Dependently Yours, Married Woman.

7 Dec

 If you, like me, have followed the discussions and controversies around Kate Bolick’s article republished in The Guardian on 27th Nov, and have seen the battle lines being drawn around it passionately and with intense verboseness (examples here), you must be wondering why I am so late in jumping on to the bandwagon. Well, since the UKBA has decided to grant me leave to remain in the UK (and to work), I have been job searching ferociously, a priority which in my head easily overtook the niggling feeling that I should not neglect my blog in the process.

So here I am, about a week and a half late, trying to find a way to enter the conversation only to find that the various other voices in the medley have now made it a complex multifaceted issue that is tough to pin down. The fact that the original article itself did not have a primary strand of argument, and meandered into various interesting but confusing tangents, does not make this task any easier. I am therefore going to approach it in a way that I hope will be both manageable and interesting to my readers. I am going to isolate and tackle the issue in the article that rouse the strongest reaction in me given my current mental and situational disposition. I do not think this is her central argument at all, and you should read the original article and read the following extract in context. However, for the purposes of my argument, here we go:

If, in all sectors of society, women are on the ascent, and if gender parity is actually within reach, this means that a marriage regime based on men’s overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction. As long as women were denied the financial and educational opportunities of men, it encouraged them to “marry up” – how else would they improve their lot? Now that we can pursue our own status and security, and are therefore liberated from needing men the way we once did, we are free to like them more, or at least more idiosyncratically, which is how love ought to be, isn’t it?”

I have been reflecting quite a lot about marriage and economic independence or money flows quite a bit recently. One of the complaints I have against the settlement policies of the UK pertaining to immigrating spouses is that it naturally assumes that partners seeking to live together in the UK must want to do so regardless of whether this means they have to give up on their career related pursuits for a time being for a marriage or a partnership to be ‘strong’ or ‘real’ enough to be granted their sanction. An immigrating partner of a British resident, especially if he or she is coming as a proposed spouse, is given a ‘dependent’ visa and is, in fact, prohibited from working before the civil marriage ceremony takes place. This might make sense in theory and prevent ‘sham marriages’, but in reality what it means is that the immigrating partner is often not in a position to seek jobs for a period of time due to her lack of work permit and is both legally and economically dependent on her partner.

Now I decided to take the plunge. However, judging by the franticness with which I am seeking employment at the moment (I recently received my residence permit), the dependent status obviously make me uncomfortable. I need a job to validate me. I need a job so I can be an equal in the relationship. I constantly deny myself even the smallest of material freedoms and luxuries which we can easily afford simply because it is not ‘my money’. I consciously make myself feel the pinch of my lack of self-reliance.

But a comment by a friend made me think. Is this preoccupation with seeking economic independence within and beyond marriage, this obsession to not need anybody for financial security, stopping us from appreciating the  various nuances of relationships with, not only men in couple-arrangements, but also as Bolick herself puts it, “the full web of relationships that sustain us on a daily basis”? Does this actually take us closer to the deeper love, freeing us to like men more? Or does it dispossess the women and other individuals who for one reason or another are financially dependent on the income brought home by others? How is needing financial security any different from needing an emotional anchor? I suggest to Bolick that the eminence of ‘the couple’ actually is a result of the cultural fixation on economic independence and productivity. After all, it is apparently ‘purer’ than other social relationships, being an institution in which ideally two people who have attained economic stability and emotional maturity may enter, or if it isn’t, it ought to be. The other social relationships-  life-long friends you rely on when you’re down in the dumps, family members who will ‘take you on’ when the going is tough, etc. – might be ignored as the entry condition to these relationship is not set at economic, physical and emotional equality. I would, therefore, call fellow feminists to be more critical of notions of independence and ‘valid’ bases for relationships.

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2 Responses to “Dependently Yours, Married Woman.”

  1. Weesha December 7, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    I remember Oprah saying women used to marry for economic stability, and if you have it already, why marry? Obviously, it’s not that simple but I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with being economically dependant on a man, I mean being emotionally dependant is a lot more dangerous if you ask me.
    But I don’t think she’s right, at least not in my culture. We might be super successful and independent but I’m sure a majority of women want economic stability either equally or with the man being stable and financially successful. I actually know a few cases where the wife earns more and it’s always a constant issue.
    I still see arranged marriages happening with girls leaving the boyfriend and agreeing to marry the stable and successful parent’s choice.
    Either way, I think it’s personal choice but I think it will be a while before we see women (in our culture at least) not feeling the need to get married, more for society than economic stability though.

  2. Sarah J December 8, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    If you marry someone for love and end up financially depending on them for a reason beyond your control, you don’t need to feel like you’re less of a partner. After all any kind of relationship is supposed to bring benefits. There’s a self-serving purpose even in a good and kind act.

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