Today, 100 years after Emily Wilding Davison fatally stepped in front of the King’s horse, the Lords are set to vote on equal marriage. Now I’ve heard many arguments against allowing homosexual couples to marry, none of which hold any water. Apparently marriage is for the procreation of children. Apart from those straight couples who are old or infertile, when it isn’t for procreation but could have been when they were younger or if they were fertile. Apparently it is the bedrock of society. So presumably as a spinster I am the shifting sands of society and will cause it to slide off a cliff. Personally I think Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce have done marriage and society more harm than I ever will but allegedly marriage is great and society rests on it.
As far as I can work out from the Lords’ debate on marriage it will cause chickens to marry horses, the Queen to marry her sister, all women to become infertile, the moon to crash into the earth, Dr Who to have a sex change and a general atmosphere of riot, carnival and destruction as if the 2011 riots had spawned a bastard love child with the Mardi Gras. I am confused by all this. Personally I now refuse to go to church weddings because of the entrenched patriarchy they represent. I can see nothing but good coming from opening up this institution because as it stands, I find marriage hard to stomach.
Oh I know many people are happily married. I know it can work, despite the high divorce rate and despite the sexism built into many marriage ceremonies. However, I distrust the current model. About 15 years ago an old school friend, let’s call her Ruth, got married in church. I’d known Ruth since she was 3 years old. At infants school, aged 5, she had complained to the teachers that it was wrong that the boys did woodwork whilst the girls had to do needlework. Ruth was outspoken. She knew her own mind.
So on the day of her wedding I sat in church whilst the pastor who conducted the service made sexist jokes about marriage and how Ruth’s husband (‘Peter’) would now have to unblock the shower of long hair. (I am puzzled as to why he assumed all women have long hair, they don’t stop it from going down the plughole and if they do let it block the shower, they cannot unblock it themselves). Ruth’s father walked her down the aisle. He handed her over to Peter like a piece of property, which is what the woman initially was in Christian weddings. She promised to love, honour and obey. The man was allowed to kiss his bride, he defined as a person in his own right, she only in relation to him.
At the reception Ruth’s father made a speech. Ruth’s husband made a speech. The best man, the groom, her father-in-law, all spoke up. No woman said anything. I felt sick and aggrieved. Where was my friend? I wanted to listen to her.
Ruth and I moved away from our home town and went in different directions. I tried to stay in touch but her email address was her husband’s. I had to email Peter to communicate electronically. After a non-reply to an email I phoned her for a chat. She hadn’t seen the email, she said, but Peter had seen it and had told her what was in it. I was stumped. I had put ‘For Ruth’ in the subject line. There were things in the email about me that I did not particularly want Peter to know. I had assumed that an email meant for her would go unread by him. I made sure that in future any emails I sent were bland. He was silencing my voice too.
So I carried on emailing and phoning. I invited Ruth to my 30th birthday. She wouldn’t come. She said it was too far. Other people were travelling further but she persisted, it was too far. At that time she had no children and she was in a well-paid job so I could not work out why my longest-standing friend would not travel to my 30th birthday. I emailed but each time I got no email in reply. When I phoned her up she would say that the email system had crashed wiping all the emails out so she had not received mine. Their email seemed to crash a lot.
Then I had an interview in a town near her. I had not seen her for years and would be within half an hour’s easy travel. I phoned her, excited and wanting to meet up. She didn’t go out in the evenings, she said, not anymore. I was frustrated. It was hardly as if I wanted a late night as I would have an interview the following day. Surely she could manage a coffee after work? No, no she didn’t go out on week nights. It was Peter’s voice I was hearing, not hers.
And that was the last time we spoke. I was too angry and annoyed with her to persist. Now, I wonder if I should have done. I know more now about abusive relationships than I did then. I know that abuse is not always physically violent. I know that abusers isolate their victims which is what I think Peter has done. He has silenced my beautiful, strong friend.
So frankly, if two men want to marry each other or two women want to marry each other I say let them. The world will not fall apart. Instead, marriage might become a little more equal and a little more loving. It will no longer be such an entrenched part of patriarchy when it is no longer always about a man marrying a woman. Approaching the 100th anniversary of Davison’s death I find myself thinking more and more about the ways in which women are silenced. I am thinking about my friend and hoping that somehow, some day, she can find her voice again. And if she wants my help, I will always be here for her.