And your father’s occupation?

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Feminist activist and journalist Caroline Criado-Perez was on Woman’s Hour this morning discussing her latest campaign: to change the antiquated laws which dictate that both the bride and groom must state their fathers’ occupations on the wedding certificate (listen here).

Fortunately for Criado-Perez, this was brought to her attention before the wedding she’s planning. When I got married in June 2011, I had no idea that I’d be forced to scribe my dad’s job on this official document – and ignore my mum’s – until 20 minutes before I was due to walk down the aisle.

We were sat with the registrar in Bridgwater Registry Office, palms sweating, when she told us we’d need to just go through a couple of things. She then asked us what our fathers did for a living.

“Why do you need to know that?” I asked. And she told me it was for the wedding certificate. I asked if I could give my mum’s job instead and she said no.

Now, I’m a feminist through-and-through – but to jilt Rich at the altar because I wasn’t allowed to list my mum’s job instead of my dad’s would have been taking it a step too far, so I (begrudgingly) obliged.

Some people see marriage as a sexist, misogynist institution anyway, so might be wondering why I cared. Let me explain.

Marriage, to me, is about celebrating your love and making a lifelong commitment. It acknowledges the obstacles that you might come across and makes you work just a little bit harder to overcome them, because getting divorced is more complicated than a non-marital break up (financially and logistically – not necessarily emotionally).

And so I wanted to marry Rich. But I chose not to be ‘given away’ by my dad, as I’m no more his to give away than I am my mum’s. I decided to take Rich’s name, as we liked the idea of sharing a surname (particularly as we planned to have children) and his was less common than my own. There was already a published journalist with my ‘maiden’ name – so I took Ridout in order to be the only published Annie Ridout on the web. And I still am.

At one point I considered boycotting white dresses because of the insinuation of virginity and purity (neither of which applied to me) but I like white. And I like dresses. And I decided this was a personal preference – not part of the feminist debate around marriage and weddings.

That wedding certificate stipulation, however, is very much part of the feminist debate because it suggests that 1. only fathers (men) work 2. all fathers work 3. everyone has a father 4. mums’ (women’s) jobs are irrelevant. And that’s not even touching on the topic of gay parents. When there are two mums or two dads, whose job do you put down then?

When I was travelling around India with my friend Lizzie, aged 19, we’d laugh when men on public buses sat down next to us and asked: Name? Father’s occupation? It was always those questions, in that order. We found it funny because this wasn’t something we’d ever be asked at home – in order to determine our worth.

But for many families in India it’s only the father who works. And the father who matters. And so his job determines the status of the family, in the warped caste system that exists. Many women don’t – and aren’t allowed to – work. And there are major campaigns working to change this.

In the UK, we assume that there is something more akin to gender equality, so when we’re made to feel as if it’s only our dads who matter – it’s a bit of a shocker.

So good on you, Caroline Criado-Perez. I have every faith that this campaign will be just as successful as the women on banknotes campaign. And I fully support it.

4 replies on “ And your father’s occupation? ”
  1. I got married back in the ninties & was appalled by the blatant sexism of the marriage certificate, but did nothing. I can’t believe nothing has changed since. Women’s hour read out my email declaring my intention to rectify my certificate by inserting our mum’s details. Wish we could start a mass campaign with supporters using social media to publicise their own certificate correction.
    I wish you well in your efforts to highlight this issue.

  2. I listened to Woman’s Hour today and I agree with everything you and Caroline say. It’s further evidence that women are treated as chattels and marriage is a financial transaction between men (the groom and the father of the bride). Changing one’s name only perpetuates this nonsense; it’s akin to a slave taking her master’s name. So I was right behind you, right up until the bit where you tried to justify changing yours!

  3. We were married in Australia and thankfully weren’t required to submit any details about our parents’ occupations. And I agree with the majority of your piece. However, I chose not to change my name, as I don’t believe in changing your identity simply because you’re married. I don’t really understand why you feel it’s so important for you and your children to all share the same name? ‘What’s in a name,’ as the great William Shakespeare wrote.
    You may be interested to learn that many Icelandic families have different surnames – they uphold an Old Norse tradition of identifying themselves by their father’s or mother’s first name.
    The patronymic of the father’s or mother’s first name is used and the suffix son (son) or dóttir (daughter) appended.

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