Jabs against feminists more often than not include the ‘this is why you are single factor’ (although ‘are you on your period?’ is also a common one), as if having opinions and a voice are instantly repelling to all men. In turn, many radical feminists consider marriage un-feminist since it used to be a form of ownership and oppression.
Marriage wasn’t always an expression of love; it used to be a pretty blatant expression of power, where women were obliged to be subservient, silent, sexually compliant and anything else her husband wanted her to be. But modern marriage, though still attached to stigma, is different.
Though previous generation couples still adhere to the traditional stay-at-home-mother and worker father because of the societal pressures at the time they got married, younger couples now have less of an obligation to get married. They have a clear choice. And this is why getting married can be a feminist life decision.
The institution of marriage is still problematic. In India marital rape is still legal and child marriage is still one of the worst consequences of global poverty. The belief that women are property and that marriage is a business transaction is still very much alive.
When Beyoncé announced her Mrs Carter tour, feminists we quick to attack her choice to use her husband’s name, claiming Beyoncé was being submissive and that she was abandoning her own agency. But Beyoncé is a fully grown Western woman and one of the most famous and talented super stars of our generation. She has the power to make the choice of naming her biggest tour to date after a relationship she is clearly proud of. It is easy to forget that feminism is not about constantly rejecting patriarchal values, but reclaiming them and redefining them.
When Beyoncé takes the stage on her Mrs Carter tour it is impossible to say she does not have agency or that she is submissive to anyone. She owns that stage and her married name: she powerfully asks the audience to say ‘Hey Mrs Carter’ – and as you chant along you can’t help but realize that the woman on the stage reclaimed the definition of marriage, displaying it as a badge of honour. Her song ‘Bow Down / I Been On’ says it all: “I took some time to live my life / But don’t think I’m just his little wife / Don’t get it twisted, get it twisted / This my shit, bow down bitches”.
Relationships are difficult and when the hard work put into them pays off, it is not wrong to celebrate that. From her many love songs, statements and appearances, it is obvious that Beyoncé is happily married but she is not just a ‘little wife’. Redefining marriage to mean ‘partnership’ as opposed to ‘ownership’ is essential for a world that craves gender equality. Taking care of your partner and sharing a life is not un-feminist, it is a choice. Feminism should not limit women’s life choices.
By re-defining marriage we can start working on several issues related to it: marital rape and child marriages can be overturned if we fight for a modernized image of marriage itself. Talking about how marriage can be a source of love and trust, and that no abuse should ever happen in a marriage is reclaiming and redefining the concept.
When feminists disapprove of marriage the perception that feminism is poisonous for good relationships (‘You will never get a man talking like that!’) is heightened. But this could not be farther from the truth: a 2007 study by Rudman LA and Phelan JE has revealed that feminists have better heterosexual relationships than non-feminists.
“[Rudman and Phelan] carried out both a laboratory survey of 242 American undergraduates and an online survey including 289 older adults, likely to have had longer relationships and greater life experience. (…) They found that having a feminist partner was linked to healthier heterosexual relationships for women. Men with feminist partners also reported both more stable relationships and greater sexual satisfaction. According to these results, feminism does not predict poor romantic relationships, in fact quite the opposite.” – ScienceDaily.com
Being a feminist means being aware of inequalities and imbalances in society and in relationships. Being educated is also not a hindrance to getting married:
“In 2014, meanwhile, women with traditionally male markers of achievement — college degrees, graduate degrees, high incomes — fare well in the so-called marriage market. Women with college degrees are more likely to marry than less-educated peers and less likely to divorce. Women making more than $100,000 per year are also more likely to be married than their lower-earners. And later marriages are associated with lower divorce rates.” – Bustle.com
All of this indicates that feminists are smarter about marriage: whether they decide to tie the knot or not, their decision process is more informed and educated which benefits their relationships in the long run.
Feminism and education are not obstacles to romance and they shouldn’t be. Reclaiming the concept is important and giving it a feminist shape is essential.