Ask Team Practical: Marriage and Feminism

Q: I recently got engaged to someone who is absolutely perfect for me. I was visiting home for the first time since moving across the country for a job. He proposed, we were ecstatic, and we were able to share that with family and friends all weekend long. I have never had a better weekend in my life.

Then came Monday morning, back halfway across the country, at my job. I work for a large feminist organization that I am deeply passionate about. I had heard co-workers speak negatively about marriage before, so I was a little scared to show people the gorgeous rock on my finger. And I was right to be scared. Once the news was out, I felt little support from those around me. Some were excited for me, but most didn’t even attempt to fake excitement. Mere days after sharing my news with the office, lunch conversations consisted of everyone bashing marriage.

I felt horrible. Coming off of the extreme high from my weekend and the excitement and support from my family and friends, I all of a sudden felt extremely alone. At one point I wondered if the engagement had really happened, all the while staring at my ring that I love so much. I felt much better after my roommate threw me a surprise congratulations party with my non-work friends, but I still feel the sting of judgment when the topic of marriage comes up in the office. And it does. Quite a bit.

I myself am a feminist. I have had the marriage discussion a million times. I have read the books, taken the classes, been in the consciousness-raising groups. I agree that the government shouldn’t be so involved with such an intimate part of our lives. It feels so unfair that I have the privilege to legally marry while others do not. I get it. In spite of all of it, I want to marry the man that I love more than anything. I don’t have a great argument for why. I just know that it hurts to not feel supported. To be criticized and judged.

I constantly feel like I have to prove myself as a feminist now that I am engaged. But, the ring is conflict free! We are going to hyphenate our names! No one will be walking me down the aisle! My fiancé is super into wedding planning! However, no matter how many feminist tidbits I sneak into a conversation, I have not once stuck up for my choice to marry. Because I don’t know how. Do I say something when someone makes me feel guilty for choosing to marry? If so, what? I’m tired of most of the time pretending like the engagement doesn’t exist, and when it does come up, keeping my head down and hoping no one straight up asks me to justify my decisions.

A: Dear Anonymous,

The big problem of sexism is the world telling women all of the things they can’t do.

When women develop a list of things women can’t do, they’re contributing to the problem rather than eradicating it.

So, here’s what I’d like to know. What are their issues? Why do they think marriage is in opposition to feminist ideals? I think we all are pretty much on the same page with what “feminism” means, but let’s appease my teacher-self and Webster it. “Feminism” is a “theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” Cool, so, a feminist is just anyone who wants men and women to have equal rights. Nothing in that definition seems to exclude the idea of marriage. That is, unless you think that marriage always puts women at a disadvantage. I do not.

Marriage isn’t inherently oppressive to women, although it’s been used as a tool to oppress women before. But really, what hasn’t been used to subjugate and disenfranchise women? Sex, money, education, even our own appearances have been used against us. We don’t remedy the situation by doing away with all of it because of the sordid past of inherently morally neutral things. We take those things and use them for good. We take marriage, strip it of its anti-woman traits, flip it around, and use it to empower women rather than oppress them. And like sex, education, make-up, we use it only if we want to. That’s the real beauty of feminism. A woman can choose for herself what is the best route for her own life.

Of course, I can’t tell you why getting married is important to you. But, I can tell you why it’s important to me, and how I think marriage itself can be incredibly empowering for a woman. While we chat about that, let’s also talk about some of the misconceptions of what it means to be married.

I think some folks equate marriage with the piling on of additional responsibilities. As in, “Okay, now I’m married, so not only do I need to make money, and also cook and clean (for two, now!), but I also need to make and raise a few babies. There’s so much to do!” But that’s simply not true (at least not always). First of all, some women have the privilege of choosing which of those responsibilities to take on or not. Marriage in and of itself doesn’t mandate all of them. Second, you now have a partner to help shoulder the burden. Sure, there are two people to cook for and clean up after. But, hello, there are also two people to contribute to that cooking and cleaning. You’d need to make lunch and wash laundry if you were single, anyway. It’s just that now there’s an extra set of hands to chip in. Teamwork!

Having that extra manpower (…people power? kidding, kidding) in the house doesn’t just contribute to more efficient housekeeping. It frees you up! You have two people worrying about the bills. So, if you’re lucky enough, one of you can work while the other finishes up grad school, or pursues that crazy idea for a small business, or volunteers at an important social cause. And even if you both do need to work right now (this stinking economy, man), chances are you’ll still have a bit more free time for things you enjoy. You know. Furthering your education, becoming a successful career woman, or contributing to social causes. Woman-empowering stuff. With a second person on your team, you might have more time, more help, and more support to do all of those things.

But wait, there’s more! Not only does a relationship mean that you’ll have help with the mundane and more time for individual pursuits, it also means you may have someone to partner with you in giving back to your own community. I know I already mentioned volunteer work and social causes, but what about your own friends and neighbors? That pal from high school with the flu, that could really use some homemade soup? Too bad you’re a terrible cook. Oh WAIT, your partner is amazing in the kitchen. Your friend that needs help moving? You’ve got four arms to carry boxes now. Partnership and teamwork strike again.

Another misconception about marriage is what we talk about all the time with Reclaiming Wife. There’s this underlying assumption that when you get married and you become a wife, instead of ratcheting up your responsibilities like I described above, they all get swept aside and replaced with one task: Housewife. “Homemaker.” No longer are you a person with career goals, preferences, hobbies, interests, but instead you get relegated to this narrow little box of a woman. You’re a dishwasher, laundress, and crockpot maven. And that’s all. But hey. It’s not marriage that’s limiting us here, it’s our concept of what a “wife” is and what the role entails. That stuff isn’t intrinsic to the role. All that is required to be a “wife” is being a 1) woman who is 2) married. The rest of those bits play out however they may, individually and personally. You’re not stuck just whiling away the hours darning socks. Unless you want to be, which you might. I don’t even really know what sock darning is, anyway, so maybe it’s a blast.

So yeah, all of that is lovely, but you’re probably thinking, “Great. That’s all a terrific rational for being in a relationship. Why get MARRIED?” Well, being recognized as legally married offers a bunch of protection for you if anything goes wrong. I’m sure you’re familiar with them (since the discussion about what rights belong to married individuals, and why we all should have those rights is discussed quite a bit around here), but starting with “next of kin” rights in the hospital all the way to joint tax return filings, there are an estimated 1,138 statutes that determine rights and benefits based on marital status. To encourage women to forgo those rights because “marriage” is an icky word seems short-sighted. Some straight couples opt not to get legally married till everyone can, others protest in different ways like talking to people, giving money, supporting businesses that support gay rights, and on and on. It’s up to you to decide what sort of protest is right for you, not up to your co-workers to mandate what decision you should make.

Finally, there’s an assumption that by choosing a path that most conforms to the expected mold, we accept it and perpetuate it. We just fall into line and make it impossible for the rest of womankind to do anything else. But to be that woman—the woman who is making traditional choices but for her own individual reasons, and to kick ass at it? That’s what will change our perceptions of women and their roles. That’s what will make room for women to be successful singles, dedicated wives, career women, working mothers, stay-at-home mothers, aunties, stay-at-home wives, and whatever else they’d like to be.  Eschewing traditional options, even though they genuinely work for some women, will not. That’s a revolution that only benefits half of womankind. Determining that no woman could ever be a kick-ass, powerful, thinking woman while also being a wife is limiting in the same way that sexism has limited women for ages.

So! Should you speak up when people say these things to you? Sure, if you’re up for it! Maybe a good place to start is to ask them what they think is inherently antifeminist about marriage, and go from there. But also, think about it for a bit yourself—why are you getting married? Sure, you’re in love. But being in love could just mean that you spend a lot of money buying roses for each other. Marriage is a tangible, real world, decision. What made you take the steps toward marriage and how does that empower you as a woman?

While you’re figuring that out, I’ll ask our readers to help get the wheels turning for you.


You heard me, Team Practical! What are your reasons for choosing marriage? How do you think marriage can be a pro-woman institution? Have you faced any resistance from friends and if so, how do you handle it?

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Elemjay

    Far too many people get judgey about marriage and weddings. For example – you are getting married too early/ too late/ to the wrong person/ to the wrong gender/ you did change your name how awful/ you didn’t change your name how awful/ your wedding is tacky/ too cheap/ too expensive/ too showy and on and on. Yuck.

    Your coworkers are not being very polite – I guess even feminists can be rude and thoughtless. Please don’t let their lack of courtesy spoil your excitement. Good luck!

  • Zoe

    I think it’s important for women who do make more ‘traditional’ choices (marriage, particularly of the heterosexual variety, changing our names, etc) to be EXPLICITLY supportive of the less traditional choices of our friends/family/wider circle. And whenever possible, to lend action to that support, rather than just words.

    That’s what will fight the “assumption that by choosing a path that most conforms to the expected mold, we accept it and perpetuate it.”

    Because to some degree, we HAVE accepted and perpetuated the ‘path of the expected,’ whether we want to admit it or not by making more conventional choices. So, I think we have a responsibility to be very honest about these choices, while also creating the space for others to make whatever damn choices they want. You know?

    • meg

      I like this a lot. I’m not sure I think there is blame in taking more expected paths, persay, but I do think it’s important to be loud about making those paths feminist. But I also like the idea of making sure we support people taking less traditional paths (or being supported, in some cases for me).

      • Ana

        I agree with the idea that those taking a more “traditional” path should be vocal about those how their choices are, in fact, feminist. I’m worried that being explicit in the support of those taking less “traditional” paths might come off as patronizing or at the worst even narcissistic. I hope this doesn’t read as accusatory because I don’t think that’s what you mean, Zoe, but it is another way to think about it. In my experience as a gay person planning a wedding, I’ve found that others often latch on to it as a “GAY wedding” and make a huge deal and plenty of assumptions about how “different” and “special” it’s going to be – way cooler than a wedding with straight people, because it’s two ladies! OMG we are are cool. That sort of vocal-ness, for me, has just unnecessarily highlighted my other-ness in a time when in my opinion, I am choosing to take part in a whole lot of same-ness (the time-honored tradition of marriage). I wish was getting the push-back about traditional marriage that the author is receiving, instead of having others go on about how “non-traditional” I’m being. I think, sometimes, some people use it as a distraction from how traditional they’re being (or at the worst to highlight how traditional they’re being). “Don’t look at me, look at the gay people!” I wish we could all own our choices and get married (or not) in the way that feels best for us, with no apologies or caveats to the ladies at work.

    • z

      I always have a hard time articulating this. But… I feel called to a feminism that’s deeper and more challenging than the “anything a woman chooses is feminist” line of thinking that I often read here. I think it’s reductive and it disappoints me to read it so often. Feminism is more than just doing whatever you want. While making authentic choices may itself be challenging for some women, I think we are called beyond our own preferences to consider the impact of our choices on society and to make an effort and challenge ourselves on behalf of the feminist movement. While a certain choice may be authentic and true for the woman making it, that doesn’t convey immunity to reasoned, respectful critique.

      We aren’t islands– our choices affect social norms, and we have to face up to that consequence. I don’t make every life choice solely for feminist reasons, but when I don’t, I try to own it, not cry “my choice, my choice” as if nothing else matters. It doesn’t make sense to critique social norms and celebrate women who challenge them, and then pretend the same critique isn’t applicable to us when we make a choice that’s problematic from a feminist perspective. Determining our own authentic choices is only the beginning of feminism, not the full extent of it.

      • Liz

        This is why today’s conversation in the comments has been so awesome.

        I do think it’s valid to discuss the ramifications of our choices- are they making progress for equality, or hindering it? In many of the situations discussed on this blog, morally neutral choices are being made, but are then being critiqued as if there’s a right and wrong answer.

        Like today, marriage. Is marrying harming the struggle for equality of the sexes? I don’t think so. I’m not championing that choice just because it’s a woman’s choice, period, but because I think it’s not a choice that’s causing harm to womankind (very much to the contrary, really).

