That Old Marriage Trap - Part 3
Maybe those marriages wouldn’ t have lasted for so long, if the little grandmothers had a little money in their name...
Love, romance, sex, intimacy, connection, companionship, loyalty, commitment, monogamy, trusting relationships that promise to last a lifetime? There is nothing wrong with them. In fact they are desirable by most women – yes, even feminists! But add some heavy doses of religious sexism and patriarchal cruelty in the mix, as well as a bunch of enforced, one-sided obligations and sacrifices which are mostly required by the less privileged one of the two parties involved, and all joy is taken out of such wonderful things.
I'm well aware of the fact that sure, #NotAllMarriages are like that (and I'm daily being told that by commentators on social media, even more often than I'm being told that #NotAllMen are like "that"). But the thing is, most are! And we need to be talking about it! Being critical of marriage is not - contrary to popular belief – equated with misandry or a fear of commitment. By the way, isn’t the commitment that you have for a man you love, and with whom you share your life (if not your home) without the need of joint accounts (and because of that, enforced sexual “obligations”) stronger? When the things that bind you together are not money, religious, social and legal duties, tax cuts, shared mortgages, signed contracts and the fear that you will be left destitute if he leaves you, but what you actually feel for each other? When the moments of intimacy you share are related to your love and desire for your guy, NOT your need to survive (or live in luxury)? How come, even in the Western World, we still tend to see non-spousal, long-term, monogamous relationships, as less important than spousal ones? Why don’ t we see them as a higher, more evolved form of union, because both parties are there because they want to, instead of have to?
And while we are at it: how come we also still find it hard to acknowledge a heterosexual woman’ s right to remain both unmarried and single, if that’ s what works best for her? In a world that is gradually becoming more tolerant towards people of different sexual preferences, how about we start seeing single, heterosexual women (on many levels, still the most contemptible of social demographics, one that it goes without saying, has no support groups in its corner), as having an equal right to have a say in the way they want to live their lives? But of course that would mean that we would finally face women as actually equal to men, instead of, you know, created for their pleasure… Their usefulness to them being the thing that defines them as worthy of living. And the world is obviously not ready for that!
Also, when will we stop assuming that long marriages, like the ones our grandmothers used to have, is an accomplishment? Maybe they were based on nothing but their obedience, silence, fear, desperation, and lack of a feeling of self-worth; as well as their lack of income, power and options. Maybe those marriages wouldn’ t have lasted for so long, if the little grandmothers had a little money in their name...
In fact every single detail about the wedding ritual is an eloquent indicator of what marriage really means for both sexes:
PROPOSAL: The fact that it is the guy who is asking the woman in marriage, and not other way around, says a lot: It shows that he is the one who has the main saying in this, the one who controls the rules of this game (his proposal often accompanied with “you deserve it”, you are “worth it”, or even “you win”, statements or similar, which imply that he is the supreme prize, the ultimate goal in a woman’s life, regardless of who / what he is, of course: being male is enough!). A proposal is something a man "offers" to a woman, because (unlike her) he is in the position to offer it. The position of power. And even when this proposal is spectacular and well rehearsed and it involves props and horses and dancing extras holding rare flowers, and a man who got on one knee, it still carries patriarchal connotations.It is still assumed that a man's right to promiscuity is precious and pretty much God-given, and that is why his reluctant (and possibly theoretical) surrender to monogamy, is such a gift. That is why it is seen as such a big gesture! Because he has a choice! A choice a woman mostly lacks. This is what is being celebrated with those spectacular proposals in fact. This is what is being shouted with the rings that are hidden in champagne glasses, and the releasing of doves and balloons and whatnot.... And that is why women get weak at the knees. Because they were chosen by a man who, even if he is less than mediocre, still has all the choices available to them. Unlike them.
WHO proposes, is indicative also, of who has the power to choose a mate. And for countless generations it was specifically the men, never the - usually underage - girls who were passed like goods to complete strangers. Even today, a woman who proposes would be seen as desperate, needy, and pretty much pathetic. Or disgustingly aggressive. Because she is reversing the traditional roles: she is pretending like she has the right to choose, instead of just be chosen. Instead of just be passive and grateful.
