Marriage for the 21st Century

[Content note: rape; homophobia; heterocentric and ciscentric culture.]

[Author’s Note: I am by no means an expert in law. The information I have used for this blog post has been acquired through other articles and personal testimonies. If anyone wishes to clarify a particular legal position that would be appreciated. It’s also worth noting that the discussions today and tomorrow in parliament may mean that some things referred to in this blog post will have changed.]

So equal marriage. Gay marriage, same-sex marriage, civil partnerships, etc. is in the news a LOT at the moment. The third reading of the new marriage bill is going through parliament today and tomorrow. It’s brought a lot of homophobes out of the woodwork and caused me to swear at the radio more than once, but it’s also bringing about exciting opportunities to really change the institution of marriage and change it for the better. It’s a positive step forward and it’s good for me (a gay woman) to know that someday I might be able to get married in this country. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that, even if same-sex marriage becomes legal, the changes will be that radical.

Okay, so what are the problems with the same-sex marriage bill? A huge problem is that sex is legally defined as a penis inserted into a vagina (PIV). This effectively means that legally speaking a lot of gay people aren’t or have never had sex. (Not all, as obviously not all women have vaginas nor do all men have penises. There are also many Gender Studies 101 points to be made here: people have had sex with partners of different genders; bisexuality and other people on the spectrum exist — ‘they’re here, they’re queer, get used to it’;  oh and of course many heterosexual couples choose not to have PIV sex.) This means that marriage laws and civil partnerships involving gay people don’t require consummation of a marriage through sexual intercourse. It also means that legally, gay people may not to be able to use adultery as a reason for divorce unless the person playing away had PIV sex. There is actually a line in the proposed bill that says “only conduct between the respondent and a person of the opposite sex may constitute adultery for the purposes of this section”. This is obviously ridiculous and needs to be changed, but we also need to be aware that it’s being used by the anti-equality brigade as a way of arguing against and delaying the same-sex marriage bill. It’s important to realise that many heterosexual couples divorce on grounds of adultery even when there has been no PIV sex.

Basically this shit is complicated. Ideally I think a lot of feminists would like a re-evaluation of how we define sex by law and within our culture. (For example, it’s not legally rape unless it’s PIV [Edit or PIA]. Oh and our old favourite: that sacred mythical concept of virginity and purity.) But it’s also worth considering why marriages have to involve sexual consummation at all. If two people want to declare themselves publically partnered, to make someone their next of kin with all the rights and benefits that involves, why is it the law’s business if they have PIV sex, or indeed any type of sexual intercourse? The requirement by law for consummation to validate a marriage also adds another dimension and expectation to a marriage: that those within it are required to have sex and may feel obligated. Marital rape is now recognised and illegal in this country, but unhealthy attitudes towards consent remain tied to marriage. Furthermore, there are many asexual people in romantic relationships who may wish to get married. Not to mention those people who would like to make close personal friendships into next of kin ties; what right do we or the state have in saying they can’t do that?

Those writing the new law have also spent very little time considering the implications of the same sex marriage bill for trans* people. Currently married trans* people have to get their marriages annulled upon legally transitioning to the “opposite” gender; those marriages that have been annulled will not be reinstated. Furthermore, when trans* people go to get their Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC), they will have to get their spouse to consent in writing to the GRC. If, that is, the marriage was originally considered an ‘opposite sex’ marriage. Those who married as a ‘same-sex’ couple will not have to have their spouse along to give legal consent. Presumably, because same-sex couples aren’t as worried about becoming legally in a heterosexual relationship, while heterosexuals need their privileged status protected. Oh, and all this is only in reference to binary-identified trans* people; nonbinary people can still not legally get married if they wish to be recognised as nonbinary, as the definition of marriage does not include people who do not identify as either male or female.

