Why I’m Getting Married: A Feminist Defence
I’ve talked before about how my aversion to the wedding industry. This, coupled with my bullish Marxist-feminist beliefs that have led me to despair over the way weddings have been taken over by capitalistic and patriarchal imperatives, make the entire planning process agonizing. In response to that, a few people have rightly pointed out that if I find the entire wedding planning process so abhorrent, why not forgo it altogether? Two friends actually expressed their ‘disappointment’ in my decision to get married, which they felt was quite unfeminist. I have to admit that stung a bit. So let me clarify that when I make pointed observations about marriages and weddings, this isn’t because I don’t want to get married. I very much do.
Let me start by saying that criticizing people for deciding to get married for being unfeminist is actually, bizarrely, falling into the same patriarchal trope that leads one to think that all marriages and all weddings are, by their very essence, sexist. It’s an observation not corroborated by empirics but by the hasty desire to judge. If two (or, heck, multiple) people decide that they want to signify the next stage of their relationship by getting married, then who is anyone else outside the couple to judge their decisions to do so? They might have a traditional relationship defined by traditional gender roles or they may not. Who knows? Who cares? If this is the arrangement that works for them, then more power to them.
I prioritize the symbolism that defines weddings. And no, when I say symbols, I don’t mean the veil, or the white dress, and any of those tropes. I think that the symbolic value of weddings is in how they enable different communities to come together to support a new partnership. For me, having a ceremony surrounded by family and friends that affirms this new chapter in our lives is meaningful. Being in the same room with all the people who we love and who love us - and having them bear witness to us beginning our lives together –is crucial to both of us for this shows that MOTL and I have a support network of people who are there rooting for us.
I can definitely intellectualize arguments against what I just said: weddings and marriages are but economic arrangements each partner enters into to bolster their economic security; communities of trust and support don’t really exist and being altruistic was never man’s “natural” state in the state of nature; blah blah blah. However, I won’t give them credence in this blog post. My decision to get married and to have a wedding is primarily emotive and is perhaps ultimately illogical but having emotions trump logic doesn’t matter to me. If we find reason to complain and to nitpick about every single decision that others make - if we base all of our life decisions on logic and reason – then what’s the fun in that? Having children ultimately isn’t logical, but people have them anyway. Doing this PhD was probably the least logical thing I could have done with my life, but hey, I did it, and despite my incessant whinging, I love it.
The key thing for MOTL and I at this point is to not get swept up by the industry and to keep telling ourselves that the wedding isn’t about anything else but forming a foundation of community support to set the stage for our marriage. This is obviously easier said than done. It’s hard to plan the wedding when the entire industry is based on regressive ideas of gender relations. These ideas inform how different things, like wedding dresses, wedding cakes, wedding venues, etc., are packaged. For example, when trying to assess our options, I stumbled upon a website called “Babbling Brides,” which is but one off-shoot of similarly titled websites like “the Knot,” “Canadian Bride,” and “Wedding Belles.” In clicking through the forums giving information on venues, I was appalled to see the anonymous posters end their messages with the following taglines:
“Enjoying the rest of our lives together! I’m a Mrs!”
“LLL is all married up!”
“We are man and wife.”
“Countdown to being Mrs. X: 14 months and 7 days!”
Because the wedding industry seems to be entirely based on catering to women (never men!) with these sentiments, it makes it even harder for those of us who don’t want any of this sexist drivel. Do you know the number of times I’ve had to clarify that I do not want to be a princess during the big day or that my goal isn’t to be the most radiant person in the room (if I did look ‘radiant’ on the day, it’s because my cheeks will be flushed from all the wine I’ll be consuming)? I’ve lost count.
In sum, MOTL and I have decided to forego these expectations and keep reminding ourselves of why we are getting married in the first place: we want a community of loved ones around us. We want to have a kickass party with family and friends from different stages of our lives. Off the top of my head, I have my family, my high school friends, my undergrad crew, my PhD crew, my UN/human rights crew and my London crew – having everyone finally meet each other and spend the night eating and dancing will be such good fun. And MOTL, I am sure, feels the same way about having his different groups of family and friends gathered around him. Celebrating with our respective people will be what will make it a good day, and not, say, the presence of expensive linen or china, or the availability of a string quartet during the reception or any of the other things being peddled to us by assorted wedding salesreps.
