Curated by Vaishnavi Pallapothu
After many months of irregular meetings, the Feminifesto Seminar Club met up on the 9th of February for a long overdue session. Having missed our casual roundtable discussions, I decided to keep it simple and classic for my curation. I chose 2 essays penned by Laurie Penny, in her book the Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults. Although we always spoke about relationships and marriage in passing, I felt as though our club had yet to dive deeper into these institutions. Therefore, one of the essays I chose was “For Better, For Worse” which spoke about Penny’s experiences and observations about marriage and being a single woman in her later 20s/early 30s and the challenges this brought about. The second essay, entitled “Love, Unlimited” speaks about polyamory and shares the author’s personal experiences as a polyamorous woman.
I opened the discussion by asking everyone if they thought the idea of marriage was a redundant concept in contemporary times, especially for feminists. Raakhee began by saying that the higher the economic security of an individual (mostly applicable to women, though), the less relevant the idea of marriage becomes to them. Nevertheless, societal pressure continues to exist and makes it feel like a mandatory exercise. Kirthi added that marriage is an inherently patriarchal structure and explained it in terms of how in marriages, assigned-female-at-birth bodies are generally doomed to reproduce. Additionally, non-cis heterosexual bodies are deemed to be not worthy of marry because they are not reproduction worthy. When it comes to relevance, she insisted that it is not relevant to a feminist world, but in terms of this world, it’s a personal preference though whether the individual has been conditioned is another question. Malavika also agreed with the general idea being put forth and explained that marriage, according to her, is an archaic institution which is primarily done for legal, economic or procreation reasons. She further told us how marriage perpetuates strong gender norms and forces conformity even if one doesn’t agree with them. For example, maternal love is usually seen as more important than paternal love.
I then asked the group if they think a feminist marriage is possible, and if so, what it means to them and what it would constitute. I placed emphasis on the inherent patriarchy embedded in the concept of marriage and asked the group if it is really possible to dismantle it. Malavika was the first to answer, saying that it is probably not possible to achieve from an economic standpoint. She also said that a feminist marriage is not confined to equality in collective decision making. Adding to this, Kirthi noted how it is possible to partially feminize marriages but that concepts such as ‘sharing the load’ when it comes to household chores are just reflective of feminism lite. She continued that the phrase ‘feminist marriage’ is oxymoronic given the larger ecosystem forces women especially to conform to stereotypes. She cited the example of how often, women are expected to enter their husband’s name for legitimacy in many documentation and bureaucratic processes.
Kirthi shared a bit about Perumal Murugan’s book, One Part Woman, where the author referenced a cultural practice that primarily sought to address infertility where women were free to have sex with anyone, where the agency was entirely in the hands of the women to decide whether to do so or not.
Next, I asked the group what they thought about Emma Watson’s recent statement in which she affirmed her single status by calling herself self-partnered. I was conflicted – on the one hand, I agreed with those who defended her saying it was a progressive way of looking at being single because the term implies that you are enough and you are your own partner in that you can fulfil your emotional needs. On the other hand, I also saw logic in the critics’ arguments which stated that the term is paradoxical as it reinforces the notion that you need a partner to be fulfilled, no matter who the partner is. Raakhee agreed that the term itself was a defense of her status as a single woman through semantics and that it was a creative way to not only validate and justify her being single but also do away with the hundreds of questions that may be asking her why she is single.
We ended our discussion talking about polyamory, unanimously agreeing that we have been socially conditioned to believe that fidelity is a yardstick and draconian rule in relationships. In this context, for many people, polyamory is not socially sanctioned within the confines of a “loyal” and “faithful” relationship. Laurie Penny describes polyamory as “ethical non-monogamy” – a statement that led us to reflect on the subjectivity of what is ethical, how it is malleable and what kind of role consent plays in this scenario. We left the session pondering about how it seems that humans are one of the few species that seems to practice monogamy. Is polyamory the natural state of being? Have we shied away from our primitive instincts so much in the confines of a society that many of us now find monogamy to be the norm?