.

There is a competitive spirit that courses through the veins of every American. And if we’re too old or have lost our chances to be successful, we push our children to stand in for us.

I suppose that’s not unusual, because our children are the future. I just don’t think they should be our futures. Let them have their own.

Source: Amanda Fortini’s article on Salon.com.