A WOMAN’S HAND: Even today, if a man asks the father of the bride for her hand in marriage, this is still seen as a sign that he is obviously a “good guy”, who is being “respectful”, and “traditional”and “doing things right”... As if her own say in the matter is not enough! As if women are merchandise to be passed from one master to the next! Not to mention: why aren’t mothers being asked a similar question? Why is this matter still being seen as involvingmen making deals, talking business? (The business of who is going to take this helpless female)
BEING GIVEN AWAY: Not to mention the tradition of the father (even if he is out of the picture for years) of “giving away” (just like goods) the bride. Even if we pretend we are not bothered by the sexism in that, why aren’t mothers the first choice?Since they have given birth to them and all? Even when a mother raises her daughter singlehandedly, she is not being granted this (albeit questionable) honour. Even in the absence of a father, the mother is rarely the first choice. An uncle, a brother, a grandfather, a friend of the family, are much more likely to be the first choice!
And how about the question the priest, asks “who gives this woman into marriage”? which apparently bothers no one!! Why isn’t the groom ever being “given” into marriage? Why is he being seen (symbolically speaking at least) as an adult, capable of decisions, and worthy of autonomy, but not the bride?
VOWS & RINGS: It is interesting how we conveniently tend to ignore that everything about the ritual (let alone the nature) of marriage, is rooted in sexism. From the ring that carries some pretty serious patriarchal connotations, to the vows that used to ask women to “honour and obey” their husbands (of course in the Greek Orthodox Church, the bride is additionally asked to also “fear” her husband!) The “honour and obey” vows, are incidentally making a come back in modern-day America, now that an entire country seems to be marching towards a more conservative future. Men also still need to be proven to be good “providers” by offering a big expensive ring, which in turn is obviously meant to symbolically – let’s face it – bribe (as in literally! As in “BUY”!) their bride’s love (= sexual availability). The bigger the ring, the bigger his promise to support her financially, and by that, let us not forget, the bigger her own obligation to follow in his footsteps. The ring hints on the assigned by Patriarchy roles: he will be providing financial security, and she in return, will be offering her surrender to his authority, which he proves by the granting of the ring, as she, by the accepting of it.
Rings and jewellery of any kind, which are still considered to be the “perfect” gift for women, are of course that, because women were for generations not allowed to work outside of the home, inherit or own property. Not to be a killjoy feminist exactly like the one you hate, but I’ll spell it out to you one more time: even today, jewellery and weddings rings are symbols of a kind of legalised prostitution, as they were habitually being used by men as a means to sexual access. Which is to say, as a way to establish their sexual power over disempowered women, who in turn were indoctrinated by Patriarchy to see it as the best gift imaginable, and the highest form of compliment instead of an insult. Diamonds in little red boxes, are still the gift of choice for a guy who is trying to appease a disappointed girlfriend, or a disgruntled wife, (hoping to magically make them forget his cheating for example), or of course to make an otherwise reluctant woman to marry him. “Let me see the ring again” is a phrase used in all movies on proposal scenes… Which is obviously meant to stress the point that even if the groom is not much of a choice, the ring might seal the deal. Perpetuating thus the notions that: 1) women’s affections can be bought, and 2) men have the right to buy them!
In short, jewellery, and especially wedding rings are Trojan Horses: they are exquisite, and wonderful, and look great with anything you wear, but they carry hidden sexist connotations. They have always been used to underline and perpetuate a guy’ s authority over his wife, who was not allowed to work, and so was financially dependant on him. For this reason, jewellery were traditionally meant to be a woman’ s nest egg. In fact, her ONLY permissable property. They were used to compensate her so to speak, but also imply she was to be homebound: a sex slave / maid who would exchange her obedience and autonomy for trinkets and the limited financial security they provide. A child who would be given roof and an allowance and shining things, as an exchange for her body, her independence, or the right to earn her own money, inherit her own family’s property - or buy her own damn shining things for that matter!
Jewellery were for generations of women, their ONLY safety net: the only thing of monetary value they were ALLOWED to have (hence their “best friend!”), which they could proceed to sell in times of trouble: like if their husband died, or left them for example, (or on the rare occasion they dared to leave him) since in all these cases they would be legally unprotected and left penniless! The same thing still happens today in most Muslim countries in which women are covered from head to toe in black chadors and Niqabs, but also often, in jewellery as well: they still have no right to own their own money or hold jobs, so they hold on to their jewellery, hoping that they will safeguard them against possible hardship and adversity (like for example in the case their husband wakes up one fine morning and repeats the word “divorce” three times and by that, be within his legal rights to get rid of them…) That is why parents and relatives in that world, offer gifts of jewellery to young girls, in an attempt to guard them against that time of potential trouble… The same phenomenon can be seen in the travelling communities of gypsies, who are wandering from place to place without country or home, begging or doing odd jobs, wearing their jingly bracelets and golden chains. Their jewellery are not proof that they have a lot of money despite claiming that they don’ t, but that that’ s all they have got in this world! They carry onto their very body the entirety of their fortune. Much like pirates of old times, who used to wear a golden ring in one ear, so that even if they died in poverty, they would at least get to have a proper funeral.
