Marriage Expectations…They’re not all THAT

women juggle

Recommended Reading:

7 Reasons Why Age Doesn’t Matter in Marriage” by Sasha Brown Worsham

I overheard a conversation the other day that quite offended me: “A family can’t exist without children.” Well, as a child-free woman, I beg to differ.

A family concept is larger than a wife, husband, and child (or more). There are step-families, adopted families, close friends considered as family, pets, and so many other non-traditional families that I can’t even name them all. Family, as well as marriage, should be something defined by those in it, not by outside sources.

It was with this idea that I started reading Sasha Brown Worsham‘s article on “The Stir.” The article is Warsham’s response to Susan Patton’s letter to the women at Princeton University–an article Sarah responded to on this very blog. Worsham claims that people should marry whenever and whomever they want. She states, “It’s not what age you marry. It’s who you marry. Period. End of story.”

These posts, as well as Sheryl Sandberg‘s book Lean In, have me thinking about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. It’s discouraging that women still struggle with their place in our society and continue to fight for equal pay, equal status, and freedom over their own bodies. I thought these battles were fought and won a long time ago. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

On the other hand, we live in a time period where women have more choices than ever before, and perhaps, it’s these choices that cause us to question once again our place in society.

Technically, I’m a newlywed. In June, it will be three years. I say “technically” because I have been with my husband for 13 1/2 years, but we didn’t exchange wedding vows until 2010.

Living together back in 2002 was a difficult decision–one that went against my family’s belief system, but it was the right decision for me and my significant other.

Not having children was another decision we made. Again, it was the right decision for me and my significant other.

I can understand why people want our lives and our roles defined: it can make life easier. If it is a wife’s duty to procreate, clean, and cook, then we know what our husbands expect, and we know what we need to do on a daily basis. Raised in a strict, Christian environment, I struggle with guilt about my “duties” as a wife: I keep thinking that I should do the dishes every day or keep the house spotless. I struggle with guilt that my husband does his own laundry and has household chores like he did growing up in his mother’s house.

At the same time, if I did all of these things on top of my full-time job, I would never have time to spend with my husband. We have our own expectations and our own ideas about how we want to live our lives.

What about the expectations of our own? What about the book I’m trying to write? The 60-hour work week my husband and I keep? Our desire to relax in each other’s company daily–sometimes more than once a day? What about those expectations? Should we ignore our own expectations in order to fulfill society’s expectations?

I don’t think we should, and yet, Patton’s letter and Sandberg’s book set up these expectations, but we do not have to meet them. Marriage is hard enough without bringing in other people’s expectations. Create your own. Live your life. It’s your life, and at the end of the day, you’re the one who chooses your own happiness. This is what Worsham gets right, and HAPPINESS is what feminism is really all about.


We’re Not Done Yet…

Sometimes I hate social media.  I have learned that serious and planned cyber sabbaticals keep me sane. I was on the verge of throwing it all out last week when I fell headlong into a serious debate on Facebook.  It is easy to isolate ourselves in the cyber world, to cultivate a space of opinions and ideas that only confirm our own well considered prejudices.   My first cyber space conflict tested my convictions and my compassion, but social media redeemed itself, at least for now.

She and I have always been political polar opposites. We could probably never agree on a church service or a meal time prayer.  We listen to different newscasts, read different blogs, and will raise our boys to know different faiths.  We are strong women and good friends.  And I could not ignore her Facebook post about the end of the women’s movement because a long time ago I made feminism my armor.  I have taught my grown brothers to announce – out loud and whenever possible – that they are feminists.  My own young boys know feminists who are doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers, and stay at home parents.  They have been taught that families make different choices and that feminism is about making sure women have the opportunity to make choices.  So my friend’s short post about the “phony feminist fight” surrounding the economics of birth control brought me to my proverbial feminine knees.

I was upset.  To me the debate reeks of sexism and misogyny.  The objection to a mandate that requires insurance companies to cover birth control options is ludicrous. Not to mention that the objections come from politicians who simultaneously sexualize women and insist that our calls for access to birth control are some kind of promiscuous promise.  But my girlfriend sees it differently.  She worries that we are being played.  She sees greedy politicians attempting to buy the female vote with feminist rhetoric and hollow promises.  I worry that she might be right.

I will always be a feminist and I will hold on to the power of the women’s movement.  To me this means hard work. It is diligent outreach to ensure that women have the occasion to make our own choices.  Without access to birth control, we have few other choices.  I will be loud, and at times angry, about wage gaps and sexual politics and the still intact glass ceiling. I feel obligated to alter the conversation, to suggest that we reconsider old habits, and to point out inadequacies in language and practice that still leave women feeling isolated and marginalized.  We cannot afford to forget how much more we have to gain.

Something strange happened after I posted a snarky, not-so-subtle status update in response to my friend.  The instant power of social media started a conversation.  My friend sent me a private and apologetic message.  She was first concerned with our longtime friendship.  Then she worked hard to explain herself. She does think that the women’s movement is over, or at least irrevocably altered.  She admits to being cynical and she is convinced that women will never be able to unite around a single, universal goal. But she also wants women to work at whatever they are “called to do” and she has made room for loud, convicted women like me.  She pointed out that there will be “thousands upon thousands of women, both and young and old, waking up tomorrow with big ideas” and access to powerful tools like the internet.

With enough patience, it may be a space well suited for an honest conversation and debate.

– S