November 27, 2023
This week, Jameela is joined by writer, broadcaster and feminist organizer Clementine Ford to discuss the historical roots of marriage as a tool of patriarchal control, the illusions surrounding modern matrimony and the modern marketing machinery that sustains its myth. They discuss the cost & invisible labor in marriage, women’s agency and empowerment in a modern world, and the many ways to celebrate ourselves outside of the traditional “Big Day” wedding day and much more.
Clementine Ford’s book “I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage” is out now.
And her IG @Clementine_Ford
Buy Tickets to ‘Choose Love’ here https://www.axs.com/events/514295/james-blake-friends-tickets
You can find transcripts from the show on the Earwolf website
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190 — Challenging the Myth of Marital Bliss with Clementine Ford
Jameela Intro [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil, a podcast against shame. I hope you’re well and I think today’s chat is so important for this podcast because it’s largely about the way that we shame people who just don’t want to get married, especially when those people are women. And I think that’s really bizarre that we’re still having this conversation, that we’re still telling women how to spend their entire lives. But it seems to be back in a big way because of the explosion of red pill culture and misogyny on TikTok. There’s also a big rise of the kind of trad wife culture, which is the traditional housewife and the homemaker and the stay at home mum, which, by the way, is a wonderful and beautiful thing and still a fucking shit load of hard work. So we’re definitely not trying to shame anyone who wants to participate in marriage or who wants to be a stay at home mom. But it is just a real conversation about the history of marriage. Where does it come from? Why is it set up as a romantic ideal when it’s largely a sort of vessel of economical incentive for our governments and a way to control women historically? We really get into the ins and outs of the ways in which it’s been used as a tool against women and how this kind of propaganda around marriage has permeated all of our souls since we were children. And how we need to dispel this idea that if you are not married, you have somehow failed in life, or that you’re going to end up bitter and alone. And when you die, you’re going to be eaten by your pets. Somehow that very, very, very archaic image of a woman who chooses to not be married has been circulating again, and I find it so breathtaking. So I’m very glad to be having this important and factually based conversation with Clementine Ford, who is a fantastic writer, advocate, community builder and broadcaster. She’s written books like “Fight Like a Girl” and “Boys Will Be Boys,” which have been published around the world and have been hugely critically acclaimed in the UK, the US, Australia, etc. And she’s got a new book out called “I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage,” again, is not really about attacking marriage. It’s just that I think if we’re going to make big decisions in our lives, we should have an informed opinion because that’s what creates real consent. We should know exactly what it is that we’re buying into. Now, I am someone who is not particularly fussed about getting married. I don’t think it’s something that I’m especially interested in. I might change my mind later on, but I just think this is a really beautiful chat, and it’s about empowering the people who are married. It’s about empowering the people who choose not to be, and it’s about how we can celebrate ourselves outside of just needing a kind of big, traditional wedding day. Why can every day not be our special day? So please sit back, relax, and enjoy the excellent Clementine Ford.
Jameela [00:02:41] Clementine Ford, welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
Clementine [00:02:53] I’m very well, Jameela Jamil. It’s so wonderful to speak to you in person finally. I’m a huge fan and obviously your hair is divine. It’s my hair goals.
Jameela [00:03:02] Hahaha you’re so sweet. Thank you. We’ve been talking in DMS for how many years?
Clementine [00:03:08] I think actually, since you first launched your I Weigh project.
Jameela [00:03:12] Yeah, so that’s five years.
Clementine [00:03:14] Yeah.
Jameela [00:03:15] I want to talk to you about your book because I think some people might look at your body of work and some of the ways in which you have spoken about the divide between men and women, and they’ll see a book that’s called “I Don’t” that kind of I don’t want to say argues against the case of marriage, but just enlightens us on the system that is the industry and institution of marriage. And they might see that and presume “oh she’s just saying that because she’s like against men having any relationships with women. She hates men and she doesn’t want us to have families.” And that couldn’t be further from the truth of what you believe. You just want everyone to be informed cause I think, from what I gather from your work, you just seem to get happier and happier the more you’re able to put things in place and understand why things are the way that they are. That’s what makes all of us feel safer, right?