We may have romanticised them (much like most sexist traditions), but wedding rings were always meant to be a woman’ s only insurance, because she didn’t have any other! They were meant to be her “I have fallen on hard times / been deserted by my husband” last resort. They were her “funeral” money so to speak…
But “things are different” you might add. “Things have evolved! We now have rights!” Yeah. Kind of. (In some places. Occasionally. On paper. On the surface. Unless your country’s government doesn’t decide one day that you won’t from now on…) Even so, why should we hold on (so triumphantly, so proudly, so obsessively!) to a custom that used to symbolise our servitude? You don’t see black people walking around with a pair of thick golden shackles on their ankles, like the ones their ancestors were forced to wear when they were slaves, right? And you don’t see Jews getting modern-day versions of Auschwitz tattoos! Why would they want to do that, and evoke that time when their oppressors saw them as less than human? But then again, the age of slavery or the Holocaust are in the past, while Patriarchy, is still very much alive, still tricking women into thinking the roles it has assigned to them in order to perpetuate its power over them, are in fact a great honour and a privilege…
Even today, a big expensive ring comes with attachments: It is already from the get go, a pretty bad arrangement for both parties, as it symbolises the traditional roles of the man/provider and the woman/homemaker. To this day, even as women are working, and having their own money and careers, the ring still caries the same symbolic significance and sexist connotations. That is why there are still all kinds of rules about how expensive the ring should be for example, and the number of carats it should be, and how it should be the equivalent of a specific number of the guy’s monthly salary for it to be a sufficiently worthy statement of his love, etc etc. All that, still project the old notions that a guy is the “provider”, the one who holds the strings of the purse, and who is therefore allowed to make all decisions as the head of the household, and also (why sugar-coat it?) that a woman’s love can be bought: a man’s money gets him access to a woman’s body and she is fine with that. In fact she is ecstatic! How is that a good thing? Why in the Western World, are we OK with this implication (and the reality of it?) Why do we keep needing this? (Fuck that! Buy your own damn ring. It will cost you less in the longrun! In fact it will only cost you money… And if you can’t afford it, well live without it. Buy a nice faux one at a flea market, and call it “vintage” if you must, and go spend your life being your own damn boss! Which among other things implies that you will be free to fuck whoever you want, instead of whoever pays the bills. Or buys you a ring!)
STAG / HEN PARTIES: The night before the wedding, is also traditionally – and quite tellingly – spend by the guy panicking about not being “allowed” to fuck other women after he gets married, and proceeding to fuck at least one last one, on his bachelor / stag party. Which is to say: a man’s “right” to be promiscuous is protected and excused, even as he is supposedly entering monogamy, so he will get to have a kind of sexual carte blanche hours before his wedding, which he will be perfectly within his “rights” to get to use by fucking prostitutes (after he “asserts” his masculinity by doing some porn watching with his friends possibly). The bride on the other hand, will spend her own hen / bachelorette party that takes place on the very same night, drinking with her girlfriends, talking about him and tomorrow’ s ceremony, having all kinds of romantic notions about the next day: thinking about the ring, the wedding dress, the hair, the ceremony, the flowers, the guest list, the centrepieces, his absolute wonderfulness, the kids they will have and the dogs they will adopt (whose name she has already chosen), their glorious ever-after etc, etc… In an effort to (symbolically) even the field, she will probably then have some simulation of naughty - but innocent - fun, when a male stripper (who is possibly gay) will dance for her and her girlfriends, while getting out of his fireman / construction worker uniform (because pop culture assures us that that’s what all women fantasise about: dancing workers...) and she will be given sex toys and lingerie to use to please her future husband, who is – ironically - having ACTUAL sex with another woman at the very same time... And given that this woman is very likely a prostitute, make that: “RAPING another woman at the very same time” because he (or his friends) paid for this “right” exactly… As the night progresses, he will be facing dawn with apprehension and panic like a man on death row, (but not remorse for what took place), while she will be counting the hours leading to her “perfect” day, completely oblivious to what lies ahead. (And again, all that is seen as perfectly OK!)
