To be honest, traditional conventions of marriage will remain harmful and messed up no matter how many times you bring it up to me at this wedding, Aunt Vicky.
The number of people that I speak to who assume that I will get married at some point in my life is actually kind of incredible to me. Most have been there; you’re talking to an adult at a dinner event, and they say something along the lines of: yes well, you’ll understand when you’re married. My parents even have some money saved for when I give in to the inevitable. It seems to be an integral part of how a young person is expected to structure their life, and express their love for another, in Western society.
Even in circles of feminist discourse, I’ve noticed that this topic has fallen out of fashion, especially since gay marriage has become legal. Although I am amazed and happy that I had the privilege of witnessing that historic event, I don’t think it is enough of a change to revert back to assuming marriage is about only love and forever companionship. There are still many glaring issues about the way women are often treated in marriage, as well as the traditional implications of the ceremony itself.
I am not saying that you are wrong for wanting to have a wedding and get married. I’m not saying these are inherently bad things for you to desire. The purpose of this article isn’t to condemn anyone married or considering to do so, it is to highlight harmful aspects of the practice, and bring awareness to the areas where marriage especially can go wrong.
Marriage itself is not natural—it’s an artificial construct that has its roots in slavery, specifically the slavery and ownership of women. Many of these symbols of ownership remain in the traditional ceremony of marriage today: the man gives the woman an engagement ring, so other men will know that she is taken and unavailable to them. The woman’s father ceremoniously walks his daughter down the aisle and symbolically “passes ownership” from himself to the new husband. The woman wears a white dress, a symbol of purity that the man gets to remove. The woman even takes the man’s name, a sign of her loss of individuality and her new identity as a man’s wife.
Regardless of whether marriage is healthy or good, the traditional ceremony itself is patriarchal in nature, and still contains harmful symbols of ownership. However, problems extend past the mere act of getting married. As a byproduct of the financial benefits of marriage, as well as the way society sees marriage as a whole, unmarried couples are very often treated as lesser than married couples. This often pressures young people to enter long-term relationships, and can result in a socially forced marriage that would have otherwise never occurred. Furthermore, women especially are pressured to remain in that marriage for the rest of their lives, be it for social or financial reasons. This can stop women from exiting a marriage that is harmful or unhealthy. Marriage itself is often expensive to end, and can take months before official finalization. Considering that more than half of marriages end in divorce in the United States, this seems impractical and a silly process to go through to end something that is no longer beneficial. Without the officialization of marriage, one can end a relationship whenever they feel is necessary. Aside from the financial and social benefits a marriage can give, it seems to be more of a problem than an advantage, especially since most do not last forever.
As a young woman living in the western world, I will probably never get married. Not only does it seem unfair to the many women who are trapped and owned in their marriages elsewhere in the world, there are too many harmful practices and implications still traditionally associated with marriage that I do not believe in. I’m not asking you to do the same; rather, if you are a person who plans to get married, I desire only that you ask yourself why you want to do so. If it is truly what you want, then great! I do not doubt the fact that there are many happy and successful marriages in existence. However, if it is something that you feel is expected of you, or something that you feel will confirm your adulthood or make your parents stop bothering you, then I ask you to consider the negative implications of doing so, as well as the thousands of years of history that speak against the practice. Until unmarried and married couples can be viewed as equals by society, these are considerations every responsible human in a relationship should and must make.