        Or when I mentioned in passing that I decided to stay home after having a baby. There were those who determined it an antifeminist decision, whereas I think it’s probably more morally neutral. I don’t think that by being home with a baby I’m harming the feminist movement or making lives more difficult for other women (in fact, I’ve been given opportunity to watch other women’s children so that they can pursue what they’d like). So, when I talk about my choice being valid, it’s not just because “IT’S MY CHOICE! You can’t critique it!!” It’s because 1) it’s my choice, a choice that women have long been fighting for my ability to make of my own accord, without the demands of men or society and 2) it’s not hurting women, or anyone else.

        I think we need to be careful in calling “antifeminist” anything that merely has a history of subjugating women.

        • Marisa-Andrea

          I have to admit that as I get older, I spend less and less time worrying about what my actions or non-actions mean for the larger feminist discourse and more time trying to be as authentic as possible for ME. Yes, I have become more and more self-centered, it is true.

          But in all honesty, feminism has always been for me about freeing the world from oppressive and patriarchal constructs that limit the dreams, freedoms and abilities of either sex. So practically speaking, if another woman questions a choice I make as being anti-feminist, I do not make mind taking a moment to “educate” her about a more progressive approach to feminism and recognizing that the fact I can make a choice about something like cooking dinner every night as opposed to being forced or feeling like I’m forced to do it due to my sex and gender what feminism is all about.

          And again I say, oh the sisterhood could be so much stronger if we stopped wasting time judging each other and spent more time building each other up.

          • z

            I wish it were easier to discuss these things without being accused of wasting time and judging. Sometimes I think accusations of judgementalness are a way of avoiding the substance of issues that are really important to discuss. It’s ok with me if feminism is challenging. It’s worth it.

            I try not to be a jerk about it, but I think our personal choices are important and worthy of discussion even when the conversation is difficult. Being a woman or a feminist or someone who is a beneficiary of feminism doesn’t mean immunity from other people’s opinions, even when they are strongly held.

            I don’t mind when people critique my choices, because I think it’s an important discussion, and as a feminist I’ve had to grow a bit of a thick skin. It’s not very realistic to go up against the patriarchy without one, is it?

          • Jaime

            “The sisterhood could be so much stronger if we stopped wasting time judging each other and spent more time building each other up.”


        • I think the problem with reading stay-at-home-motherhood as anti-feminist is that it perpetuates the paradigm where we overvalue traditionally masculine activities/traits and undervalue traditionally feminine activities/traits, which is the whole structure of patriarchy. We have to celebrate and raise up the feminine (for men and women) just as much as we have to allow women to have access to the masculine.

      • Z, there are a lot of ways that I agree with you, especially on the point that this can be hard to articulate in a way that still manages to come off non-threateningly.

        I am not fully a “choice feminist.” I was, in fact, explicitly raised (by my feminist father) to believe that there are certain paths that are less traditional for women and it was incumbent upon women (and more specifically me in particular) to trail-blaze those less traditional paths to enable other women to follow.

        And, true to my upbringing, I have pursued some less traditional paths — I didn’t change my name, I plan to work when I have children, etc etc.

        But I also realized the limitations of this. In college, I started off as a science major. This was again, something very important to my feminist father. Women are underrepresented in the STEM fields. As a good little feminist, I owed it to Team Woman to do my part to represent. So I dutifully signed up for a course load of chemistry, physics, advanced calc, and computer science.

        And I HATED it.

        And that’s when I realized that you can’t live your life trying to be the “perfect model feminist.” You have to live the life that is true to who you are personally. And for me, that meant dropping my science major and switching to theatre instead. (My parents were understandably heartbroken.)

        So, yes, I agree that we need to consider the impact of our choices on society. I agree we are not islands. And I admit, that when other women tell me they are going to change their names after marriage or what have you, there is a little part of me that is sad about that. Because while I believe that every individual woman has a choice to pursue whatever path is personally right for her, I also understand that if very few to no women pursue a particular path, it may no longer be really open to women in the future.

        But then I remember the personal choices I have made — not to go into science, engineering, or math — and I try to refrain from judgment. I remember that we can make traditional choices because they are right for us, and still be feminists.

        Which is why I agree with Zoe that even when you chose traditional paths, it is important to be explicitly supportive of those who don’t. I am very vocal in discussing the issues faced by women in STEM fields, what the problems are, and why they need to change. I would hope that other women who chose more traditional paths (such as say changing their name) would be equally supportive of women who don’t, by say, asking the man if he’s changing his name.

        Also, in terms of reasoned critique, my feeling is that you’re right, that there should be room for reasoned respectful critique, but my personal experience is that it is incredibly incredibly hard to create a space that is nonjudgmental and supportive and also respectfully critical. And while, as I said, I personally don’t fully subscribe to choice feminism, I appreciate that there are places like APW where women can tell their stories in a supportive and non-threatening environment and lay claim to their feminist selves, no matter how that manifests. Because these personal decisions are so FRAUGHT, and there are so many ways for women to feel like they are “doing it all wrong,” if you know what I mean. Sometimes, amidst the onslaught of criticism you get in the world no matter what you choose, it is necessary to just be able to say, “Eff it. This is MY choice.”

        Besides, I would argue that the woman who writes an agonized post about her decision to change her name fully realizes how her personal decision can impact society at large. It’s the women who don’t consciously think about their choices at all that worry me more.

        • Marisa-Andrea

          I think there’s a difference between being”judgy” (which is what I was referring to) and reasoned critique. The former is the brand of feminism that I find most unhelpful. It only negates instead of inviting reasoned discussion.

          And I come from the school of I guess it is called choice feminism. Being that I come from that school, I do think that personal choices are worthy of discussion and critique, but only to the extent that the person whose personal choices are being assessed is willing to engage. For me, at the end of the day, a woman’s personal choices are just those: HER personal choices. No one else has to live her life and ultimately, my goal is for women to be able to do what they want, whether it is opting for tradition or not. I suppose my problem with feminist critique of women who choose more traditional paths is that often that criticism turns into feminists engaging in the very type of oppression against which they so ardently object. Making women who choose more traditional paths feel like they are doing something wrong or telling women that they have a duty of to be a certain kind of feminist to me is simply trading one form of oppression for another.

          I want us as women to be more supportive of each other, more inclusive and more respectful of each other’s choices, even when we aren’t the feminists others wish we were.

          • z

            But what how do you define a personal choice? So much of feminism relates closely to personal choices that if we rule out discussion of personal choices, there’s hardly anything left. Should anyone have the power to shut down a discussion because she’s made choices in her life? We’ve all made personal choices that relate to feminism. I think the pain of sometimes feeling judged is just something people have to cope with for the sake of a robust feminist movement. Differences of opinion are not oppression.

            Or do you mean we just can’t say things to an objector’s face, and should talk about it when she isn’t around? My only sympathy for the original poster comes from the fact that this is happening at her workplace, where we can expect people to be a bit more careful with their remarks since we are all basically stuck with each other at work.

          • Liz

            I won’t speak for Marisa-Andrea, but I know that I draw the line between discussing choices in theory versus discussing actual choices that women have actually made. So, in terms of, “Do you think marriage is an unfeminist choice?” versus, “Do you think it was unfeminist of Alice to get married?” In that latter example, we’re veering into judgey. And a big piece of that is because 1) well, the decision’s been made. No going back now. But more importantly, 2) there is usually much, much, much more that goes into a personal decision than can actually be pulled out fully.

            I keep relying on this example, but it’s readily available. In this discussion where someone raised the point that my choice to stay home was antifeminist. The conversation then devolved into ill-informed assumptions and guesses at what factors added up to make my choice. And there were a lot! Many of which weren’t even broached.

            So it’s really impossible to say, “Alice is making an unfeminist choice by getting married,” because there are very real details, thoughts, factors that are behind that choice that we probably don’t know. Besides, how do we develop a hierarchy, then? “Well, her marriage is fine, but ONLY if she’s keeping her name and the breadwinner.” etc. It gets judgy!

          • This response is to Z but I can’t reply to her.

            I think you make good points and in a perfect world where we were all relatively thick skinned and not sensitive to being judged, I would hope we could have more brutally honest discussions. Unfortunately that’s not the world we live in.

            I think that when you tell a woman to her face that you don’t think her choice is advancing feminism, you’re likely to get a pretty defensive reaction. I’m not saying that there aren’t ways to do it, but I certainly haven’t found them.

            Instead, I tend to talk more in generalities or I talk about the choices I’ve made and why. I’ll say that I believe that because she worked while we were young, my mom was a good role model for me and my sister. Or some such,

            To me, all of this is in service of not shutting down discussions, but opening them. By not framing it as an out and out critique of another woman’s choices, I think you get further with people.

            Also, frankly, the point of an open discussion is because it allows for YOU to also reconsider YOUR biases. I used to pretty militant about how being a working mom was the good feminist choice whereas staying at home was not so much a feminist choice, but I’ve mellowed considerably on that point after having long discussions with friends about it, and now I feel like the decision to work or not work is more of a neutral choice. The reality is 60% of women work now, so not working is actually a minority choice, and the vast majority of women spend time both in and out of the work force for a variety of reasons. Having open discussions that didn’t involve criticizing my or someone else’s personal decision allowed me the distance to see my own particular biases on the matter and how they might not be so valid after all.

          • z

            I just feel like it’s almost impossible to talk about anything, by Liz’ standard. Everything would have to be kept at a very abstract level. Is it worth the chilling effect it would cause? I don’t need to directly critique anyone’s individual choices, but there’s only so much caution I feel is worthwhile. I don’t think that all women’s choices are equally feminist, and I don’t think I should have to pretend that I do. Is there any room in choice feminism for people like me, or am I not allowed?

          • Marisa-Andrea

            Z, I am replying to you here.

            I’m not saying we shouldn’t discuss or even engage in reasoned critique of personal choices. But what I have seen happen in feminist discourse over the last forty or fifty years is splintering within the movement that seems to hurt more than it helps.

            I totally understand your frustration with choice feminism but in terms of the movement, I think that’s kind of where we are right now and since we (collective “we”) can’t even agree on THAT, I just don’t know how much further we can go if we continue to put each other on trial for our personal choices. So with that being said, I do think some leeway has to be allowed for an individual to yes, shut down a discussion about choices she’s made in her life. And another commenter (sorry, I don’t remember who said) and Meg also pointed out that not everything is viewed as a feminist choice necessarily. Some personal choices while viewed as having feminist implications to me may or may not to you. I’ve sort of moved toward more team building and unity building efforts because for me, that is what I find most helpful in this particular era.

          • Marisa-Andrea

            Liz, you said what I wanted to say. That’s exactly what I meant.

          • KEA1

            Replying to all here, mostly since so many people have raised cool points that I can’t hope to hit all of them anyway. I sometimes discuss the reasoning behind my choices, sometimes make clear that the reasons are not open for discussion…for the same choices. It’s all a function of who’s on the receiving end and how they ask. The current students at my awesome alma mater who want to hear as many stories from as many sources as possible? My best friend who has proven time and again that she’s just awesome? LOTS of leeway; they can ask in a variety of ways and I’ll still freely share. I catch a hint of judgment from, say, overbearing family members? Conversation is over, and I don’t care if I sound pissy when I shut it down.

            What were we all saying about nuance a few posts ago? %)

    • Hannah

      Ick… I have to say, I kind of dislike the sentiment here. I always thought that the whole point of feminism was that women should be free to make whatever choices suit them, be they traditional or otherwise. This rubs me the same was as some lesbians looking down on me for being bisexual and ending up with a guy, as if I am somehow turning my back on their community because of who I happened to fall in love with. Falling for a man does not make me any less of a bisexual, and marrying him does not make me any less of a feminist. I resent the implication that I should have to throw in a “but I totally support gay marriage/people who choose not to marry/whatever” any time I talk about my engagement. Talk about PC over kill!

  • Jenn’s Mom

    First of all – congratulations! Finding someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with is a wonderful thing. Choosing to marry that person is your choice, and its a choice which opens up a whole new world of choices.How do you name your new baby family? How do you split those household chores which you’ve just created a team to manage? How do you split the income earning, how do you balance the career advancement, skill development etc.? If you choose to add dependents (children, pets) to your baby family how do you balance the caregiving? All of these choices are yours to make – which is what feminism is all about. And not all of those choices were as easy to make 31 years ago when I got married.
    Every time you make one of those choices – whether its the historically conventional one or not , you are exercising the freedom to make that choice which is what feminism is all about.

