It’s my name and you can’t have it: Thoughts on marital normsPosted: June 17, 2011
Since becoming engaged I’ve learnt two things about marriage that have genuinely disturbed me. The first is apparently it’s traditional for the groom to remove the bride’s garter in a “sexy” manner during the wedding party and throw it to the crowd. The second is how archaic everyone becomes the moment you mention you’re tying the knot.
It’s as though the moment I refer to getting married suddenly the room I’m in flies several social generations into the past. When I mentioned that I was proposing to my girlfriend a surprising number of people, including her mother, asked me if I had asked her father yet – not if I was going to – when. People keep asking me about the wedding in terms of what my fiancé wants to do because well, I’m a man, I couldn’t possibly have any investment in the day I show the world the woman I love and explain to it that I want to be with her, It’s “her day”.
The sign of social regression everyone seems to stoop too in every instance without apology to the modern world is my future wife’s name. The most brought up topic when discussing my marriage is the supposed fact that we will be Mr and Mrs Taylor even though I’m marrying someone with the first name ‘Kayla’ (take a moment and say it out loud). On a basic phonic level the idea is a bad one, potentially reducing every introduction into a childish sing-song probably involving bells. So ingrained into people’s minds is it however, that a woman has to become part of a man’s family that people still go along and assume we’re going take part in the terrible decision to become “the Taylors”.
It upsets me that in most people’s minds the default position marriage is in is still a woman being given to another family, I mean I’m not surprised, there are still people who think the point of marriage is to have children. It is, however still dispiriting when otherwise perfectly intelligent, progressive people are perfectly fine with a social custom that equates to men claiming a particular woman as his by stamping his brand on her. Outside getting a pet I can’t think of any other aspect of human experience where this is fine and normal; even Kraft let Cadbury’s keep its name and that wasn’t exactly happy or mutual.
I also find the juxtaposition of having the flippant and showy bit of the marriage – the wedding – belonging primarily to the bride against the actual marital relationship by name and traditions belonging primarily to the groom, really quite unpleasant. We continue to focus endlessly on what the bride is wearing during the actual ceremony as though the whole event is a showcase for what the groom’s winnings, whilst the engagement period is dominated by the woman showing off the ring her future husband planted on her, like so much territorial urine.
I’m not judging anyone who wants to take their husband’s last name, and even if I was I wouldn’t worry as there isn’t enough people like me to threaten the way you live your life. What I am angry about is the effrontery of large sections of society who seem to think that just because they have continuity on their side, they somehow have the moral high ground. You do have the right to take someone else’s identity on as your own just as I have the right to think it’s creepy and servile. I think the impetus for writing this first post came when my dad referred to a “new Mrs Taylor” coming to the family to replace my sister if she got married. This probably wouldn’t have bothered me had my parents not reacted to the news that this would not be the case as though I of all people should be upset that Kayla wanted to keep her own name, It’s my name not hers, and she couldn’t have it if she wanted too.
I do love my fiancée and I’m really glad we’re getting married, the fact that it’s the only way the American Government will let us be together, in my mind at least, makes it more meaningful but I love her as an individual, not as a future appendage. We as a culture need to get beyond this weird patriarchal hangover in which we still use the language of people trafficking to denote the relationship status of women, I get that this is a hangover from the fact that for most of the time Marriage has been around it’s been actually about buying women, but surely we’re beyond that; women can own property in a Civil partnership with members of different races now; surely we can move beyond the idea that women will take on someone else’s identity… or at least ask if they will instead of assuming it off the bat.