Saturday, November 26, 2011

Coffins and Wedding Dresses: Why I Don't Have to Get Married

When I was visiting my great-aunt over the summer, she was telling my family and I about a woman she knew who would visit the department store she worked at circa the 1950s. The woman would visit the store each Monday, reeling from the weekly conflict that occured at Sunday dinner in which her daughter, in her early twenties, tried to convince her father (the woman's husband) to let her move into an apartment with a female friend. It was cyclical- the daughter would ask the question with feigned innocence, the father would simply refuse, and it would escalate into a full-on conflict, leaving the desperate woman in the middle.

There was one line the man hurled at his daughter, recited to my great-aunt by the woman, that struck me significantly:

"You're not leaving this home unless it's in a coffin or a wedding dress."

There's a pretty high chance this guy's been dead my whole lifetime, and I still want to punch him in the face for saying this. It makes me so mad that this statement could ever have been accepted. I can barely imagine a world before Second Wave feminism. So much of my life thrives on what it's created. I can't even fathom when our society was so intensely gripped by patriarchy.

The worst part of the above phrase, in my opinion, is that the daughter could not control her own future. She could only move out if she got married or died. Yes, she could control her own death, but that really wouldn't do much for her. And she had control, to some degree, over her romantic engagements- but those involve more than one person, with a whole other set of opinions and experiences. She couldn't use her own ambition, skill, or finances to get out of her house and live an adult life- she had to rely on someone else, be it her father or her partner/husband. She couldn't do it herself. She was subservient.

The portrayal of marriage was unfortunate, too. It was an ultimatum. It was the only way out, not a mere option. Her motivation for getting married would have been getting the hell out of her house, not love. I mean, there is a chance love would have played a factor, but it's likely desperation played one as well.

Whether we've heard of feminism or not, girls like myself today know that they can be anything. They know that they have power. They can use their skills and hard work, academically, athletically, or in terms of other talent, to progress. A lot of teenage girls still think about marriage, but it's more of an option. Some of my friends like talking about getting married one day, some are vehemently opposed to the idea, and some have absolutely no idea. We've come to gather that all of those perspectives are fine. It's something I'm extremely grateful for, and I think that many other girls are as well, whether they explicitly articulate it or not.

Recently, I was at a meeting of my school's literary magazine. Some of the girls on the magazine were pleasantly discussing marriage, and love, and pleasant little futures in picket-fenced houses. (High school lit magazines equally attract the daydreaming romantics and angsty Holden Caulfields- this was a discussion of the first type. I fall exactly in the middle of these disparate groups.) The conversation came to a lull, and the other girls stopped to look at me. I typically have much to say about any topic, but I'd been pretty quiet here. That's because, well, I didn't know what to say.

"I really have no idea if I want to get married. It could be pretty cool," I ventured. "But, I mean, personally, I can't see it happening. Maybe it will. But I can't imagine myself getting married. I don't think it's going to happen." Which is exactly true- right now, at the age of sixteen, I can't imagine it at all. It sort of baffles me that some people can see that far. Another girl piped in. "I agree. I don't really think I'm going to get married either."

"It makes me so sad that you girls say that!" said another girl, who had extolled marriage earlier in the conversation. "You'll fall in love one day!"

But then comes another girl, so earnestly: "Why do you think you won't get married? You're beautiful! Someone will want to marry you."

Hold up. I did not say that I wasn't going to get married because no one was going to want to marry me. Nor did I say that my amount of attractiveness was going to make or break getting married, either. For some crazy reason, I thought that I may not get married because I didn't want to. Getting married involves two people who want to marry each other, not one person who decides if the other person is beautiful enough to marry them, as far as I'm concerned. It's not 1950 (thank goodness!) anymore. I don't have to get married. That's something that feminism has done for me, and every other girl in that room. Most of us will go to college, and be out of our homes within the next few years. If we decide to get married at some point, with or without a white picket fence, that's our call.

1 comment:

  1. I so agree, Alexa! Marriage is a personal decision, not a rite of passage, and definitely not a necessity.