There are other problems connected to old-fashioned, outdated laws and legal requirements with marriage that feminists also need to be aware of and try to change. For example, I was made aware recently that on marriage certificate and legal documents you are required to put your father’s profession but there is no space for your mother’s. This is obviously outdated but actually becomes ridiculous when you learn that you can put a stepfather’s occupation down, even if they were only married to your mother for a brief amount of time during your childhood. There are other issues too: a friend of mine amicably split with her husband yet legally has to prove that they’ve been living separately for two years before they are able to divorce. This seems ridiculous; surely if two consenting adults can enter into a legal contact of marriage, they should be able to get divorced if both happily consent to the split. Even if one spouse wants to leave and is unhappy in the marriage, they should be able to do this without jumping through legal loopholes. Though I understand that a lot of the legalities of divorce were brought in to protect a vulnerable partner, people should be able to divorce simply because the marriage is no longer working. The Netherlands has the right idea in this regard, where simply the irreparable breakdown of a marriage constitutes grounds for divorce.

For many feminists of course, the institution of marriage is a patriarchal institution so tainted that they would much rather have a civil partnership that doesn’t have the same historic baggage. However, the new proposals make no changes to allow heterosexual couples civil partnerships . Same-sex and heterosexual couples will continue to be perceived differently in the eyes of the law.

I don’t want same-sex marriage to be delayed; I want same-sex couples to be closer to equality as soon as possible; however, we do need to keep pushing for a law that is up to date and relevant. Same-sex marriage is a positive step in the right direction, but making same-sex marriage legal should not be seen as the end of the process. What we really need to do is properly overturn and re-evaluate marriage, divorce and definitions of sex for the 21st century.

Love is Love
Text: Love is Love, Regardless of Gender. Support Marriage Equality at www.c4em.org.uk 

*EDIT* A lot of people have been expressing the general thought on this post, why do we need marriage at all? Well mainly what we do need is the ability to define who is our next of kin. Our first point of contact, family visiting rights, inheritance rights, the right to make decisions in regard to health care, the right to live in your partners country. These are all things that people in same sex relationships have lacked for a long time. These are not things to be dismissed. What we call it, I’m not too bothered about. Though I think we should always challenge it when same sex relationships are seen differently in the eyes of the law.

References:
Diva magazine, April 2013. Article: Putting the sex into equal marriage. Kim Renfrew.

Autostraddle, December 2012: Faulty Deflowerings, UK Lawmakers Trying to Define Sex. Gabrielle.

Sarah Brown’s Blog, January 2013: Same-Sex Marriage Bill — Transgender Implications.

Related reading:
Jessica Valenti: The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession With Virginity Is Hurting Young Women

International Workers’ Day

Today is International Workers’ Day, so I found a good series of videos on the relation between feminism and working class women, and feminism on the left, by Those Pesky Dames. Feminism is often followed and participated in by more upper and middle class women than working class women. In these times of austerity, with women facing the brunt of the majority of cuts in services, it is vital that activist groups both on the left and in feminist circles include the voices and actions of working class women. Feminism needs to be more accessible to those without a university level education or time on their hands to do lots of research online (which, due to health problems and having such time on my hands, is how I managed to get to grips with some of the academic language). Anyway, the Dames’ video playlist says a lot of things better than I can, so give them your time and YouTube hits. 

On matters of why feminism is needed in the ranks of socialism in the UK, there is this, which as a socialist (non-affiliated with any party) saddens and angers me.

May Day bank holiday is coming up! Unfortunately, for us in the UK we may not have a bank holiday on the first Monday of May for much longer as the Conservative Government in 2011 plan to move the extra bank holiday in May to October, and May Day has come under their sights as the May bank holiday to be cut. There is more on the international history of May Day on the page, and is well worth a look as a jumping off point. 

Also, in an interesting twist, I found this article on the socialist feminist roots of International Women’s Day, founded in 1909! 

In Solidarity,

Pix

In Tory Britain, women’s issues are rarely seen or heard in the media

By Megan Sherman

[content note: domestic violence, abuse]

Murderer Mick Philpott’s judicial and media trials could have given his victims the dignity and justice of a frank discussion about the social disgrace of gendered violence which formed the crux of the case, but by men’s politicking and posturing in the media, the sadistic abuse of women and children has been denied the oxygen of public debate. In its place hard-right rags pulled Philpott’s state benefits centre-stage and the left by necessity took the bait, calling bullshit on the most cynical of anti-welfare propaganda.

