Matrimony Monday: Feminism and Marriage

Recently, I was hanging out with one of my favorite people and she asked me how I felt about the intersection of Feminism and Marriage. 
That got me thinking seriously about the topic in a way I haven't in a while. I made my peace with marriage as an institution (mostly) years ago, even in spite of getting divorced, and I hadn't spent much time considering this issue since. 

There's SO much here and no way that I can cover it all in a single blog post, particularly because I am not a social scientist or an actual historian. 

First of all, let's define Feminism, mmmkay?

  1. the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.
  1. (sometimes initial capital letter) an organized movement for the attainment of such rights for women.

In theory, we have gender equality in the United States. In practice, not so much. 
In marriage, it's even more complicated. 

1. Marriage has long been used as a tool to promote the subjugation of women. 

There was a time, not so very long ago, when a woman ceased to exist as a legal entity the moment she got married. 

"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing."
(Blackstone's Commentaries)

Married women didn't have the right to own property in their own names, to keep wages they earned, or the right to have custody of their children in the event of a divorce- for any reason. 

"Oh, 1848? That was 170 years ago! Forever! And they changed that stuff anyway."
In my family, that was only four generations ago. 
Oh, and many of the marital laws Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were opposed to didn't get changed until well into the 20th century
(I believe that Iron Jawed Angels should be mandatory viewing.)

I haven't even gotten started on marriage laws in other countries or really historical examples of gender subjugation via marriage. 
Yes, today in the United States things are legally different, but there's no avoiding the legacy of gender inequality that marriage has. That legacy sends shockwaves through history that we still feel today and created expectations that we have to contend with constantly. 

2. Marriage today is both more complicated and more simple than ever. 

Thanks to marriage equality a lot of the gendered baggage of marriage has been getting unpacked. Taking the gender requirements out of the question of marriage has made roles are more flexible than they've ever been, which has led to some people pushing back harder in favor of "traditional" marriage. Duh. I don't have to give y'all examples here. 

3. Lots of conversations about this topic are happening today:

etc. etc. etc. 

So here's my take: 

There's no way of distancing ourselves from the history of marriage. We have to live with, and be aware of, that baggage. 
("Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.")

But generally today, the equality in an individual marriage comes down to the individuals in it.
Like with so many other things in life, you have to decide what you can live with. 

Personally, I know that I absolutely could not EVER marry someone who didn't understand that women and men are still not treated equally and fairly. 
It's just too much work to spend my time and energy convincing the person I love that a basic reality of my existence is just that- a reality. 

I've found that many men don't necessarily spend much time thinking about these issues (because they haven't been forced to by just living life) but that when the topics are discussed and considered they can learn.

You have to be on the same page about basic things when it comes to literally living with someone- not just in theory but in practice. 
Things as basic as household chores and household organization.

Many people I've known believe (in theory) that they should divide household chores equally, but in practice say things like "But I don't know how to do XYZ task." or "Oh, I forgot." or "I'm just better at this than he is, if I don't do it it won't get done." 
Those are copouts when it comes to sharing the burdens of a household equally. They just are. 

We also have to think seriously about WHY some realities exist. 
When people have kids, it can make financial sense for one of us to stay home with them rather than paying for daycare- if that's the case it makes sense to have the parter who makes less money stay home... and in heterosexual couples that's very often the woman. 
Why do women often make less money than men? Well, that's a whole other feminist can of worms that I am SO not going to dive into right now, but I would enthusiastically encourage you to look into.

At the end of the day, an individual marriage can be feminist, but we are far far far from a time when marriage itself is a fundamentally feminist institution.
We just have to keep helping each other up until we get there- in every avenue of life.

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