Thursday, March 01, 2007

Marriage and Privilege

Looks like Lauren over at Faux Real (perhaps the best blog name ever), formerly of Feministe, is getting married. Before Lauren left Feministe, one of my favorite parts of that blog were Lauren's forays into parenting and other parts of her daily life. When she'd take a break from more traditional feminist blogging stuff and talk about her son, I would often find myself more interested in the feminism to be found in that day-to-day life. One only has to look at a picture of the kid rocking out, or of him in his superman suit, to know that it must be pretty neato to have somebody as smart and caring as his mom seems to be. As a man who was raised by a proto-feminist mom, it was really interesting to hear Lauren's ideas and feelings surrounding her son.

I also started to enjoy Faux Real more than Feministe on some levels, mostly because it did contain more of Lauren's personal story. Her writing is still infused with feminist concepts and ideals, of course, but sometimes less overt conceptual analysis is more interesting, and more useful. It's one thing to discuss what it means to be a feminist, and it's a different sort of thing to talk about one's life as a feminist. The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, and each is important, but at times I find the latter more interesting and emotionally engaging. To paraphrase William James: give me lots of theory, yes, I can always use theory, but give me lots of practice, too, because I can always learn from practice. Lauren's newest project, Help Us Help Ourselves (or HUHO) is right along these lines, implicitly dealing with feminism right where it intersects class.

and yet, I'm afraid I'm having a pretty knee-jerk reaction to Lauren's announcement of her wedding plans, and to the outpouring of congratulations that have come from the announcement. Let me try to be very clear here: I think my negative reactions are knee-jerk and simplistic. I think that Lauren and Chef, who obviously work hard on their relationship and are very mindful about the ramifications of marriage to them and to Lauren's son, deserve The Happy Stuff. My reaction isn't about invalidating Lauren's feminist credentials--my reaction is an angry, bitter reaction to the fact that privilege is oftentimes mindlessly heaped on people who decide to (and are allowed to) marry. I think credit is due to Lauren to being explicitly aware of this privilege.

I don't think that pairing off under the auspices of marriage is some sort of anti-feminist act in any general way. But I do think that the blindly-following-tradition sort of pairing off of one man and one woman sometimes do can be something that either ignores or goes against some feminist principles. One way that this can happen is when people get married for reasons of gaining some privilege. This desire to gain privilege isn't an all or nothing sort of thing. It doesn't even have to be a conscious act. The fact is that when you announce you're getting married, you get lots and lots of praise, in the form of formal-ish sorts of congratulations, but also in all sorts of other forms--tax breaks and more readily available health care are two that come immediately to mind.

If the gain of privilege is unavoidable in whatever ways, how should that factor into a decision to get married, or to not get married, if one is a feminist? How does one deal with the uncomfortable-ness that may come from having such privilege heaped onto you when all you want is to mark your love for somebody with an event? Perhaps a non-traditional wedding? But how nontraditional? What about eschewing some privilege by asking that wedding guests donate to groups which are helping to support gay marriage? What else might be done to resist the sort of automatic privileging that comes from being married?
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