In a few months, I am about to do something incredibly, horrifically normative. I am going to get married.
But of course, why “horrifically” normative? I don’t, actually, think getting married is any kind of horrific – but, it is undeniably normative. Yet my ironic use of the term points to my consciousness, as a feminist, leftist, and “egghead,” about how this news has been received by those around me. Put simply, I’ve received the standard responses from either side of the cultural divide – the elation that seems to surround the spectacle of a woman “settling down” and, the shock of those who thought I would never do it.
But first to the more standard responses, as they are likely more familiar to many of us. The first thing that struck me about telling people that I am engaged was how often I was greeted with empathic “congratulations!,” delivered with such excitement that you would have thought, had you just started eavesdropping, that I had won a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, I don’t recall so many people congratulating me with such animation for anything I’ve ever done before – and I have a PhD, so, it’s not like I don’t have an accomplishment worthy of comparing it to. Interestingly, though, most people seem aware of the oddness of this fact, because I’ve often responded to these congratulations honestly by smiling and saying, “Thank you!, all of this attention is making me feel like I accomplished something really difficult” – and this almost always gets a big laugh. (Or perhaps they are laughing because they are thinking, “I know!, right? So hard to find a good man willing to get hitched before we’re all shriveled up shrews”?)
The especially funny thing about this is how you get this response from people you don’t even know. I’ve now had two conversations with two separate bank tellers about where I am getting married, whether or not I have a dress, when is the date, etc – it seems like they not only feel compelled to extend this small talk into a more substantial discussion, but they genuinely enjoy doing so. Knowing that this random person they’ve never met is getting married soon well, it just brightens their day!
Which, like the heart-felt congrats, leaves me cocking my head and maybe giggling to myself a bit, but it doesn’t bother me too much; because quite frankly, I’m happy to take the attention, even if I think our society’s sheer joy at the thought of a wedding is problematic for all the obvious historical (read: patriarchal) reasons. And then that, of course, is where the question comes in of whether or not any self-conscious feminist should participate in any of this.