  • Erin

    I love your comments about teamwork. That has been one of the most awesome things about finally being /married/ – knowing that whatever we have to do, there are two of us now. From little things like not always having to empty the litter box or do the dishes myself (in fact, my husband does more of both than I do) to bigger things like supporting my father through illness.

    Having two people on my team is /awesome/. It’s both easier and more joyful. Things that are a pain on your own are almost a little fun with someone to share it with.

  • Alicia

    Your letter really got under my skin. I can’t believe people who devote their time to supporting others can be so rude and close-minded. Your coworkers seem to think that marriage is a stagnant institution incapable of evolving-which is pure BS. My parents marriage and my marriage are very different things.

    Have any of your coworkers ever been married? Do they know how enriching and liberating it can be? Do they know how awesome it feels to have a life-long, publicly committed partner at your side?

    P.S. I wanted to “exactly” APW’s response like 8 million times.

    • KB

      Ditto – not only is it just rude, it’s downright hostile because they KNOW she’s ENGAGED. Maybe I’m paranoid as a person, but I would start to think, “What are they trying to tell me in this passive-aggressive, roundabout way?” I seriously question whether some of them are insecure or unhappy with their own life choices, which might be something to think about the next time they start hating on marriage as an institution. A little empathy can put things in perspective – although it’s still incredibly offensive.

      And I’m also sorry to say this but these marriage-bashers are really fulfilling the stereotype of the Embittered Man-Hating Cat Lady, which isn’t good for any of us. Not that you should be all smiley and bow to the WIC, but when we’re not supportive of the choices of our fellow women, we ALL fail.

      • Agreed. I hated when we first got engaged and people would say “Don’t do it!” I also hated when I started law school and people said the same thing. It’s like, I clearly already made the decision to be engaged/in law school, so really, you’re just bringing me down.

        • KB

          Ha, I totally caught myself doing this to a law student the other day and realized a) I sounded like a jerk and b) they’ll figure out why all lawyers say that soon enough – or they’ll have a better time of it than I did.

        • Copper

          I’ve found that there are people who really do believe that the proposal is when women *start* thinking about the marriage. They genuinely believe in the surprise proposal; that the dude decides *he* wants to get married, plans it all out, and the woman is just like “yes, of course, because I’ve been waiting my entire freaking life for someone to independently decide that I’m worth marrying, it’s my entire goal in life!” and have had no input in the discussion. Not kidding, my roommate was telling me how “weird” my boyfriend and I are for discussing when the right time to get engaged is (which is related to living situations, work, length of wedding planning, etc) and pulled out examples of friends who had surprise proposals that supposedly didn’t know it was coming. I talked to those friends; they knew, they decided it together before the formal proposal, but somehow people don’t know or acknowledge this.

          All this is to say, that I can see how someone who thinks the way my roommate does (deluded, and like the proposal thing is much more one-sided than it really is), might think that you just haven’t thought this through, and that they could help you course-correct. There’s a lot of magical thinking going on out there.

        • MEI

          Molly, I wish I’d listened to the people who told me don’t go to law school, even when I’d already started. I tell it to people now. So varying mileage and all that.

    • Shiri

      Agreed. This is actually making me so angry that I can’t come up with a coherent, logical, response. It is everything we’ve been talking about this week. Isn’t feminism about choices? Can’t we begin to see beyond the labels and realize that we’re more than the categories we fit into?

  • There seems to be this idea, perpetuated by all kinds of people, that women get distracted by shiny things like rings, and once they see rings or dresses or cake, they lose all reason. It makes me furious. Like, really, you think I just disregarded 26 years of being a smart, thoughtful feminist fighting the good fight for a DRESS? Or because someone told me I HAD to? It’s so insulting. So like Liz said, if you’re feeling up to it, have the conversations and reclaim what it means to be a wife. If you don’t want to defend your decision, could you start with just defending your right to not be made to feel horrible by your coworkers for something that makes you happy? Sometimes just a “Um, hello? I CAN HEAR YOU” is a good start. I love in “How to Be a Woman,” Caitlin Moran suggests fighting misogyny by simply pointing out that people are being impolite. People will fight for their right to be sexist (or claim they weren’t being sexist), but weirdly enough, no one wants to be rude.

    • meg

      I like all of this very much.

    • Julia

      I love this. And “I can hear you” makes me think of this.

  • PA

    Every week, I feel like I can just point and say, “What Liz said.” Rock on, Liz!

    Seriously, though, there’s nothing so unpleasant as feeling strongly about something, then, when people demand explanations of why this is so important/how could you/etc., you find that every phrase has gone out of your head and you can’t find anything to say. It’s awful!

    So–what Liz said. Articulate the reasons to yourself, and work out the phrasing. If you feel like it, calmly and rationally point out that you are an adult, and have made a rational, well-thought-out decision based on X, Y, and Z. If you feel further inclined, point out to your coworkers that their sentiments are hurtful/inconsiderate/ill-timed/unsupportive/whatever you wanted to say. “I’m very sad to hear you say that, Judith. When you say ______, I feel ______.”

    Good luck! And, of course, Congratulations!

    Side-note: Can I give a shout out to the following?

    Not only does a relationship mean that you’ll have help with the mundane and more time for individual pursuits, it also means you may have someone to partner with you in giving back to your own community.

    As my fiance and I have been choosing the elements of our wedding service, we’ve been drawn to the language that describes marriage as an act of service, essentially a transformative relationship that carries with it the responsibility to bring joy and love and support out into the wider community. (This was actually a traditional tenet of many marriage services, and might be a good point to bring up with the coworkers!)

    • Kira

      I love what you say about describing marriage as an act of service. Do you have any examples of texts in this vein?

      • PA

        I do! I’ll keep the full paragraphs and bold the relevant lines.

        “______ and _____, may you know and love together, and may you live in the desire to attain that best which each may win more richly because of the other. May you strengthen one another in all sorrow, share with one another in all gladness, and be companions to each other in times of the silent and unspoken. May your home help to make the world more homelike; and should you be lost in a maze of circumstances, may there be for you both a way back to the tenderness and beauty of life together. Wherever you may be placed by changing fortune, may you be united not in word or outward form alone, but by the presence in your hearts of deepening love. May the benedictions that rest on those who truly love rest on you, and fill you with love’s grace, both now and ever.” (J. Donald Johnston)


        “Inasmuch as ______ and _______ have consented together in marriage, and have witnessed the same before this company, and thereto have pledged their faith to each other, and have declared the same by joining hands and by giving and receiving rings, I, as a minister of religion, and by the authority of civil law, pronounce that they are [spouse] and [spouse]. May you so live and work together in all the days to come, that your lives and those of others shall be enriched and ennobled by your true and deepening comradeship of mind and heart.” (I don’t know who wrote this one, but it’s from a book of service that’s used by my Unitarian godfather :) )

        (That’s right, our wedding service contains the words “inasmuch” and “thereto” — we’re rocking it oldschool style!)

        • Kira

          Lovely! Thank you.

        • Taylor B

          Thank you for sharing these, love them!

  • In my experience, marriage was only as sexist as each individual relationship. Why on earth would a contract be unfeminist? Pregnancy and nursing baby care are, on the other hand, inherently unbalanced. I wouldn’t call the situation unfair, since I am one who was glad to do both, but if you want to try for full equality you’re going to have to go against biology. Once you go against biology, things get dicey.

    Especially when performing a species-survival role that human society values above all else.

    Therein lies the rub, and the root cause of a debate that I am disappointed to see we are still having. Not disappointed in you guys, of course, Very very happy the conversation happen here.

    • margo

      Lisa, contracts can be VERY unfeminist. Until 1970 it was illegal for a woman not to take her husband’s name in this country. Women also could not open bank accounts or purchase/own property without a husband’s consent.

      From the beginning of the common law system until about the 1980’s it wasn’t possible for a man to rape his wife because marriage took away her right not to consent to sex (legally). This is still the case in many countries around the world, today.

      None of those laws has much of anything to do with biology or anyone’s individual marriage.

      • One More Sara

        While everything that you say about contracts historically is true, current day marriage laws (and the resulting individual contracts) in America are not oppressive for women in hetero relationships. I think present day marriage contracts largely protect people from their partners suddenly withdrawing from their half of the bargain (like if you left your day job to start your own business, your partner can’t just pack up and abandon you, leaving you unemployed with bills to pay). So yes, I agree that marriage hasn’t always been egalitarian even in recent history, but it has come a long way.

      • I should have added the word “innately” unfair. Contracts are not “innately” unfair. That’s the point of them. They are subject to abuse, of course.

      • Class of 1980

        Consider that those same marriage contracts, prior to 1970, also offered women more protections in some ways than what we have today.

        Back then, the woman was assured alimony FOR LIFE should the marriage fail and she was almost always awarded the family home. That was meant to be built-in insurance for taking on the risk of staying home.

        Sorry, but it was not some one-sided arrangement that ONLY benefited men. You could argue that marriage back then was a giant risk for any man whose marriage failed because it could send him to the poor house.

        • Class of 1980

          Now that I think of it, the Pre-1970 issue of married women not being able to open bank accounts or purchase property in their own names were NOT inherently part of marriage.

          Those were state laws … subject to change. And they did.

          Another reason to get the government out of the business of marriage. Perhaps there should be very few marriage laws and we should iron out prenups in order to have the specific contract we want.

    • meg

      Did you read yesterday’s post, Missy? Sometimes biology and equality work themselves out somehow.

      But yes to the rest of it. And Margo, while everything you say is true and important, I think we have to reclaim things to move forward. If we gave everything up that had once been used against us, we wouldn’t be able to walk down the street.

      • margo

        Agreed. But reclaiming something doesn’t mean ignoring. While these laws are not on the books anymore, they carry legacies. For example, marital rape is still one of the hardest rapes to prosecute because of both the cultural attitudes and the lack of history supporting it within our legal system.

        I agree with you as well, One More Sara. I really just wanted to point out that the marriages we are entering are not the marriages our mothers or grandmothers entered and that is as much a part of our history as anything and that, yes, contracts can (and were and could still be) inherently sexist.

        • meg

          Oh, I TOTALLY agree that reclaiming something doesn’t mean ignoring, it takes a shit ton of work, and that work is our responsibility.

        • Class of 1980

          Rape is also inherently difficult to prosecute because usually there is a lack of witnesses to prove someone used force. Unless the physical evidence is overwhelming and proves violence.

          • all rapes are hard to prosecute – for a myriad of reasons that probably take me off topic (and, not for nothing, but it’s the absence of consent, not the use of [physical] force that is key, and the idea that physical violence is required is itself a reason why it is so hard to successfully prosecute. Unless thats the point you were making.) – but marital rape even moreso.

      • Of course I read yesterday’s post. I read almost every post. That’s why I specified VERY CAREFULLY what parts of male-female relationships, marriage as one instance, are biologically unbalanced.

        And while I get that contracts can be anti-feminist, they are not innately so. Pregnancy and nursing, on the other hand, are biologically tipped towards women. Like it or not I am saying true words. Deal with it however you choose – and that is the issue. That’s where this gets difficult and oppressive.

        Because we are a prime implement in continuation of the species, society (the mechanism of species organization and continuation) will have an opinion about anything in that realm.

        Look, I believe that if we look all this stuff plainly and clearly in the face, we will not fall prey to magical realism. I’m highly invested.

        • Huh. This here: “Because we are a prime implement in continuation of the species, society (the mechanism of species organization and continuation) will have an opinion about anything in that realm.”has just given me about a million things to think about.

          Similar issues have come up in my head before as part of the reasons that women have, historically, been opressed. But reading it that clearly? That’s like getting hit over the head with a baseball bat full of “duh, why didn’t I get that before”.

