I hated the idea of marriage.
Not the love and commitment part. That part is amazing. The part I hate is the traditional view of ownership; the complete submission of a woman to a man.
But I am also a believer of Islam and by extension, Sunnah Nabi, which encourages marriage and family life, so like it or not I have to find a way to be at least okay with it.
I also had to be okay with the idea of marriage, because I was hopelessly in love with my now-husband and desperately wanted to marry the shit out of him.
And maybe it’s a mind trick, but I’ve finally come to terms with marriage: by framing it as an act of rebellion by two people who demand the right to lifelong private counsel and decision-making within the ungovernable private space.
(If it sounds like I’m basing my argument on the loosest of straws, then let me; I needed a way to justify this using the doublethink method)
By framing marriage this way, I started seeing norms of married life as dictated by religion, culture and society as mere suggestions rather than rules; my husband and I are free to decide our own relationship based on what works for us.
This article explores my thoughts on marriage now, under the lens of money management.
#1 – Men as provider; women as homemaker roles won’t suit us
Both of us work. Our parents work/worked (three have retired; one to go). All of our adult siblings – male and female – work. Everyone in my friends’ circle work. If it’s not for social media and news sources, I wouldn’t know that some women never had careers or never entered the job market. This is just our reality.
(Of course, homemakers aka stay-at-home-moms work too. The only difference is their work is unpaid and their labour and productivity – the backbone of any society – is not economically measured and factored in the GDP. It is important work, but you cannot call it a ‘career’)
Counter-argument: calling it a career implies job progression, salary increase and pension/ability to contribute to retirement fund
Motherhood is great but it is also one of those work where labour is expected to be given for free, without complain
— Suraya | suraya.eth (@surayaror) December 20, 2019
Therefore, it never crossed my mind that I won’t contribute financially to this marriage. Of course I will. I’m expected to, I want to.
Plus, aside from giving me joy and fulfilment, my work also provides me with financial stability. All women need access to funds for practical, recreational and yes, safety reasons.
#2 – Therefore, we’ll need a domestic helper in the future
Back when I was employed, our office held a farewell party to a lady who just had a newborn. Amid the goodbyes, she told me how she didn’t want to quit but they had no choice; childcare is too expensive and it makes more economical sense for her to be a stay-at-home-mom.
I only nodded and wished her well then, but have since realised how common it is for working mothers everywhere to leave the workforce once they had children. In fact, my mother is part of the just 46% of women who participate in the Malaysian labour force (among the lowest in the region). A big reason why she could remain working is because of Kakak and Bibik, who lived with my family while I was growing up.
Yes, we were privileged; we had domestic helpers. Husband grew up in a similar household, too. That’s the reason why our mothers weren’t homemakers – our parents could afford help, so they could focus on their careers. They suffered less of the dreaded double burden: having a career AND doing the majority of unpaid care work.
(Statistics available in #1 in the Here are 4 Ways to Support Women in Your Life article)
As much as I want to say husband and I are more equal when it comes to housework, I know that the balancing act will be a tough one to implement perfectly if and when children enter the picture.
So the only solution for us is to get domestic helpers, when the time comes.
(Happily, there are more options nowadays. We don’t have to get live-in domestic helper – there are companies that provide domestic services like cleaners and part-time nannies and more. We’ll figure it out when we get there – but first, save the money we’ll inevitably need)
Bonus: This is how we divide house chores now
Married people who both have careers, did you have the 'you take this chore I take that one' chat before/after you got married?
We did and it helped a lot. I don't want to and will not do everything ON TOP of my work https://t.co/bOznHn3acj
— Suraya | suraya.eth (@surayaror) January 30, 2022
– you are free to outsource the tasks you don't like (paid with own money)
– of course there will be give & take when work is busier for one person. adjust
– do not dictate how the other person do the chore. if they do it X way & you prefer Y, keep opinion to yourself
— Suraya | suraya.eth (@surayaror) January 30, 2022
#3 – Claiming my right to add on additional clauses in taklik
For financial and (most importantly) love reasons, I am NOT okay with polygamy. Sharing my husband with another would shatter me completely – body, mind and soul. I’d rather get a divorce than be in a polygamous marriage.