The welfare issue dominated post-trial analysis at great expense for feminism. Facts about Philpott’s profile as an abuser and the heightened vulnerability of women whose key support services are being cut and closed wilt from the public scene. A scrap of information here and there in the New Statesman and Daily Mirror sadly doesn’t drown out the din of the talking heads of privilege, aka. the Tory commentariat, the morality makers in an age of corporate owned, right-wing mass media.

Imagine an objective documentary of Philpott’s crimes (trigger warning): over the course of the protagonist’s life, his chronic, violent hatred for others mutates. He becomes ever crueller and humiliating to the young women he romances. First he beats one with planks. Later he’s imprisoned, after repeatedly stabbing a girlfriend who threatens to leave him, puncturing several of her major organs — an outcome which only at the hands of somebody as nasty as Mick Philpott one could entertain the thought of calling something glib like a ‘lucky escape’.

After being released, Mick continues to charm and exploit multiple partners, living with many of them in the same house at the same time. He attempts to control their reproduction, manipulates them for his own material gain, and, not content with beating women himself, he teaches children to hit their mothers. It’s a rotten life. Finally, he burns down a house in which six children are asleep for the very last time, incensed by his partner’s threat to emancipate herself from his tyranny.

It’s a sad account of callous abuse and control which reflects a bloodcurdling reality for women in Britain. Two women die each week as a result of domestic abuse, and countless more cower through a life immediately threatened by the terrifying sadism of their partners. Society’s ethic can be gauged as much by what’s ignored in public debates than by their obvious content. Silence, fear and ignorance gives power to domestic abuse, and still frank conversations about misogyny are largely uncharted by — actively avoided by some of — the mainstream media.

Only the most decadent tabloid consumer would look at the facts of the Philpott case and bark questions about the abuser’s benefits as if they were a determinant of criminal action case. His criminality was symptomatic of a particularly extreme and violent misogyny, not welfare — a seemingly obvious point which events have shown it’s sadly necessary to continue pointing out. It’s worth noting however that the link between socio-economic poverty and imprisonment can be supported, and, crucially, it reflects entirely on the deep-seated problems of intersecting inequalities and not at all on the wisdom of supporting those trapped in the peripheries of the social net.

Conservatives — who in the same breath endorse cuts to Sure Start, rape crisis centres, domestic abuse shelters, and stigmatise single or poor mothers — laughably demand with indignant fury that all feminists languish in the putrid memory of Margaret Thatcher, macho-power incarnate, hetero-normative nuclear family extraordinaire, who wheeled back just about everyone’s rights, stigmatised LGBTQ identities and upheld the most calcified prejudice in public, not least calling feminism ‘poison’. That the media could wheel out feminism in their inevitable slip-shod hagiography of Thatcher, but barely mention it during the post-trial analysis of Philpott highlights the ignorant, lax attitude towards gender equality in Tory Britain.

It’s depressing that the politicking of men in the media drowns out the most salient feature of the Mick Philpott narrative, the safety of women and children. In the long term, any media model with a chance of being socially progressive must move towards democratic control, by which the marginalised can allocate resources to media that can prove it is acting in the public interest, best representing diversity, giving scope to the fullest possible range of narratives and discourse, and, ultimately, actively busting stereotypes and prejudice. Until then it falls upon feminists to keep on challenging anyone who denies that it’s Mick Philpott’s violent misogyny, not his welfare status, which makes him a burden on society.

An open letter to American feminists on the death of Margaret Thatcher

So yesterday was a Big Thing for Brits on the Internet. And then this happened, a statement that needed saying:

A couple of HFC members have become dismayed at some American feminist pages’ lauding of Thatcher as a feminist icon. This is not the case. She described feminism as poison. But in lauding her they are often at pains to make clear that they ‘don’t agree with the politics but as a woman in power she deserves celebrating’. This is reducing her to her gender, and ignoring the harmful effect she had on women, on the LGBTQ community, and her supporting of racist, classist and genocidal regimes. One cannot laud someone’s office whilst ignoring the crimes they do whilst there, and to reduce anyone to their gender is being sexist.

