A Question About Marriage & Feminism

The institution of marriage makes a parasite of woman, an absolute dependent. It incapacitates her for life’s struggle, annihilates her social consciousness, paralyzes her imagination, and then imposes its gracious protection, which is in reality a snare, a travesty on human character. Love, the strongest and deepest element in all lives, the harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful moulder of human destiny; how can such an all-compelling force be synonymous with that poor little State and Church-begotten weed, marriage?

Emma Goldman



It seems to me that so many “feminists” are obsessed with linking prostitution to female oppression and have given up being strongly critical of marriage. Does it seem like sex-positive feminists are just about the only feminists strongly criticizing monogamous, institutionalized marriage and it’s possible link to female oppression anymore? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.


43 responses to “A Question About Marriage & Feminism

  1. Hmmmmmm….an interesting question indeed.

    I’m not necessarily an opponent of marriage as an voluntary arrangement designed as a means of having enough support to raise children…but I do see Emma Goldman’s point about marriage being used as a tool of social control, and especially as a toll of sexual control of women.

    The main issue I see is that marriage has become so corelated with religion and forced heterosexual monogamy and compulsive reproduction for the sake of creating new slaves to exploit for profit. If the concept of “marriage” was expanded to allow for more polyamorous arrangements and kinship options, then perhaps it could be more of a legitimate symbol of love and commitment and less a means of regulating people’s sexuality.

    I’m not so sure that I’d go all the way of Goldman and abolish marriage altogether, though….there still is that stability that having multiple caregivers in a kinship relationship can provide. Obviously, it goes without saying that marriage should NOT be a precursor requirement for consenting adults to engage in sexual relationships.

    Anyways…that’s my cracked-eyed ‘Dog’s view.

    Course, this is from a happily single guy who’s escaped the ensnarement of marriage for so long (I turn 48 this month). YMMV, of course.


  2. Responding to a tweet you posted about men being pressured to avoid marriage…

    I’m not so sure of that one…although men may be allowed the right to delay marriage until they have enough financial security to become enabled to cover his wife and children (or, if they are poor, until they accidentially “knock up” a woman and are compelled to marry as a means to cover their asses), ultimately, the pressure to “settle down” and marry ultimately gets to them as well. The difference is that at least they are allowed the right to “play the field” until they are “ready”…unlike women, who are expected to fall right into the role of mother and baby incubator right away, without any of those “slutty” impulses getting in the way.


  3. I abhor the institution of marriage. Everything about it is still designed around the notion that women are property. The only reason that I would ever participate in it (and almost did) is so my partner could get my health insurance. While I’m certainly willing to give it a try, I find it unreasonable to ASSUME that 2 (or more if we were a more advanced society) people WILL stay together, and divorce is such a mess even under the best conditions. But being a guy I suppose you could just write me off as “afraid of commitment”.
    Why aren’t female feminists resisting it? In my wholly uninformed opinion… They are still sipping on that fairy tale, happily ever after princess flavored Kool-Aid. The whole Anti-choice pushback stems from being drunk on the stuff and not realizing that sometimes reality sucks.

  4. I have talked to a few members of the LGBT community that are not for marriage equality. Partially because they think that marriage is a patriarchal institution, and partially that marriage is a straight institution that we shouldn’t be buying in to.
    I don’t agree with that myself because I think marriage may have started as a straight, patriarchal institution, it has many other legal and societal meanings now.
    I’d only be for getting rid of marriage if we started a new status for couples that would have the same legal and societal meanings that marriage has now.

  5. I really don’t listen to the anti-sex feminists, so I have no idea how much they talk about marriage or if their opinions on it have changed. I’ll say that men can feel chained to a marriage, too. Emma’s ideas about marriage are a bit old. Usually, both spouses work these days, so I don’t see how it “incapacitates her for life’s struggle, annihilates her social consciousness, paralyzes her imagination, and then imposes its gracious protection” any more than it does to a man.

    • Hmm, I have a theory I’m working on that has to do with how marriage is the foundation for the madonna whore dichotomy and pits woman against woman especially in male dominated society where it is more acceptable for men to evade marriage and women to pursue it.

          • That’s basically what I was thinking. It’s easier when you’re married. I didn’t mean it makes it easier for everyone. Poor wording on my part. I’m so good at it that I usually don’t know when I’m doing it.

    • I am not against people being personally married (if that’s what they want to call it) but I am against the state having anything to do with that. If you love someone and want them to be your life partner (or partners) that is your business. I don’t agree with going to the state to approve or disapprove of that. It’s love! What can an unfeeling, uncaring license do for that but interfere.

      If people want to civilly unite under the state to agree to share the business aspect of life together that should be their choice and it shouldn’t hing on loving that person. Jeez, how does the state go about testing for love? It’s utterly ridiculous.

        • This speaks to nothing in the comment your responding to. Dialogue all you want here but knock off the bullshit games. You can not test for it and that’s the point. Your supporting the state butting in an area of your life that is completely subjective to you and changeable. You may as well give it jurisdiction over your spiritual beliefs as well…but there’s already a whole lot of that going on isn’t there.

