“Why don’t you want to get married?” he asked. We lay on our sides, facing each other, the purple sheets rumpled from tossing and turning the night before, our heads towards the foot of the wrought-iron bed so we could feel the strongest circulation of the fan against our bare skin.

Internally, I panicked at the question. On the outside, I held his gaze.

I don’t know if I believe in ‘forever after’, and sometimes people change after they get married. I don’t want to get married and find that suddenly there are all these expectations of me. Your in-laws come to visit, and no matter what else is going on in your life you have to play the dutiful daughter. And it’s not just in-laws. Sometimes men change after marriage. They start to have certain expectations of you because now you’re a wife.

The only way for a marriage to be feminist is for the work to be divided in a non-gendered way.

And I hate the word ‘wife.’ It implies to me the subordination of woman to man. The voices of pastors I have heard minister at various wedding ceremonies ring in my head: “The man is the head of the household… Men, love your wives, women, obey your husbands.” I am fearful of ending up in a relationship that reproduces the normative and, frankly, oppressive heterosexual standards that I see around me. I fear that even considering marriage at all is a capitulation to the societal norm that says the only legitimate relationship is that which is sanctioned by a legal certificate. But perhaps the institution of marriage is not inherently flawed, is it?

I finally responded. “Maybe if I knew that I could have a feminist marriage, I wouldn’t be so fearful.”

“What would a feminist marriage look like?” he asked.

I have been mulling over this question for a few weeks now. Here are my thoughts:

The Makings of a Feminist Marriage

Inspired by all the white? A wedding proposal at Dîner en Blanc® Kigali, August 2014. Photo courtesy of Illume Creative Studio, Kigali

Practically every article I have seen giving advice to couples moving in together or getting married speaks about the need to talk about money. Yet money can be one of the most difficult subjects for a couple to discuss. Who earns what? How do you determine individual contributions towards joint expenses? Who manages the money?

The issue of money within a relationship is probably one of my biggest hang-ups about the patriarchy. My feminist values tell me that we should contribute what we can base on our earnings, and that an automatic 50/50 split of bills is not always fair. But there’s a part of me that is resistant to that, even though I know it’s the right thing to do.

Read: Why many millennials are saying ‘no’ to marriage

That part of me is worried about the future, and about financial sustainability. It thinks of all the women I know who have lost out when they have invested in joint financial projects with their husbands. Women like my Auntie Awuradwoa[1] who sacrificed for years to build a plush home with her husband. But his name was the only one listed on the deed, and when he threw her out of their home a few years later, she had nothing to her name. Auntie Awuradwoa became just one more statistic – a woman who invested her all, and then stood backstage so her husband could take the limelight.

Sometimes men change after marriage. They start to have certain expectations of you because now you’re a wife.

Rethinking ‘Wife Work’

The distribution of the work in the house is an easier task for me to figure out. The only way for a marriage to be feminist is for the work to be divided in a non-gendered way. The fact that I have ovaries doesn’t mean that I should automatically be the one to cook for us. Yes, I know you were not taught to cook growing up, but that is something everyone can learn. We can cook together, so that overtime you increase your culinary skills.

You probably already know that things in the household do not magically run smoothly. The outside lights don’t turn themselves off in the morning. Someone needs to wake up early on a Saturday morning to let the cleaner in. The grocery shopping needs to get done. Housework (note: it is not called “wife work”) consists of small and big chores that continuously need attendance. Don’t wait to be told what to do. Nike said it best: Just do it.

Read: Workin’ Woman Blues

We have been planning to have a second go at creating a ‘mini us’. In my mind she has your slender frame, curly hair and artistic skills. Of course, she is going to be a little feminist. With me as a mother, how can she be anything else?

Instinctively, I feel like this is where you will shine. The way you are quick to wake up when you hear me cough in the night, or how you reach out a hand to catch me when I roll out of bed when I wake upin that clumsy style that looks like I’m going to fall out of bed. It is in how you look at me; reaching out a hand to touch me in the middle of the night. I can imagine you as a loving father. I just need you to be a feminist partner too.

 

[1] Not her real name