Planning a marriage is a funny old thing. It’s a pretty huge life decision to make, and it’s pretty normal to be a little nervous. Unfortunately for me, my fears are a little more out of my control than standard pre-wedding jitters. And I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in being frightened of being treated and viewed differently after I’m married.
So today a friend overheard in an open-plan office…
“Yeah I checked Facebook and one’s married and the other has an on-off boyfriend so she’s probably less likely to get pregnant soon. Yeah we’ll hire her.”@EverydaySexism #everydaysexism #its2018 #alsoillegal
— Ann Verity (@annverity) February 1, 2018
While anecdotal, the tweet above is a pretty typical example of how women are discriminated against in the workplace. It’s a real fear of mine, that by choosing to get married, I could also be tanking some of my own career prospects in the process. As the practise is illegal, it’s very hard to find actual numbers on this, but it is sometimes the case that young women, especially those recently married, are passed over for promotion, or are rejected at interview, because managers don’t want to take the hit of maternity leave, or have an employee who takes days off to care for a sick child, and wants to *gasp* leave on time in order to care for their offspring. All this before you’ve even thought about getting pregnant! I do wonder what happens to women who get married, but can’t or (like myself) don’t want to have children. As nobody can seem to think this is an option, we take the hit anyway, and the sheer fact of owning a womb and having a husband make you less employable.
It’s not just job prospects that worry me. I’ve always been an independent sort, and while my fiancé and I are very much a team, I’m also still keen on maintaining a seperate identity. Even before we were engaged, I had a real hatred of people referring to us as ‘George-and-David’ (George and David is fine, but there’s a way of mashing our names together that enrages me), in a manner that suggests we are one entity sharing a brain and must think and feel the exact same about everything. Getting engaged only made that worse; in fact, some people stopped using my name at all and began to refer to me, always with a knowing smile or a nudge, as ‘the future Mrs Whitney’. I’m staggeringly excited about being Dave’s wife, but I’d like to have my own first name, please.
Actually, I’d like my own surname too, which is a whole other kettle of fish. Luckily, my friends and family seem pretty okay with that decision (my Dad is very pro this choice, actually, which is great). I’ve had the odd person worried I think they’re anti-feminist for choosing to take their husband’s name, but otherwise it’s been pretty chill. For the record, I couldn’t care less what other women choose to do with their names. What has been odd is the reaction to the idea of going double-barrelled. Dave’s preference would be for us both to go double-barrelled, so we would both be Elsmere-Whitney. I actually love this idea; we’d have the same surname, indicating our new team status, but also allows us both to maintain our own, original names, while also symbolically joining the others family. When I’m asked if I’m changing my name, and I answer that actually, we think we’ll both go double-barrelled, the person asking looks a bit sick for a moment, before arranging their face into strained politeness and replying, “Oh! How…modern!” A study last year by the University of Nevada Las Vegas looked into how people tend to view men whose wife’s keep their name after marriage. The study found that when participants described the sort of men who marry women who keep their maiden names, they described them as less powerful, or rated them in more emotional terms, rather than proactive, useful ones. Some respondents were nice enough to call these men ‘understanding’, whereas others went with the blunter, ‘timid’. One respondee went as far as saying, “The man is weak, and the woman is strong.”
It bothers me that people will make assumptions about the sort of man Dave is, due to my decision to keep Elsmere, and I can only imagine what a man who not only ‘allows’ his wife to keep her name, but takes that name for himself as well, will be viewed us being.
A lot of the traditions of marriage are inherently anti-female too. The women is literally ‘given away’ as property, by her father to her new husband. There is a line in the woman’s vows (now usually left out) where she must promise to ‘honour and obey’. The white dress was originally intended to represent the virginity of the bride. Traditionally, at the reception, the groom, the best man and the father of the bride speak, while the bride and other women remain silent. All this too, views marriage in a very heteronormative way. Who speaks at the wedding of two women? Who is ‘given away’ at the wedding of two men?
Not to suggest that any of this is putting me off, of course. Despite all this fuss, I am content and happy, and actually enjoying wedding planning. For me, marriage will not be an old-fashioned exercise in ownership, but confirmation of the fact we’re a team. Please tell me I’m not the only bad bride out there who gets the shudders the idea of ‘honouring and obeying’, or planning on being a terrible shrew of a wife insisting he takes my name?