To some women, marriage represents an oppressive transaction between two men: a father and a suitor. In this view, the woman is merely chattel, a possession to be priced and sold. Not surprisingly, women who see marriage this way are in no rush to make a trip down the altar and, in fact, actively oppose marriage as an institution.
But other women are redefining the marriage agreement and finding that it supports, rather than crushes, their feminist ideals.
We spoke with three married feminists and asked them why marriage still matters and how they make it work for them. What we learned is that both a feminist wedding ceremony and the marriage that follows are based on shared assumptions of equality and equity. For it to work, both bride and groom need to commit to practices and behaviors that seek to reverse antiquated views on marriage and gender roles within that relationship.
Jessica Elizabeth Opert, a London-based love and relationship coach who helps couples communicate and achieve real change in their relationships, describes herself as "a happily married feminist" and challenges the idea that marriage and feminism are concepts at odds with each other. "Being a fierce feminist and wanting someone to share your life with is not a contradiction," she says.
One key to a happy marriage seems to be the ability to balance our expectations and our responsibilities. Maintaining a fair system where both partners take on an equal share of the chores and housework has far-reaching consequences, including a boost in libido! A study at the University of Alberta concluded that in heterosexual relationships, when the man partakes in an equal amount of housework, the couple enjoys better and more frequent sex. The division of labor isn't the only area in which feminists are demanding change to the practical day-to-day experience of being married.
Diane Pollack is part of a growing number of women who hold on steadfastly to their own surname upon marriage and have strong views about the notion of taking their husband's name. Diane states clearly that "there is no shape or form or circumstance that I would ever take or use my husband's name!" She even goes as far as to say that women who do change their name upon marriage are voluntarily choosing to "put themselves in the witness protection program." However, this remains a popular choice, with 80 percent of brides opting to shed their maiden name once they're married.
Diane tweaked some of the traditional elements of her Jewish wedding ceremony so that it better represented her equal standing in the union. For instance, in the breaking-of-the-glass custom, Diane made sure her foot was also stomping down on the goblet. She specifically made sure that "husband and wife," not "man and wife," were said during the service and that at the reception they were introduced by their first names, not as Mr. and Mrs.
Zoe Helene is a cultural activist and wildlife advocate. This talented, passionate trailblazer is also a multidisciplinary artist and describes herself as a "psychedelic feminist." She had no plans to marry until she was 42, when she had a change of heart. She is now celebrating 10 years of happy marriage and describes her married life as "so very blessed." The pair both run businesses that Zoe says are "interconnected in beautiful, supportive ways and are also distinctly unique and standalone." The couple travels extensively, and they hold a shared vision and mission for their lives together.
Many of the most important pieces of advice for ensuring a happy union seem to also be echoed in this manifesto for a feminist marriage. Couples should:
Fairly share and divide household chores and responsibilities.
Feminism is a political movement, a struggle, and an ideology of equality. But it's also a mindset, and if you find someone who shares this mindset, someone who helps empower you to realize all your dreams and is proud to let you soar, then maybe marriage doesn't have to contain you and can instead set you free.