Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Feminist Gets Married

No, not me. I talked about that last night, folks.

But here is a truly wonderful post from guestblogger Michelle Anderson over at Concurring Opinions:

I’ve critiqued the institution of marriage for as long as I can remember. Heterosexist. Patriarchal. The usual list of sins. The unit on marriage in my Feminist Legal Theory class begins with the English common law of coverture in which a female’s legal existence is erased by its merger into her husband’s at marriage.

So what’s a self-respecting feminist to do when she decides that a public commitment to her sweetheart is the next step in her spiritual and emotional growth? What happens when she loves someone in a way that—despite societal evidence—burbles with the hope of lasting a lifetime?

No new last name. No veil. No white dress. No “love, honor, and obey.” No father “giving the bride away.” No throwing the bouquet. No garter—goddess, no garter toss. No bachelor party. No church. No dieting for the big day. No pronouncement of “man and wife.” No updo, no French manicure. And no wife.

I told Gavin, “OK, look, if we get married, I will not be your wife. I never want you to refer to me as your ‘wife.’ I’m serious.”

He was a bit taken aback. “Why?”

“Let’s look up the etymology of the word.” 2002 AMERICAN HERITAGE COLLEGE DICTIONARY. “ME wif < OE wif. See ghwibh- in App.” So we looked up the root word “ghwibh-” in the appendix: “Shame, also pudenda.”

No joke.

Then we looked up “husband” and followed its root (“bheue”) into the appendix. “To be, exist, grow.” So he gets to be, exist, and grow while I am labeled a shame-pudendum? I don’t think so. Rejecting so many labels and traditions forced us to create new ones. A surprise: that creative process was more meaningful and fun than I’d imagined it would be. What emerged was magical, warm, celebratory, and quite personal.

Meanwhile my feminist students, gay and straight, seemed genuinely thrilled with my late-coming announcement. “When I heard you were getting married,” one said to me last week, “I was so happy. If even you can find someone, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us!”

If/When I get to the point of marriage, I'll describe to you then the intricacies of a Vietnamese-Buddhist marriage ceremony (asking ancestors' permission, the joining of the families, the groom picking up the bride and bringing her over to his house), and the nighttime Vietnamese-American banquet reception (with the requisite really bad Vietnamese wedding band doing covers of inappropriate songs like "Lipstick on Your Collar" and at least three gown changes for the bride and a couple of tiaras) in greater detail. Actually, just thinking about all that makes me never want to get married. Never say never of course--and this does indeed give me hope!

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