by Skirt Club Jem 

Can you marry AND still be a feminist? It’s a question that continues to plague our generation. Many of us were raised by mothers who dared to dream of more, who went out to work and maybe started convincing their husbands that they should pick up a fucking hoover and look after their own kids from time to time.

I’m so grateful for these pioneers, who themselves may have fought against the constraints and expectations foisted upon them by our grandparents’ generation, who were taught to accept their lot and not ruffle any feathers.

As family and household dynamics started to change over the years though, so did our expectations and our range of choices. With marriage rates now slowing down and divorce rates rocketing, it begs the question there a point in getting married at all, anymore?

According to some feminists, the very institution is outdated; a tyrannical equivalent of a ball and chain. “It’s an institution that has cirtailed women’s freedom for centuries”, says radical feminist and writer Julie Bindel. Long before Bindel, the English writer and philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft dubbed the very idea of marriage “Little more than a state of legal prostitution” - and that was in the 1700s.

Image via Canva

These days, weddings cost an average of £30,000. We’re now expected to fork out for ridiculous hen weekends, entire weekends on ‘pre-wedding celebrations.’ Forgive my cynicism, but all this dosh is a lot of money to pay for a party for relatives who will judge you while they sip the champagne you paid for...and then spell your name incorrectly on your wedding card.

For those who are dizzy with the romance of it all though, there is the added concern of surnames.

Can you and should you take your partner’s name when you marry? Is it submissive and oppressive? Are you turning your back on the sisterhood if you take your male partners name? Will Germaine Greer come knocking down your door to shout at you for cosying up to the patriarchy? 

God, its bloody exhausting being ‘woke’ sometimes.

Many moons ago, when my mother was walking me home from primary school, we spotted a brand new car parked up on the side of the road – a nippy little white sports car. It was the eighties, so the interior had all squiggly patterns in varying shades of yellow, grey and black. It was bloody glorious. My mother was ooooing and ahhhhing over it. She told me at the time “If you don’t get married, you can have one of those one day.”

Stay independent - always

Being a kid, I had no idea what she’d meant at the time. But I came to realise that she meant that if I were to maintain my independence, earn my own money and not pop out kids left, right and centre, if I were to avoid having a husband who’d shag anything with a pulse and then leave me to fend for myself, then I’d be less likely to end up with nothing, destitute and smelling like stale biscuits. If you don’t know the smell of stale biscuits then you have never taken the bus. Congratulations!

Anyway, I decided all along that was going to be eternally single and live my best life. As it turns out, I only ever spent two years alone, so made the most of it by decorating my kitchen with Hello Kitty furniture and textiles. But the spanner in the works was that I met a funny, sweet and gentle American who proposed to me.

Don't ask for permission

At the time, we did that thing where he called my step-dad to ask for permission. Well it wasn’t ‘permission’ as such, more of a courtesy call like “Hey, just to let you know, I’m marrying your daughter this week, no-one knows and I just wanted to let you know first so you’re not shocked.” So this got me thinking – the whole asking the father for permission thing, in retrospect is as creepy and weird as those ‘purity dances’ they have in the US or those gross ‘Daddy Daughter dates’. It’s weird to me that fathers (or parents) should want to try and have ‘final say’ in such a monumental and personal decision or to try and direct their children’s romantic lives, but there you go.

So – asking for permission? Can you...should you? My own feeling is that unless Mumsy and Pop-pop are paying for the bloody wedding, they shouldn’t really be granting their permission at all. You are your own person and the umbilical cord was cut long ago.

Surnames. Are we really still expected to automatically take the name of our partner? What if their family are all douchebags or really bad role models? Why should we be expected to carry this dreadful legacy forward like some kind of flag of defeat?

Image via CanvaI had this torturous conversation with my husband. I’m gonna be frank – our biological Dads were/are douchebags of varying degrees and for different reasons. What the hell did we owe them? They didn’t have an input to our lives, feed us or take care of us. Why would we honour them by carrying their names forward?

Our Mums, though? They were bloody angel warriors who’d fought for us, inspired us and yes ok – turned us into whining, over-emotional millennial types who talk about their feelings a lot. But they did all the work of two parents and with twice as much love and gusto. Shouldn’t we be honouring the feminine figures in our lives instead? The ones who actually gave us life and made it so much richer? Nevermind the sacred feminine and divine goddesses, they were bad-ass boss bitches who brought home the bacon!

Create your own surname

So, we thought about taking their surnames instead. Not their new married names, though.

We decided to fuse together their original maiden names to create a new double-barrelled name for our family. We’d honour the names they identified with before they met a series of douchy men who hampered their enjoyment, limited their potential and held them back. 

My mother’s maiden name: a beautiful Welsh and Cornish name hailed from tin miners in the Cornish and West Walian hills is gentle and delicate. And his name – a name that no-one has ever heard of, other-worldy in a way. A name we assumed had travelled over the Atlantic from the Netherlands or Germany and settled in the Dutch towns of Pennsylvania where his grandfather was born. Actually, we’ve since discovered it is an old Saxon name, so it’s the name that keeps on giving!

The change in our surnames reflected a new adventure, a sparkly new chapter without the legacy of our parents’ divorces and relationship difficulties. Our name is one of other places, other dreams. It’s long and suuuuper annoying to spell, granted. But it’s part of our story and is a direct thread to our lovely mothers - and their sweet mothers too, our amazing nannies.

When we told our friends about our new name they accused us of trying to be ‘posh’. Nothing very ‘posh’ about tin miners in Wales and Cornwall or Pennsylvanian farm labourers, but that’s Britain’s class hang up for you! We made ourselves even more pompous and irritating by telling people we had ‘re-branded ourselves’ in a postmodern feminist tribute to our mothers. This is why people hate millennials, incidentally.

Your new name might not be around forever (that's OK)

Since my young daughter is her own woman already, I have no expectations or assumptions about the name she will choose for herself. She can use our double-barrel postmodern feminist tribute…or she can create a new name and a new story for herself and her family. I have no ownership over her identity, her sexuality or her name. She already knows that she can marry a man, marry a woman or marry no-one at all, her choice.

Your wedding, your marriage and your proposal in the end should be about you and your partner and whatever you feel is right for you as a couple. If you want my advice, get married in a country 5,000 miles away from your friends and family and then send everyone back home a postcard of the wedding picture of you both. But then I’m a bit weird like that and that’s a story for another time.


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