Your Friday dose of “smile for me, baby” harassment
Location: Second Cup on Wood and College
Cast of Characters: Me, hunched down over my laptop, dissertating
30 something man doused in cheap cologne, wearing a baseball cap who I shall call Axe Body Spray
Axe Body Spray: Hey!
Me (ignoring him)
ABS: Why are you scowling?
ABS: Give me a smile. Come on, baby.
Me: I don’t speak English.
ABS: Oh! (stares for a second; goes back to his newspaper)
To be perfectly honest, I hate myself just a little bit right now for resorting to immigrant stereotyping to get ABS to stop bothering me. In the brief amount of time it took me to consider my options to get this man to leave me alone, I considered the following:
1. I’m tired and I don’t want to get into a verbal altercation
2. Even if I did tell him off, ABS, unlike the 14 year olds who harassed me on the street, is a burly man. The last thing I want is to get into a fight with someone much bigger.
The funny thing is that I said, “I don’t speak English” the way I normally speak so I wonder if he clued in that I was lying. Ah well. Maybe this is an appropriate gesture of self-defense on my part, similar to when women give men who harass them for their phone numbers fake names and phone numbers. Either way, there is nothing like being harassed to end the work week. Oh, and for the record, this is how I look now:
Have you been raped or are you just a whore? Todd Akin’s handy dandy guide
Rep. Todd Akin from Missouri says that it is impossible for women who are “legitimately raped” to get pregnant. This may be because Akin subscribes to the archaic belief that “adrenaline” is released within a woman’s body when she is forcibly being attacked, creating some sort of ‘shield’ that protects her from hostile sperm. Such thinking is similar to how scientists in the Middle Ages argued that babies can only result when both parties receive pleasure, which means that those women who claim that their rapists got them pregnant are obviously lying skank-whores.
Just to take Akin’s argument to its logical conclusion, why not devise a list of the people who Akin will most likely believe are lying about being raped (i.e., their rapes were not “legitimate”):
1. Women who were out on a date– If you agree to go out with someone on a date, it is clear that you want sex and are asking for it.
2. Women who wear “slutty” clothes when going out – I mean, come on, if you wear a skirt, you’re just opening yourselves up for easy access. If you wear a V-necked shirt, the V-neck acts as an arrow pointing downwards to your vajayjay, signaling to your ‘rapist’ to go down there and explore. (V-neck stands for vagina, didn’t you know?) Women who wear tights and leggings are totally asking for it too because they are revealing how shapely their asses and legs are. Women who wear jeans are also inviting men to come inside their hoo-hahs because jeans assert that you’re carefree and rebellious and ready for action.
3. Women who are known to like going out to ‘party’ – Any woman who likes alcoholic beverages, dancing, and socializing is clearly only out there to get some.
4. Women who are married – Pshaw, come on, married women can’t get raped. Whoops, actually, Akin thinks there are some instances when they can, but let’s be careful here. Married women who cry rape are likely only doing so to ensnare their husbands in messy divorce proceedings.
5. Women who take whore pills or any form of birth control – Women who claim to be taking whore pills to regulate their periods or to clear up their acne are lying lying McLiars. They only want sex. So if you discover than a woman claiming rape is taking birth control, that means that she is promiscuous and cannot be trusted!
Based on the above, we can surmise that the following is a list of people who Akin will most likely believe are not lying about being raped (i.e., their rapes were legitimate).
1. A chaste, unmarried, single virgin who has never gone out on a date or to ‘party’.
Of course, even for said virgin, only in the following circumstances can her ‘attack’ count as rape: At the time of the ‘rape’, said virgin was wearing a long Victorian-era dress with longjohns and a chastity belt underneath. In the middle of saying her prayers inside her house, where she lives in the company of orphaned children and kittens who she rescued, her ‘rapist’ broke in through her window and ‘raped’ her while wielding a gun.
Note, of course, that we will only find out if said virgin was ‘legitimately’ raped if this ‘encounter’ did not produce a baby. Only then will we know that she willed her ‘adrenaline’ to be activated and expel her ‘rapist’s’ sperm.
Street Harassment: What do you do when it is both sexist and racist?
