Gender equality isn't just for the workplace
Over the past few years, my friends have been getting married. Educated women, self-proclaimed feminists, are taking new surnames and wearing white dresses as their fathers walk them down the aisle. Engagement rings have started appearing on female fingers, with no mention of whether the boys should be wearing them too. Diamonds, after all, are only a girl’s best friend.
Personally, I plan to propose to my boyfriend. In our relationship the onus is on me to reassure him of my intended long-term fidelity and affection. Although I’d hope most couples talk about marriage extensively before the big proposal, in this age of gender equality it seems strange for the ‘question’ to be so one-sided. Aren’t we all capable of gestures of love?
And surnames. While my surname, like many other women’s, is my dad’s surname and his dad’s surname – it’s still been used to refer to me throughout my life. Of course, changing names legally is a personal choice – but it’s also a huge hassle and can potentially put your career back years if you’ve built up a professional reputation. For me it would feel like the years before marriage didn’t matter, that my qualifications and work experience were irrelevant – and that’s not how I want to start what should, in theory, be an equal partnership.
Of course marriage makes sense in terms of a declaration of commitment – it literally involves signing a document that binds you together as a legal entity. Being married gives you automatic inheritance, pension access in cases of death, and status as next of kin. Children are assumed to belong to the both of you, as are assets and joint debts. It’s an official way of sharing your life with someone.
But why the inequality? Certain tax benefits apply to married couples and civil partners, with up to £314 being taken from your joint annual tax bill just for tying the knot. But until December 2005 the husband’s income was used to calculate the necessary reduction. Up until last year, marriage certificates in England and Wales asked for the details of the fathers of the happy couple but not the mothers.
Gender equality hasn’t appeared out of nowhere and if it’s something we value in our workplaces and our education systems we need to protect it in our personal relationships too. Marriage isn’t about one fairytale day; it’s about an adult legal partnership that can last a lifetime. And as adults we should be looking at marriage like we would any other life-changing decision – critically. So, let's stop carrying on traditions for their own sake and start working towards equal marriages. Or at least equal proposals and weddings.