Wall of sound

Readers respond -- big time -- to our package on feminism and marriage.

Published August 24, 2001 7:22PM (EDT)

Oh boy!

A bunch of "feminists" ranting on the validity of marriage. As if their opinions and pronouncements actually meant something. When will they get it? No one is listening anymore. Get married, don't get married, hey, knock yourselves out. The real issue here, and a tragedy it is, is that millions of women and men actually gave the scribblings and rantings of these misanthropes any credibility in the first place. Millions of good relationships suffered for it. Of course, that was the point, wasn't it?

The simple fact is that today, feminism has about as much meaning to thinking people as restarting the Know-Nothing Party. And it has about the same future.

Equality is the key, and feminism was never about equality. It was always about power and politicizing every aspect of life.

Disagree? OK, if feminism is about equality, then what would you think of a movement officially known as "masculinism"?

Kinda turns the stomach huh?

When one opens their eyes, feminism produces the same reaction.

I think we are finally becoming free of the need for Steinem's or Faludi's or even Hillary's approval. We are learning that love, commitment, marriage and, yes, even kindness regularly triumph over identity politics, a fact that I am sure pisses off a lot of feminists.


Equality, not feminism, is at the heart of it.

-- Don Cicchetti

So this tiny group of self-styled cultural vanguards living on the Upper West Side of New York, in Boston and in the San Francisco Bay area -- legends in their own minds and in the minds of their favorite publishers -- actually work themselves into a frenzy talking about whether it's OK to get married. (Gloria Steinem is excepted in this group -- She IS a bona-fide legend.)

But away from this rarefied group, millions of American women are not only getting married -- they're taking their husbands' names! I'd like to know what the hell THAT is all about! Why are so many women still willing to literally throw away their identity and adopt their husbands' when they say "I do"?

This is the American reality -- not the precious opinions of Geller, Benfer and the people she is quoting.

-- Larry Letich

I am a feminist and I am married. I really enjoyed Amy Benfer's article -- and thought that I would explain my justification for marriage. There are many reasons why a "handshake deal" isn't a sensible way to run a business partnership, and most people understand why people wish to document their business deals. Marriages are not just about romantic relationships but also about buying property and raising children. The standard marriage contract can be regarded as the "standard form" for a heterosexal life partnership. Like many "standard form" contracts it has its weaknesses and increasingly people choose to vary the contract through pre-nuptial agreements.

For me, it seems prudent before investing a lot of time and effort in a relationship to ensure that both parties have similar expectations about how the relationship will be conducted, and what will happen if it fails.

-- Ingrid King

Any way you slice it, a wedding is an "orgy of female narcissism," as author Matthew Fitzgerald puts it. This characteristic is abundantly evident in Benfer's piece, as men are so nearly absent there as to come across as being merely the ultimate in fashion accessories.

The original feminist critique of marriage was that it was the social institution that oppressed women above all others. The campaign for equal treatment in the public sphere (i.e., work) was largely based on the notion that only through economic independence could women be free of the confines of marriage.

Well, the criticisms of marriage -- from a female point of view at least -- have all been dealt with over the last 30 or 40 years, to the point where marriage no longer places any obligations on the woman whatsoever. Marriage is now little more than "notarized dating" from the woman's viewpoint, as Brian Willats put it. So it's little wonder that supposedly liberated women can now enthusiastically embrace it, and wear white even if not entitled, so largely risk-free has marriage become for women. But female autonomy and self-indulgence are not the same thing.

The state no longer enforces the "contract" (except that many of the man's obligations are irrevocable, while he receives no rights in return) and allows one of the parties to abrogate the deal pretty much on a whim without any penalties and even with possible rewards. "Til unhappiness or a better deal do we stay together"...

It's for these and many other reasons that the real critique of marriage these days is coming almost exclusively from the men's lib movement, not from any flavor of feminism. The Internet is awash in men's rights Web sites, many of which urge males not to marry or have children. Political science professor Stephen Baskerville of Howard University says that men victimized by marriage (and family law generally) constitute "the most massive civil rights abuse of our time." Men have no protection.

So if the marriage rate is way down it might be because the supply of ready-and-willing chumps is declining, not because of the dubious influence on women or feminists who've hardly had an original idea in 20 years and are today nearly totally oblivious to what's really happening out there.

After hearing from women for years about all the things they aren't going to do for men anymore, and adding up all the demands for "more" from women, a simple cost-benefit analysis shows that, for a lot of men, women and marriage simply aren't worth it or the accompanying risk. Without male participation, marriage is merely a theoretical proposition that women can debate back and forth among themselves until after all the party guests have long left to go on to other things.

-- Chris Wetherill

An amusing article, but an even more amusing one would be on men who marry feminists. Are any of them sane? Why would any man subject himself to such torture? Marriage to a nonfeminist sweet girl is so full of risks for any man, that it probably makes no sense for any man to do it, but why marry a feminist and accept a life of certain misery?

