As a leading feminist voice, Valenti’s decision to tie the knot sparked plenty of heat.
Question: How do you feel about the controversy related to your marriage?
Jessica Valenti: You know, on Feministing it was overwhelmingly positive and supportive when I got married, and most of my commenters were extremely happy and expressed as much. I think it's one of the difficulties in being kind of a public or semipublic figure in any sort of political movement, that everything that you do is analyzed, especially when you're online and especially when you choose to write about your personal life, which I have done to a large degree. It kind of goes with the territory. But when I did get married, and specifically after I got married and the New York Times style section featured my wedding in the vows column, which is really traditionally kind of seen as an elitist column, and it is, but I was happy to be in it. I thought it was good that they were covering a feminist wedding.
And after that happened and people seemed so upset by it, I kind of had to just let it go, you know. You have to have your personal life, and at the end of the day I think what people forget, especially when you're online, is that you're a person too, right, and that you're not this ideal of feminism, that everything you do like feminism just like falls in your wake. That's not how it happens. Like we're all trying to negotiate a really difficult and sexist world the best way that we know how, and we all make decisions that are right for us, and some of our decisions might not be right for everyone else.
And when we got married, we did the best that we could to kind of incorporate our politics and our feminism into the wedding. It was difficult for us because when we got engaged it was right after Prop 8 happened in California, so we had a lot of conversation about shall we get married at all, shall we wait until everyone can get married? But to us it felt like a really passive thing to do, to just not do something as a way of expressing politics. So for us, what we did was, in our ceremony, same-sex marriage was kind of a part of what our officiant talked about in the ceremony. We donated to an organization that fights for same-sex marriage rights, and we indicated as much like on little cards on the table. And it was something that was just a part of the ceremony, and for us and probably for a lot of my family members, extended family members, who maybe are more conservative, that was kind of a radical thing for them to hear. And that seemed more active to us, more activist to us, than not doing anything. So that was the right decision for us. It certainly doesn't change anything that's going on in the world, and it certainly doesn't make marriage a fair institution or a not-sexist institution, but it was the way we went about it.
Question: Can feminism be compatible with traditional institutions?
Jessica Valenti: That's a hard question! I think that almost all traditional institutions are sexist, and they're probably racist and homophobic, and they're all of these things. But a lot of them, like marriage, are too embedded into the culture to give up. Like people are not going to give up marriage. But we can try to make it more fair. We can try to change that institution and make it more equal. And I do think that's happening. I do think that people are aware of that, and I think that that's really the best we can do.
Recorded December 11, 2009