While stag parties were created in order to give the groom one last go at a woman (any woman) before he ties the knot, (his impersonal, no-strings-attached-fucking being the equivalent of a last meal offered to inmates before their execution), hen parties are the answer to a bride's need to pretend like she is cool with that. A bride of course does not want (or need) to fuck a complete stranger on the night before her wedding! She just wants to pretend like she is OK with her future husband doing exactly that! That's what hen parties are really for: they offer to the bride the illusion of reciprocalityso to speak. Not to mention they present her as the ideal wife to her future husband (and his now envious friends): as one who is unbothered with such matters. One who has the ultimate modern female quality: she is just the "coolest"! I mean a woman who is denying him the right to fuck a stripper/prostitute on his stag party must be a real prude and a major ball breaker, right? And what man would want that for a wife? That's like asking for it. That's like telling him to change his mind about the wedding! (And THAT is why hen parties are popular. And stag parties still tolerated.... Because they are both eloquent indicators of the power structure within marriages...)
WHITE WEDDING GOWNS & VEILS: Brides of course, are also still favouring the white wedding dress and veil that have historically been used to symbolise a woman’ s youth and virginity, which has been considered to be, for thousands of years, a prerequisite for marriage and a husbands’ s (any husband's!) undisputed right! Which again exhibits nicely that a woman in marriage, is above all, her body. Her value was once defined by her lack of sexual experience that would render her undemanding and pliable and easy to impress, manipulate and control, while in modern-day marriages, by her willingness to never deny her husband sex, so that the "marriage can be saved". Since marriages (and men's love), are still these fragile things that fall apart the minute a woman doesn't wish to have sex on demand, exhibiting in this manner, that she deserves to be replaced with one who might.
WEDDING GARTERS: What can anybody say about the custom of the wedding garter? The bride proudly pulling up her wedding dress to cheekily reveal her legs to all the guests, so that the groom can remove her garter with his teeth! Like they are becoming performing seals in front of family and friends, reenacting a kind of weird, public, mating ritual for them… And as if this was not enough, the groom then throws his bride’s garter randomly to his friends, who are fighting over it, and so that one of them will get to keep it! What the hell is that for? Proof of the groom’s masculinity? Proof of the bride’s coolness? (Because this is always a safe bet: when in doubt why a man is doing something totally creepy, just assume that he is asserting his Oh-so-fragile-masculinity. And when in doubt why a woman is doing something dumb, or allows something humiliating to happen to her, just assume that she is trying to be seen as not-a-prude-at-all).Is this done as a proof that he is marrying a hot woman (a fact that would justify his choice to be domesticated)? A hot woman he gallantly shares with his friends in this symbolic manner? Why would any woman be OK with this notion? Or with the idea of a stranger keeping a piece of her undergarments for that matter… And what does he need it for? And what does he do with it, once he gets it? Why isn’t every bride on Earth creeped out by such thoughts? How desperate are women anyway to prove that they are “cool” and hyper-sexual, that they are so easily tricked to go along with things like that? And when will they realise that every time they are told something is “sexy” and “empowering”, it usually involves them willingly objectifying themselves in front of random, sexually indifferent to them strangers? (And why isn’t “sexy” and "empowering" not related to actual pleasure or actual power only when it comes to women?)
MODERN-DAY DOWRY: In many places around the world, a dowry still needs to be paid to the groom, in order to take the daughter out of a father’ s hands (those daughters who have survived gender based foeticide or infanticide of course: that is, who were not aborted as foetuses or literally murdered by their very families on account of their “wrong” gender so that said dowry would be spared! (See:#6) This gesture also implies that the marriage “benefits” the woman more, and that is why her family should pay for it! Before we go ahead of ourselves and think that this is of course dated or happening exclusively in Third World countries, and has nothing to do with modern-day women, we need to be reminded that even today, and even in the Western world, where the dowry custom has been banished, the guy proposes and promises a “Special Day” for the ages, but it is STILL more often than not, the family of the bride who pays for it, or it has come to be called (even when the mother works and contributes equally to these costs: the father of the bride!)(And again: We are OK with it!) This is of course – why sugar-coat it? – a modern-day form of dowry: The atavistic notions have survived, even if we fail to acknowledge the symbolism they carry: the father foots the bill in order to - symbolically at least - get rid of a “burden” and the groom is compensated for his trouble of taking it out of his hands. This also implies that the marriage is all about her: it is wanted and needed by her (and her family) more. Because spinsterhood equals with shame, and female sexual freedom with disgrace…
A MAN’S NAME: Women are still more often than not, very keen on taking their husband’s name after marriage. Because it is still being seen as denoting proof of their commitment to marriage and husband. Studies have revealed for example, that 70% of Americans (men AND women) believe that a woman should take her husband’ s name after marriage, while 50% believe that this should be required by law! Another study contacted in 2017 and published in Gender Issues (#1)revealed that the reason for that, was “the belief that women should prioritize their marriage and their family ahead of themselves".
