A Saviour & ProtectorThat Old Marriage Trap – Part 1
Thoughts of wedding gowns will attack their brain like a virus that spreads everywhere, erasing all non-family related dreams, wiping out all other ambitions, homogenizing all ideals. A slow burning virus that was laying dormant ever since childhood, and which has been planted in their head the minute they heard their first fairy tale, their first love story. Each and everyone urging them to “marry young and then retire”, as the old Janis Ian song goes.
It is a “fact universally acknowledged” that a woman’ s value is sadly still directly related to her marital status, and so the lack of a husband, is automatically still being seen as a bad (in fact the worst) life choice for a female. Even a longtime partner does not define a woman as a “normal”one, and the commitment she shares with him, is not seen as “real” or valid. Only a marriage certificate will legitimise such a relationship and only a “proper” husband, will ultimately legitimise her own existence in this world, which is otherwise seen as worthless, pointless, or at the very least “wasted”: she was created in order to serve a man as the scriptures and modern-day Right Wingers never fail to remind us… Such notions are hardly dated and are globally making a come-back let us not forget!! (see:# 1)
And even married women who have somehow managed to be close at breaking that goddamn glass ceiling, are still being judged not on account of their accomplishments, their education, their intelligence, their abilities, or their work, but foremost by the kind of marriage they have. It is a well known fact for example, that if you want to keep a female politician from becoming too powerful, all you have to do is attack her marriage.Just look close enough, for long enough with a magnifying glass and something will come up. Which is another way of saying: just wait for the husband to cheat on her… And if he doesn’ t, throw some mud about him being “neglected, overlooked, disgraced, and emasculated by having such a wife who would rather go around speaking to strangers about social change rather than take care of him”, and let the public see what that says about the “kind of woman she is!”.... And if her husband is cheating on her, blame HER: “she is a workaholic / know-it-all / cold / sex-hating bitch who “let herself go” (that’s code for:“doesn’t look like a Barbie doll and is older than 35”) who therefore practically“forced him into going after other women”. Now, if she knew all about it and did nothing, “she is a liar and a manipulating, ambitious woman who was trying to save her career, rather than her marriage". Which might mean,"a feminist!!”. If she had no idea, then she is “clueless about the going ons of her own home”, so“how can she be trusted to run a country”? And if she stays with him after his cheating is made public, just call her“weak, and therefore unfit for office”. Not to mention a"bad feminist".If she does divorce him, call her “too liberal”. One who is“against family values”. One who “doesn’t stand by her man”. A“cold, unforgiving, spiteful, calculating woman who throws him under the bus for the sake of her career”. Plus a female divorcee for a President? Or God forbid a single woman? Who has ever heard of such a thing, right?!
Hilary Clinton for example, is still shamed, blame for, judged about, and ridiculed on account of her husband’ s (her husband’ s, not her OWN let us not forget!) cheating which took place some 20 years ago, while Trump who has been married three times, has cheated on his wives on multiple occasions, has been accused of sexual harassment, (in fact had been caught on tape admitting it!), as well as of domestic violence, rape, and even pedophilia, has been elected by Americans as their President, shamelessly and - for reasons that defy logic – convincingly waving the “family values” flag… But then again, he is a guy…
What is infuriating is that the mud on the marriage of the female politicians (and the unquestionable support offered to the cheating male politicians), will be thrown by the hands of many women as well. Because women have systematically and for generations been brainwashed to see marriage as their own domain, and everything else, in fact the entire World, as a man’ s oyster… And if a woman has failed to keep her marriage together then she is just betraying her own gender and she needs to be punished…
Personally, I have started writing about feminism and Women’s Rights when I was in my early twenties, that is, nearly 30 years ago. I have written about domestic violence, femicide, gender based infanticide, paedophilia, the rape culture, sex work and pornography, sex tourism, child brides, human trafficking, the horrors of female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, gender inequality in terms of education or medical care, sexism in pop culture, and about all kinds oflaws and religious practises that humiliate, victimize and discriminate against women and girls, yet there are two subjects that are always guaranteed to cause strong negative responses in women: when I write about how we should stop being so obsessed with our looks and age, and when I write critically of marriage. Because sadly, women’s beauty and women’s marital status are the things that define them the most! None of the above issues that are directly or indirectly affecting the lives of countless women and girls out there, cause an outrage as strong, or hit a nerve as sensitive! Women who would stay silent when all of the above issues of gender discrimination and male violence are raised, (including that of grown men who marry girls who are barely 7 years old, whom they literally rape to death!) prompts them to react so passionately. Or at all! Yet they become suddenly pretty vocal and pretty eager to voice opinions and display indignation, even at times, disgust and anger, when the issues of looks or marriage are raised! They are prompted to defend their right to be seen as "pretty", and to be called a “wife” (these two being so linked after all to their sense of Self), with all they’ ve got. This offers I fear, a glimpse into the unchanged power of Patriarchy that has succeeded so triumphantly to convince most of us that nothing that happens to women is so terrible, so humiliating, so contemptible than refusing to attach their feelings of self worth (as well as their well being) to a man. Not even the endless variations of unspeakable violence, which so many of them face!