The Location: Somewhere on the east-side of Toronto
The Time: Mid-afternoon
Cast of Characters: Me, walking home from yoga, calm and contemplative
Two teenage boys, both wearing matching backwards baseball caps, Caucasian, riding bikes
Me (thinking): Ok, so what do I need to do today? I have to finish editing that chapter, then I have to do laundry, then…
Teenage Boy 1 (following me): Psst.
Me (thinking): What’s that noise? Weird.
Teenage Boy 2 (following me): Psst. PSSST.
I turn around.
Teenage Boy 1: Hola, senorita.
Me (thinking): Wrong continent, dipshit. (Turn around, keep walking).
Teenage Boy 2: Hey. HEY! (In accented Tagalog) Maganda ka! (Translation: you’re beautiful).
Teenage Boy 1: Kamusta? Kamusta? (How are you?) Hey, I’m talking to you!
Me (thinking): Keep calm. (Walks faster)
Teenage Boy 1: HEY! I want to f*** your brown ass!
Me (swirling and – while holding my yoga mat like a bat – advancing towards them): What did you say?
Teenage Boy 2: Maganda ka!
Me (shouting at the top of my lungs): F*** Y**, you little pieces of sh*t!!! (Goes towards them, swinging my yoga mat).
Teenage Boys 1 and 2 (widens eyes. Stops biking.)
Me: F*** Y**!!!! (Advances towards them, still wielding my yoga mat.)
Teenage Boys 1 and 2 (looks at each other, then pedals away in the opposite direction, quickly. As I continue hurling expletives at them, one of them almost falls out of his bike in his eagerness to leave).
This happened to me three weeks ago. To be perfectly honest, street harassment is so rampant that usually when it occurs, my chest gets tight and tense, but I brush it off because, hey, if I reacted every time it happened, my peace of mind and my day would irrevocably be ruined. While I read with relish the stories of women telling off their harassers in fantastic blogs such as Hollaback Toronto, which sadly posted its last entry in December 2010, and agree wholeheartedly with the call for action made by Stop Street Harassment, which posts alarming stats that show that over 90% of women have experienced some form of street harassment “motivated by gender” by the time they are 19, my standard position is to let it go.
What spurred me out of my inaction was the fact that the disrespect showed to me by these two young men who are likely just beginning to discover the full extent of the power they (think they) wield was both sexualized and racialized. I was annoyed when they started calling me senorita and was disturbed that they kept trying to talk to me using broken Tagalog phrases they probably picked up randomly, but when their taunting used racial and gender identifiers as a way to describe the sexual acts they wanted to do to me, I felt so degraded that I could scream. And scream I did.
Sadly, stories of racist and sexist street harassment are commonplace. In fact, after telling MOTL about this, we both actually just laughed and shrugged our shoulders. It was only until I was debriefing with AABG yesterday that I realized that there was something wrong when our default reaction – when society’s default reaction - is complacency. AABG told me of a harrowing experience a few years ago when a man randomly started following her. He was taunting her and besieging her with sexualized and racialized overtures, making AABG feel threatened and violated. Thankfully, after a few blocks, he stopped.
AABG’s account brings to mind a similar tale that happened to me a few years ago. I was walking along Bay and Bloor, when a tall, thin man started trying to talk to me in bad, pidgin Tagalog. As is my tendency, I ignored him, bowed down my head, and walked away quickly. I sped past him but he followed me for a few blocks and kept talking to me in such an awful manner that I felt obligated to call MOTL at work to let him know what was happening not because I thought that MOTL could do something but because I wanted to know that I wasn’t alone. I then ducked into the Starbucks at Yorkville, after which he left.
So what then was the right response? Yelling and screaming, as I did with the two boys, or walking away? To be clear, the first option isn’t always possible. Heck, the only reason I probably felt that I could yell at those boys was because they were, well, boys. What if it was obvious that they could overpower me, such as what happened to AABG and to me in the second scenario I discussed? What if they took on a more menacing air? What if this happened at night? Though all three cases of harassment occurred during the daytime, theoretically speaking, there were people around, so it wasn’t as though we were alone. (That said, the sad truth was that no one intervened. Street harassment that happens in broad daylight or even at night in a public place isn’t necessarily less dangerous, as this report shows). Should we tell the police? What if the police react in much the same manner as what happened to Jezebel’s Jenna Sauers? In this case, they seemed sympathetic but admitted that there are more onerous cases of crime that they had to deal with, which meant that street harassment fell below their list of priorities.
I don’t have the answer to any of these questions.