Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lessons from a wedding

The occasions that constrain us the most to exhibit normative femininity are occasions of great ceremony and often solemnity e.g. weddings and funerals. –Sandra Lee Bartky

First off, let me apologize for the lack of blogging last week. The thanksgiving weekend, and my own procrastination, are to blame. But I re-enter the feminist blogosphere this week with renewed vitality. Today, I bring you this exciting blog on... marriage!

Wait, no, come back! I’ll do my best to make this old topic exciting.

Those who know me well are familiar with my ambivalence towards marriage. I generally don’t like the idea of it for myself. For those of us who aren’t particularly religious, and who don’t particularly like the symbolic value of marriage as a property transfer of women from father to husband, marriage just isn’t that sexy. That said, I understand and respect the value that marriage has for many people, and there are definitely things that I adore about weddings. I had the pleasure of seeing my aunt and uncle marry this weekend—after a “courtship” of about 20 years —and it was a wonderful experience on many levels: it’s nice to have a forum where two people can express and celebrate the significance of their relationship; it’s nice to have the family all together in one place; it’s nice to be eat, and drink, and dance together. These are things that I love about weddings.

The thing that makes me uncomfortable at weddings is how quickly they can turn into a forum for sexist banter, and rigid gender indoctrination. This was the first wedding that I attended with my partner/boyfriend/best friend, Jeff. We have been together for over two and a half years, and my family is getting the sneaking suspicion that we are “serious” about things. I wasn’t sure what to expect because (a) this is the first time I would be bringing a partner along to a wedding and (b) I hadn’t been to a wedding since I was 15, when I wasn’t nearly as blessed with feminist perception! I’m dedicating this blog to my cousins, aged 9, 11, and 15, who shared a dinner table with me at the wedding. I want to dismantle some of the gender stereotypes thrown around them during the course of the evening.

1. Ye old double standard: Girls are to be “protected” from boys/men ; boys are expected to peruse girls

I can’t count the amount of people who came up to Jeff during the course of the course of the evening to playfully, jokingly threaten him about my well-being. I.e. “If I see a single tear drop. . .” and “You’re learning a lesson here tonight, boy!” It’s been my uncle’s joke, since time immemorial, that he would “come after” any paid that laid hands on me. Now the torch has been passed down to my female cousin, who was interrogated at the dinner table by cousins, and uncles on whether she had ever “kissed a boy.” When my cousin responded, tongue and cheek, that she had kissed a boy (it was her brother), the next few minutes were dedicated to who this boy was, and what harm must be inflicted on him! Oh, heterosexism. But that’s another blog. . .
Now, this is not to say that my male cousins were not interrogated about their potential heterosexual encounters (and they were always assumed heterosexual). Oh yes, the boys were interrogated, but in a different way. My 9 year old male cousin was asked whether he had a girlfriend at school. No, my 9-year old male cousin responded. The next question: “Why not?”

So, just to summarize: that my 9-year old male cousin did not have a girlfriend was questionable. That my 11-year old female cousin might have a boyfriend was horrifying. Right.

Now, to set the record straight: women (including myself) are not asexual objects that must be coerced, and acted upon by men. Women (yes, even young girls!) have their own sexual volition and are active agents within their own lives. Further, to assert that men (even when they are boys) always want sex, are always chasing girls etc., and that women (even when they are girls) are asexual, always trying to evade boys, is to position coercion/ sexual assault (and legitimize it) as the only way that sexual interaction happens! Not cool. Further, it puts women in the not-so-fun place that when they do become sexually active they must deal with internalized messages of giving in or losing something integral about themselves (e.x: “ her cherry is picked,” or “she is ruined.”) Not cool, and definitely not true. A girl’s “value” does not rests in some symbolic “purity.” She has way more interesting and important stuff going for her.

On the same line of thought: men don’t need to exhibit aggressive, girl-chasing prowess in order to be valuable individuals. Such a narrow obligatory male sexual culture seems a little contrived and limiting to me. Men are not just dumb slaves to their penises. From my observations of the other sex, it appears that they do have more diverse interests than boobies! Surprise.

2. Eating meat is manly. Vegetarianism is womanly. Being feminine is the (second) worse thing a man can be. Women will try and indoctrinate men to vegetarianism (a.k.a. being a woman) and it is men’s responsibility to resist.

I believe that my sister and I were of the few (if not the only) people in attendance that were vegetarian. This meant that my delicious meal involved a lovely roasted eggplant, lentils, onion, melted cheese, oh yeah, and a healthy dose of misogyny. My cousin has always heckled me about being veggie—it’s a playful banter that goes on between the two of us—but because Jeff was present, it was a different type of heckling.

“She hasn’t converted you to vegetarianism has she?”
Because no male in their right mind would ever become vegetarian on their own volition.

And (again to Jeff) “does she make you brush your teeth after eating meat?”
Because women are coquettish control-freaks who hold their sexuality as a means of getting what they want. Let me give you another interpretation of this kind of logic: my vegetarianism is explained by my being a woman (as I am, by nature fickle, irrational, and overemotional). Effectively, my logical reasons for being vegetarian are erased. The one who espouses these tired truisms will never have to consider the unethical and unsustainable means by which the meat he/she eats is produced. Instead he/she can pass off my lifestyle choice as one of the incomprehensible whims of fickle women. Two birds are killed with one stone: (1) The moral dilemmas of mass-produced-meat are evaded, and (2) women are placed once more in the negative/inferior position of “irrational” and “polluting.” Yahoo!

For more information on how “eating meat is manly” and “being a woman is bad” please consult this recent Hungry Man commercial.

These stereotypes hurt. And think of what we have to gain by throwing them out the window:

• Men that can cry and not “betray” their gender, men who can express diverse sexualities, and men who can eat eggplant without an identity crisis.
• Women who have control of their own sexuality, and women who can make lifestyle choices that aren't simply passed off as the “irrational” whims of her gender constitution


  1. Fantastic post, thankyou. I have had similar experiences at many family weddings (and funerals and birthdays and engagements etc etc) and I often get the feeling those around me think I am a bit of a shrew if I argue back to sexist and unnecessary comments. I imagine it would be very different if I questioned their sexuality or what they did in the bedroom last night; however as far as I am concerned that certainly isn't my business (and I don't really have the desire to know)!

  2. thanks, Adele! Glad you liked it :)