The truth of the matter is, marriage was and still remains, a hindrance to a woman’ s individual, social and professional development, stealing from her most – if not all – of her non family-related dreams (let alone all of her time and energy…) guiding her towards a preordained fate, walking along a path that is both specific and predictable as well as claustrophobically narrow. A path which generation after generation of women were forced or coerced to follow, so that they would keep away from exploring the wider avenues with their possibilities of spectacular vistas, which are considered any male's birth right... In every discussion a feminist has ever had about the equality of women, there is always for example, that predictable moment when the men (or the occasional “pious” conservative women) who are against it, will smugly indicate that there are just not many women featured in history books. They will continue by offering lists of names of great male inventors, male scientists, male artists, male philosophers, male explorers, male politicians of past centuries. They will also go on and claim that the lack of female names in such lists, proves brilliantly and without any doubt, that women are just not adequately intelligent, capable, talented, or brave as men, and so obviously “by nature”not equal to them. Giving them similar lists of the admittedly fewer women who have excelled in these areas through the centuries is not enough. They need to be reminded that women having “marginal roles”in history, and not excelling at science, Art, or politics, etc. was not because they are not equal to men, but because they were not allowed to. It is not a proof of their inferiority but of their disenfranchisement.
The reason why there were not more Madam Curies in the world for example, is not because there were not that many clever, talented, exceptional, brilliant girls out there,it’s because they were living literally enslaved inside their marriages: they were for endless generations denied an education, and then married off at 16 (or possibly earlier), and then spent the bigger part of their lives cooking and cleaning and nursing, and being pregnant and being silent, and submissive, and compliant and docile. And if not all that, then beaten like a dog. Their abilities - let alone their rights – were being ignored by the law, and their status as human beings was ridiculed by scholars, intellectuals and scientists, and doubted by all-powerful religious leaders who all gave into the hands of men total power over them.As a result, a great number of them were being daily abused by their husbands (and possibly fathers and brothers too), and living their lives in constant fear. Their thirst for knowledge, for adventure, for success, for reaching the higher things, (or for existing in a world that recognized them as actual human beings) was therefore never satisfied. It was on the contrary discouraged, ridiculed, denied and punished! Their abilities and talents would because of that remain unacknowledged, undeveloped, wasted. Their dreams were forbidden and their self-confidence was systematically crashed.While the great explorers were out there discovering new continents and rivers and new worlds, and the great philosophers were spending their days contemplating on the great questions of Life and Death, their wives were at home, washing their dirty underwear.Care work (for children, infirm, elderly and of course above all, their masters and commanders: their husbands) which women performed for free, and for the entirety of their lives, not only kept them from reaching their potential, it helped men to reach their own!
This is still a reality for millions of women out there: in every country in the world, each generation of girls that is being given the (for many of them, sadly, still rare) opportunity of going to school, is according to studies (see: #2) doing great at it, beingacademically more gifted and outperforming boys on all levels, even in countries in which there is a severe case of gender bias and inequality. Each one of them, full of promise and tremendous potential, which will be predictably wasted soon enough, (usually around or right after puberty in Third World countries, and usually right after college in the West), when they will be either forced, or else seduced to marry young, when a boy crosses their path, and thoughts of wedding gowns (not necessarily love, and this distinction needs to be made!) will attack their brain like a virus that spreads everywhere, erasing all non-family related dreams, wiping out all other ambitions, homogenizing all ideals.A slow burning virus that was laying dormant ever since childhood, and which has been planted in their head the minute they heard their first fairy tale, their first love story. Each and everyone urging them to “marry young and then retire”, as the old Janis Iansong goes.