          • The point is, though, Div (BTW…can I continue to call you “Div” or will I have to reference you as Godless Strumpet?? LOL), that the State does basically regulate, via the sanctioning of Christian heterosexual marriage at the expense of other kinship relationships, the ability of people to form any form of arrangement of kinship…whether for business or for love.

            I also see the tax laws as another vector of how the State (along with the Church) pushes everyone towards compulsory hetero marriage, since it is the latter (plus having lots of kids) which proportionally gets the largest form of tax relief. I know that very personally, as a single man who was denied the possibility of getting the Earned Income Credit.

            Just tell me if I’m rambling aimlessly.


          • I may be sarcastic, but I’m not bullshitting.

            You said “If people want to civilly unite under the state to agree to share the business aspect of life together that should be their choice and it shouldn’t hing on loving that person.” and I completely agree on that.
            Love is one popular reason for entering a civil union but definitely not the only possible one.

            You seem to be implying that there is some test of “love”. Is this actually how it works in the US? Is there anything to prevent marriages/civil unions between people who want to enter this kind of legal agreement but are _not_ in love and/or having sex?

          • @Ysanne (I guess this thing doesn’t nest forever.)
            About your question at the end, immigration comes to mind (when an immigrant marries a citizen and applies for citizenship), though I’m not sure if they have to prove love. I’m pretty sure they have to prove long term cohabitation and knowledge of personal details.
            There’s no love test, yet, but with all the research into how an MRI can read your mind, I bet we’ll have one this century. Why are you still asking about this love test? She stated flatly that you can’t test for it.

          • @thethegreenmachine,
            not to split hairs here, but even in immigration cases, the marriage is totally valid, It’s just that being legally married is not sufficient to get a “partner” visa (and then there come the tests for untestable things, which I completely agree are idiotic; and the idiocy of requiring “loving” someone to be able to sponsor them is a rant topic in its own right.)
            Anyway, my point was that that the existence of marriage does not infringe on the possibility to enter civil unions without romantic feelings.

  6. I’m seriously confused here. What on earth do you anti marriage people understand by marriage?

    For me (originally from eastern Europe, grew up in western Europe, now Australian) the point of getting married was to get a piece of paper certifying “these people are in a committed long-term relationship, share most of their lives and property, and take responsibility for each other in a number of ways”, so you wouldn’t have to prove your relationship status every single time you want to be regarded as a multi-person legal entity. (And I do think it makes practical sense to take into account family-type arrangements in a number of contexts, such as taxes, family law, immigration, shared health insurance, next-of-kin stuff, etc.)
    So basically, marriage is just a pre-packaged version of the standard legal agreements that most people in long-term relationships would usually want enter. Plus, depending on one’s taste, a one-off celebration. And as relationships can end, getting divorced is just the cancellation of this certificate.

    What madonna-whore-dichotomy-creating aspect am I missing here?

  7. Well no it’s legal applications are either out of date or open for abuse.

    Taxes: Why should married couples get tax breaks? I’m far closer to some of my platonic friends than any married couple I know are to each other. Stop dodging and pay up like an honest person.

    Family Law: A waste of time and money. Here in the UK cohabiting unmarried couples split all the time without any of the drama or fuss of divorce.

    Immigration: Again it is used as a dodge: Be honest.

    Shared Health Insurance: Not Applicable in a civilised country with universal healthcare.

    Next of Kin: Make a will lazybones. You can get a cheap pack from a post office that pretty much writes it for you.

  8. THis is why I can’t see myself gettign married unless there is money involved, or a green card or a publicity stunt or maybe if it was really funny for soem reason. The whole idea of creating official social endorsements for some relationships is to privilege them over other relationships, which I don’t think is fair. Expanding which ones you’ll endorse may make it a little more fair, but doesn’t change the root problem.

    • Who says it’s about “privileging one relationship over another”? What about “proving existence of relationship”?

      • “What about “proving existence of relationship”?” For what? To who? If you are convinced of each others love why do you have to prove it to someone outside of that? Why is it anyone’s business at all and why should it be the state’s business at all?

        • Because it’s quite practical to be able to designate someone as “person I share practically everything with, live with, am ready to support, and completely trust to make decisions for me or represent me when I’m not here”, particularly in emergency situations, but also when dealing with banks and administration.

          • Why do you believe that the person designated to do such has to be a person you have romantic feelings for? Not everyone is suited to handle such business. That does not mean they don’t deserve love. You should be able to designate who you choose not because you love them or are having sex with them but because they seem right for the job. It seems like you believe loving someone and allowing them to handle your affairs have to be synonymous. This is the way the state has set it up and there are HUGE problems with that.

          • It doesn’t HAVE to be. I completely agree that It should be (and to a large extent, is, afaik) possible to separately designate people for all kinds of different purposes. That’s what written agreements and wills and whatnot are for.

