Gender Equality and MarriagePosted: April 2, 2013
With many placing blame on the rape victim in the Steubenville rape case I have thought about how women are viewed in our society and what traditional views guide the way women are perceived in various circumstances. I have also questioned how important women’s rights and gender equality are to me. What I realized is that, despite some baby steps toward progress, women are still unequal to men, both financially and socially.
By accepting Jesse’s proposal last November, I acknowledged that I was ready to get married and spend the rest of my life with him. Until recently, I had not given much thought to marriage in the context of gender equality. I now realize that this topic should be discussed by all couples who are considering getting married.
A good friend of mine is a bridesmaid for one of her closest friends whose wedding is this summer. My friend has confided in me about her concerns about her friend. She has told me that her friend’s fiance is very controlling. This friend has to ask her fiance for permission to do practically anything. This couple already shares a bank account and this friend has, in so many words, told my friend that they probably will not see one another very much once she gets married.
I share this story because it is, in my opinion, an all too familiar case of a woman who is limiting her potential in order to be with a man. I will acknowledge that, in her view of reality, her relationship probably seems logical and she may not even feel like she is being controlled. (And, if she does, maybe she thinks that is how all relationships between a man and a woman are supposed to be.)
I get frustrated by stories like this one because I do not think any woman should ever be fine with belonging to a man, especially if it has gotten to the point where the man controls every aspect of the woman’s life. In these kinds of relationships, a woman is allowing the man to squelch her self-worth. Additionally, she is most likely being viewed as an object or as fulfilling a certain role instead of being respected as a person first, then a woman second.
In preparing for both a wedding and a marriage I have realized that there are several traditions that objectify instead of celebrate women. Some of these traditions that come to mind include a man asking a father for the daughter’s hand in marriage, the engagement ring, a woman changing her last name, and who pays for what at a wedding. These traditions have been disseminated by many feminist bloggers, including Meg Keene and Alexi Vrabel.
Asking for a woman’s hand in marriage
In her post “On Weddings and Gender Equality,” Alexi discusses her frustration in how women on a certain TV show “were talking about how they would have never said ‘yes’ to their current husbands had they not asked Daddy first.” Culturally, it is assumed that the guy has to ask a woman’s father for her hand in marriage. For the longest time I agreed with what society dictated. I always thought that it was important for my future husband to ask my father if he could ask me for my hand in marriage. Because my dad passed away in early 2011 Jesse never had the chance to ask for my dad’s permission. However, I realize now that I would not have wanted him to. I agree with Alexi’s sentiment when she shares the following:
“I resent that since I’m a lady, the possibility of having to ask permission to ask me is a real thing. Like I need a system in place to make sure everything’s okay because my feminine judgment may not be up to par.”
The concept of asking permission bothers me, too. A woman’s father does not have control over his daughter’s marriage. I believe that this tradition no longer serves any purpose in our society.
The engagement ring
Don’t get me wrong. I love my engagement ring. It is so beautiful and carries sentimental value since the diamond is a family heirloom. Meg, in her article “Confronting Tradition: Weddings and Feminism,” asks “why is the tradition that you wear a ring that marks you as taken, while he wears nothing?” I have questioned this tradition many times since my engagement.
For example, during Jesse’s first year of law school he will be surrounded by new people and making new friends. I have no doubt that some of his classmates will be single, motivated, beautiful young women. While I trust Jesse I do not think it is fair that he will be perceived as single when he is most definitely not. I am not insecure but I do worry about female classmates who may, potentially, come onto Jesse because he does not have a ring on his finger.
The last name change
Numerous bloggers on A Practical Wedding have reflected on how they felt about changing their last names and what their decision was. Both Alexi and Meg discuss this topic in their blog posts that I have shared. Several weeks ago, I shared the following comment on a discussion about the changing your last name on the Broke-Ass Bride:
“I had thought about the last name change decision long before I started dating my fiancé. My last name is ‘Best’ so it’s always seemed like a no brainer to keep it after marriage. I love my last name because it’s unique and, more importantly, because it is a direct connection to my dad. Ultimately, I see it as a way of maintaining my own social identity. Choosing not to take my husband’s last name does not make us any less united as a couple.”
There is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to take her husband’s last name. Just like any of these traditions, I think women need to think more critically about changing their last name instead of just doing it because that’s what society tells them to do.
Who pays for the wedding?
Once again, tradition dictates the financial responsibilities for a wedding.
Meg says that, “The tradition that the bride’s parents pay for the wedding, while the groom’s parents skate by relatively unscathed, has troubling roots in, say, dowries, and getting rid of that female kid that can’t earn any money.”
My mother is widowed and retired so I do not think it is reasonable to ask her to cover what the bride’s family is expected to pay for. Making the bride’s parent’s pay for the wedding just because they are the bride’s parents does not seem fair to me, especially since a marriage requires equal commitment from both the husband and the wife. Bride or groom…titles should not dictate who pays for the wedding.
Just like women need to be critical consumers in the wedding market, women also need to think critically about the traditions that guide weddings and what these traditions suggest about the value and place of women in a marriage. What’s important is that a couple decides what marriage means to them. “When we decide to get married,” Meg says, “we decide to reclaim and remake the institution of marriage, and shape it into something that works for us.” I could not agree more.
What wedding/marriage traditions exist that I have not included in my post? What traditions bother you?