Girl, You’ll be a woman soon…

Back when I was still in the throes of morning-sickness-so-vile-I-wanted-to-die, we put a call out for guest posts, so that we could at least keep providing you with some weddingy reading material whilst we got back on our feet. Sophie was one of the first to send us in a post, and when we read it we just knew it would be perfect for AOW.

Sophie has done what we really encourage – taken the topic of her wedding and looked deeper into it than just what shoes she’s going to wear or how to decorate the tables, and really looked at how she hopes the marriage will change her. On top of all this, it’s absolutely beautifully written AND full of (incredibly cute) family pictures of her growing up.

And I for one agree with her conclusion….opinions please?

When we marry, does something fundamental change in us: do we transform into full throttle women on becoming a bride? Or does taking on the titular title ‘Mrs’ mean just that?

Among the whirligig madness that prevails as I engineer our wedding, a funny thing has happened. I started to feel risible if someone should refer to me as a ‘girl’ or ‘girlfriend’. Especially since I am not in the dawn years of my twenties, but will be a 28 year old bride. I started to long to be acknowledged as a woman: a word with its knowing, sexy, wiser and aspirational connotations. ‘Girl’ suddenly didn’t seem to fit. The only way I can explain it without sounding defensive or giving into the amateur dramatics is that girlhood is that period in which you are almost always confused (even whilst erstwhile pretending convincingly to the world that you are so not, stumbling around in deathly heels, mug of Gin in hand) and possibly, lonely. You are confused about life, worrying over every last calorie, boys who you vault through hoops to try and keep happy or just to even keep, what your career trajectory is, whether it really matters to you more that you won’t get on the housing ladder or that there’s another humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and what the heck this says about you if you’re in the former camp – most of us don’t even know who the heck we are.

I’m not suggesting that meeting my now fiancée ‘saved’ me from this expensive and self-indulgent persona (incidentally, as I first met him when I was 19 and we didn’t pick up where we left off until some six years later, I think conclusions about it being anything to do with my nascent womanhood can be safely put to bed – we just didn’t meet at the right time for one another the first time). It is simply that having now had the epiphany of realising that each other’s love is all we need, that it made us not only feel alive but want to stay that way raging into the night for the rest of our years and having some thrillingly pretty rocks to confirm this makes me want, to steal Woody Allen’s heartbreakingly candid but not cloying line, to be a better girl for him. And that “better girl”is a woman.

The problem I’m having is that I’m not clear where this magical, tacit threshold into womanhood is. I think I know what defines it, and that to some extent it’s bound up with biology and motherhood and societal expectations. But could it be, that upon having enough conviction in yourself to bind yourself to someone in marriage, to be willing to ditch the ‘Miss’ prefix is key? As you become a wife, do you automatically segue into womanhood with all its duties and obligations, but also impact and confidence? I certainly think that there is a kind of emancipation that happens when you marry: you have to be pretty sure of yourself and your choice to go through with it in the first instance, so it is a natural progression of argument that the white dress marks the end of the pure, innocuous era of girlhood and ushers in a new.
 