Clementine [00:04:04] Oh, you know, when you just said that last thing, I actually just had like, a beautiful shiver go through my body to say that someone gets happier and happier, the more able they are to put things in place in their world. I’ve never heard it articulated like that before. I’ve never been able to articulate it to myself like that before. And it’s such a beautiful rejoinder to people saying things like, Well, you are against this because you’re miserable and because and it’s because men don’t want you that actually I feel not only do I get happier and happier by putting things in place in the world, but I get happier and happier the older I get because I feel more capable of putting things in place in the world and I feel more
Jameela [00:04:41] Well cause it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying when things are confusing. It’s terrifying when you don’t know when something’s happening. It’s absolutely petrifying. Because if you can’t understand the system or the pattern, then you don’t know when it’s going to happen again and you can’t see where it’s going and then you can’t see where you’re going.
Clementine [00:04:55] Yep.
Jameela [00:04:55] And so talk to me about “I Don’t.” Why did you write this book? What is it about?
Clementine [00:04:59] So it’s called “I Don’t: The Case Against Marriage.” So it is actually explicitly a case against the institution of marriage.
Jameela [00:05:05] Yes.
Clementine [00:05:06] But to be clear, not in a critique of married people. It’s a critique of the institution. I wrote this book because I was practically prompted into it because when COVID happened and Melbourne, where I live in Australia, entered the world’s longest continuous lockdown and we weren’t allowed to leave our houses for more than an hour a day, etc, etc. And I really became very active on Instagram, and I think a lot of us probably did. It was a way to stay connected and it was a way for me to really stay connected with communities of women because women use Instagram, you know, in high numbers. And I suppose the circumstances of my life as well was that I went into lockdown with a three year old child. I’m a single mother, do have a great relationship with his father. But I was spending a lot of time by myself in an apartment with a child who, by the very nature of his age, needed a lot of attention. And I found a real refuge in that space in online communities. And what I found as well was that women started to talk about what they were experiencing in their own homes, and which was pronounced even more so because of the isolation of the pandemic. We know that incidents of domestic abuse raised catastrophically during the pandemic. We also know separate to that, statistics and incidents of domestic abuse skyrocket during natural disasters. And people excuse it by saying “well it’s very stressful. It’s very stressful,” as if.
Jameela [00:06:26] Oh God.
Clementine [00:06:26] As If domestic abuse is an appropriate response to stress and to a man’s stress. So I was being contacted by a lot of women who were talking about the indignities and the small little humiliations and sometimes the big humiliations. They were no longer able to pretend that these massive fault lines in their relationships, most of which were with a man, which is not to say that the women were all heterosexual, but heteronormative style relationships. They couldn’t pretend anymore that they weren’t huge problems, and there was a massive amount of dissatisfaction. And I started to collate a lot of their stories and I started to talk and use my stories on Instagram the way that I know you do as well, to really, as you said, try and put in place this thing that I was trying to understand and trying to articulate an argument about. And it became very clear to me as someone who had always rejected marriage, if not relationships, but had never been interested in marriage, it became very clear to me that obviously the reasons why women are made to believe that marriage is so essential for our happiness and the reasons that were made to believe that having children is so essential for our happiness is because of that need for us to prop up the current system that we live in as being the correct system.
Jameela [00:07:40] Mhm.
