Sunday, August 31, 2014

What Makes a Marriage Feminist?

It feels slightly inappropriate to write a post about marriage when I've only been married for 34 days, but I wanted to join this bloghop by Balancing Jane. Hopefully if you've read my blog for any length of time, you already have an idea of my stance on feminism, after reading some of my rants on marriage-related and wedding-related feminist issues.

In some ways, Abe and I have made decisions in formatting our relationship that directly contradict patriarchal norms. He's in charge of the kitchen - grocery shopping, cooking, dishing. I'm currently the sole income-provider, and do most of the planning and tracking of our big-picture finances. We both wore engagement rings before our wedding, walked up to the ceremony together (I didn't have a grand entrance nor get given away), and both kept our birth last names.

Some might look at these choices, and imagine we made them to directly rebel against traditions (*cough* certain relatives *cough*). In fact, that's not the case at all. We haven't made decisions based on either complying or flouting expectations. All we're doing to forming our lives in a way that works for us, that makes sense based on who we are, not as a man and a woman, but as our individual selves and as a couple. 

Abe enjoys cooking, and loves the challenge of planning a meal that is both nutritionally sound and cheap to create. I love my career and am lucky that it pays well enough to support us as he goes back to school to find his own fulfilling path. Our wedding was full of choices that reflected *us*, regardless of typical wedding standards.

And I don't quite mean that we're following "choice feminism". I believe there are issues with that concept (the theory that feminism is about allowing choices, including the choice to follow a more traditionally patriarchal path), mainly that we aren't making those choices in a cultural vacuum. A woman who chooses to take her husband's last name and stay at home to raise children may be making a conscious choice to do so, but it's nonetheless heavily influenced by society's expectations. If she also has negative connotations with her birth name (perhaps due to poor family relationships), and finds fulfillment in child development, this might really be the option that stays true to herself. But the challenge is in truly exploring that choice, determining what is important to you, and making the choice that represents yourself.

Sometimes, the choice may seem irrelevant. For example, we just set up our joint bank account. Some might think it doesn't matter who's listed as the primary account holder. But traditionally, the man was always first, because he had legal authority over both his and his wife's assets. So it was important to us that Abe wasn't the primary account holder just because he's male. 

Alternatively, I could the primary account holder because I'm currently the breadwinner. But it's not my money, it's our money! Just like the default of the husband being listed first supports the concept that the man is charge of the money, the (previously inherently the same) default of the breadwinner being listed first supports the concept that the breadwinner has ultimate control of the joint money. We don't believe in that, either, regardless of which partner is earning the money.

Instead, we flipped a coin. I ended up winning the coin toss and being listed as the primary account holder. It was important to us, though, that this isn't because I'm the income provider, but because there didn't need to be a default. If it's our money, it's our money. We're not making a choice for or against society's expectation, but we're making a choice based on the true belief that there isn't any default

There shouldn't be a default as to who is listed on first on a joint bank account, and there shouldn't be a default as to who changes their last name. A feminist relationship doesn't act for or against patriarchal or feminist norms, but rather ignores norms on all sides, and makes decisions for the individuals involved. 

Yes, this makes decisions more complicated! Sometimes it would be nice to have a default to fall back on, to make a mindless choice that we know others will support. But having a husband who believes as I do that we need to make the best choice for us means we have to take responsibility for our choices, and ultimately we know that we're choosing the most fulfilling life we can create. That's a feminist marriage.

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