I’m a 23 year old Sinhalese woman in Minnesota by way of Dubai by way of Sri Lanka. I am a Womanist, and part of my womanism is figuring out how to be in solidarity with my transnational sisters worldwide. I’m a daughter, a sister, a partner and a writer. I’m a brown girl who knows Shakespeare by heart and devours anything Toni Morrison. I believe in radical, revolutionary living and loving. I blog at Irresistible Revolution.
Reading Renee’s recent post on the white-professional feminism of Jessica Valenti, prompted me to do my own self-reflection. One of the trends in the largely white blogosphere, and one which Valenti took part in popularizing, was the ‘feminist weddings’ meme. Basically, a lot of (usually white, middle to upper middle-class) women would write blog posts detailing their recent engagement and wedding plans, and how they plan to fashion a ‘feminist’ wedding. I’m not about to criticize or shame these women for the choices they made, or for how they choose to understand their sexuality and relationships. However, I DO think, as Renee pointed out in this post, that this whole notion of feminist weddings bears examination, especially since those of Valenti’s ilk rarely account for the nuances of race, nationality and culture that shape women’s identities. So this post is meant to say: Listen up White, ciswomen! You are NOT the definitive authority on legal heterosexual unions.
I recent became engaged to my male partner. He is a wonderful, caring, kind human being who shares my beliefs and values about social justice, community and family. But even before I was engaged to him, certain feminists (most of them white, some in my personal life and some in the blogosphere) would spout judgmental ideas about the monogamous, heterosexual relationship I was entering into. Never mind that my partner, an ardent bicyclist who challenges mainstream ideas of heterosexual masculinity and always interrupts bigotry when he can, treated me with respect and admiration. White separatist radical feminism stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that for women of color, heterosexual or not, separatism has hardly ever been viable. Our sons, fathers, brothers, friends and sometimes lovers suffer daily under the same white supremacy that marginalizes us; walking away from them just isn’t an option for me.
Furthermore, my Sinhalese cultural upbringing taught me to value marriage differently than white US culture. Sinhalese people recognize that marriage is about family, and that committing to someone includes committing to their family, while also welcoming them into your own. It also showed me that marriage is about values, the daily commitment to building and nurturing a home. So when white feminists loudly decry the choices some women make to commit to a certain kind of relationship (and I’m not talking here about calling out het-cis privilege, which is different than judging women for not living a specific kind of feminist script), they are once again unashamedly displaying their ignorance of the multiple identities and contexts within which women of color are situated.
On the other side of white separatist feminism, lies the white consumerist feminist ala Valenti. You know, the kind that announce MAC has created a specfic shade of red lipstick for Cyndi Lauper & Lady Gaga and therefore these privileged white women are activists. The kind that says, hey, people dying of AIDS in certain African countries has benefits, because they are finally being forced to adopt to Western ideas of sexual ‘openness’. The kind that says, here, read another blog post about how I’m getting local catering for the wedding reception and therefore it’s a feminist wedding. See I used to believe in the idea of a ‘feminist’ wedding. Until I read “That’s Revolting”, edited by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore and had to really look my het-cis privilege in the damn eye. As long as marriage remains a way to deny certain groups access to basic human rights like healthcare, housing, citizenship, family reunification, daycare, work and so on, it can never be a feminist institution no matter how feminist its participants become.
When I marry my partner, because I am not a US citizen, we will have to undergo interrogation by the INS so they can ascertain the ‘validity’ of our marriage. They can question us about our sex life, infer racist assumptions, and are legally proteced for doing so. If they ‘suspect’ us, they can separate us, lie to us, intimidate us and try and make us ‘confess’, upon which we will be charged with a criminal offense and I will be immediately deported. Right now, because of our differing citizenships, our mobility and employment choices as a couple are extremely limited. Legal marriage will certainly amend some; but I have friends, and family who are equally deserving of the things that marriage will afford us, and so to pretend that our ability to get married is anything less than a privilege, or that an institution that sanctions the blatant violation of people’s privacy in order to exalt US citizenship can be remade as ‘feminist’ because one wears a blue dress instead of white and shirks being walked down the aisle, is simply absurd. And a lie.
I don’t need to call our wedding ‘feminist’ in order to convince myself that I’m somehow above the matrices of oppression. Being a transnational WOC, I nevertheless still benefit from heterosexism and cissexism. I recognize the blatant exploitation of largely poor POC by the US white-wedding industry, at the same I know that in Sri Lanka, weddings offer entrepreneurship opportunities for many people (including my aunt, who made a name for herself as a makeup artist). The issue of marriage and weddings is far more complex than some would have us believe, but if I label my wedding, my entrance into an inherently exclusionary institution as a ‘feminist’ act, then I am betraying many queer/ trans/ gay/lesbian/bi/ poor people, some of whom are friends and some of whom are blood, with whom I wish to be in solidarity with. And being in solidarity means allowing yourself to be called on your privilege, to acknowledge that in our flawed world, no choice is an innocent one.
Our wedding will represent many things: for me, it represents a country and culture that insists on surviving despite colonization and a civil war, it represents my family who are nothing short of amazing, it represents our belief that a different kind of relationship is possible between cismen and ciswomen. But until the doling out of human rights based on sexual affiliation is abolished, until everyone’s chosen family is recognized and validated as worthy of protection, I won’t be lying to myself about my wedding representing feminism or progressiveness. My wedding, my commitment is what it is, and I need neither white feminist approval or glamorizing in order to live with the reality of my decisions.