Clementine [00:07:40] So I started to think about, well, what does the history of marriage look like? And I, and I began to read some books and I started kind of like dismantling the idea of the cat lady trope on Instagram and really encouraging women to leave relationships. And by the way, I know that it’s not as simple as that. It’s obviously not a single thing. Just leave him. It’s so complicated. It’s deliberately made complicated. It’s deliberately made economically almost impossible for so many people. Because, as Elizabeth Gilbert says, if a state wants to absolve itself of the responsibility that it has to take care of all of its citizens equally, it siphons that care off into small little building blocks. And if you have a system that has what we have, like, you know, we’re a family values based society and therefore we can firstly institute really conservative policies because we’re family based. We can also rely on the fact that the unpaid worker in that family, which is most often overwhelmingly the mother, she can be relied on to do all of the unpaid work that the state should be funding, like keeping the children healthy, keeping the man healthy so that he can go out and be a productive worker for the state, making sure that people are eating healthy food, making sure that they’re going to school, making sure that they’re going to the doctor, etc, etc. and all of that work is unpaid. And I don’t know what the figure is in the UK, but in Australia, the unpaid care work in this country amounts to $434 billion a year. It’s a massive amount of the gross domestic product. But the United Nations doesn’t count unpaid work, which is mostly done by women globally. It doesn’t count unpaid work as being part of any gross domestic product system. It wasn’t until the 1980s that it started even registering it. And it’s now, it’s now only counted in a satellite account. So when I started looking at all these things and the way in which unpaid care work, which again, as I said, is mostly provided by women and actually globally, mostly provided by the world of working poor women, that is an essential part of the system that we live in. It’s an essential part of like social cohesion and also community health. And yet it’s so easy to dismiss it and to not pay for it because women do it. And it’s been established recently as well. It was only about 200 years ago by Victorian era scientists because they were trying to prove, and they couldn’t prove it, they were trying to prove that women were intellectually inferior to men and also that they were trying to prove that white people were intellectually superior to people of color. They couldn’t prove that they established a theory that was much more impossible to argue, and that is that men and women were just different. And women were naturally the caregivers and naturally the nurturers, because we had babies. And obviously that’s incredibly binary thinking, but it took root despite the fact that there is no tangible evidence of that, no scientific evidence that there’s any difference between male and female brains and no actual evidence for an innate kind of nurturing maternal caregiving that is moral in women as opposed to primal for their own child maybe. Despite the fact that there’s no evidence of that, people just say it as if it’s true. So you have these male podcasters authoring perception, as Marilyn Frye said, saying, “well, women need to have babies, women need to get married. That is how you will be happy. Otherwise you’re going to grow old and alone and you’ll have nothing but your cats” when actually the honest truth is we need women to be doing this unpaid work. Because without women doing this unpaid work, we have to care for ourselves. And we may have to admit that actually we as men live in service to more powerful men.
Jameela [00:11:10] Totally. One thing I do want to just flag is that while perhaps the actual organs of our brains may not be different, the way that our hormones work within our bodies, do actually lead to like psychological differences? Yeah. And, and like, sort of personality differences, interest differences, but also like, empathy differences. That’s just something I always like to flag so that no one then undermines the million amazing points you made.
Clementine [00:11:32] Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jameela [00:11:32] By saying there’s no difference, like there is a difference. And it’s okay to acknowledge that, but I see what you’re saying.
Clementine [00:11:39] It’s more like men don’t have a, men don’t have more spatial awareness.
Jameela [00:11:42] No.
Clementine [00:11:43] They’ve been, that theory has been disproven.
Jameela [00:11:45] No, but there are also, there are also interesting things about how women, you know, tend to have maybe a higher IQ in certain studies or like girls learn faster and we develop faster so like. There are all kinds of different things out there. But yes, fundamentally, there’s no reason why women, there’s no fundamental scientific back up as to why women have been put into such oppressive and reductive roles throughout history. I 100% agree with you.
Clementine [00:12:06] But also, so I was I was trying to think of what’s my next book, and I was like, this is the next book because I’m at an age where despite the fact that I’ve never been married and never wanted to be married, I’m at an age where so many women in marriages and in long term relationships, even if they don’t have the paper change. They change like we’re starting to go through perimenopause. Our desires and interests in the world naturally change because we evolve as people like we should always want to change. And to the people who you think you are at 25 or 30 when you may have married your husband, also, like under this umbrella of like romantic fantasy that this is, I’ve met my best friend, I’m going to marry him, we’re going to be best friends for the rest of our life because that’s the narrative that you’re fed. Suddenly are in a position where they like, well, even if the relationship is sort of like, okay, they’re still like, “well, I’m a different person now.” And how do you change and evolve as a woman in a marriage if the person that you have married long ago stopped seeing the complexities of who you are because you just became someone who did the laundry, cooked the food
Jameela [00:13:08] You became mum.