      • sarah

        I have to confess, I scrolled back up to see if the commenter you were responding to was named Missy, because otherwise that is an incredibly rude nickname to assume someone wants to be called. What’s the deal with that?

        • Maddie

          Meg and Lisa are friends with each other in real life.

        • meg

          Oh, yes. Sorry. This community has been around a long time, so at this point there are a million webs of interconnectedness around here. Readers who know other readers, staff who have old friends who read the site, readers that became good friends. Lisa is a close enough friend to be coming to my baby shower, so I tease her online sometimes like I tease her in real life. You’ll see that sort of interpersonal banter between people who know each other in the APW comments now and then.

          • sarah

            I was hoping that was the case! thanks for clearing that up!

    • “Pregnancy and nursing baby care are, on the other hand, inherently unbalanced. I wouldn’t call the situation unfair, since I am one who was glad to do both, but if you want to try for full equality you’re going to have to go against biology. Once you go against biology, things get dicey.”

      I definitely understand this point, but I think that it’s a very narrow slice of a marriage to hold up by itself and claim as unequal or unbalanced. Yes, it’s inherently unbalanced, but that doesn’t necessarily make the entire marriage unbalanced. You have to consider everything else on the scale.

      Like Meg said, sometimes biology and equality work themselves out.

      I think the overall conversation of equality is both positively and negatively affected by this narrowing effect: people holding up the pieces of society that are still unequal (things that certainly need attention, and need fixing!) but then ignoring pieces that are more egalitarian. Or worse, citing people’s more traditional choices (CHOICES. Important word.) as damaging to the balance.

      • I agree it doesn’t have to make marriage unbalanced. That’s what I was saying. In fact.

    • Class of 1980

      “In my experience, marriage was only as sexist as each individual relationship.”

      That’s what I’ve always noticed too.

      No particular setup comes to mind when I hear the word “marriage”, because they are all so different from each other.

  • margo

    Honestly, your co-workers don’t owe you anything. Not excitement or congratulations or a little office party to celebrate your engagement. However much marriage has changed and however much we can all try to redefine it for ourselves on a personal level, the fact is that is it still an unequal institution that carries a long history of oppression, exclusion and it is not something that is easily reconciled with feminism.

    I absolutely think that the way marriage becomes a more feminist institution is for feminists to get married and model, expect and demand equal partnerships.

    But we’re not really there, yet, and your co-workers know that. You don’t need to defend the entire concept of marriage to defend yourself. If your co-workers really are hurting your feelings, speak up. Express the ways in which your marriage will be different, or ways in which you think your co-workers are simply wrong. If all else fails, remove yourself from the conversation. They don’t owe anything to you, but you also don’t owe anything to them and you are free to leave conversations that you are not comfortable with (assuming they aren’t required for your job duties!). And while it hurts not to get the excitement and praise that we are taught should follow an engagement announcement, it might be a good thing. Marriage is a complicated, huge, life-long, life-changing commitment and having to defend that choice, even when it’s uncomfortable, can teach you a lot about the things you believe and the life you want to create for yourself.

    • meg

      Well, I disagree a little. I think co-workers owe you politeness, which may mean shutting up, or changing the tone of the conversation. We all owe each other that.

      Also, I don’t TOTALLY agree here: “the fact is that is it still an unequal institution that carries a long history of oppression, exclusion and it is not something that is easily reconciled with feminism.” Marriage CAN be an unequal institution, but in no way does it have to be. The history is rough, yes. But better to reclaim things than to let the patriarchy win by giving them everything they ever used against us, or that’s how I think about it.

      • PA

        I would agree that in many other situations, this type of discussion would not be considered remotely acceptable. “Ah, hello, Marguerite, I see you’re wearing a blue dress today. Everyone, has anyone else ever noticed how awful blue dresses are? They’re the worst. Just really horrifically bad. …Marguerite, where are you going?”

        Not that we should necessarily shy away from difficult topics or conflicting opinions–and this IS an organization that does social justice work, so there’s a certain amount of similar discussion that can be expected, I would guess. But the writer’s description of it sounds incredibly passive aggressive. At a bare minimum, I would have hoped for the equivalent of, “You know, Marguerite, I’ve always hated blue dresses. Can you talk a little bit about your decision to wear one?”

        • Jashshea

          I think that’s my distinction, PA, as well. If someone is being catty about marriage, I don’t think you owe them a polite discourse on anything. If someone asks you a probing question and is willing to listen, by all means, talk through your answers with them.

        • meg

          To be fair, it’s unclear that the discussion about marriage is about Marguerite. IE, if lunch conversation has always been about how they hate blue dresses, and Marguerite shows up in a blue dress one day and the conversation stays exactly the same, there are two options: A) Ignore it, and decide you knew what you were getting into, B) Say “Hey! I’m wearing a blue dress, and here is why I think they are ok, I’d like you to respect my wishes by not tearing down blue dresses right here while I’m wearing one.” The second does, in fact, point out that they are being impolite on some level.

          • PA

            *nods* Yes, it’s difficult to know in this case if it’s a change from previous lunch discussions, which is a relevant factor, and it remains up to the writer to decide what course of action is more comfortable for her.

            It does sound like an opportunity for some pretty rockstar discussion, but perhaps now is not the time–I know that I would find it very difficult to have heard in-depth discussions about the wider socioeconomic implications of my blue dress right at the start.

      • margo

        We all owe each other politeness. From what I understood from the letter, the issue is not that her co-workers are being rude. She is hurt by a) lack of excitement “Some were excited for me, but most didn’t even attempt to fake excitement.” and b) people not limiting their conversations because of her news “Mere days after sharing my news with the office, lunch conversations consisted of everyone bashing marriage.”

        Maybe that’s not polite, to you, but I don’t see it that way. To me I think it comes from working in a feminist organization, one where people hold known negative views about marriage (which the letter writer knew about beforehand). If she worked for an environmental agency and bought an SUV, should she expect all of her co-workers to line up and congratulate her and stop talking about the negative impacts that those cars have on the environment?

        Or, am I being rude to the Republicans I know/around me if I bash the effects of their policies?

        And again, I don’t mean to imply that every individual marriage is an unequal institution. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT. But in the big picture, broadly and historically speaking, it is. It’s unequal in who is and isn’t expected to change their names, who is still seen as the default breadwinner, whose job is impacted the most post-marriage. There are countries in the world where it is still used a primary tool to control women (where they go, who they can speak with, how they worship, etc). Hell, there are religions and places in this country where this is the case. So even if your individual marriage is working towards reclaiming the institution in a feminist vein, it is not “impolite” to continue to discuss the ways in which marriage as a human institution doesn’t do that, on the whole. Even if it comes off as “bashing marriage.”

        And I think part of having a feminist marriage is acknowledging that your marriage is in the minority, which is why it is so important to speak up and have these discussions and recognize that we are not going to get 100% support, not even among the feminists we align ourselves with in so many other ways. Which is how I think you cope, long-term, with the personal hurt the letter writer felt when she got a chilly reception after the ridiculous high of the excitement her family/friends showed her.

        • meg

          I agree with you on some level (see above). But do I think it’s rude to bash Republican policies around Republicans? Mostly, yes. That as someone who grew up as a lone democrat, and spent the first 18 years of her life with people bashing what she believed without respect for her presence. IE, they don’t owe you anything without you standing up for yourself, but you’re within your rights to say “Hey. I’m about to get married, I think it’s feminist for X reasons, and I’d love if we could dial down this conversation around me for the next few months, or change it to a more level playing field debate, as I’m finding it hurtful.”

          • margo

            I was careful to say “effects of their policies” because I agree it IS rude to bash Republicans around Republicans. Things like “Republicans are so stupid” or “All Republicans are a bunch of racists.” I wouldn’t find it rude to say “It’s awful that Republicans don’t support marriage equality and I would never vote for them because of it.”

            I know it’s mostly a matter of degree and intent, but isn’t everything?

            But yes, I think we are on the same page. I think the letter writer has every right and reason to stand up for herself. But I agree with Newtie, below. Lack of enthusiasm isn’t intentional rudeness and it should provide the letter writer an opportunity to think about her engagement from all angles.

          • As a side note, bashing doesn’t really help anyone. It only furthers the culture in which people with different ideas can’t talk to each other. Don’t bash Republicans, debate with ’em!

          • meg

            And I think Beth’s “Dont bash them, debate with them” is also probably the best answer here. I mean, in this situation, you have a baseline of shared opinions. So the opportunity to debate a particular point should, in theory, enrich everyone’s understanding of a subject.

          • LOVE THIS!

            I think the “don’t bash, debate” could be used in SO many instances in SO many levels, and it is a shame that more people aren’t comfortable having discussions and conversations with people with whom they may disagree. Which is often the beauty of APW — if only it extended to more fields. Practical Omnimedia, we are ready for you! :)

        • MEI

          So even if your individual marriage is working towards reclaiming the institution in a feminist vein, it is not “impolite” to continue to discuss the ways in which marriage as a human institution doesn’t do that, on the whole. Even if it comes off as “bashing marriage.”

          As people say on this site: THIS. Very elegantly put, Margo.

  • Christine

    People who think ‘marriage’ and ‘feminism’ can’t co-exist aren’t feminists. Pure and simple.
    You should tell your coworkers that any time ANYTHING wedding related comes up.

    • meg

      Mmm. Let’s not start labeling each other as not feminist or not feminist enough, yes? I think this has a long history of being damaging. Let’s keep the team nice and big and inclusive. Let’s not respond to people being exclusive by being exclusive ourselves.

      • Christine

        Normally I would agree with you but this is a large group of women who work for a so-called feminist organization and they’re visibly judging the decision to get married. It probably wouldn’t hurt to remind them what feminism is actually about.

        • Angry Feminist Bitch

          Who gets to decide “what feminism is about,” though?

          To me, it’s less about “choice” and more about, you know, equality.

          I have a long history of being very publicly critical of marriage. It’s because of my feminism.

          But do I think all married women are un/anti-feminist? Nope. Do I think that all staunchly unmarried women are un/anti-feminist? Nope.

          We’re all striving to improve equality while navigating the realities of patriarchy. That is all.

  • Newtie

    I experienced a similar reaction, but on a smaller scale (from uber-feminist friends, not co-workers). I did two things:

    1) If someone asked me directly why I was getting married, particularly in the context of an anti-marriage conversation, I told them my partner was already family in every emotional and spiritual sense of the word and I wanted him to be legally family as well. We had been through a LOT of really difficult things together by the time we got engaged – multiple major family illnesses, etc – so the legal issue of making someone family was a clear, logical and inarguable reason that made sense even to my most anti-marriage friends.

    2) For the most part, I let the generalized anti-marriage conversations continue without commenting much, or by commenting in the same ways I had before I was engaged. I still had the same concerns about the institution of marriage even though I personally was getting married. And in my case, the anti-marriage conversations really weren’t about *me.* They were about my friends, and their views and their experiences and their concerns. We are at an age where EVERYONE is getting married — so choosing NOT to get married, especially for political reasons, can feel very, very lonely. My friends needed space to push back against their immediate culture and the pressures and messages they were receiving from the world at large. I needed to realize they weren’t pushing back against *me.* We still had some in-depth talks about the problems of marriage. I tried very hard to remember that it wasn’t personal.

    If your co-workers are actively attacking you, your relationship, your intelligence, your personal decision to marry, etc, then that’s rude and you don’t need to give them an explanation if you don’t want to. You can simply point out that they’re being rude and ask them to stop. If they’re having general marriage-bashing conversations in your presence, for your own sanity, you might just want to ignore it or let it go, with the realization that they’re really not talking about *you.* They’re talking about an institution they feel uncomfortable with, and they’re talking about their own feelings and insecurities and worries.

    • Liz

      This is a great comment.

    • KB

      I totally agree – it’s SO hard to deal with the added layer of it being in the workplace as well because there’s this degree of separation between you and your co-workers, that you’re supposed to work with them and be professional, and yet you see them more often than your non-work friends sometimes. I myself wish I could be better friends with my co-workers, but I am reminded on a weekly basis why that’s probably not a good idea, usually by some insensitive/boneheaded comment or gossip about who did what last weekend. Ugh.

