Feminism and the Royal Wedding

Ok, this might seem a bit of a misnoma as a heading, but bear with me.

Glamour this month included a feature “The Royal Wedding has ruined my love life”.  In it, the writer describes how the fact that “Waity Katie” finally “got her man” has made his girlfriend of 8 years suddenly more demanding.  And you know what Glamour, I am really disappointed in you.

Glamour could be considered to be at the feminist end of the glossy spectrum.  It frequently covers pay disparity, is more likely to include CV tips than cleaning tips, and treats women as well-rounded people.  And yet, this coverage of the royal wedding is the same as the coverage everywhere.  Waity-Katie has finally waited long enough, she’s been good enough, and she’s finally been given a new life by Prince Charming.

Couldn’t just one magazine have thought of another side to this story?  Perhaps one like this.

Although Middleton has always loved the Prince, she realised how much she would have to give up to be with him.  Her career would be entirely determined by his birth, as his was.  She would have to marry young, and she couldn’t chose to be child free as heirs would be demanded.  She would, for the rest of her life be judged on her looks by the Daily Mail and others.

For all these reasons, it’s taken Middleton a long time to commit to the Prince.  Although they’ve been living together for a number of years, it wasn’t until this year that she decided she wanted to get married and accept these lifestyle choices.  She had even broken up with Windsor a few years ago, and while he tried to drown his sorrows with his friends, she somberly took the time to reflect on the choice she was making by pursuing a relationship with the heir to the throne.

Now she has finally taken the plunge, she is already carving a career as a Royal, arranging public events, and staking her claims to the fashion world.  We have high hopes for just how much Middleton can achieve – for under-represented people at home and abroad, as well as for British industry at such a difficult time.

Now, I’m not claiming any sort of insider knowledge that suggests this story is true in anyway.  Maybe Kate Middleton is Waity-Katy.  But wouldn’t it be nice if just one mainstream press had presented this view of the story?

Glamour, I expected more from you.


Why I want a civil partnership

I’m straight, and I’ve been with my boyfriend for coming up to 10 years.  We’ve been being asked when we’re going to get married for about 9 years.   And both of us have had our reasons for not wanting to.  Boyf’s are generally around not wanting to feel old, liking having a girlfriend, and that a mortgage is a bigger commitment anyway.  I’m generalising, but he can write his own blog if he wants to.  These are my reasons.

I am committed to my boyfriend.  I’m happy that we have joint ownership of our house, a joint mortgage and a joint bank account for our bills.  I like his family, and happily refer to his mum as my mother-in-law-almost/sort-of.    I’ll even answer to Mrs boyf’s-name when employment agencies call and ask for him.  So it’s not him that’s a problem, it’s marriage.

I don’t want to have a wedding.  I don’t want a white dress.  Why should it be the woman who’s proving / implying her virginity on the wedding day all done up in white, while the man where’s a dark suit?  I don’t want to be given away.  I don’t want to split our friends and family into “bride” and “groom”.  I don’t want to repeat vows that make people think “I notice they omitted the word obey…”.

But that’s easy, I could have a civil wedding, in a nice hotel or the registry office.  But I would still end up being a Wife.  All the words connected with wife I don’t want to be.  House-wife.  Little-wife.  Good-wife.  Wife&Mother.  Ex-wife.  First-wife.  Loving-wife.  Trophy-wife.  None of the words that sum up our relationship go with wife (except maybe “loving” I suppose, if I’m feeling soppy).  No equality, no partnership, no facing the world together.

So why don’t I just stay co-habiting?  Boyf is right, it frequently seems a lot harder to dissolve a mortgage than a marriage.  But last year, during an extended period of unemployment, we nearly lost the house.  So what would we have had then?  Co-habitation works when things are good, but the “better or worse” part of the marriage vows is one of the bits I actually like.  That whatever else we lose, even if we have nothing, we’re still a committed partnership.

Worse, at one point I nearly lost boyf.  What would I have been?  Doctors wouldn’t have spoken to me, police wouldn’t have confirmed his death with me.  I know his family would have involved me, as mine would him if anything ever were to happen.  But actually I want this responsibility, and I want him to have it for me.  All the time I’m conscious I make the most important decisions along side him.  So if I were ever not able to make decisions for myself, it’s him I’d want making them for me.

And then there’s what our families want.  Not just a chance to make a speech or wear a hat on a certain day.  But to have a chance to celebrate our relationship.  We already have an anniversary we mark, and I like that it’s private, a chance for us to celebrate our relationship.  But I know that my Mum would like a chance to send a card to both of us each year, saying “I’m pleased it’s working out”.   I know my Dad would like the chance to stand up and say he’s proud of me, and happy that together we’ve made a good life for ourselves.

I want the chance to publicly register our relationship.  I want everyone in every situation to know that he is the most important person in my life, and I in his.  I want to give our friends and family a chance to celebrate our relationship.  But I don’t want to be a wife.

So, if the law is changed, as suggested in the Guardian, and heterosexual couples could enter civil partnerships, I would want to be at the front of the queue.

Making cohabitation legally binding

This article in the Guardian was based on the suggestion by family lawyer Nicholas Wall that co-habiting couples be given legal protection.  Yvonne Roberts goes so far as to say that couples need these rights.

Treating cohabiting couples as legally the same as those that are married seems to take away a number of our personal rights – the right to chose our own partners, to choose when we get married, and choose what kind of relationships we have.

One of the arguments for this is to protect children after a break up.  But children are already the responsibility of both parents – whether married or not, parents are legally required to care for their children.

So who are we trying to protect with this new legislation?  Vulnerable women?

Well, as an unmarried woman, there are lots of ways that I can protect myself.  I can earn my own living, build up my own savings, pay into a pension and ensure that my name is on the mortgage.   I am not vulnerable simply for being a woman.  And I’m not waiting around for my M.R.S. while my boyfriend resists marriage.  We’re a partnership, making decisions together about the way we want to live our lives.

So we’re not talking about all women.  We’re talking about protecting a particular group of vulnerable women, who are in relationships that are in some way abusive – whether this is physical, emotional or financial.  So if we’re talking about victims of domestic violence, lets ensure that we support these women particularly.  Not enact a law that assumes all women are victims.

This law would be such a blunt instrument, that if an abusive partner wanted to they would easily find a way around it.  Whether that’s breaking up for 2 weeks a year, lying on council tax declarations, or keeping a spare bed made up to show the relationship-inspectors.

Which brings me nicely on to the practicalities of this law.  How would it be decided whether I am married or not?   Is it as soon as we live in the same building?  When it’s been one year?  How is it decided whether I’m in a relationship or simply flat-sharing.  Will there be bed checks as well as forms?   Or should I have gotten divorced from my housemate before moving in with my boyfriend?

David Allen Green posted on the New Statesman this week reminding us that marriage is a legal contract with consequences.  So how exactly would a court, or any other branch of state decide for me that I’ve entered a legal contract?  Green suggests that if people were aware of the legal implications of marriage, perhaps less people would be inclined to enter into this state.  And perhaps that’s true.  Perhaps also, if people were universally aware that there is no such thing as a “common law wife”, and co-habiting couples don’t have rights after some vague length of time, they would be more likely to get married.  Either way, I fully support people ensuring that they know their rights, and have taken responsibility for what would happen if their relationship ends by protecting themselves accordingly.

Relationships aren’t all exactly the same.  We all have the right to choose the kind of relationship we want to be in.  And as a society, we have a responsibility to protect vulnerable people – whether they are children or victims of domestic violence.  But lets not try to uphold this responsibility by walking rough shod over our rights.