Clementine [00:13:10] And as they said, you became mum, except you also annoy him because you don’t fuck him enough.
Jameela [00:13:14] Right. And this is something that I am hearing more and more, especially as, you know, like I get older from my friends that part of why I don’t want to get married is because I worry that it would shift something in our dynamic. And I can’t exactly speak to what that is, but I think it suddenly puts pressure on us. It means that there’s this thing outside of just our exact human dynamic that determines how difficult it is to walk away from one another, like I want him to be my daily choice. And of course, it’s still a choice. If you’re married to someone, you could always leave, but I want to know that there’s no inconvenience that would keep me in the relationship. And I don’t want us to start to take each other for granted. And we do still have to date. And there is something kind of special about the looming risk of losing something because human beings are so predisposed to taking things for granted, it’s like it’s in our nature. It’s, it’s so that our brains can go “Right, well, I can park that. I have to worry about that anymore. What are some other things I need to worry about now?” And so for me personally, you know, I think when people are like,”I just don’t want to have to worry anymore.” I think that can sometimes be a little bit dangerous for a relationship because it’s important to worry a little bit in the same way that when you’re a parent, it’s good to have a little bit of anxiety, like, “Am I getting this right? Are they alive? Are they doing well? Are they becoming good people?” And there’s nothing wrong with the, no one ever challenges the anxiety at work or the anxiety of child rearing, etc. because, you know, it’s considered motivational. But we’re not encouraged to really have motivation other than just sticking it out with the ball and chain. And that, to me, is not everyone’s philosophy on marriage, and I’m not trying to say that.
Clementine [00:14:58] It should, it should be more people’s philosophy, though.
Jameela [00:15:01] But I’ve just seen so much of it. And it spooks me a little bit. And so I think that was why, you know, we’ve been together nine years now. And so I think it was probably about four or five years ago, the question started coming of like, “So you are two going to tie the knot?” And we just talked about it so many times. It’s just I just really like it the way it is where like I still feel that little bit that just like just a touch, a fuckin sprinkle of insecurity, that if I don’t make a bit of an effort, then why the fuck would you stay when there’s 9 billion people on the planet? It doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me like, it just seems like a motivator.
Clementine [00:15:37] You have to maintain a bit of a frisson in a relationship, and there’s a few things that stick out to me from what you’re saying. And I think that it’s really worth, anyone who may be listening to this conversation and feeling a little bit like “But I really like being married. And don’t we all just have a choice now? And isn’t feminism about choice?” Firstly, like I don’t think feminism is just about choice. That’s a very simplistic way of looking at feminism and it’s a very individual way of looking at feminism. But that aside, the implicit kind of suggestion that is in like “I want to not worry anymore.” What does that mean? Like, “I want to not worry anymore.” You want to not worry that you’ll be alone, so you’ll just get married. Like, is marriage just a panacea for being alone? Why is it so bad to be alone? But also, you and your partner have been together for nine years. If you got married tomorrow or announced that you’re getting married tomorrow, the response that you got from not just from your friends and family, but also because you’re a public figure from the world, would be, “Oh my God, this is amazing is the best news ever.” It’s like, why does that, just this thing that you can do that literally pretty much anyone of adult age, at least in a two partner arranged system now in the UK or in countries where they allow same sex marriage, anyone can do. It’s not like an achievement in that respect. Why does that somehow suddenly elevate the relationship that you have spent nine years nurturing and building and caring about and investigating and showing up for every day? As opposed to just being one where it’s like, “Well, I just don’t want to worry anymore.” Why does that make your relationship more profound, and why, if you remain unmarried nine years in, is that somehow a less stable relationship than a couple that gets engaged after three years of knowing each other? I feel like the hierarchy of marriage, people want to pretend that now, well, we’ve got choice and there’s freedoms and you don’t have to do it, and so marriages change, etc. but you can’t escape the fact that there is still a social hierarchy and a status that comes from women in particular saying that they are either going to be married or that they will or that they are married. That it’s somehow, it’s just like this little smug kind of thrill. Each of the chapters in the book opens with a quote, many of them actually, from feminists who are, have been dead for hundreds of years to kind of prove the point that feminism wasn’t invented in the 1970s to try and force women to go to work. Women have always worked. But I quote “Pride and Prejudice,” which obviously is also a book about the lack of options that women have in a world where they have no money and they don’t have control over their, their own independent financial future. They have to tether themselves to marriage in order to survive. But Lydia Bennett, when she returns after having you know eloped with Wickham in a very scandalous way, says to her older sister, Jane, “No, you must go lower, Jane, for I am a married woman.” And there is a, there is a shred of that that remains in our culture, even if people don’t want to admit it, that there is some kind of status that is given to women in particular, that when she becomes a married woman, she goes higher.
