I recently read a section from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (a daunting read, hence my plan to approach with gradual, baby steps) about marriage: The Married Woman.
It involves the married woman and society’s expectations of her. (Note that this classic existentialist book was written in 1949. So, things were technically supposed to have progressed since).
De Beauvoir argues that marriage has always been presented in radically different ways to men and women. Women are often seen in terms of their sell-by date. The woman lives to be married – that is how society has groomed her to exist. For a man, marriage complements his status, but it doesn’t define him like it would a woman.
When 33 and not married or with someone, women are perceived as having something wrong with them.
“Why not married yet?” – asks someone.
“She must be difficult.” – says another.
The power balance is way off – women are ‘given away’ and men ‘take a wife’. De Beauvoir emphasises the fact that throughout time women have been handed to men. Claiming ownership, whether over women’s ideas, agency or bodies, men have also been groomed to exist in a world where this notion of ownership is perpetuated, valued and rewarded. So why not play into it? It is often so ingrained that we simply stop questioning this discourse.
A father giving his daughter away to her future husband at the end of the aisle is perhaps one of the ways we’ve just become accustomed to being and living. We have stopped questioning this idea, and the idea of the man asking his girlfriend’s father for permission to marry her. Why ask only the father? Personally, my mom hated this idea and wanted to be part of this process when my hand in marriage was requested.
Often these almost unspoken rules play out in realms that are heterosexual and conservative, but the existence of ownership that is claimed by men is what’s of concern here. Women are left almost silenced in this process of exchange, where marriage becomes the vehicle which drives them to their ultimate objectification.
And in turn this objectification is not only perpetuated by men, but also by women who end up objectifying themselves. I’ve heard women note to their partner that “you have to remember to ask my dad whether you can marry me one day, hey? Otherwise he will be very angry”.
So in this space, the objectification of self leaves us questioning very little of the discourse in which we ourselves are participating.
We need to be more aware of the ways in which we entrap ourselves and sustain our own oppression. Only then will we be able to change discourse and make new rules we are comfortable with.