Huh, I have a minor disagreement with Jill. I agree with her that most people who read the weird New York Times story about women who spend years planning a wedding without even having a potential groom in mind read it as a “bitches are crazy” story, but the story itself struck me as an attempt to normalize the behavior. The dissenters to the behavior quoted in the story offered mild objections—objectors mostly focused on making sure that wedding planning didn’t distract from other important female goals, such as acquiring a groom and not getting so attached to your plans that you aren’t willing to let the hypothetical groom have his dream wedding—but the primary objections were absent. There was no WTF reaction, or a somber reminder of how objectifying and dehumanizing this whole approach is. Indeed, the objections, as minor as they were, were relegated to the second page, whereas the first page was given over mostly to wedding industry folks who characterized the behavior as normal, practical, and even inevitable. Which, in turn, means more money for them, as women who feel free to plan a wedding for years before even meetinga potential groom are going to go nuts with the spending the second they get a real chance at it.
In other words, I thought the story was upholding and even celebrating the stereotype of women as so eager to be validated by a wedding that they’ll marry the first man who shows interest, just because they are so desperate for that shot to be photographed in their dream dress. I didn’t think it was very critical of women who embody that stereotype at all, and it subtly tried to inflate the percentage of women who engage in this behavior.
It’s worth noting that there’s a male counterpart to the “women are eager to get married any time, and it barely matters to who” stereotype. It’s the stereotype that men are eager to cat around until they wake up one day suddenly eager to get married, and they, equally indifferent as eager brides to things like “love” and “passion”, grab the first woman who comes by and honors her with a rock and invitation to do his laundry for the rest of his life. You see this stereotype everywhere, such as “Sex and the City”.
Or check out this iVillage piece on why men get married. The reasons are that he’s tired of sowing his oats, he wants to be a dad, he makes enough money, and he’s gotten comfortable enough with you that he might as well. Not mentioned? That he’s in love with you and, ecstatic that he’s found someone that he feels so much affection and passion for, he can’t wait to make a commitment.
Now, I’m not married and don’t want to be, in no small part because the institutional nature of marriage leads directly to this kind of thinking, wherein “spouse” is a job you want filled instead of an outgrowth of your love for another person. But there’s definite ideological argument of gender underpinning these stereotypes of why women and men marry. Basically, the implication is that real love between men and women is a myth. This fits into a larger sexist belief that men and women are “opposites” who put up with each other out of necessity, but who don’t really like each other very much. Believers in this believe that women need men, who are their social superiors, to choose them and validate them. (Being unchosen is considered a fate worse than death, which is why so many conservatives think that it’s a game winner to “argue” that feminists are just unchosen women who are bitter about our lack of validation from men—validation that is our sole purpose in existing, apparently.) In exchange for validating a woman’s right to exist by choosing her, a man gets someone to look after him and his home, provide him regular sex, and have children that will be named after him.
Sometimes I think that many Americans, especially those that write sexist trend pieces for mainstream publications, just wish we could have arranged marriage instead of a bewildering dating process to hook people up so they can look forward to a future of her providing him regular sex in exchange for occasional diamond purchases to re-up her validation in the eyes of friends and family.
What’s driving these narratives that assume women are looking for anyone to marry them at any time and men marry the first lady that comes along after their “available” light goes off is maintaining the narrative that men and women don’t really experience true camaraderie and passion. The reality is that men and women often—frequently, even!—do fall in real love with each other, but real love doesn’t play nicely with traditional gender roles. Real love between two people creates potential for equality to sneak in, for him to actually start respecting her as a person instead of the vagina-holder that is currently filling the position of “wife”, and for her to see him as a flesh-and-blood man instead of the god who came down on high to validate her right to exist. Real love means that women have the power to break men’s hearts. Real love means that women should hold out for someone who excites them, instead of someone who will deign to have them.
If men and women can enjoy each other’s company instead of simply tolerate each other well enough to fill the spousal roles, then that might mean—god forbid—that maybe men and women are diverse groups that have more in common than not. If he loves her, then maybe he sees more in her than a hole to fuck and hands that scrub. If she loves him, maybe she sees him as more than a provider and a trophy to show off on Facebook. Maybe they see each other as people. Which, in turn, suggests that perhaps we’re more than gender stereotypes, and yes, maybe those girls at cons in costumes aren’t “fake” geeks and maybe that guy who enjoys clothes shopping actually likes it, and isn’t just pretending while laughing behind your back. Maybe he loves her mind. Maybe she actually has sexual desire. Maybe our narrow gender roles are so much bullshit and garbage.
That’s why I think these ridiculous stories persist that erase people’s complex sexual and romantic lives and replace them with tales of weddings planned without grooms having been met or men deciding to marry because they woke up one day and realized that toilet won’t scrub itself. The love narrative makes men more vulnerable and women more picky than their traditional gender roles allow for, and it subtly destablizes the justifications for male dominance. It requires us to think more of people as unique individuals, instead of interchangeable members of a stereotyped gender.