What do Emilie Littlehales’ feelings about marriage say about her feminism?
From what I can tell based on my Facebook feed, marriage season is winding down. It hit its peak in late September and early October—during which time I think roughly 10% of the people I’m friends with on Facebook tied the knot—with the rate of celebrations gradually trickling off since then. The flood of marriage-related posts and photographs I encountered on Facebook made me realize that in spite of being engaged, I spend very little time thinking about getting hitched. When confronted with the news that five of the people I went to high school with got married during the same weekend (I can only assume this was coincidental), though, my reaction wasn’t to be happy for them, or even to feel indifferently toward the whole thing. Instead, I felt jealous. I still do.
My feelings toward marriage are complicated, but I don’t think they’re particularly unique or significantly different from what you might hear from any woman in my age range with similar ideological and political beliefs. If challenged, I’m not entirely sure I’d be able to articulate my feelings clearly enough to make a coherent argument for or against the institution.
My fiancé and I have been engaged for two and a half years, so I can acknowledge that I do, at some point, want to get married. But because I have what I consider a satisfying, fulfilling relationship on every level, I don’t feel that we should be in any hurry to get papers signed, put a new label on our relationship, and spend thousands of dollars to celebrate doing so with an extravagant party that will last one day but take us months to pay for.
As a feminist, there are things about the tradition of marriage that trouble me; these things, however, are less concerning to me in the context of my own relationship (with another feminist, who is sometimes more sensitive to gender inequality than I am) than they are problems I have with the general idea of marriage. On top of all this, there’s a big part of me that believes it would be unfair to get married in a country where not all consenting adults have the ability to do so. After all, I’m straight, but ambivalent about marriage. Why should I be more entitled to get married than a homosexual couple for whom marriage is extremely important?
Ultimately, I’m not sure why I want to get married. I do know, though, that the jealousy I felt upon seeing friends and acquaintances getting married in spades was not an indication that my views about matrimony were becoming any less complicated and that I myself wanted to walk down the aisle. Nope. I was jealous because weddings of the kind that are broadcast on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are indicators of the kind of socioeconomic success and stability that neither my fiancé nor I have.
Here is a couple, both my age, who have been able (whether alone or with the help of family and credit cards) to put together an event that looks like it could be featured in a magazine, while I struggle to pay all my bills and have little furniture in my apartment because I can’t afford to buy any. Whether these weddings are accurate representations of what their lives are like or just the projections they want the world to see and extrapolate from, they’re indications to me that both my fiancé and I have failed to achieve what is expected of us (if, that is, we are subject to the same societal expectations of those who were and continue to be our peers, I don’t see why we wouldn’t be). We’re somewhere outside the norm, and yet we still exist within it. When friends ask when we will get married, I bristle, embarrassed to say that we haven’t set a date yet. That luxury belongs to those who can financially afford the ordeal. We can’t.
The socioeconomic aspect of all this stands out the most starkly, but embedded within it are questions of gender and the roles tradition expects us to play. In diverging from our prescribed paths—I’m the primary breadwinner and have been throughout our relationship, and he’s just recently graduated with his B.A. and is now searching for employment—have we set ourselves up for a life that will never appear successful from the outside? If we both had more traditional personal backgrounds and had followed a straighter route toward adulthood, would we be the ones posting pictures of our wedding cake on the Internet? Would we be happier if we’d played the roles we’ve been given by society instead of questioning them and trying something new?
In feeling jealous toward what others have, I can’t help but feel like I’m betraying my own feminist beliefs. Although I may not necessarily want the marriage, I do want the enduring relationship and the rest of the life that the marriage celebration indicates exists—the comfortable job, the luxury of travel, the house that feels like a home, the car…the list goes on and on. Does that also mean that to some degree, I want the traditional gender roles? Or do I just want more stability and safety than I have now? And is it possible to be a feminist and still want these things, or is a Buddhist-like freedom from the trappings of married life part and parcel of feminism? I know that with many things in life, we can’t have it both ways. Am I asking for too much?
Emilie Littlehales lives in New York City and works in academic publishing. She’s contributed to LUNA’s Chix Journal and Jezebel, and writes regularly for the RUNiverse and her personal blog, I Came to Run. She is interested in questions of body image, physical and mental health, gender roles, and sexuality, and especially the various ways in which they are shaped and affected by society’s expectations.