-- taipei

Other than the romantic part, the purpose of marriage is for socio-economic union and to provide a stable environment to raise children. If women have an instinct to have and to raise children, wouldn't it be better to be in a relationship with a man who has promised to stay committed until death? The latest studies show that children are much better off having their fathers around and children do much better in a stable environment. The article did not at all explore this side of the question of marriage for feminists. This is a serious omission. Or perhaps the question of children and their need of fathers does not enter into the minds of feminists?

-- Richard W.D. Ganton

From the time I was 11, I was raised primarily by my lesbian mother and her lover. I was told at many turns that "all heterosexual sex is rape by definition," and "why can't you find a nice girl?" whenever I had boy trouble. I was an angry, confused teenager who thought any compliment a guy paid me was a covert insult, or the precursor to sexual assault -- as if a 16-year-old boy is premeditating his standing in the patriarchy, and just waiting to disparage my twisted sense of "feminism."

Marriage is not a political act. The idea that getting married will turn you into -- or cancel out -- your feminism is ridiculous. Marriage is personal. If a woman feels like marriage will turn her relationship into her mother's bad life, then she needs to take another look at whom she's marrying.

A "white wedding" is an aesthetic choice and always has been. Truth be told, big, elaborate weddings make me nervous, but I just don't like the pressure of being in a wedding party: I'm not judging my friend's commitment to feminism. I think they're a waste of money, but not if you have the money to spend! Personally, I'd rather have a research grant, but I'm a product of a seriously broken home, and in my mind marriage is a waste of time. I don't need the state to validate my commitment to my boyfriend. I don't need my former-separatist mother to take a newfound interest in my love- and sex life. It's not political, and it's not even familial. It's personal.

-- Jennifer Rennet

Amy Benfer gave a great summation of the feminist ambivalence toward marriage. I am 26, bisexual and just married a man. Benfer notes the way that the fight for gay marriage has freed us from gender roles in marriage. I have to agree. And the gay marriage issue has also crystallized much more for me.

My whole life, I have not known whether I would "marry" (become life partners, legally or not) a man or a woman. I have focused as much as possible on finding a good life partner. When it turned out to be a man, I had a moment of guilt. I wanted to marry to secure our rights as a couple for the same reasons I continue to fight for gay marriage: I think everyone should have the right to have a protected coupledom with the partner of her or his choosing.

When I told one of my ex-girlfriends, a lesbian and feminist, of my plan to marry, she encouraged me: "I would do the same thing if I could. Of course you want to protect your rights. Who wouldn't?" So, rather than deny myself and my partner that protection for some martyr-esque reason, I choose to avail myself of my rights and protections and to continue to fight for all human beings to have equal and full access to the protections of marriage. Marriage should be a basic human and civil right.

-- Johanna Bates

Heloise was no "spinster by choice." She only joins a convent after her enraged uncle finds out about her secret marriage and pregnancy and castrates Abelard (her much older lover).

I think the fact that she joined a convent was a move of desperation, not independence. In the Middle Ages, there wasn't much else you could do in that situation but become a nun and secretly pine away for your man.

I certainly hope she's not a feminist role model.

-- Jane Crawford

Nothing makes me giggle quite as manically as an article by an overeducated, painfully upper-middle-class white woman. Amy Benfer's bourgeois, privileged musing about the imagined dilemma that she and her fellow (I note the irony of using this word) inhabitants of the ivory tower face in making what most of us pathetically realistic people consider a fairly straightforward choice made me holler with delight. As my boys and I often say to each other: Niggah please.

I'm not speaking as a reactionary or even a social conservative. I read Horowitz for the humor, not for confirmation or reinforcement. I support the ERA. I'm all for domestic partnership benefits and recognizing gay marriage. But really, was there a single thought expressed in Ms. (must be politically correct with the suffix) Benfer's article that wasn't just silly? Who gives a dadgum about any of the women quoted, or for that matter, even referred to in the article? They all sound either bitter or pathetic.

Most important, the article loses sight of the fact that anyone who can make a decision regarding whether or not to get married based purely on a philosophy of whether marriage as an institution impedes one's personal freedom is part of a privileged elite. I'm with Andrew Sullivan. Let's concentrate on how we can improve what most people agree is a wonderful institution in theory, and expand it to be more inclusive. Comparing marriage to serfdom in the 21st century is silly. Less musing over theory, more living in the real world, please. Nuff said. Gotta go beat my wife now.

-- Joseph Bates

The litany of tortured justifications invoked by conflicted feminists for indulging in the politically incorrect act of getting married reveal them to be, in one way at least, very much like the proper young bourgeois matrons of generations past -- they still worry a lot about what the neighbors will think.

-- Dick Eagleson

Jennifer Foote Sweeney calls it paternalistic to condemn marriage because marriage is a choice. But it's a choice to participate in a political and economic system that affects everyone. By Sweeney's logic, those abolitionists who condemned the use of cotton because it required complicity with slave labor were paternalistic -- clothing, after all, is a matter of personal choice, much like marriage.

Full disclosure: My parents never married. They've lived together for the past 25 years in what, to my 18-year-old eyes, seems to be a pretty healthy, committed relationship. I'm certainly not anti-relationship or anti-male. But I don't understand the necessity of legally codifying your partnership to another adult.

