In two months, I’m getting married.
It scares me. The fiancé told me that I have been grinding my teeth in my sleep. I have recurring anxiety dreams. Ghosts visit me. I was pushing a grocery cart along an aisle and I heard a voice whisper my name — I was alone.
I am a feminist. I have never envisioned getting married. Yet here I am, planning my own wedding.
I have spent the past two years in silence trying to reconcile the contradictions between by former identity and the person I am becoming.
A friend suggested therapy. We plan to go through marriage counseling. I am making peace that there are some things about marriage that mystify me.
So I decided to write about it, because writing is the way I make sense of the unknown.
Here are some of the things I have been grappling with:
Marriage is an institution. I don’t want to be institutionalized.
Claude Levi-Strauss says that marriage was the institution that started the subordination of women:
”The total relationship of exchange which constitutes marriage is not established between a man and a woman . . . but between two groups of men, and the woman figures only as one of the objects in the exchange, not as one of the partners . . . This remains true even when the girl’s feelings are taken into consideration, as, moreover, is usually the case. In acquiescing to the proposed union, she precipitates or allows the exchange to take place; she cannot alter its nature.”
– Levi Strauss in Lerner, “The Creation of Patriarchy”
In history, the institution of marriage enabled the “reification” of women”: they were de-humanized (as in, traded for material goods, military alliances, etc.) and objectified.
While we can argue that the marital dynamic has vastly changed over thousands of years, there is still a lot of inequality when it comes to marriage.
- Who shall be the primary breadwinner?
- Who shall stay home and take care of the kid(s)?
- How shall the couple save up for and invest in conjugal property?
Most of the inequality comes from the economic factor, but it can also touch on career and individual insecurities. For twenty-first century women, we are pressured not only to have great careers but also to be Pinterest-perfect wives, mothers, and home-makers.
Gerda Lerner, the pioneer of women’s history and author of “The Creation of Patriarchy”, was also a stay-at-home mom until her youngest child was 16.
Here’s her take on the contradiction between feminism and family life:
“I stayed home until my youngest child was 16 years old. I was a full-time mother. I have always felt that feminists have to understand more about that experience. Whenever you want to make any change in the community, from getting a stoplight at a school crossing to putting in a park, the people who make the change are your stay-at-home housewives all over the country, all over the world.”
(To be continued…)