The sexism of fairy tales and rom-coms with their tales of beautiful and passive princesses and girls in permanent need of a rescue, who are predictably saved by princes (or in contemporary myths, by rich men) would of course have no hold on them, unless they were not also told that they are not much to begin with… Unless their self confidence was not crashed early on. Unless their insecurity - mostly about their looks – was not carefully cultivated, turning them into desperate creatures. Perpetually hungry for approval. Getting them ready to be seduced by anyone who would feed their hunger for it. Numbing momentarily their pain, and keeping the fear that they are just not pretty “enough” and so obviously also not “worthy of love”,at bay.
The message that comes from every direction is loud and clear: they can only be “someone” if a man says so! If a man chooses them. If he finds them sufficiently worthy of his time. Which is another way of saying “fuckable”. That’s how it goes. It started back when their mom promised them that if they were “good and pretty girls” they would too, one day, get to wear a magical wedding dress and get to have the most perfect of Days. A “Day” that would be “theirs!” (already implying that all the rest would not…) and be saved(from the misfortune of being born females obviously) by a man, who would come bearing rings and promises of ever afters. Giving them a home. And a purpose. Making their life finally worth living! The message was clear: “Beauty and youth are rewarded with men’s lust. Which leads to marriage. Which leads to a feeling of self-worth.”No alternatives available. Not for girls anyway…
The same narrative was repeated later with little variation in every romcom they’ ve ever watched as adults, and in every conversation they’ ve ever had with other women, in every magazine article, in every trashy romantic novel, in every Self-Help or even “serious” book on psychology they ‘ve ever read, punctuating the message again and again and again, branding it in their brain like a permanent neuro-tattoo. A compliment about their looks by a random mediocre stranger they would have never even noticed otherwise, and they would be goners. They would automatically assume that he is madly, completely, and eternally in love with them (instead of possibly just horny) and by that, they would convince theirselves also, that they too are in love with him, and would make it their mission to become his wife and the mother of his kids. They would want nothing more than get on that train that runs in endless circles, keeping them busy, making them feel like they are actually “going” somewhere: that they are finally important, and their life is finally making sense! And they would from then on, make sure to convince him to take that same train with them (it goes without saying, in the driver’s seat) by offering him a great deal of “adventurous” sex, or by denying to offer him any (not without a ring on their finger! No sir!) – depending on where they were born. (Both can work wonders BTW. Both can fog a man’s brain. Both can lead to marriage proposals… It’s THAT simple actually…)
So women of every generation embraced marriage and placed it in the center of all their concerns. Made it their own dream. (In fact, if not their ONLY dream, then certainly their most important one. The one that defined them.) And they went on and had their parties, and they wore their wedding dresses and the rings and the flowers in their hair proudly (and with relief), and by that, gained the right to look down on those who haven’t done the same. That was their prerogative! It wasn’ t much, but they have damn well earned it! (By enduring all kinds of daily indignities and losses) And in return, they learned how to shut up when it came to men and sexism. They learned to make their world smaller. And by that, safer.
That’ s how marriage came to become the foundation of Patriarchy. The rock upon which it was built. By persuading women to become complicit in their own devaluation, in their own imprisonment! Whether we care to admit it or not, marriage and Patriarchy are interconnected and go-dependent: each exists because the other does. So much so, that if you are in doubt whether or not Patriarchy is having one hell of a great day again, all you have to do is look no further than to the marriage industry that is providing all the necessary bells and whistles to a wedding ceremony, which is more powerful than ever, as weddings are becoming bigger, more spectacular and over the top than ever before.
