Last weekend I got engaged.
I am INCREDIBLY excited. I put together a silly Pokemon scavenger hunt proposal. I made my boyfriend (fiance!) do a lot of goofy things and eat a lot of delicious food. I bought an oversized ridiculous fake ring to propose with. It was tons of fun, and I look forward to our wedding containing similar elements of party, fun, and goof.
Marriage is an institution with a lot of problems. It’s heteronormative. It prioritizes monogamy over polyamory or other forms of relationships. It puts romantic relationships and biological relationships on a pedestal, and helps us as a society to prioritize them over platonic friendships or chosen families. Already, we’ve had people ask us if this means we’ve changed our minds and want kids. I’ve talked in other places about feeling conflicted about marriage, and about the ways the history of marriage is a serious pile of shit. It feels different now that this isn’t a hypothetical question, now that it’s a plan in my life, now that it’s something that I’m actually going to do.
I’m suddenly asking real questions about how my actions will affect other people, like is it ok for me, a straight, cis person, to wear a rainbow engagement ring? (after much deliberation with friends, decided that the one I chose was not appropriative or harmful). Is there a way that I can incorporate my support for all kinds of love and families into my ceremony (still no idea, suggestions welcome)? What does it mean for my relationship with my fiance? Do we divvy up labor fairly? Do we have an egalitarian relationship? Do we live out our feminist values in our actual life? What does it mean in terms of monogamy? Will people start asking us about kids more often (yes)?
It’s odd, because marriage is a Big, Important kind of an event, and it makes you ask these questions. It makes you spend time wondering if it’s the right fit for you or for the world. But there are a thousand smaller decisions that I make all the time that involve engaging in problematic or even negative practices. Literally all of us spends are lives swamped in sexist, racist, bigoted shit, and we rarely think twice, even if we are social justice warriors. Since I’ve gained weight I’ve started wearing more covering clothing. That’s problematic as fuck. I’m ashamed of having a not skinny body (I would not call myself fat). That’s internalized fatphobia. But I don’t question it, because it’s a tiny decision that doesn’t get shoved in my face. I simply do it because it feels comfortable to me, and it works for my life. I don’t put on a bikini and fight fatphobia every day. I don’t even question my clothing decisions from a feminist perspective because they’re just a part of life. And honestly, because it doesn’t directly hurt much of anyone and it makes me feel more comfortable and happier in my skin.
I’m not entirely sold on the idea of choice feminism. Just because a person makes a choice that works for them doesn’t mean that the choice can’t have implications for other people. Even if it doesn’t directly impact others, it can still have effects. I think it’s important for people to question their own preferences and ask where those preferences came from and how those preferences can help to create norms or help dismantle norms. I try to be aware of the hidden assumptions I have about what is normal, and to point out to myself and others that even doing what is normal is still making a choice.
But it also seems true to me that in most important ways, we all practically live a form of choice feminism. Most of us will prioritize our own well being over abstract values most of the time. Now that’s not always true, like my choice to be a vegetarian for many years despite having not enough protein and some really unfortunate intersections with my eating disorder. But for the most part we don’t think about a decision, say “this will make me very happy” and then choose to do something else because “it’s not feminist enough.” We balance our happiness and our values, and recognize that sometimes our own happiness conflicts with the happiness of others (this is called life).
Marriage might not be a perfect choice. It might have some negative impacts. I want to recognize the problems with it, and continue to talk about them. But I also don’t want to prioritize marriage as a choice more important than any other. No, there is no choice I make that doesn’t have impacts, but there are also very few actions that are “feminist” or “unfeminist” in isolation. It isn’t “unfeminist” to shave your legs, the problem is when everyone does or is expected to do it. Marriage is similar: it’s a family and relationship format that works for some people, and the problem is the current set of expectations surrounding it.
It’s easy, even as someone who is trying to tell the wedding industrial complex to kiss my ass, to get sucked into the idea that marriage is a choice that exists in a totally unique and utterly important category of its own. It’s easy to spend so much time and energy thinking about it that you imagine getting married could destroy any efforts you’ve made against misogyny. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “this is the most important day of my life”, even if you’re doing it with a social justice veneer.
Really it’s just another choice in a whole series of problematic choices we all make.
Every single one of us engages in some problematic behaviors, whether out of ignorance or laziness or because it is just what makes our life livable and ok. Marriage isn’t unique, and I’d really like to take that “specialness” sheen off of the whole practice (and especially the wedding day). There’s a balance in life: if I can make my life so much better by doing something that might be upholding negative norms, what should I do? I’m at the point where I say that I need to prioritize my own happiness in places where the harm isn’t major. Because my happiness is fleeting, and intersectionality is a thing, and mental illness is my life, and marriage is probably not going anywhere whether or not I get married.
So yes. I am choosing to do something I know is a problem. But literally everyone does. It’s ok. Life consists of choosing from imperfect options. And this imperfect option makes me very very happy.