Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wedding-planning While Feminist

Chloe’s blog post on Feministing last July put into perspective some of my recent thoughts regarding weddings and wedding-planning—and even marriage itself. It's good to know that so many other self-identified feminists chose marriage and pursued wedding planning, and it's good to hear them write about the ups and downs of it. In this post, I will mostly share passages of what moved me from Chloe’s piece and from the comments section. Perhaps in the weeks and months to come I will write more posts on this topic…

Here’s the conflict: As a young feminist, I learned about the history of the heterosexist institution of marriage, about the patriarchal systems that rests on this institution. Chloe writes:
And try as I might, I can’t help thinking of marriage as something that traps women, something that, despite my best efforts, will take away some of my freedoms. Perhaps it’s my personal fear of morphing into a woman I don’t want to be, a woman who doesn’t have the time or energy to prioritize the things that matter most to her, but like some fellow young feminists, I worry about how hypothetical marriage might change me.

Chloe is describing her experience at her cousin’s wedding. She knows her cousin is a feminist who, like Chloe, understands the feminist critiques of marriage and wedding rituals. With that social and self-awareness, what devout feminist would decide to get married? Well, Chloe’s cousin did:
Here they were on a warm July evening, under the chuppah, getting married all the same. Here they were, making this choice together, bringing two families together not for the traditional purposes of sharing wealth and power, but to add new members to each family – a daughter-in-law whom the best man called his “new big sister” and a son-in-law who had already lived for a year under his in-laws’ roof, just like a son.

Marriage can be about something else, something besides a father “giving away” a daughter and a man “gaining ownership” over a woman. Marriage is, when coordinated in a certain way and orchestrated by certain cares and values, about intentional family. Brianna comments:
Marriage needs to be opened up . . . marriage is a way of telling the world, this is my family. This man, or woman, or people, they are my family, even though I’m not their biological relation nor are we connected by adoption . . . and I have only their best interests at heart. And you, my family, should respect that and treat him as your kin too.

Here is the dream I had since my partner and I first started discussing the possibility of a wedding:
One of the nice things about being a feminist is taking shitty institutions that have traditionally given women a raw deal and making them progressive, personalized, and fun.

However, one bride takes on this opportunity to reinvent, and make the wedding personalized in her own feminist way, by not caring “what others think”:
As the “fiance,” I’ve come to discover that, while this role is circumscribed by icky stereotypes, this actually makes me feel more free. The fact that women in these roles are damned if you do, damned if you don’t anyway means that you can do anything you want . . . because we are trying our darndest not to care what others think, it’s much easier.

Part of my challenge in planning my own wedding is that I do care what others think. I profoundly care what my partner thinks, and I care what my partner’s parents think, and I care what my parents think. I even care about what my friends think. I especially care about what my brother thinks. I want people to enjoy our wedding, and also to feel comfortable. At the same time, I want us to be able to express ourselves. But our wedding will not be an expression of only our own values. Since we want our wedding to be about family, our families (and friends-who-are-family) are critical parts of the process of planning and creating this celebration. So it’s not just mine, or mine-and-my partner’s. In an ironic twist, the very value that Chloe identifies as redeeming the wedding as a process to be reclaimed by feminists—family—also means that our wedding will be a little less explicitly “feminist” in favor of incorporating our family in key ways. I know more than anything that it will be a wedding of feminists—but what would qualify it as a “feminist wedding”?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I am a Feminist (Finally!)

I write this piece in honor of International Women’s Day and Feminist Coming Out Day.

I am a feminist, but I didn’t always call myself one.

I didn’t call myself a feminist in kindergarten when I told the boy down the street that we should have a playdate, even though he thought I wouldn’t like anything he liked since I was a girl. I said, I have dinasours and we could play with those.

I didn’t call myself a feminist in third grade when the boys organized a soccer game during recess, and I said I wanted to play. They were confused, but I had been playing soccer for years, and I insisted.

I didn’t call myself a feminist in seventh grade when some of my friends started pinching their bellies and saying they felt fat. I thought they were weird (and gorgeous).

I didn’t call myself a feminist in tenth grade when the boys on the track team teased me about another boy and without missing a beat I told them to stop it, seriously, not cool and not okay.

I didn’t even call myself a feminist in eleventh grade when I learned to teach workshops about how sexist jokes and reinforcing gender stereotypes lead to sexual harassment and violence against women. Because I thought to myself well, the gender binary is the problem. Separating women and men into different categories is inherently detrimental, and we should just destroy the binary and discard the categories. The exact wording of the label “feminist” didn’t seem to allow for that.

I didn’t call myself a feminist until college. I didn’t call myself a feminist until I was an undergraduate at Columbia University and campus organizing against sexual violence was based at a women’s center at Barnard College (an all women’s college): The Columbia/ Barnard Rape Crisis/ Anti-Violence Support Center. I was, I admit, upset that the work I wanted to do was in such a place because I thought, since high school, that the binary was the problem and that this structure would reinforce it. But my training as a peer educator at Columbia/ Barnard challenged me to grapple with the tensions inherent to feminist activism: yes, the gender binary is a problem and yes, we need to advocate for the rights of women—both, and. And, females, in our society face different socialization pressures, different emotional education, different kinds of sexualization than males face. And, females are more likely to be sexually abused or assaulted than males are. And, males are more likely to perpetrate sexual abuse or assault than females are, because we live in a patriarchal society and are immersed in rape culture and an epidemic of physical, sexual, social, emotional, and economic violence against women and girls.

And, I am a feminist.

I am a feminist because I listened to stories, and I read books, and I spoke with mentors and friends. And I grappled with the truth: we cannot truly get rid of the gender binary without also working to get rid of sexism. We cannot truly achieve gender liberation, sexual freedom, or economic prosperity until we tackle the patriarchy head-on and transform rape culture into a culture of personal agency, mutual consent, and universal human rights. Yes, I believe all humans are real humans, and I believe we need to protect the fundamental human rights of all humans. That’s why I’m a feminist. Finally.