We talk a lot about what makes a wedding feminist, but we talk less about what factors go into what makes a marriage feminist. I know, I know: Weddings are arguably more fun to discuss, but marriages are those big things that come after the ceremony is over. So, what does make a marriage feminist? It's of course going to depend on your and your partner's values, beliefs, and perspectives on both yourselves and the world around you. And that's OK! Feminism doesn't have to mean the same thing for everyone; in fact, it's largely about having the ability to choose what is right for you, and respecting what is right for others as their own path.
Although some might argue that feminism is all political, I would actually say that while it certainly does have an undeniable impact on politics and policy (as well it should), it can also have a huge impact on your personal and home lives. At the end of the day, a strong relationship hinges on what makes you and your partner feel the very best and most comfortable. Still, it can be beneficial to think about the choices you make and the lens in which you view your world in terms of feminism and equality.
Here are examples of how traditions in marriages can be updated to send a surprisingly feminist message. The main point? Just because something has "always been done a certain way" doesn't mean that you have to do them that way. You get to make your own traditions — and it's hugely empowering to do so.
1. How You Choose The Stay-At-Home Parent (If There's Even One At All)
Depending on your financial situation, lifestyle choices, and other needs, it's common for one parent to stay at home with the kids. Frequently the stay-at-home parent is a woman, because that's what our culture's gender norms teach us is "supposed" to happen. Now, in my opinion, I think it's totally a feminist choice to stay at home if you choose to as a woman, but I also think it's a feminist choice to do so as a man; the whole point is that it's a choice, not something that's foisted upon anyone by outside forces. While all couples have their own criteria for choosing who stays home (if anyone) and who works, making the decision based on factors other than sex or gender identity is definitely a feminist act.
2. What You Decide To Do About Your Names
Many couples choose not to legally change their last names at all after their wedding, while others do; no matter what you choose, though, it can be a feminist act. If you do choose to change your name, a nice way to update the long-standing tradition (which, in heterosexual relationships, dictates that the woman takes the man's name) can be for both partners to create an entirely new name together, which they both then use going forward. Sometimes couples choose last names based on generations back in their family history; some choose an alternative spelling of their current last name; some might hyphenate their names; and some might form a portmanteau of both partner's name. No matter how you go about doing it, though, it's a feminist act. And if you decide to go with tradition, or with each of you keeping your own names? That's totally valid, too. The point is that you're both voicing your opinion and formulating a new identity together.
3. Writing And Updating Marriage Contracts
Marriage contracts go way back. In the past, they've largely been used to control women, in that they outline what women are expected to do in the marriage (largely with regards to work around the house, what she'll bring into it as a dowry, etc.); in the modern day, however, they can be a tool for women to use to advocate for their wants and needs in a marriage. Establishing ground rules and expectations for both parties in a marriage contract is a way for people to feel their desires are heard and accounted for based on their individual preferences, and not just rooted in traditional gender norms. Updating the marriage contract at intervals throughout the marriage can be useful, too, in keeping up with the changes and shifts life inevitably throws at you.
4. How You Handle Your Finances
Traditionally, couples merge their finances and share bank accounts after getting married. Of course, even couples who aren't married might choose to share their money; if, for example, they cohabit, it makes paying for things like rent or utilities a little simpler. But the historical reason for couples sharing finances is a little less rosy — women have actually long been pretty oppressed when it came to managing their own money. It was actually illegal, for instance, for a woman to get a credit card that wasn't tied to her husband's name until the 1970s, which is kind of mind-blowing.
But today, many married couples don't merge their finances; indeed, there are countless reasons a couple might choose to maintain separate bank accounts. Whether it's because people like to keep track of their own spending money, or whether they keep a personal emergency fund, keeping at least some money separate can protect both parties.
5. Having A Plan For Household Duties
Ah, yes. The dreaded "Who is going to do the dishes?" discussion that never seems to end. Traditionally, it's been expected that women take on the bulk of household duties, including cleaning, cooking, and child rearing. While there's nothing inherently anti-feminist about a woman doing work around the house (as long as no one is being dorced into a gender role they don't want), either way, in a feminist marriage, the decisions of who takes on what tasks around the house are what based on works best for your relationship and makes both of you feel satisfied and equal. For some couples, this means chores and responsibilities rotate and vary depending on work and travel. For others, this role becomes established early in, because consistency is key. The root of this in feminism, though, is that the decision works for all members involved, and isn't decided just based on sex or gender identity.
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