      • Sarah

        I agree so hard! I also really appreciate that you found a very tactful way to point out that the marriage bashing might not be about her, because I was struggling to think of a way to do that myself. When you are wedding planning, any discussion of weddings/marriage likely makes you think of your wedding/marriage. And that’s fine! And totally normal and healthy! The same instinct applies to cats and old houses and cranky cars and any thing that we spend tons of time and energy on with limited immediate reward and a high likelihood that others think you’re crazy if you talk about. However, your coworkers don’t think about it the same way. If they were marriage-bashers before you got engaged, they will be marriage bashers after. Although it is rather rude for them not to consider your presence (at least right after you become engaged), it’s not because they’re deliberately trying to hurt you. Instead, it’s likely that the only thing they are doing is not deliberately trying to protect/be mindful of you by limiting the bashing.

    • Anya

      This is excellent! It’s so important to constantly have the running mantra in one’s head “it’s not personal. they are just hungry/angry/heard their parents fighting/are seeing a friend get divorced/got into a fight with their partner/ate stale cereal this morning etcetcetc.” The truth is, not matter how anti marriage your coworkers are, they’re not anti-you.

      While I don;t agree that pointing out someone is being rude is actually polite, I do agree in feigning ignorance to the same effect. As in, “oh, marriage is horrid, isn’t it? All of that constant chattering about how to merge bank accounts equitably and composing our living wills and making room for caring for each others’ sick parents really is a depressing chore, isn’t it? It must be so much nicer not having to think about death and taxes with your partner.” That way you remind people that you think about marriage in terms of yourself right now, without saying “hey, why are you bashing marriage in front of me when you know I’m getting married?”

      • While I agree with realizing that their discourse and disagreements may be misguided, I absolutely do not agree with running a line of excuses to pardon their actions. As human beings capable of rational thought, they are making a conscious choice to be rude and she needs to let them know how they’re making her feel. Not by being rude in turn, but by opening the discourse further.

        By choosing to have a “constantly running mantra of it’s not personal. they are just hungry/angry/etc.” you are allowing the abuse to continue and furthermore are excusing their actions. This kind of rhetoric is incredibly damaging in all kinds of scenarios, as it removes the responsibility from those who act this way. It is *not* ok. They *do* know better.

    • meg

      I love-love-love this comment.

  • Another Meg

    First- CONGRATULATIONS! It’s wonderful to find your partner for life’s adventures.

    It’s incredible to me that your “feminist” co-workers seem so eager to tear down other women. I mean, wow. That said, this could be an opportunity to get comfortable defending your choices, which is something you’ll always have to do, unfortunately. There are always going to be people, both well-meaning and not, who will second guess your decisions. Especially, for some reason, the big and very personal choices you make about your family. If they keep on about it, even after you’ve made valid points regarding how hypocritical they are to bash other women’s decisions that have nothing to do with them, and how great marriage could be, then screw them. It’s upsetting to hear that you aren’t being supported by your co-workers, particularly in that environment. Feminism is about choice. Period. Good luck.

    • Jeannine

      On this website, choice is the definition of feminism that is championed but “choice feminism” is just one relatively recent definition, not a litmus test for what feminism is or isn’t and not a way of, yet again, identifying people as “not good feminists.”

      • MEI

        Thank you, Jeannine. Just because ‘choice feminism’ isn’t my bag, doesn’t make me a ‘bad feminist.’ Which is sort of how I’ve felt all week. When someone makes feminism all about choice, that person is being exclusionary to everything else that feminism encompasses. Which I think is the anti-point.

        While I think Anon’s coworkers are being rude, I think it is ok to discuss whether marriage is an anti-feminist institution, as Anon has said they have done before she got engaged. Such discussions can take place without being an attack on a particular person, and are conversations I believe we should be having.

        • meg

          This week was not designed to make anyone feel like a bad feminist: in fact, it was designed to show the breadth of opinions that feminists can have. In fact, we purposefully ran posts that I liked intellectually, but didn’t personally agree with. I think that each of us pushing at our boundaries, and going outside our personal belief structure, makes us think, and that makes us clearer, more articulate, and more nuanced in our views.

          So, I’d hope that you disagreed with something this week. I’d hope everyone did. I sure did. That was the goal, not to make you feel like a bad feminist. Do I personally, 100% of the time, believe in choice feminism? Nope. Not totally, though I lean towards it. And that’s fine too.

          The issue for me is that we’re really good at saying “If you’re talking about X in feminism, than you’re not talking about Y, and then you’re excluding Y, and being anti-feminist.” Talking about choice feminism isn’t anti-feminist. Not being a choice feminist isn’t anti-feminist. I actually wish we could retire the term anti-feminist in general, because if there is one thing I hate the most, it’s people claiming other people are “Not good feminists” because they don’t agree.

          • MEI

            But the thing is, there are things that I’m going to think aren’t feminist. Taking your husband’s name at marriage. Being anti-Choice (in the abortion sense). Potentially even getting married full stop. And that’s ok. I do things that aren’t feminist. For example, I shave my legs and armpits. I’m not going to try and pretend that’s a feminist act. It’s not, and it’s certainly not just because I, a feminist, choose to do it. And I don’t feel personally insulted when someone says it’s not a feminist act, because, it’s not. What I do get insulted at is the idea that feminism is this all-encompassing doctrine that includes every woman’s choice. It’s not, and I think pretending it is is an insult to the work the women before us have done. I don’t know why we feel the need to make every ‘choice’ into a feminist act, and, perhaps it was unintentional, but that seems to be the theme of this week. I agree with you that “bad feminists” is a horrible term and worth retiring. However, I think we can talk about how certain actions are non-feminist without immediately getting defensive if we chose to do those things.

          • Liz

            Yeah, I think that’s the key for me. I’m willing to decide a certain action is not contributing to the well-being of women everywhere. But I’m unwilling to say, “You’re not a feminist because of ____.” In the way that you shaving your legs doesn’t make you less of a feminist (and I would argue doesn’t damage the plight of womankind, even if it’s not furthering it).

            But I do think that this week (or at least this post. Maybe that’s better. I’ll defend my own post.) has been less about, EVERY CHOICE IS FIIIINE and more about, “to me, my decision to _____ is a feminist one because here is how I see it empowering women/myself as a woman.”

            That’s what makes a particular choice “feminist.” Is it somehow furthering equality of the sexes? I feel that my marriage is.

          • Liz

            Also, as a feminist, I will fight for you to be able to make your own choices, as a woman.

          • NF

            Replying to MEI:

            It’s interesting, while I’m a big fan of choice feminism, I definitely agree that not all choices need to be guided by feminism. I’m not sure if I 100% think that name changing, staying at home instead of working, etc. are feminist choices (I think they probably can be and that it’s the intentions behind the decision that matter), but in my personal life I’m not sure it matters. When I make decisions about how to LIVE my life, I’m making them based on what is right for me and what is right for my family, not .

            I think maybe the distinction for me is that feminism is about giving us the right/ability to make choices, whether they are “feminist” or “not feminist”. You’re a feminist if you support the ability of women to make whatever choices are right for them, regardless of what choice you personally take. As a feminist I think I have an obligation to talk about these issues openly and to support women who make the (for now, but hopefully not for long!) unconventional choices, but I don’t have an obligation to make those choices myself.

          • AnotherCourtney

            In response to Mei:

            I have a very good friend who considers herself much more “liberal” than I am. We have differing opinions on a lot of things, and where we have found common ground is that we realize that the choices we make are ours alone.

            For example, I can’t fathom the idea of getting an abortion. For me, that just isn’t an option. But just because that choice is for me doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. I absolutely believe that abortion should be legal for people who choose it. Similarly, I took my husband’s name when I married him. I wanted to! But I have friends that didn’t make that choice, and I completely respect that.

            I think what I’m getting at is that actions aren’t necessarily feminist/anti-feminist. Attitudes are. I might have made the more conservative choices in my own life, but I firmly believe that those choices are not for everyone, and women deserve the freedom to make whatever choices ARE for them. That’s what being a feminist means to me. :)

          • meg

            OH! What Liz said. She articulated something more beautifully than I ever could.

            Also, I love NF’s comment, “I’m not sure if I 100% think that name changing, staying at home instead of working, etc. are feminist choices (I think they probably can be and that it’s the intentions behind the decision that matter).” Because I think the intentions behind things, if we articulate them in a way that helps change the conversation, really matter. I don’t know if anyone’s noticed, but APW has NEVER run a simple, “I changed my name” post, very intentionally (often what we *don’t* do around here is a very specific choice). But this week, I found the post about the intentions behind the act very powerful. I know feminists who have used the fact that they now have a choice (which is THANKS to feminism, even if you don’t regard it as feminism), to do things like get rid of their last name that had horrible emotional baggage for them. And I really think those conversations are worth having, least we get stuck in a judgmental bubble that keeping our names is the only proper way to do things.

            As for MEI’s comment of, “What I do get insulted at is the idea that feminism is this all-encompassing doctrine that includes every woman’s choice.” I’m not sure exactly where I stand. Do I think every choice is a feminist one? No. But I absolutely think that more traditional choices can be made as feminist ones (plenty of feminists have stayed home with their kids for damn good, and complicated reasons), if they are part of the ongoing struggle to free women to be just as equal as any other human. And the thing about equality is that people have choices, and sometimes they use that power to make decisions we don’t like.

            But really, for me, I think Liz is dead on here, ““to me, my decision to _____ is a feminist one because here is how I see it empowering women/myself as a woman.” That’s what makes a particular choice “feminist.” Is it somehow furthering equality of the sexes? I feel that my marriage is.”

            Also, as evidenced by the title of my sub-site, I really passionately believe in reclaiming things, and think it’s a long and worth feminist tradition.

          • meg

            Also, I think there is a difference between saying, “I can be a feminist and do X” and “X is a feminist choice.” IE, we talk a lot about how you can be a feminist and wear makeup at your wedding, and even have that be part of your personal self empowerment. That’s a little different to say, “It is feminist to wear makeup at your wedding.” (Which also somehow also implies that the inverse is not feminist.)

            But the line on what can be feminist and what is not is different for everyone. For me, marriage can be a feminist act, particularly if it’s an act of reclaiming.

            And finally, there is a difference between choice feminism and litmus test feminism. A lot of APW readers believe in choice feminism, which is fine by me. Personally (and probably editorially) I’m not sure I do (though I’ll often present things as: Ok, let’s discuss, when I don’t personally agree but think it’s an important discussion.) However, I am possibly a rare kind of feminist in that I don’t believe in litmus test feminism. I don’t believe in having one issue that you have to pass the test on to qualify. I think it’s way more complicated than that, and that feminism has fought for our right to be full complicated people.

          • MEI

            Thank you all for your replies. I certainly appreciate a more nuanced discussion of what exactly you all talk about when you say ‘feminism.’ I don’t necessarily agree, but that’s ok. I guess where I’m coming from is I’m scared of a world where the definition of feminism becomes so expansive as to include any choice a woman makes just because she personally feels empowered, which I think could be used to undermine the progress of the feminist movement. I think I used to be more ‘anyone who wants to join the feminist club is alright by me,’ because the word/label was, and still is, much maligned and the more people we can get on board, the better. But I think I’ve shifted to see that if we allow anyone to call him/herself a feminist and his/her actions feminist, the word and the movement loses its power. I’m not ok with Sarah Palin calling herself a feminist, for example, because she actively works to undermine the goals of the feminist movement. That’s not feminism, that’s appropriation, and I’m going to call BS on it. (Note: I still think the media coverage of her campaign was also not feminist). I don’t think Sarah Palin gets to ‘reclaim’ feminism when her definition undermines the original meaning of the word. Words mean things, and while we might disagree within a general framework, that framework has to exist or the word becomes meaningless. So there are benefits to proscribing boundaries of an ideology.
            Again, I think Anon’s coworkers are being rude if they are saying “You shouldn’t get married.” However, I think they can explore whether marriage is a feminist institution, and potentially come to the answer of “no” without it being a personal attack on Anon’s marriage.