Traditionally, the passing of the bride from her family’s responsibility and upkeep to that of her husband upon marriage happened when females were much younger. Predominantly, marriage meant for women that they would act as little better than chattel to her husband, a pretty, heir producing embellishment. With the advent of feminism and years of crusading, females can be, and very much are their own person, with or without marriage. Indeed, ‘woman’ can be used as a derogatory slur, implying that the person to whom it’s directed doesn’t deserve to be referred to by her own name, let alone endearments. But there does seem to have been a shift of late, and the word has arguably been reassigned – to be a woman is a good thing. It implies a ballsiness that is a female as comfortable in her own skin as she is in knee length pencil skirts (no longer the need for skirts so short they could make you look professional), the meaningful, racy and less bombastic love making, wanting to make perfect homebaked spelt loaves, and occasionally listening to BBC Radio 4. So does this happen when we get married, or is it a longer burning thing? Naturally, we should shed some of the neediness and other tripe of youth on marrying – we have found and settled with our soulmates, we don’t need to worry about the searching and disappointment of trying to find love anymore. But this would be just as true outside the enclaves of marriage. So if there is something to be said about marriage in particular being essential to crossing the lintel into womanhood, would it be fairer to reduce it down to being about the ‘Mrs’ bit and making the adult decision to take the risk marriage presents, to play all your cards?
What’s new are brides steadily becoming older, with the Office for National Statistics now placing the average age for first time brides at 30, and the likes of Kate Middleton and Kate Moss married after co-habiting with their partners for eons before marrying. But there does seem to be some latent if not disapproval, then at least some gentle mocking that suggests the idea that not being married makes us not proper women before it. There certainly seems to be some sort of relief when couples advancing into their early thirties decide to marry, which suggests that marriage is still seen as some sort of safety net, intimation of how much we are loved and wanted. Pre-wedding therefore, are we any the lesser for being a Miss? Kate Moss used to revel in bad girl behaviour, badder men, and still to some extent flies her wildchild colours with pride – no one else would deign to parade down the catwalk whilst chugging on a cigarette. Perhaps getting married is the biggest rebellion she could face us with – the girl least likely to. And more surprising still, she seems to be enjoying the trappings of wedding planning, engagement rings and being someone’s missus. So perhaps as unmarried females, we’re not automatically poorer in character or status, but being married does make a difference, and a happy one at that. Ultimately, marriage should be, and for the most part is, a lovely thing. I think my angst has more to do with wanting rid of the idea that I am a whimsical, demanding or unconfident young girl, rather than my thinking that marriage will magically make me a woman.
All it will make me is a wife; the rest is up to me.
(Edit: Final picture is from Sophie’s engagement shoot….ummm…HOW cool?! If anyone wants me I will be found playing the distressed maiden on my local railway line.)


Categories: Marriage, Politics and Feminism
6 interesting thoughts on this

6 Comments

  1. Posted June 27, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    I feel uncomfortable being called a "woman" but "girl" definitely doesn't fit. It was like when I got engaged and went to Brussels and a stranger, the first ever, called me "madame" instead of "mademoiselle" – it was so traumatic. But why shouldn't she have?

    I agree with your conclusion, Sophie. I don't think marriage makes a jot of difference, it's about the culmination of a lot of life experience that makes the transition. Would you call a 16-year-old, freshly married, still living with her parents, a woman? Would you call a person in her fifties, who never married, CEO of an international firm, a girl?

    I wouldn't. But I accept that there are many who would…and perhaps that shows how you can't box anyone up with a neat little label.

    Thanks so much for writing this for us Sophie…and yes, I will be joining Clare on the local disused railway line. Now just need to get Mr K into one of those hats…it could be a lengthy wait!

  2. Sarah
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Good post…twas thought provoking indeed. I'm with Anna K on actually feeling a bit traumatised when I'm referred to as 'that lady' (as opposed to girl) by small children, and also with my wedding just 4 weeks away, I'm struggling with the notion of becoming a Mrs X. I'm not struggling with the idea of being with my intended for the rest of our lives, just the idea that I will suddenly sound so…old?!

  3. Posted June 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I don't know what I am – I think I sit somewhere between a girl and a woman, not particularly wanting to be defined as either. Being a wife, daughter and sister is enough definition for me

    xxx

  4. Posted June 27, 2011 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    I think it's safe to say I haven't a clue how I define myself, though I rarely mind how others define me either. If 'girl' is used in a patronising context then, obviously, it irritates me. Otherwise, I'm easy.

    I remember being utterly in awe of the girl who babysat me-only 5 years older but seemingly infinitely cooler and more beautiful in ways I would never be. I could never be that 'grown-up'. Funnily enough, we got married on the same day last year and when I saw her pictures, despite being a good 6 years older than SHE was when I was last in wonder with her, I was still amazed at how mature and together she seemed.

    I think, to some extent, I'll always be an 18 year old girl! But then my Mama turned 21+17 yesterday and she says she still feels like a 19 year old 'girl'. Which made my Dad laugh.

    Lovely, thought-provoking stuff Sophie. Thank you!

    X

  5. Posted June 27, 2011 at 8:35 pm | Permalink

    I think this is such a great post with some really valid points. I'm 21 and will be 23 when i'm married and all my friends are convinced i'll turn into an 'old lady' as a wife as if it will totally change my entire personality!

  6. Esme
    Posted June 28, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    So what do we think of the comment 'you can be an adult without being married, but you can't be married without being an adult' (I think I've got that the right way round!)? xx

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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image by Lucy Stendall Photography

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