The participants of this study were given a hypothetical scenario of a woman who often stays late at work. In one case they were told she was using her maiden name, in another that she was hyphenating, and in the third that she was using her husband’ s name. The experiment revealed exactly what we all think it did: when they were told that the woman was using her maiden name, her lateness was interpreted as selfishness and was seen as a direct disregard of her husband’s authority. In fact it was seen as a proof of her luck of commitment to her husband, who should be “filing for divorce for her perceived neglect of the marriage”! No other explanations required!
It is not surprising then, that the majority of married women still gladly give up on their own name (which is attached to their identity, their own family history, not to mention sense of Self) without much of a thought. Or that they still consider this to be a kind of honorary privilege! One they probably have been dreaming about, ever since they were little girls! Because that is what marriage is supposed to be: an annihilation of a woman’s past. An erasure of the Self she used to be. Most other ambitions, dreams, ideals are supposed to be left behind anyway. Or at the very least, take the back seat. As soon as women marry, they are expected to step into their husband’s domain. (NOT the other way around!) By taking her husband's name, a woman is becoming part of HIS life, HIS family history, HIS bloodline. So that their children will be too. Because women’s lives, families and bloodlines (and eggs!) are “insignificant”… They don’t matter. They don’t count. That is why they are not honoured. Not to mention they are considered erased by their very birth: a son caries the family name and the bloodline, bringing a new branch in the family tree, a daughter “cuts it” permanently… Which is why a son’s birth, is still in many places around the world, a cause for joyous celebration, while a girl’s birth, a cause for lamentation and shame. Funny how we are OK with that as well. Funny how our knowledge of science about DNA, and genetic laws has not really affected the way we still view such matters about “bloodlines”.
Women are still required to follow the same Patriarchal rules and justify the giving up of their family name as a “symbol of love and respect” towards their future husband because on a subconscious level, they are seen as having nothing to contribute to their children’s bloodline! Not to mention their husband is to be appeased. He is to be shown “respect”. Lest, he changes his mind. Lest the granting of the still coveted “married woman” title (along with the rings and the wedding gowns) is taken away from them, and given to another… Because they know that as women, they are to him (and the world) disposable…A notion that was planted in their head by Patriarchy and which lies at the root of most ill-conceived decisions women make, when it comes to love, marriage and sex.
Which is why, when they will have children, most women out there, (regardless of place of birth, race, religion OR level of education) will additionally think nothing of giving their husband’ s family name to them (or even often, his first name too!) as if they themselves, never existed. Despite of the fact that they will be the ones who will carry these children inside their bodies, and they will be the ones who will feed them with their own blood and grow them in their innards, on top of growing an entire new organ (the placenta) for them, and then suffer the painful nightmare of giving birth to them, and then proceed to be – more often than not – the ones who will take care of them daily and for the next 18 years! We are STILL OK with that! We are still insisting that our kids take their father’s name! Even if the father is not in the picture. Or even if he is not even aware that he is a father! The child will still (“Ideally!” In the "best case scenario"...) carry his name. Because the alternative is a disgrace… A child without a father’s patronym, or (The horror! The horror!) with a mother’s own, is just not right! Because men’s names, (and men’s sperm) are still seen as superior stuff… Because men are still seen as “superior”. And THAT’s the bottom line!
Which is to say, on a fundamental level, we are still living in biblical / Iron Age times, or at the very least, influenced by Aristotelian notions ones, seeing women as nothing more than “soul-less incubators” of men’s precious sperm… (see:#5)
“Well, it shows respect!” modern-day women are still saying, as they are proudly defending such a choice - when a choice is available to them of course… What is it about men’s gigantic need for “respect” anyway? How many things do women have to endure or sacrifice, how many pieces of their identity do they need to get rid of, in order for men to feel sufficiently “respected”?!!
And how come women never even think to expect - let alone demand - the same from them?
Rituals & Rings - That Old Marriage Trap – Part 3- Art & worlds Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved. Any unauthorized use – copying, publishing, printing, reselling, etc – will lead to legal implications.