          • Marisa-Andrea

            This reminds me of a conversation I had with someone years ago who said how she found femininity empowering. And I mean, stereotypical femninity – wearing pink, wearing makeup, frilly dresses and asking men to hold open doors for her. It was AWESOME and eye-OPENING.

      • meg

        Agreed. Choice feminism is recent, and it’s how we talk about feminism on APW, and it’s even *mostly* how I think about it personally (though not always. Just like everyone else, my personal self and my professional self are not always exactly the same.)

        My hard and fast rule in EVERY part of my life, however, is that we should never call people out as “not being good feminists.”

        • z

          I really wish people knew more about feminist history, Womanism, feminism in the third world, LDS feminism, all kinds of things. I think it would make a great series of posts here if you can find someone willing and able to take the plunge. It would really help people understand the context in which feminism now exists, and broaden the debate beyond the choice feminism that seems to dominate the comments. Modern upper-middle-class feminism has been critiqued quite rightly, in my opinion, for its narrowness of scope. And I get really sick of the “I met someone who isn’t a choice feminist and it really hurt my feelings!” stories.

          A little review of Alice Paul’s hunger strike might help us keep our modern-day efforts in perspective.

          • Marisa-Andrea

            Is it that people don’t know the history or that this is the brand of feminism that is dominant? It’s kind of rhetorical because I actually do not know…

          • z

            I see it as a problem that people are unaware of feminist history in general, and that many people seem to think choice feminism is all there is in the present. If a particular site wants to have a particular type of feminism as the dominant strain that’s fine with me, but let’s keep a realistic perspective and acknowledge that choice feminism isn’t the only game in town.

          • Marisa-Andrea

            Z, okay, yes I see what you mean.

  • JS

    People can be so cruel and thoughtless when it comes to weddings, period. It hurts, no matter where it comes from. That’s why you and your partner have to be sure you’re comfortable with your choices.Weddings seem to be a license for people to foist off their opinions and possibly their own insecurities on you and your relationship. However, they are your co-workers, not your friends and family who know you and your partner and are truly happy for you. Throughout your wedding planning journey-your marriage, your life- there will always be someone with a negative opinion on marriage that comes from their own experience. Their experience is not yours! You have to know, in your heart, you made the best decision for you. When will women stop bringing each other down and start lifting each other up?

  • Teresa

    We chose marriage because we wanted the legal rights that came with signing that piece of paper. We chose marriage because we wanted the societal privilages that come along with the status of “married.” We chose marriage because we wanted to make the public declaration in front of all of our people that we were choosing each other. We chose to have a wedding because we wanted to ask our guest to vow to support us and hold us to our vows. I chose marriage because I hate the term “boyfriend” and “husband” makes me feel warm inside. I chose marriage because I freaking wanted to! It is a choice that we were lucky to be able to make.

    No one has the right to shame your choices. Do not let your coworkers suck the joy out of your engagement. You have every right to feel joyous (or confused, or a little scared, or overwhelmed, or however you happen to feel at the moment) about the choice to marry your person. You can explain your reasons if you want, but do not feel bad about your choices because they are yours and your partners to make. Whenever your coworkers are bringing you down, start day-dreaming about your best weekend ever and how awesome your partner and family are! Congratulations!

    • Jeannine

      But the fact that marriage entails legal rights and societal privileges is not in itself feminist–our society gives tax breaks and all the other benefits to heteronormative nuclear families, but not to single people who care for their parents, lgtb families, or any other model. I mean, I’m married too and my partner and I work really hard to build an equitable relationship, but our decision to participate in the institution of marriage as it’s constructed in the U.S.? At best, it had nothing to do with feminism at all.

      • Teresa

        I am saying “we” as in, my husband and I. Liz asked why we chose marriage and this is why my husband and I chose to get married. Not every reason has to be a feminist one, it can be just because we feel grateful that it provides us with those privileges.

      • Angry Feminist Bitch

        Jeannie, these are the exact reasons I am, uh, marriage-resistant.

        I also do not WANT the “societal privileges,” and they make me feel squicky. People make so many assumptions about married people, especially married, apparently conventional, hetero people. For instance, my partner and I are childfree and don’t generally aspire to most of the markers of middle class success. I don’t want to be rewarded by friends, family, coworkers, and strangers with gifts, cash, kudos, or different (better) treatment.

        But my partner and I have been together for five years, living together for two, and our relationship is *excellent* (I’d know; I’m 33 and have cohabited twice before). My partner is a feminist, and we share the same values, goals, and taste in beers. :)

        But I am very, very resistant to marriage, because I think it’s a fundamentally unjust institution that privileges a particular form of household, relationship, and family, for pronatalist (and, ultimately, capitalist and militaristic) reasons. Don’t get me wrong, those aren’t the motivations of individual couples. But stop to ask, why does the government reward this one type of household, family, and relationship with so many privileges, legal protections, tax breaks, and special rights? Follow the money.

        I would prefer that the government get out of the marriage business altogether, leaving it to individual citizens and their families, communities, faith communities, or whatever. We should have a simple civil union for everyone, including conventional hetero partners like me, same-sex partners, platonic friends, cohabiting siblings, and anyone else who shares a life–and responsibilities–with another person. It is not the government’s business to legitimize particular types of relationships. It is discriminatory.

        That said, there are circumstances in which I would get married, albeit with much vocal protestation. Such as an opportunity to immigrate to the EU, for health insurance (America, SIGH), or in the event that my partner and I remain together over many decades and accrue any assets (as of now, we have none). My parents are alive, so I am comfortable with them making my medical decisions, and our lack of assets means I don’t have to worry about tax and inheritance implications should either my partner or I die prematurely. I realize I am thus in a bit of an oddly *privileged* position of being able to shrug off the real legal benefits of marriage. And this is why I am strongly in favor of federal protection of same-sex marriage. Along with the fact that same-sex marriage necessarily destabilizes the unequal nature of traditional hetero marriage. That’s why the social conservatives are so damned afraid of it. Dudes are gonna lose some privilege!

        But to get married now, just for the wedding, or the party, or the ring (ugh), or the gifts, or the “adult” status (I’m 33 and have been living on my own since I was 17, thankyouverymuch), or the social approval, or the social assumptions. No, thanks.

        I do sort of identify with the disapproving feminists in the original post a bit, too, insofar as I resent the obligatory (if fake) giddiness at the news of someone’s engagement (especially The Ring Showing), the obligatory gift-buying (remember that episode of Sex in the City, y’all???), and the whole social tide that carries everyone, inevitably, toward Marriage. It’s just a choice that some people make. To me, it’s no big deal. It’s not sacred, or that important. Big weddings seem to me like self-indulgent spectacles, and very unromantic. I just don’t get it. To each their own, but you can’t demand that other people feel excitement about your lifestyle, especially if they don’t see the appeal.

        I read this blog because I enjoy the discussion of egalitarian partnerships, and the occasional thread like this about marriage itself. Thought provoking, thoughtful, feminist, and important stuff.

        • One More Sara

          I have to point out something. To my knowledge, marriage does not always guarantee legal immigration into every EU country. We decided to live here in NL (where my partner is from) specifically because it DIDN’T require that we were married for me (American) to move here. Our partnership is treated exactly the same as those who are legally married. The condition of me moving here is that my partner needed to earn a certain amount of money and have a contract at his work for at least one year. I know someone who tried to move his partner and their son here from Venezuela, and he finally met the requirements after 3 or 4 years of job hunting.

          England has (I think) similar immigration laws to America in that they are heavily dependent on marriage to guarantee permanent legal status (I’ll get mine in 2016 after living here for 6 years! No marriage required!)

          I know this was only a minor point in your comment, but it is a pet peeve of mine when people assume that the whole marriage/immigration thing are so closely entwined everywhere.

          • Hypothetical Sarah

            I only know England from the student visa perspective, so things might differ from a permanent residency standpoint. There is a provision where your partner can get a visa if you can prove that you’ve been in a “relationship resembling marriage” for a certain period of time. It’s not as straightforward as applying married (having firsthand experience with both), but it’s there.

          • Angry Feminist Bitch

            One More Sara,

            Indeed, I have been in that situation in England before – when I was 22. My (hetero) ex and I got a “domestic partnership” visa – which at that time was the exact same form married people filled out, including proof of two years’ cohabitation, bill sharing, etc. I didn’t want to get married then, either, and I didn’t have to. The relationship ended up being abusive, and my ex dumped me after convincing me to go home to visit my family in America for the first time in two years (the Home Office had my passport that long, so I was unable to leave the UK).

            Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree with you about immigration policy, and this is another reason I am for universal, federally enforced same-sex marriage rights in the US. International relationships are HARD.

        • MEI

          Angry Feminist Bitch, I just want to say thanks for your comment. I think it added a lot to the discussion because I think it was worth spelling out why marriage might be/is a privileged, unjust institution, i.e. where Anon’s coworkers might be coming from. I suppose “exactly” could have been enough, but I wanted to make it explicit how much I appreciate perspectives like yours in the comments. Also, kickass name.

          • Angry Feminist Bitch

            Thanks, MEI!

            I appreciate the thoughtfulness, feminism, and civility of this site so much. It’s a great place! I work daily to expand conversations about marriage, family, and lifestyle choices. I feel particularly obligated to do so as a conventional, privileged hetero lady, albeit one who is purposefully unmarried. I just can’t do it.

        • I would like to say that Canada is surprisingly progressive on some of the “marriage isn’t the only relationship worth tax breaks” front, so it can be successfully done at a national level without the world falling apart. (Or, uh, harming anyone else’s relationship, obvs.) First of all, there aren’t really tax breaks for being married – a few tweaks with retirement money options, and the ability for the smaller income person to declare the whole family’s tax breaks (donations, medical care, etc). But really, not much. Also, after 12 months of cohabiting, you are legal required to file jointly, and there is NO difference between common law and marriage. Gay marriage is legal (and frankly, a non-issue, because of course it should be legal). Domestic partnership arrangements are easy to come by, and can represent all types of relationships, like the elderly sisters who live across from my mother. One has a disability, the other works, and they are both legally protected, to the point I think (?) that the disabled sister could collect the other’s pension if she outlives her sister. My sister-in-law’s finance is Mexican, and there is zero difference, immigration wise, about trying to bring him to Canada if they are married or not.

          This isn’t (just) a yay Canada comment – I’m trying to say that it is, in fact, very possible to make these changes on a national level. I am also not trying to argue that we’re perfect. Just that these changes can be made and that nothing bad happened. The sky is still up there.

          • I also wanted to jump in and comment about Canada’s marriage laws, which allow the same rights to all couples regardless of the gender combination therein. Which has been in effect for almost a decade now, and is a complete non-issue.

            So to say that the exclusion of same-sex couples from the right to marry is due to money sits wrong with me. It’s about legislation that supports very conservative values and hasn’t opened its eyes to the fact that while everyone can make their own choices it doesn’t work in the long run to force your own belief system on any other person or group of people. It’s about a refusal to treat a large portion of couples as equals simply because the genders represented in that couple don’t fall into expected and easily understood views. It’s about being scared of things that you don’t understnad – which is not what a government should be supporting.

          • Lethe

            Awesome comment, excellent and pragmatic points, and….yay Canada. :)

          • Angry Feminist Bitch

            Once again, Canada is centuries ahead of the US! I wish we had platonic survivor benefits rights here. Then I wouldn’t be so anti-marriage. That’s one of my main hang-ups. It’s so blatantly discriminatory and heteronormative/nuclear-normative in the US.

        • Well, I can only speak to the Canadian immigration process- and I know this was just a side point to your larger point- but like One More Sara, I have to add to the immigration point because I can’t tell you know many people I’ve met who think that if you marry someone from Canada, you are automatically “Canadian.” I’ve even seen it implied in well respected Canadian national news media. Sigh. So…every time I hear that implied, I feel compelled to say that immigration to Canada is a long and extensive process, even if one is married. Though it is true that the spousal/family process (including common law) tends to be much faster than the skilled worker process.