For those not in the UK, it’s easy to see her as an abstract landmark event. For the people living in the UK we have her legacy, it isn’t historic. It’s going on NOW. It’s a pretty fucked up legacy, that is hurting women, people with disabilities, and is making the UK a more and more unequal society. This is not an abstract to us. We are living this.

When a couple of us took the page in question to task on these very issues, they ignored the testimony of a 33 year old woman who was raised in poverty in Thatcher’s Britain. But in a bizarre possible form of sexism reserved all their replies for the male member of HFC.

We find the idea of forced solidarity with Thatcher based upon her gender highly patronising, and would rather celebrate the women of Greenham Common, the miner’s wives and all other women who opposed Thatcher, not because of their gender, but because of what they stood for.

(SC + PIX + IZZI) [from our Facebook page]

When we as feminists call out Caitlin Moran for racism, when we call out transphobic radical feminists — we hope to make some points about how a feminism without intersectionality isn’t a feminism we want any part of, and why bigotry isn’t feminist.

When we call FEMEN out for racism, we hope to do the same. Izzi is a Muslim and a feminist; no one is asking her to stand in solidarity with FEMEN just because they are women.

One of these pages on FB has a massive focus on intersectionality normally; we were BEYOND pissed off. Pix is the member raised in poverty by a single mum and DV survivor. Pix’s mum used to go without food to feed her and her siblings. And Pix’s mum and women like her were vilified by the government of the time. (See study here)

Pix is 33 and joked, ‘I feel like aping the bad Vietnam movie trope of “YOU WEREN’T THERE, MAN.”’

When you laud Thatcher as a feminist icon, you erase that experience. You uphold a racist, homophobic, classist woman who was probably one of the best examples of internalised misogyny to ever hit the halls of power in the UK, or as one of our members put it, ‘Holding Thatcher up as a feminist icon is like kicking intersectionality in the stomach.’

Thatcherism is alive and well in the UK today. We dare American feminists to say that she is a feminist icon to feminists with disabilities in the UK, when they fail to consider her legacy, in the demonization of the working class and people on benefits, disability hate crimes as result of Tory rhetoric, and the ATOS medical tests that have deemed people fit for work who later died, or committed suicide in 2012. We dare them to say that to women like Pix, and her mum, who lived in social housing whilst it was being sold off, and communities in these less affluent areas crumbled. (An excerpt from Owen Jones’s Chavs: The Demonisation Of The Working Class)

Another member found this today, from Tumblr. And it says what we were attempting to say so, so well.

My feminism doesn’t support women who go to immense lengths to cut services that directly help and benefit other women.

My feminism doesn’t support all women simply because they’re women.

My feminism doesn’t support women who use their power to plunder, steal and exacerbate class gaps.

My feminism doesn’t support warmongering and bigoted propaganda wielding.

My feminism doesn’t support anyone who upholds an apartheid state as the beacon of civilization while referring to resistance organizations as “terrorism”.

My feminism doesn’t support white supremacy, exploitation of the proletariat, imperialism and misogyny (wow, shocker, women can perpetuate misogyny!!!!) all of which thatcher was disgustingly guilty of.

My feminism doesn’t support women who reinforce the idea of a heteronormative nuclear family structure, while publicly referring to feminism as poison.

My feminism doesn’t support systematic oppression, full stop.

maarnayeri

So, American feminists, please THINK before you get all misty eyed about ‘The Iron Lady’. Please, don’t patronise British people in marginalised sections of our society. Please don’t erase our experiences, and don’t forget your intersectionality when it comes to Lady T.

With thanks,

Hampshire Feminist Collective

Further things you may want to read as to the political landscape of the 1980s in the UK: