Sunday, May 2, 2010

The female fixation on marriage

“That’s good [said the teenager to her friend]. You have something to look forward to.”

Last night the train out of Grand Central was packed, so I was crammed in beside two young women, who had the following conversation:

“When do you want to get married?”

“Well, I always thought 27 because my birthday is on the 27th and I like the number 27. Are you thinking of marriage?”


“Really? With your current boyfriend?”

“Yeah, I know it seems crazy, but I’ve known him for sooo long.”

“That’s good. You have something to look forward to.”

“Some people think teenagers are irrational, but I realize that marriage is, like, a commitment, you know? Don’t go telling everyone in my high school.”

At first, I was fighting the urge to laugh, but then I remembered something pertinent that happened earlier in the day. It was not the conversation I had with a friend about the complexites of marriage, nor was it going to the MoMA and watching the gut-wrenching performance of Marina Abramović and her collaborator/lover Ulay as they met in the middle of the Great Wall of China after each walking one half of the distance, to say good-bye permanently. What I remembered was a short-lived and embarrassing idea that I had in my studio. When I say studio, I refer to the portion of my bedroom that is overtaken by multiple boxes of fabric, a work table, and a sewing machine in need of repair.

I hadn’t picked up a needle for two months, because I wanted to give my body a rest from the intense sewing I did in February. However, there is no time to waste, as I have to sew a pink crinoline underskirt (by hand, no less) in the next week for the ArtRages Surrealestate Wearable Art Runway Show hosted by the Boston artist-run centre, Mobius. I ended up pleating too much netting and was trying to decide what to do with the excess material. Since it’s gathered at one end and about two feet long, it resembles a wedding veil, aside from its pink colour. When I realized this, I felt a surge of excitement. Why not wear it as part of my costume? I had just booked an appointment with a salon called Shag, and surely they could incorporate the makeshift veil into my up-do. Then I stopped myself, admitting that the concept of my outfit had nothing to do with weddings, so I couldn’t justify adding a veil. I was merely reacting to a hard-wired impulse to enact (or in my case, reenact) the role of the bride.

I touched on this female tendency in a recent post ( where I wrote about a brochure featuring a little girl trying on a wedding dress. A year and a half ago, I made a cocoon sculpture using a pink wedding gown in combination with underwear that said ‘sexy little bride,’ whose wording struck me as eerily reminiscent of the messages written on girls’ clothing. And in 2007, I made a cocoon sculpture with a veil that was based on a t-shirt with hearts on it and embroidered text that said, “Falling for You.” I was reminded of this piece last week-end after visiting a friend who was with me when I bought it in a post-Valentine’s Day sale in Kansas City. I couldn’t believe the shirt when I saw it. My initial reaction, since it was for a two-year-old, was, ‘what is society doing, promoting romance to someone so young’? Interestingly, I showed an image of this work to a new media studies class last semester, and one of the students took a different stance entirely. She felt that the original garment was exposing young girls to a positive view of romantic relationships. My lingering question is, why the double standard? Why don’t we see little boys’ clothing teeming with hearts? Do I believe that the association of romance with females but not males, as established through clothing, contributes to the likelihood that I will never, ever overhear a conversation between two high school boys daydreaming about what age they will marry? On some level, I do.

1 comment:

  1. I find this post very interesting. Especially the part about the veil. You don't talk about the symbol of the veil as a symbol of virginity and/or modesty or the lifting of the veil as the man taking posession of the woman (how old fashioned).

    The runway as aisle? An interesting thought about the interaction of the runway and fashion, an industry dominated by female models and male designers.

    But you are right, boys daydream about getting married.