To me, the most telling point is that marriage is inherently unequal. It is a way of institutionally recognizing some relationships above others. Right now, the inequalities are particularly obvious: If I fall in love with a man, we can enjoy benefits such as tax-free inheritance; if I fall in love with a woman, we can't. But more generally, marriage is a way of placing a value on just one type of loving relationship. The polyamorous love and the platonic love don't count.

The choice I make, as a feminist but more broadly as a person who cares about other people, is not to take part in an institution I find restrictive and reprehensible. I reject Sweeney's view that whether we participate in institutions that may be immoral is of no political relevance.

-- Elizabeth Wrigley-Field

Feminism is a joyless fraud.

-- Art Wallum

I couldn't have put it better myself. The point is to educate women (and everyone else) about all the choices, and then (what a radical idea) trust them to decide for themselves. There's something wrong when my own choice to get married to the man I love puts my feminist credentials up for public review. I love my husband and my principles too! Thanks, Jennifer.

-- Sue Lewis

I'm a feminist who can rarely stomach being around women because I can't take all the whining, sniping, jealousy, and insecurity common among the "enlightened." At 25 years old, I'm not sure how to negotiate my own life while upholding any set of often-contradictory feminist ideals, let alone knowing how someone else should do it. Thank you for a long-overdue call for everyone to back off.

-- Lisa Nosal

Jennifer Sweeney's piece reminded me of that old joke: Q: How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: That's not funny. I enjoyed the piece. Thanks.

-- Sarah Lawsky

Sweeney has it exactly right. I was a Ms.-subscribing, card-carrying member of NOW, NARAL, etc., who has slowly disengaged myself from the groups but not the general basic beliefs. The shrillness and pettiness of the various extremes have nothing to do with my life or that of any of the women I know who are all trying to struggle with the "feminist" issues so ably described by Sweeney.

I want freedoms and choices for me and my daughters (and my son for that matter). I find the hysterical and judgmental rantings of Dworkin, Shalit, MacKinnon and company (both left and right on the spectrum) to be disappointing and unproductive. I have three kids, a male-dominated profession, a house and all of the trials and tribulations of life to deal with. I don't need any of those people to tell me that I am not really a feminist. I have made my choices (good and bad), and I am grateful to the women before me who made it possible to make them--that is feminism.

-- Jeri Rouse Looney

Thank you, Jennifer, for casting a most clear light on the ridiculousness of proving one's credentials. I find this attitude abounds in artistic circles, in macho men, in certain careers, in relationship models and so on. We'd all be much better off with a larger dose of tolerance and compassion for everyone's choices. And now I have a phrase for my mode of living: "personally free and publicly dignified." Thanks!

-- Kim Tilbury

Jennifer Foote Sweeney is absolutely right when she says that there are more important things for feminists to do than pick at one another's personal choices and "feminist pedigrees" -- which leaves me to wonder why she wrote a column teeming with insults aimed at those feminists she considers egocentric, pretentious, irritating and even paternalistic.

It seems a couple of points of clarification might be in order. Many of the "brands" of feminism (for example "Do me" feminism) Sweeney attacks are not categories created by activists but by media, who have always had more of an interest in predicting feminism's decline or death than in accurately representing the movement's goals and work. Likewise, some of the women she has such problems with -- like Ms. Modesty herself, Wendy Shalit -- have built their careers not by fighting for women's rights but by bashing the feminists who do. The reality of feminist activism in the trenches is hardly reflected by media distortions or dismissive gals with grudges.

After listing worthy topics from drug law imbalances to welfare policy to educational and workplace biases, Sweeney asks, "Where is a feminist when you need one? On a beach somewhere, apparently ..." With all due respect, it is easy to find feminists working on those issues and a wide range of others if you look beyond what is represented in carping book reviews and academic arguments. But it is unsurprising that Sweeney or Salon readers in general might believe feminists missing in action: Salon provides a regular platform for anti-feminist pit bull Camille Paglia and feminist ankle-biter Cathy Young, but has no feminist columnists addressing the many ways in which women's rights advocates are tackling violence against women, poverty, health care, child care, reproductive rights, media representation, workplace issues, sweatshops, trafficking in women and a host of other issues on a national and international stage (from a variety of sometimes opposing liberal, progressive and radical perspectives).

I couldn't agree more with Sweeney's assertion that "neurotic rationalizing and self-conscious crowing" is a profound waste of time in the face of the continued biases women (especially women of color and low-income women) face. To that end, I'd encourage Salon to publish fewer hit pieces on feminists, more articles about sexism in Life and in the news sections, and to balance columnists like Paglia, Young and Horowitz with a few progressive feminist writers like Molly Ivins, Laura Flanders, Katha Pollitt, Farai Chideya, Barbara Ehrenreich or Julianne Malveaux. Salon, which is often a valuable resource for perspectives not found elsewhere (Greg Palast's election pieces were a great example), could benefit from broadening its approach to gender politics.

-- Jennifer L. Pozner, Women's Desk Director, FAIR

By Salon Staff

MORE FROM Salon Staff

Related Topics ------------------------------------------