  • Courtney

    Congratulations! I don’t mean this unkindly, but perhaps you’re being a bit too sensitive. Weddings and engagements don’t change people. Before your engagement, your coworkers didn’t really support marriage, and even though they care about you, the simple fact that you are now engaged (and they like you!) isn’t going to change their minds about marriage.

    I’m not saying that it isn’t hurtful, but don’t let the lack of support from one part of your circle undermine your happiness. To the extent that someone makes a comment about *you* and *your engagement*, you should absolutely defend yourself. But broad generalizations about how marriage is an anti-feminist institution? Breathe through it and let it roll off your back. You can’t please everyone.

  • Chalk

    “…so, will your offense to my engagement carry over to being invited to my wedding?”

    I hope that the intense passive aggressive focus on your engagement fades sooner than later. But know that it will fade away – they’ll find something else to talk about. Just show them respect for their opinions, as uncomfortable as it may make you, and feel good about taking the high road with them. If they can’t reflect your resolve by respecting your opinions, that’s on them.

    Congratulations, by the way, and enjoy this brief time in your life that you get to plan your wedding and be engaged!

    • meg

      Also, hopefully we don’t just include people in our life events who agree with us, or agree with a particular life event! If we did, we’d really circumscribe our lives.

  • Lisa said above “marriage was only as sexist as each individual relationship” and I think that’s a super super true statement. Marriage, as practiced in the past, could be incredibly sexist with strongly divided roles. However, it sounds like for you and your partner that is definitely not the case.

    This sort of reminds me about a conversation I had with my fiance a couple of weeks ago. We’d worked ourselves in to a fit because of the ridiculous things being said against same-sex marriage. He looked at me and said, “The inequality is one of the biggest reasons I have against getting married.” He assured me our wedding was going forward as planned but it got me thinking: how else does an institution grow and change without involvement from those who object to small parts of it?

    I mean if all women who consider themselves feminist rejected marriage as “non-feminist” how much longer would it take (because I think progress can be sped or slowed but not stopped) for wife to not be synonymous with “housewife” or “mother”? If women didn’t fight back against sexist actions in government or policy what would happen?

    Marriage might have non-feminist origins and associations but when it is tripped down to it’s essence: the joining of two people into a legal, economic, and social unit via their promises of love and devotion it is not by definition anything but that.

    • Kate

      I also really like: “marriage [is] only as sexist as each individual relationship.” During my two years of marriage, I have struggled with the way we divide up tasks when they happen to fall along traditional gender lines, but then I think, “Hey! I LIKE to cook! I am not going to rebel against something I enjoy just because it is traditional.” Because also, I really do not like dishes, and my wonderful husband gets in there and does them for me, most of the time. We really do take the teamwork approach to most things, and I try not to bash myself for letting him mow the lawn.

      I have made a lot of traditional choices in my life, and that does make me self-conscious at times, as a feminist. But at the same time, I am re-defining “military wife” for myself, which is an additional layer on top of “wife” on its own. Looking in, I may seem relatively “traditional,” but I am forging my own path toward my career, and my husband and I have balanced conversations and make compromises for each other. I also thank my lucky stars for a husband as enlightened as mine is, who has the same respect for me that I have for him, and simply does not have the classic sexist attitudes we’re thinking of here. But then again, it wasn’t so much luck as the fact that I wouldn’t have married a man who expected me to give up all of my dreams and ambitions, or at least subordinate them to his.

      All that is to say, sometimes these issues are exhausting to navigate. It would definitely help if women could stop judging and labeling each other so much.

    • meg

      “I mean if all women who consider themselves feminist rejected marriage as “non-feminist” how much longer would it take (because I think progress can be sped or slowed but not stopped) for wife to not be synonymous with “housewife” or “mother”? If women didn’t fight back against sexist actions in government or policy what would happen?”

      I love this. I like to think of it less as “all choices are ok” and more as “the fight can and must be continued everywhere.” And some people are not going to ever get married, so that’s not part of their fight. If you are going to get married, make that part of yours.

  • Just lie to them. Tell them you’re having a wedding in the sense of a great party of fun times, but won’t legally be married. Tell them your engagement ring is to ward off this creepy man who has been stalking you. Tell them whatever they might want to hear. Because if you’re secure in your choice, then their words won’t really hurt you, they’ll just be mildly annoying and fun to play with.

  • Jashshea

    Those women are trippin. I’m all for giving people the respect they’ve earned, but they’re being childish and passive-aggressive. I don’t know that I’d be able to give them respectful discourse on “why I, a grown woman, think I should be able to marry.” Rather, I think I’d be aggressive where they aren’t and, next time I heard a comment, I’d just ask them why they thought I didn’t deserve to make up my own mind about my life.

    I’m sorry people aren’t being supportive and I really hope that’s a small minority group. I know you say you believe in your cause and love your job, but those people are just your coworkers. Don’t let them bring you all the way down.

  • I mostly want to love on this statement:

    “All that is required to be a “wife” is being a 1) woman who is 2) married.”

    So important to remember when cultural baggage gets you down. (And I feel like cultural baggage constitutes most of the objection to marriage.)

    I think there is a lot of power in being able to live your own life within a role that has a lot of its own baggage. Some people have negative connotations of what it means to be a wife (I know, I used to one of them), so the more that folks provide examples of “non-traditional” wifedom, whatever that may mean, the better. The common denominator really is just married woman. And hooray for that.

    • Angry Feminist Bitch

      Carrie, what changed your mind?

      • I met someone I wanted to marry. That seems trite I know. But when I met Jami and we started talking about a future and what that would look like, marriage was very important to her. And she really like the term wife versus the term partner.

        So I really thought about it – what marriage would do (luckily living in DC where marriage equality is the law, there are legal benefits to our marriage, but also the message that getting married would send to our families and our community) and what my objections were (mostly knee-jerk reactions, being a wife is like being property – formerly true! -, that I would lose my identity and sense of self, that as much as I love my mother, I didn’t want to be a wife in the way that she was. I didn’t want to be a homemaker.)

        I realized that getting married and being a wife didn’t have to be the things I feared (and that in fact it was pretty much guaranteed not to be the things I feared, because I would still be me, just married) – and that has certainly turned out to be true. I only have good things to say about being married. (Not that things are always rainbows and kittens, but I never regret getting married).

  • Kira

    This reminds me a bit of the discussion about feminism and housework a while back. There seems to be this sense among some feminists (and many more anti-feminists) that engaging in traditionally feminine-coded activities–like cooking, homemaking, or child rearing, say–is somehow capitulating to stereotypical gender roles and thereby losing social and intellectual status. Deciding to marry and devoting yourself to creating a family is also seen as a capitulation in this sense.

    It seems to me that both these positions are internalizing misogyny in a way by seeing feminine-coded activities as weak, shameful, and passive rather than active, radical, and empowering. I don’t mean to claim by this that everyone who has big, overarching doubts about the institution of marriage is a misogynist, clearly. But I do think there is a trend in this discourse of seeing the domestic sphere and traditionally feminine roles as less worthy than the public sphere and traditionally masculine roles, and I think that is absolutely part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    I believe a major goal of feminism should be championing the radical potentiality of a nurturing family. When we are satisfied emotionally and intellectually by partners who see us as their equals in every sense, when we raise feminist children, when we participate in creating a community that values intimate relationships of all kinds, then we are better feminists and better political actors. Just as I couldn’t be a good wife without feminism, because without feminism I would be unable to reach the level of self-actualization that is a precondition for healthy relationships, I couldn’t be a good feminist without intimate relationships that sustain me emotionally and practically. My relationship with my fiance is such a one. Love, family, and community are central to feminism, not opposed to it.

    • PA

      Well said! VERY well said! (An “Exactly!” didn’t seem like enough!)

    • MEI

      I think this is good and well-stated. But as mentioned by others in this comment section, there are certain privileges that come with marriage that make some of us squirmy. It’s not that marriage = domesticity and family and that’s bad. It’s that marriage = economic and cultural benefits that are denied to different types of relationships and that’s bad. I think you’re right that feminism should be and is very interested in making traditionally “feminine” work and priorities valued, but I think probably that’s not Anon’s coworkers’ issue with marriage when they say it’s not in line with feminist ideals.

  • Bubbles

    I don’t have anything particularly relevant to add to the feminism discussion that hasn’t already been said much more eloquently than I would have, but I did want to let Liz know that darning socks involves repairing holes without leaving an annoying seam where the hole once was.


    • Liz

      Hahaha, thanks, Bubbles!

    • KH_Tas

      So that’s how I’ve been doing sock darning wrong (said while being annoyed by annoying seam where hole used to be).

  • Wednesday

    I’m in complete agreement with everything Liz said, but allow me to add my two cents, as it were:

    I’ve always been a fan of being blunt and honest (though being shy hasn’t helped me follow through on that, but I digress…). Simply ask them if all this recent marriage bashing because of your engagement or if your engagement has brought all their ill feelings towards marriage back to mind. Tell them that in either case, it’s hurting you and is making it a very hostile working environment and that you wouldn’t mind constructive conversations regarding marriage, but this is getting out of hand. They may not owe you excitement, but they do owe you a bearable work space.

    And, in my personal opinion, attacking a woman for making a choice that doesn’t align with your idea of what a woman should and should not do is sexist. In fact, this applies both ways to both sexes. Having the freedom to choose based on what you personally believe is equality to me. Now, I say that knowing full well a lot of what people believe are the teachings of past generations, but faulting someone for it instead of discussing their choices and getting a better understanding is just as closed-minded as the ideals being railed against. (Is a reasonable debate really too much to ask for these days?)

    Marriage is about the two of you and what you both personally make of it. I’m happy to have a fully supportive partner and wish the two of you the very best.

    • Angry Feminist Bitch

      “And, in my personal opinion, attacking a woman for making a choice that doesn’t align with your idea of what a woman should and should not do is sexist.”

      This seems a bit broad. You’re not actually saying that all choices women can make are automatically feminist because said choices were made by a woman, right?

      Cause, Sarah Palin.

      • Wednesday

        Oh, hell no. It’s the attack on women for not acting like you think one should is what’s sexist to me. There’s no need to attack. We can critique, criticize and hopefully foster tactful discussion, even if the result is agreeing to disagree. We should also recognize when someone is actively hurting the rights of women. You don’t need a Y chromosome to do that. Cause, Sarah Palin… :P

        But when people start saying, “you have to live my way because I think it’s right,” they are just hurting the cause and that person. Women the right to be many things. I guess I’m just tired of seeing my own gender cutting each other down.

        (And yes, I was too broad there… next time I’ll try to write something better thought out.)

  • LOVED THIS: “But to be that woman—the woman who is making traditional choices but for her own individual reasons, and to kick ass at it? That’s what will change our perceptions of women and their roles.”

    Exactly. There is a place for marriage in our society as highlighted by all the reasons Liz gave (though of course not everyone wants to or needs to participate) and the only hope we have of making it an institution we are proud to be a part of is to change it from the inside. Show our daughters and sons and everyone else that there is nothing inherent in marriage or being a “wife” that makes women less-than. It is a partnership and that builds us up, not takes us down.

  • Carrie

    I wanted to get married because at a very deep level, I wanted to explicitly state my commitment to sharing a life with my now-husband, and wanted to hear explicitly from him that he was making the same commitment. I also wanted our community — our friends and family — to be made aware of that commitment.

    Stated unromantically, it was about defining the expectations of our relationship. I was sick of having to say “if” about our future together when I really meant “when,” and I was sick of knowing other people were thinking “if” when the reality was “when.” I had started to feel like not getting married was pretending our relationship was something it wasn’t — pretending we thought of it as something more temporary or more casual than it was, pretending we didn’t see our household as a family unit, pretending we didn’t prioritize each other as much as we do. And I was sick of pretending that. I wanted to make it clear and explicit what our relationship really was. Marriage did that.

    And the benefits of legal marriage did matter to me — to both of us. Since we were making a life and a household together, which meant we were sharing property and money and trusted each other to make decisions if one of us couldn’t, it was useful to have the law officially recognize those things.

