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pissed off feminist fights back: i vow to smash the patriarchy

So you may have heard about or perhaps even read the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney’s opinions about marriage. The Anglicans decided to keep up with the times by updating their marriage vows – they changed the part about a new wife “obeying” her husband to  her just “submitting”. Did someone remember to put up streamers? We’re supposed to be celebrating, right? This is a change, yeah?

No. Because the Anglican Church hasn’t really changed their stance on womankind at all. After all, “obey” is defined as ‘to comply with or follow’ whilst “submit” means ‘to give over or yield to the power or authority of another’. Almost exactly the same thing, except submit actually seems worse, especially in a country where domestic violence is so prevalent. You can almost hear the balloons popping as people realise what it is they’re actually suggesting.

After a public outcry, Archbishop Jensen decided to take to the pages of the Sydney Morning Herald to make their huge step forward very clear. The basis of his article was that women and men are different so having different marriage vows just makes sense. And thus, men and women have different responsibilities. Sure a woman has to submit to their man, but her husband has to take charge. It’s really hard having to make decisions for his family. Jensen goes so far as to compare the man’s actions towards his ladyfriend as like Jesus loving the church. Oooh biblical objectification is the best kind. Nowhere does he spell out what it is that makes men so well-suited to the power role in a marriage. I guess it’s because Christ was a dude.

Feminist critical theory gives us a useful way to process these bullshit binaries. We use it to distinguish between sex and gender. Sex is of course one’s biological traits: whether or not you have male or female sexual organs, hormones and so on. Gender is a social construction, a historio-cultural limit. Gender is about distinctions between femininity and masculinity; as a woman I am more empathetic, a man needs sex, so on and so forth.

The truth of the matter is that those ideas are rarely based on scientific fact. And even when studies come out to say that women can’t read maps, it often comes down to the internalising of those core values. I guess if you’re going to tell me over and over that my value is based upon my appearance that I’ll naturalise such a discourse and then live my life accordingly. And these distortions bound men and women to a bunch of pre-conceived gendered roles.

Subservience in a marriage, seems to me to be just one of many aspects of post-feminist romantic fantasy. It’s all very well to idealise your dream wife, and it’s an entirely different thing to do what Jensen is suggesting. I want to know when he says that marriage holds ‘different consequences’ for each party what he is referring to. Marriage is no longer an economic “get out of jail free card” for women. Both people ought to be considered equal within a romantic relationship, sharing responsibility for every facet of their shared lives. I want to know why it is he who chooses ‘the self-discipline and commitment of marriage for her sake.’ My future husband is not my saviour. He doesn’t need to make decisions for me.

But I feel I need to put a qualifier on my rage. If you choose to be a picturesque, feminine wife, saved and provided for by your masculine manfriend, that’s just fine. That’s up to you. Submissiveness and feminism are not opposed. Neither are femininity and feminism. What’s really important here is that no church or state is imposing on you your role in marriage or in greater society. Because that really is regressive.

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3 thoughts on “pissed off feminist fights back: i vow to smash the patriarchy

  1. My (albeit limited) understanding of it is that the ‘obey’ bit has bit optional for many many decades now, and so this isn’t a replacing of ‘obey’ with ‘submit’ but putting in ‘submit’ where before there wasn’t anything specific about gender roles (unless couples chose for themselves to use the obey line in their vows). Which kind of makes this worse for me. Because it’s not just going from crappy to a different kind of crappy…it’s going from crappy, to decades of everything being fine, back to being crappy again.


  2. To me this is about choice. If someone wants to, for reasons beyond me, have a broneage religion as basis for their marriage then they can go for it. Religious people have a right to practice their stupid beliefs if they want.

    However and this is very important.

    In my mind they shouldn’t try to influence marriage law. No representation without taxation I say.

    When I get married I will probably have a pagan ceremony (for various complex reasons and in spite of my athiesm) I should, with my hypotetical wife, be able to choose the wording of that. I don’t feel its my place to tell others that they can’t have the wording of their religion.

    Of course in my mind the real question is why any woman would be a member of any of the Abrihamic religions (or almost all others for that matter).

  3. Not that it probably matters in the grand scheme, but just for accuracy the Sydney Anglicans are pretty on the edge compared to the rest of Australian Anglicans. They are like the embarrassing relatives that haven’t left the dark ages – they won’t have women priests, for example, while in the rest of the country women priests have become pretty standard in Anglican churches. What they’re doing is crazy and your article is great, but it doesn’t reflect Australian Anglicanism, but rather the conservative and evangelical fringe who ramp it up in Sydney.

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