To this day, regardless of where you were born, what kind of education you have had, what kind of dreams or career, if you are a woman, no news about your life will EVER be so exciting as the news of getting married(not even a pregnancy can out-shadow such an announcement!) A woman can graduate from an ivy league college with top honours, get her dream job, go on and become a CEO or even the president of her country, travel around the world, gain international recognition at her chosen field, be involved in politics, philanthropy or activism and affect positively countless lives, find love, or accomplish the most precious of achievements: live consciously, yet it is never enough! She can go out there and end world hunger, while bringing Peace to the Middle East, saving us from Global Warming AND curing fucking cancer all at the same time, she will still not be seen as equally “successful” or quite as “happy”as the girl who got married out of high school (not necessarily to a great guy mind you, but to ANY random guy) and spends her days cleaning after him. Because the girl who got married out of high school is still legitimated in her time-honoured choices: there is no need for her to daily “prove” to the world that her life is indeed “happy”, because her choices were the “right” ones! Her lifestyle is valid. It is self-proven! She got married. And that’ s enough for the world to see her as a “fulfilled” woman. She did things “right”.She can retire. She is done…She did what she was “supposed” to do! She fulfilled her “gender destiny”just like the women were forced to do in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”which - let us face it - is an exaggerated reflection of our present. (see: #3) While the women who went out there and faced the world, and even changed it, will have to defend their every choice every single day, and for the rest of their lives (and hardly ever be convincing…)“How could such a stroke of bad lack (namely: living without a husband)have been a choice?”they will be told. “Who chooses THAT?!”Their own feelings about it, not counting at all. Because their life as actual individuals (as females!) doesn’ t count either…
That’ s how Patriarchy got to be around for so long. Because it was built on women’s roles as “wives-and-nothing-more”. It was built on women’ s lack of actual power and therefore lack of feelings of self worth. It was built on their fears and insecurities - which it made sure to keep feeding. And it was built on the constant threat of violence that was always larking out there, aimed at them. And because of that, on their need for a saviour. A man who would protect his “property” from other men, who in return would get to have authority over their wives’s body and their life.It’ s a nice little arrangement and it has worked for thousands of years.
In a world that denies them the right to have choices, the only remaining option for countless women out there, is in fact, marriage. Many of them, even today, while still being kids: each year, 15 million girls (28 girls every minute, 1 every 2 seconds!) are married before the age of 18, and are being denied a childhood, an education and a normal development. According to the ‘United Nations Children’ s Fund’, over 700 million women alive today, were married before 18, including some 250 million who wed before 15 (some as young as seven!) and usually to a much older man. Which makes this no more than legal paedophiolia!
As I have written in an older article (#4) millions of women are still literally being pushed into the marital cornerby the very fact they are denied the right to work or own property: according to a World Bank study (#5) "women's economic prospects are specifically limited by law, in 155 countries out of the 173 studied" Women own less than 20% of the world's land. (Though other statistics reveal a much grimmer reality especially in certain parts of the world, like for example the one conducted by FAO (see: #6) which refers to ownership of land and agricultural ownership. Additionally, according to the World Bank study: “In 100 economies, women face gender-based job restrictions. In 18 economies, husbands can legally prevent their wives from working”. Also, “lower legal gender equality is associated with fewer girls attending secondary school relative to boys, fewer women working or running businesses and a wider gender wage gap”. Which is to say, women and girls are still discriminated against in matter pertaining to their education and because of that their pursuit of a career. An estimated 58 million of primary school aged children, are still out of school, 31 million of them are girls. Gender inequalities in education are greatly increased in older ages. In fact, two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults are women. According to “The World’s Women” 2015 study (see: #7) 496 million women are illiterate.
Furthermore, in 100 countries, there are laws that specify which types of jobs women are allowed to have, and which are forbidden to them. In 30 counties, men are by law seen as the “head of the household”making all decisions on behalf of their wives and daughters, while In 19 countries, women are obliged by law to OBEY their husbands in ALL matters. In Cameroon, Chad, Chile, Indonesia, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, Togo and Zambia it is still illegal for women to own property,while others allow it only on paper. In Zimbabwe for example, their dead husband’s family forces widows out of their homes. A practise that is also common in parts of India. In Saudi Arabia, women need to have a “male guardian” who gets to make all major (or minor) decisions about their life. In 32 countries, women are legally obliged to get permission from their husbands to apply for a passport, (let alone use it!) Not to mention that most women in the Muslim world, need to have a father or husband’ s permission just to step out of their home,and they have to be accompanied by a male member of their family at all times (even a small boy is seen as a suitable guardian of their virtue, because even a small boy is seen as more important than them). In many Islamic countries, women are also not allowed to travel, study, marry, work, drive or even seek medical care when they are sick, unless their father or husband gives them the permission. In Saudi Arabia, it is still forbidden to women to drive a car or ride a bike, rendering them permanently dependent on their husbands and of course housebound. Riding a bike, is also forbidden in North Korea. In Nepal (and other countries), where women are seen as the most insignificant members of their households, they are only allowed to eat their husband’s leftovers - a fact that punctuates nicely the message that they are seen as worthless….