            It just happens that the set of traits making someone a suitable “civil” partner for all of these purposes largely coincides with what makes a person a suitable long-term partner in a relationship that includes romantic/sexual parts. In this simple and quite common setup, a simple blanket agreement (aka marriage) cuts down on administrative works.
            Kind of like having a “Select all” button on a web form instead of having to tick every item’s tickbox separately.

            But again, we’re kind of missing the claim in the OP. Which wasn’t “Getting married does not suit the needs of everyone.”, but “Marriage is bad in general and for women in particular.”, for which I still haven’t seen a proper explanation.

        • So instead of allowing all kinds of relationships between consenting adults, let’s pretend there are none at all, and they are not an integral part of many people’s lives on a practical level?

          • *de-nest*
            Yes it is. When you say that a relationship cannot be officially recognised, this means that the people in that relationship are treated no differently than perfect strangers in any official context, i.e. the relationship is effectively made invisible, denying any implications of its existence. This amounts to pretending it’s not there.

          • @Ysanne

            But, are you saying that then it is OK to distinguish and promote some forms of kinship over others? And who gets to set the standards of which forms should get more recognition. Without an explicit and agreed upon standard of equality, making distinctions inevitably lead to a hierarchy, and in the present course, hetero marriage is at the top of the pyramid.

          • @Anthony,
            possibility to distinguish, depends on what you mean: There are more forms of kinship than the one termed “traditional marriage”, so I find it sensible to have them distinguished according to the typical needs, obligations and transactions involved. E.g. sharing resources with a long-term partner is different from being the guardian of a child and again different from an agreement (or legal obligation, in some countries!) to support an elderly parent.

            Promoting some forms over others? Preventing consenting people from entering some forms of relationships on the basis of some arbitrary parameters (e.g. gender)?
            No. Definitely no. Wrong wrong wrong. Legal institutions are infrastructure to help people simplify the administrative side of common situations, and the state has no business imposing “moral values” or a way of life.
            Oh and while we’re at it: I also think religious bodies have no business meddling with what kinds of relationships are legally recognised. Their “sacrament” of marriage should be completely separate from the civil institution with the same name.

  9. Look, I’m not arguing for denying unmarried cohabiting couples any rights that a married couple would have. I’m simply for bundling up the standard set of popular agreements, because it’s very common for people live together, and get these agreements recognised once instead of separately in every single instance.
    (For the record, this is why I’m absolutely against all aspects of the stupid “one man, one woman” kind of definitions: Legal institutions are there to serve people’s needs, and getting a relationship recognised is a very common and genuine need.)

    The question whether it makes sense to treat committed couples differently from two strangers for any purpose is a separate question (and I disagree with most of your points there, but that’d lead too far). As long as there are situations when a relationship matters, it should be easy to prove it.

    • Immigration is also an issue I am passionate about. The civil unions i spoke of that anyone who wants to share the business aspect of their lives should be able to enter into for any reason; I believe that if someone wants to use that to OPENLY sponsor someone wanting to gain citizenship in the U.S. then they should have that right.

  10. OK ANNOUNCEMENT! This blog post asked a particular question and there is very little staying on topic. The question was: “Does it seem like sex-positive feminists are just about the only feminists strongly criticizing monogamous, institutionalized marriage and it’s possible link to female oppression anymore?” I would like an answer to this question. Thank you

    • Sorry 🙂 I rambled.
      Sex-positives are the only group I’ve heard criticizing it as oppressive to women. Gay rights advocates criticize it, of course, but not because it’s oppressive to women. There are individual women who criticize it, because despite the fact that they spend as much time at outside their jobs as their husbands do, they still do most of the housework. (I wonder how many men have similar complaints.) Maybe organizations like NOW criticize it as oppressive to women, but I haven’t heard much from them. I imagine there are a few antis who agree with your madonna-whore idea. Misery loves company, and it can lash out at those who avoid it. There’s a definite bias towards married people, even these days when half of them will be divorced soon.

    • river, you know I love you girl but do you see my announcement above? You could have sent me that via youtube. You’re spamming my comment section with something irrelevant to the topic that I just asked people to stay on. grrrr

      • Vision impaired here. Wanted to get this to you. I can’t figure out the “contact” thing on youtube, so can’t send you PMs or channel comments there anymore and didn’t know how else to send it to you. I can’t read your blog without a magnifier, and then only a few letters @ a time. Example: I can’t read what I’m writing nor what u wrote, above. Could only read it in my gmail account, where I can adjust fonts, colors, sizes, etc.

  11. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that marriage is oppressive in itself, but many societies have structured marriage in such a way that it often is. Marital rape used to be legal in the U.S and still is in some countries. It also used to be the legal norm for a women’s money and possessions to be become legally her husbands upon marrying. And there is also the fact that in many societies marriages would be arranged and women would often have no in put in who she married. I believe the trend for “feminists” to be soft on marriage and condemn sex work is more about cowardice. Marriage and religion are popular institutions that many people on the left and right support, so criticizing it would result in push back. Meanwhile sex work is stigmatized by people both the left and right so by condemning it “feminists” are basically just joining in on the beat down.

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