Friday, October 19, 2012

Please, Stop Getting Married



I got to school in a foul mood the other morning. I woke up late, which meant that I couldn't make the eggs that I had been craving since last night (I just love eggs, sue me), and I practically ran out the door to catch my bus, which was 5 minutes late.  This wouldn't be such a big deal if it wasn't 1 in a series of busses I have to take to get to school on time.  If one bus is late, that means you're probably going to miss the next bus, and it throws the whole schedule off. This is what happened today. the O was late, which meant I missed the 54, which meant that I had to take the 21 to macarthur and Fruitvale, and when I got there and waited for 30 minutes because yes, the NL and the 58L and the 57 were all late.  I quickly realized as I waited for a bus, ANY bus, that I would not make it on campus in time to grab a bite to eat, and my stomach growled angrily.  Fucking bus! it said.  I need food now!  And I replied, I know, but shut up, people are looking at us weird.

To pass the time, I checked my Facebook (on my crappy phone that takes 5 minutes to load a page), and then I saw them.  Pictures from some random facebook friend, pictures of their wedding. And just like that, my transformation from happy commuter to bitchy college student was complete.



Let me preface this whole thing with a bit of explanation.  I am extremely ambivalent about weddings and marriage. I have done a fair amount of reading on the subject, and let's just say that marriage and I have a love/hate relationship. Meanwhile, back in the big, wide world of Facebook, dozens of high school chums (none of which I really talked with since we graduated 4 years ago) are tying the knot. Suddenly I am seeing a lot of young women I vaguely know from adolescence have different last names on their profiles, and hundreds of pictures of expensive white dresses and flowers and tuxedos.  And I grew up in a pretty "traditional" town with "traditional" values so there is rarely, if ever, a pushing of the boundaries as far as weddings go-- no red or blue or rainbow wedding dresses, no DIY photo booths or light-saber dueling Doctor Who themed table decorations or anything that would make a wedding a little less stuffy and a little more awesome-- although I did see pictures from a wedding that was not only outdoors but like IN NATURE (as opposed to an immaculately landscaped garden, or some kind of country club environment). There's nothing inherently wrong with this, right?


So this was my initial reaction to these pictures (in my head):

Me: Are you fucking kidding me? Another wedding?  We are in our early 20s, people, we don't all need to get married and have kids!  Great, another woman who's going to give up her whole life to make dinner for her husband and never do anything for herself; another woman who is going to be made invisible and forced to sacrifice her life for her family without anything in return, to be taken advantaged of without so much as a peep from her!  Why would a woman want to be a part of that?! Don't they have brains, can't they think for themselves?  Do they even bother to think about the marriage from a perspective other than that of the patriarchy?!  And she changed her last name, real original.  Why does every woman change her last name without so much of a thought?! WHY DO I LIVE IN A SOCIETY WHERE WOMEN DON'T THINK?!
When people ask you what you learned today, you can tell them that you learned Ndeya is kind of a judgmental bitch. I mean, let's be honest, that up there is a shit-storm unadulterated judgement.

And I'm not gonna deny it-- my initial reaction was that of disappointment and disgust and anger.  And I let myself feel those feelings (in the comfort and privacy of my own mind) for a few minutes, letting myself just feel the way I feel, before I started examining my own behavior.  Why do I have such a strong reaction to weddings and marriage?  I mean, it's not MY life, I'm not the one getting married.  Who am I to judge other woman for getting married, changing their last name and devoting their lives to their families.  Besides, isn't that kind of the American Dream? Husband, wife, 2.5 kids in a nice house, etc.  Shouldn't that be something to which we aspire?
I wanna be the dude in the short-shorts.

My answer to that is: if only it were that simple. Marriage discourse always hides the complexities of marriage as an institution-- its politics and history and how it upholds or expands inequalities across racial, class and gender lines.  Marriage is a social institution-- it's a social construct that has been used throughout the history of humankind to regulate social behavior.  This in itself is neither good nor bad, it just is.  We regulate social behavior in all kinds of ways, marriage is just one of them, but it is a powerful mode of social control.  And I think people take that for granted.  The concept of marriage ties into so many other institutions in society, such as family and gender. Take a look at how gender roles are produced and reproduced in a marriage, or how family is defined through it.  The way marriage was used today and how it was used in the past do affect each and every one of us on a near constant basis, whether or not we are personally married to another person.  Marriage has an influence on taxes, healthcare, economics, social status, social capital, class mobility, and certainly inequality.  And I'm talking real influence, like being able to see your lover in the hospital, inheritance wars, the definition of family, center and periphery kind of stuff.

But don't think that because I know all this stuff that I have no interest or investment in the wedding and marriage hype.  I may be the biggest hypocrite of all!  I am not immune to cultural persuasion (or coercion, whichever you think is the best way to put it)-- I've got the wedding bug, people.  When I'm not thinking about how inequitable the institution of marriage is, I'm online looking at wedding dresses on etsy, or adding pictures of decor to my "Wedding Awesomeness" board on pinterest.  And if you think I don't check offbeatbride.com everyday, you would be wrong, my friend.  But here's the real kicker:  I can't even get married!!!!  I like to pretend that I don't know that sad fact, but according to the state of California and the federal government a marriage is between a man and a woman.  Now, kourtney may have short hair, but she does not have a penis, and in the end that's what REALLY matters (and we have Prop 8 and DOMA to thank for that).

It's funny (and a little bit sad) when friends ask me when Kourtney and I are going to get married, because we are more than willing to be a part of this questionable institution (sorry, old ideologies die hard, and I can't seem to shake this marriage bug), but we can't!  My home, the state and country to which I pay taxes and invest my time and energy to on a daily basis, say No! You are not allowed in this club, young lass.  Get thee to a bar and find a man, and then we can talk.  Any man.  He can be an adulterous wife beater, and that's alright.

Sorry, that was a bit of a rant.  The point is, I would love to at least be able to choose whether or not I want to subject myself to a marriage.  But the choice has been made for me.  And I see so many other people in heterosexual relationships who make the choice without a single thought and it just grinds my gears. Because here I am, tackling all these issues, working them through my mind-- because it's important to be an active participant in your own life, and you should take nothing for granted-- and I see all these women, who just dive into this historically inequitable and at times oppressive institution-- one that is largely white, heterosexual, middle and upper class and very exclusionary-- without a thought about what that means. And not for them as individuals necessarily, but for society as a whole.

What does marriage mean in today's society? What are the implications?  And why aren't more men and women my age asking these kinds of questions?

When you make the decision to marry, do you think before you leap?


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