Young, feminist, and… married!

Ed. note: This post is part of the second round of the Feministing “So You Think You Can Blog” contributor contest (background here). Stay tuned all week as our six finalists take turns turns covering the blog and giving us a sense of their personal contributor style. The winner of the contest and newest member of the Feministing team will be announced next week!

Marriage is not something that’s generally on my radar these days. I live and work in a world where everyone is so busy and crazy liberal and questioning of every social norm that it’s not something that really comes up, except when it’s being critiqued. Ever since graduating college, it seems like my friends are too smart and fabulous and busy doing amazing things to get married so young. For the most part, that’s been true. That’s why I was a little surprised to find myself at lunch this weekend with four friends from college, and three of them were wearing wedding rings!

Many feminists look down on women who marry young. Because marriage is the “traditional” choice, we assume that anyone who wants to get married is “giving up” on feminism, doing it because that’s what’s expected. And sure, societal expectations are probably why a lot of people choose to marry. But why rush to assume that young people aren’t giving their decisions all the careful consideration they deserve?

People get married for all sorts of reasons – financial stability, immigration, religion, celebration of love, and cultural symbolism, just to name a few. Some people get married these days because, after many years of discrimination, they finally can. Getting married can certainly look like being a sheep, going along with the majority instead of forging your own path through life, but talking with my friends got me thinking – in this day and age, can marriage be a revolutionary act?

Yes, the divorce rate is over 50%, the institution of marriage is maybe a little outdated and based on patriarchal notions of gender roles. But who’s to say we can’t change the system from within? All the feminists I know who’ve married young have faced a backlash from their own feminist communities. Feministing’s own Jessica Valenti wrote a few years ago about her struggle with negotiating marriage as a young feminist. Fighting against the odds and often against popular opinion in order to live life on your own terms – isn’t that what feminism has always been about?

The bottom line for me is that feminism is about being empowered to make the choices you want about your body and your life and having those choices be respected in your community. If you want to be in a monogamous relationship, that’s great. If you want to be in an open or polyamorous relationship, that’s great too. If you want to date someone significantly older or younger than yourself, or someone of a different race, religion, or socioeconomic class, or anything else that doesn’t fit in with “traditional” ideals of what is an acceptable relationship, good for you. And if you want to get married, who am I to judge or make assumptions about your reasoning? Personal relationships are PERSONAL, between people, so as long as you and your partner(s) are happy with the arrangement, that should be all that matters.

Pretty much everyone I know has faced backlash from their community at some point because of who they loved or how they chose to express that love. Anyone have tips on how to make things easier?

Join the Conversation

  • Tara

    Even though I don’t self-identify as a feminist (for many reasons), I still found myself nodding strongly in agreement as I read this. Having just gotten married myself about a year and a half ago, I have definitely received mixed feedback from people in general. While I am old enough that most people wouldn’t consider me to have gotten married “young”, I am apparently still young enough that some people are surprised that I chose to get married at this point in my life. It really bothers me when people are judgmental about the choices that others make, not just about marriage, but many other personal realms. I think that what often happens is that people get so wrapped up in the fight for equality that they unwittingly tip the scale the other way (for example: “reverse racism”, which is really a misnomer anyway, racism is racism in any direction, but that’s neither here nor there). Good for you for bucking that trend, and making a good name for yourself and for feminists in general with your open-minded attitude! The world would be a better, more enjoyable place for everyone if more people could take that approach.

  • fyoumudflaps

    Adults form families, not families form adults.

  • Veronica

    I’m getting married at 22, and I’ve experienced some very different reactions. My family is very conservative and supportive of the idea of me getting married but not very happy that the man I’m marrying is a “crazy liberal feminist” like me. On the other side, my friends and peers at school have been shocked and don’t understand why I want to take his last name, telling me how un-feminist that is. It’s quite frustrating to have other people looking in on your relationship and passing judgement about how feminist or un-feminist it is.

  • Heather Mangione

    I have struggled with the decision to get married or not as different relationships have come and gone, but I never questioned whether or not I was doing an injustice to my feminist ideals if I were to get married or not. In the same vein, I haven’t questioned my friends’ decisions to marry and the possibility that it was a disservice to feminism. I do, however, struggle with the institution of marriage at a broader societal level though and urge everyone to really consider if this is something we really want to further as a mindful society, when LGBT populations aren’t able to do the same actions as a heterosexual couple.