I’m not the only person with this view. According to one study, only 32% of Muslim women in Malaysia allow their husbands to take on another wife.
Thankfully and happily, husband heard me out and agreed as well – no polygamy while he is married to me.
So we put it in black and white and added it in the taklik – the husband/wife agreement in Islam.
In addition to the no-polygamy clause, I also included clauses that do not take away my personal autonomy: no restrictions on travel and career decisions. We’ll discuss everything important of course, but I don’t need ‘permission’.
It’s amazing how much his agreement to these additional clauses in the taklik made me submit more easily and freely. After all, love and loyalty are strongest when it’s freely given and made by choice, not by force.
More information about taklik in my How to Avoid Polygamy in Malaysia: Add it in The Taklik article.
#4 – Applying feminist principles
Husband doesn’t identify as a feminist (in fact he thinks that word has a negative connotation), but I am, and I’ve been sharing and showing how applying feminist principles in our marriage benefits him.
Actually, it’s been benefiting him since we first dated. For example,
- Contribute financially as well – dual-income household = better standard of living
- If work/home responsibilities ever get too much, each of us is allowed to take time off and/or use our savings to solve it
- It’s not ‘his money is my money, my money is my money’. It’s our money
- Tbh I don’t care about nafkah. I can buy my own shit
- My duit hantaran (which I never wanted in the first place, but defended as ‘adat’) is currently invested and earmarked for our new house
- Assuring him that he matters as a person, not just his role as a provider
I want to expand that last point.
#5 – He’s my life partner, not a mere provider
Similar to how the burden of care work is placed on women, the burden to provide is also placed on men. Women talking openly about unfair housework is common, but I don’t think we talk enough about the way society ostracizes men who are unable to provide.
I’ve seen so many comments telling financially struggling men how they failed as husband/father, as if being a provider is the only thing they’re valued for. I mean, they say things like ‘men without money shouldn’t even think of marrying as they couldn’t afford it’. The harsh wording is so normalised, but it shouldn’t be.
You might say the burden to provide is part of being a man.
But some will crack under pressure. Some get depressed. Some take unnecessary risks. Some become abusive to family and society….and some kill themselves. It is a fact that suicide rates are higher among men.
Gendered expectations are double-edged swords; its harmful to everyone. I hope this will make you realise how patriarchy hurts both men and women in different ways.
Sadly, there are so many men (and women) who attack feminists and their efforts towards gender equality, instead of working together to demand equal pay for work of equal value, affordable childcare services, longer paternal leave, sexual harassment policies, and more.
All those things help women earn (instead of dropping out of the workforce), which leads to men getting a better quality of life (instead of working all the time to provide)!
Thoughts on *staying* married
Being married is one thing. Staying married… that’s the tough one, right? Or so I heard.
As open as I am to the idea of divorce (if staying together is bad for both of us, then heck yes it’s a good idea to part ways), I do desire longevity.
As an optimist – and blinded with love at that – I am hopeful. I want to make my marriage work.
But as someone who is a realist, there’s a reason why I personally don’t want to follow conventional marriage advice too closely: according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia’s Marriage and Divorce Statistics, the number of divorce cases in Malaysia is rising. Whatever is the norm now isn’t working in favour of married couples.
Considering the biggest predictor of divorce is contempt (as per research by The Gottman Institute), hopefully I’ve done enough through thoughts and actions #1-5 to reduce, as much as possible, the possible scenarios inviting contempt into our lives.
For example, I will absolutely hate it if I have to do all of the unpaid care work ON TOP of my career. And I know husband will feel taken advantage of if I ask him to be my personal ATM and pay for all of my expenses.
Is what I’m doing enough for a happy, long-lasting marriage? Who knows? But at least I know I’m giving it a fighting chance.
As an ending note, and last but not least – to my darling husband Aizat. I just want to tell you how much you are loved. You keep telling me how lucky you are but honestly honey, I’m the lucky one. I promise to enable your happiness and growth as much as you have vowed to enable mine.