    Marriage does have sexist baggage, with the assumptions that other people make about gender roles and power within the relationship, and some of that sexist baggage gets internalized, because we don’t live in a vacuum. It’s important to be aware of that. It’s also important to be aware that people (especially women) who don’t want to get married, who feel that getting married would be as much pretending for them as not getting married felt like for me, get a huge amount of crap for it.

    But it’s also important to me to stand up for the reasons I did want to get married, to state them explicitly, to stand up for the truth of my relationship, my experiences, my opinions and wants. Telling my truth is a feminist act.

  • Sam

    This is something I’ve thought about a lot lately. I’m very much pro-marriage equality, but I also work toward making sure we value and protect all the other ways to make a family and am currently what I refer to as “happily unmarried.”

    I think people can often conflate “making a different choice than mine” as “condemning the choice I’m making.” I don’t know how many people get defensive about being married or wanting to get married when they find out it isn’t something important to me. Nor can I describe how hurtful it is when people say I just haven’t met the right person yet. So I’ve been there (on the other side) and it totally sucks. Just because I like orange more than purple doesn’t make the purple-lovers of the world stupid.

    So even though it isn’t something I necessarily want right now, marriage matters. If it didn’t matter, marriage equality wouldn’t matter. There are certainly married feminists out there (Cecile Richards, anyone?) and certainly most women in same-sex marriages would see their partnerships as feminist.

    All that being said, there’s plenty in the marriage/engagement narrative that doesn’t always jibe with the feminist one. Some of us just can’t ooh and aah over a giant diamond. It can be hard for us to get excited about a story when the trajectory was 100% in the guy’s control. So I would be thoughtful about how you’re presenting YOUR story. It isn’t, “Look at this giant rock this guy gave me when he decided the next step in his life would involve me.” It should be, “Yay! My partner surprised me and I am so excited about the next step of our journey together.” Or whatever feels real and authentic to YOU.

    • Copper

      I think the point about how it’s presented is important. Even the ‘surprise’ aspect can rub people the wrong way, from a feminist perspective. If it’s presented more as, “We’ve decided to get married,” then that bypasses 1) shiny deadly over-marketed rocks, 2) men holding all the cards, and 3) engagement-fever.

      Just finding ways to talk about what you’re doing in a way that still fits with the feminist views that you’ve always espoused can help people like this see that you’re not turning your back on them or betraying your shared values, but rather finding a way to make marriage fit into those values.

  • With few exceptions, the most judgement I have ever received for my choices as a women have been from other women. We can be down right cruel to each other at times. You aren’t going to change your coworkers. But there are places, like here, where you can find support. Seek those places out.

    And congratulations!!!

  • ElisabethJoanne

    I agree with others who have said no one but you and your partner “should” be excited for your engagement. In fact, you don’t even have to be excited, if excitement’s not your style. Some of us do better with quiet gladness. A good deal of us cannot get excited about jewelry, period.

    On the marriage-bashing part, if this were a workplace with no explicit connection to gender politics issues, I’d suggest changing the topic of conversation, or eating lunch alone until your feelings stabilize. Eventually, have the hearts-and-minds discussions Liz suggests, but only when it’s not mixed up with your own feelings about how others “should” react to your choices. You just won’t be able to get your point across while it’s mixed up with hurt feelings about the excitement issue.

    But this is not a typical workplace. This is a workplace that exists to talk about and change how marriage affects women (as well as a bunch of other issues, of course). I’d be interested in the content of their bashing. Do they want to repeal those 1,100+ statutes and get the government out of marriage? Just some of the statutes? Do they feel that the central relationships in a woman’s life should be with other women? Do they think that long-term sexual pairing creates factions in society, and should be prohibited? These are legitimate theories, too, and I can imagine that some feminist organizations exist to develop them. If these discussions are work-related, marriage issues should be handled in the same way as any other policy point, regardless of one staffer’s marital status, though any member of the staff should advocate for her policy ideas, which can be influenced by her personal experience.

  • Class of 1980

    “Why get MARRIED?” Well, being recognized as legally married offers a bunch of protection for you if anything goes wrong. I’m sure you’re familiar with them (since the discussion about what rights belong to married individuals, and why we all should have those rights is discussed quite a bit around here), but starting with “next of kin” rights in the hospital all the way to joint tax return filings, there are an estimated 1,138 statutes that determine rights and benefits based on marital status. To encourage women to forgo those rights because “marriage” is an icky word seems short-sighted.”

    The above quote would be THE reason to get married.

    I feel quite angry at the reactions of the employees at the feminist organization. You would think these would be a bunch of intelligent women who could figure out the legal protections of marriage for themselves.

    Where have they been during the marriage equality debate? Asleep? I’m pretty sure that protecting oneself legally is very much a feminist concern!

    There is nothing practical in their anti-marriage ideology, and their form of “feminism” is the reason so many younger women don’t identify as feminists today.

  • tenya

    I’m conflicted on this one and continue to be, despite being married, because I think it is kind of ridiculous that there are so many protections for the couple that chooses to become legally married, and nothing for those that can’t/decide not to. That even though we’re starting to get recognition of same-sex marriage, when we start talking gender-variable individuals there are all kind of legal battles being fought around the country determining their rights in marriage still. That being with someone for 15 years isn’t as significant as “putting a ring on it.” That being a fiance and then a wife changes how people perceive you. These are all Not Good things that make me uncomfortable with marriage.
    I questioned a lot why I wanted to get married. I question anything I answer with “because I just really really want to!” For our situation it does help, I can put my husband on my insurance which is about a zillion-times better than anything he can purchase an individual, we’re more protected if something happens to one of us if not, it makes it much easier for the other come to along if one of us gets a job out of the country, etc. And while I don’t think those benefits should be exclusive, I also can’t afford to pass them up. But the financials were further back to the visceral “I want to get married” feelings I had, and I definitely question if some or all of them were/are because I’m buying into the culture around me that tells me that my relationship isn’t that serious unless I’m married. That my/my husband’s commitment to my baby family is suspect if I don’t wear a ring, have a ceremony, have a giant party, have legal documentation. That being a wife is superior to being a girlfriend or partner. That having a wedding is THE accomplishment of my adult woman life. Those are not particularly feminist feelings. They’re kind of regressive and yucky. That being said, if it is also the entire culture you grow up with, you can’t necessarily put it aside just because you recognize it. I admire the hell out of people that can. Sometimes indulging that feeling brings more peace than fighting it, and (one hopes) it doesn’t make you The Worst person for it.

    I didn’t immediately think her coworkers were being mean or rude or judgmental about her upcoming marriage (since it looks like nobody is actually addressing her in these conversations), because it sounds like office politics as usual: at her workplace, marriage isn’t considered a positive. When someone gets engaged, it gets everyone talking about it, and their thoughts on it. Not HER marriage, exactly, but marriage in general? And it is hard not to take that personally? They don’t have to be positive just for her. Sure, it’d be nice, and clearly she’d really love it if her coworkers didn’t make those views so clear while she’s still so excited over her engagement, but it also sounded kind of expected? Sort of like when someone in your workplace gets pregnant, or leaves their job for military service or grad school, or makes another Big Life Change and sometimes people are excited and sometimes people are like “but.. that sounds like such a terrible idea? I would NEVER do that.” and you hear it or hear about it and it hurts your feelings. That hurt is real, but it also doesn’t necessarily make your coworkers bad/rude/mean people – whether you’re at a feminist organization or not. If it is getting hostile, then sure, tell them to back off and that it is hurtful. But it doesn’t sound like it is that directly, so consider this: it will hurt less as that excited-new-then-crashing feeling goes away. The talk about marriage will die down to expected levels after another month or so. Your coworkers may never come around to loving marriage, but odds are, some of them are married or will become so sooner or later, and then you have that opportunity to be awesome about it.

    • R

      This part of your comment really got me thinking:

      “I’m conflicted on this one and continue to be, despite being married, because I think it is kind of ridiculous that there are so many protections for the couple that chooses to become legally married, and nothing for those that can’t/decide not to.”

      I continue to be outraged that there are people who can not choose to be married to one another. I firmly believe that marriage, as a legal contract between two individuals, should not have a limit to who those two individuals can be. (I do draw the line at people marrying corporations even if corporations are “people”). I also think it is unfair that two people, when choosing to enter into the legal contract of marriage, receive more favorable treatment under certain laws (most noticeably the tax code) than those that do not.

      However, I find it immensely reassuring that, through marriage, I can redefine and choose my “primary” family- the person who makes healthcare decisions for me, gets my stuff if I die, etc. And the act of choosing is important to me- I am choosing to enter into a legal contract with another person. I would absolutely not want to be told that I had entered into that contract simply by living with another person. I want marriage to exist as a separate entity because I want to control what contracts I enter into. And frankly, while one can create those elements of marriage legally without getting married (well, -most- of those elements in states run by asshats), the idea of bundling those contracts and calling it “marriage” provides a means of redefining your primary family in a way that seems to have some utility.

  • I am SUPER late to the party on this post. I read it on Friday, thought about how I wanted to respond, and then did not return until this morning. So, hopefully, people are still checking on the comments. I know I get a little glazed over toward the bottom, I imagine others do, too. :)

    Anyway, there’s a lot of discussion above about choice feminism vs. antifeminist actions (or maybe it is not a “vs”, but you get my drift), and I want to touch on the more practical matters.

    The whole discourse surrounding “marriage is just a piece of paper” “and a patriarchal one at that” make me NUTS. Liz summed up well the numerous rights that married couples enjoy, which makes the fight for marriage equality so important. So, we have some choices here:
    1. Eliminate those rights altogether. If everyone can’t have them, then no one can.
    Okay, fine. Except … this now means your husband/wife is not your next of kin. That person you’ve built a shared life with? Cannot visit you in the ICU, cannot make medical decisions for you, cannot make end of life decisions. Not to mention, if you make him or her your beneficiary on ANYTHING, not only will it be taxed differently (read: more), your so-called “legal” next of kin has grounds to challenge it in court. In other words, make sure you have an iron-clad will and living will and other contractual documents ready and prepared Just In Case. And you still are going to run into problems.
    2. Keep “marriage” in tact, but don’t call it marriage outside of a religious institution, and call “marriage certificates” “civil union certificates.” Okay, fine. Except marriages have been legal partnerships long before they were religious partnerships. In fact, the Christians only co-opted marriage after they realized it was not going to win friends and influence people to suggest abstinence for all. (See also: Easter and Yule.)
    Even still, if you want to shed the term marriage because of the baggage you think it entails, I guess that’s fine, but it’s still the same thing. It’s the same piece of paper, with the same (very important) rights and responsibilities attached to it, except you’re just calling it something else. That seems like … more trouble than it’s really worth?

    Lisa put it best above stating that marriage is only as unfeminist as the partnership itself. If you don’t like marriage, for whatever reason, fine, don’t get married. But please think about what you’re saying before you tear someone down. These women the reader works with are, supposedly, very highly educated, but this discourse makes them sound very willfully ignorant, and that makes me sad.

    • MEI

      Partially, I just want you to know I’m still reading — I wish APW threads would carry on after the day-of, or really just the morning-of because, ya know, sometimes you can’t join in until later.

      I don’t think you can assume the women Anon works with are ‘willfully ignorant.’ As pointed out by Angry Feminist Bitch above, they are not necessarily ignoring the benefits that come with marriage. They are pointing out that marriage is an institution that privileges one very particular type of relationship. All those rights you mentioned above? They aren’t given to me for my same-sex spouse, my mother even though I am her primary caretaker, my poly-partners. And I’m ok with exploring whether that’s a shitty way for society to function. It’s not the only way it could, we could be more egalitarian, and feminists have a stake in exploring the other ways we can relate to each other that might be more egalitarian. I don’t think saying ‘Don’t like it, don’t get married’ is particularly useful to the conversation because social change only happens when we address inequalities, not ignore them.

    • I’m still reading too! :)

  • Betty

    I’d probably just make my wedding debate mantra different variations of “Well good thing that we now live in a time where women have the right to choose who we marry, when we marry, and if we want to marry at all! Now if only we had that kind of freedom in [insert other more pressing feminist issue here]” and of course said in the most spunky way possible!