Jameela [00:18:46] Yeah, you know what, it’s funny you say that like I’ve caught, and it’s most often from women, this kind of attitude of, “Oh, he stays with you, but it doesn’t quite want to marry you.” As if I had no agency in that. As if that wasn’t my choice.
Clementine [00:19:03] As if he’s keeping you on the boil.
Jameela [00:19:04] Yeah, yeah. I don’t think James gives a shit either way. Like I don’t think he gives a shit about the
Clementine [00:19:08] But also, how insulting to you that-
Jameela [00:19:10] Totally, totally insane, but it’s this feeling of like, “Oh, sorry.” And it’s like, no, this is this is great. This is what I want. But there is that sort of and it’s not in all people, but it’s definitely something that I have encountered in the last almost decade, which is just like, “Oh, how come? Hmm. Well, that’s okay.” And I was like I didn’t need your restaurant. I’m fine.
Clementine [00:19:32] Oh, no, I’m just waiting.
Jameela [00:19:42] Where does that come from? You talk about this in the book. Where does that feeling come from? That feeling of like, I am the prize and I have been won, or he is the prize and he has been won.
Clementine [00:19:51] It’s a really good example of how over centuries and this book specifically talks to a Western historical context, because that’s my historical context. I couldn’t possibly hope to, you know, address marriage and cultures all across the world. And by the way, as well, like one of the chapters in the book is called “Your Father’s Name,” and it’s about the patronymic naming system that we have in the West that is a direct legacy of a doctrine called coverture, which legally stated that women had no identity of their own, that they passed from the authority of their father to the authority of their husband, which is why they took a man’s name, because he she became his property. That’s not a global thing. There’s many metronomic naming cultures in the world, so it also kind of like messes with this idea of, again, white supremacy that somehow everything we do in the West is automatically advanced, which is just a heinous way of thinking of things. But it’s a really good example of how in the West, women who suddenly, and women in the middle class and white women in the middle class and I say that specifically because we have been relied on and enlisted by systems like patriarchy and white supremacy to aspire to these conditions for the status, however superficial, that we feel that we get there in order to keep us separate from other marginalized groups and other liberation projects. Because if we’re aligning ourselves with white supremacy and patriarchy and class.
Jameela [00:21:15] Then you’ll be safe.
Clementine [00:21:16] We’ll be safe and we’ll have status. So it’s a you know, in a post-suffrage world where women finally, like, fought bitterly and often, you know, with many women dying for the right for some women to get the vote initially and then the right to go to universities, which we were precluded from entering the right to work in professions that we were precluded from entering. In Australia, it wasn’t until the early 19-, until the late 1960s, if you were a woman who worked in the public service, so say you worked for a state high school or a government agency, you were legally required to quit your job after you got married until the late 1960s. So all of these kind of hard won rights that women have and feminists have achieved over the years needed to be counted to keep us willingly entering this system. And one of the ways that that was done was by making it seem romantic, making us really believe in the power of being chosen. People can read Stephanie Coontz “Is Marriage a History?” She’s one of the preeminent marriage historians in the world. Companionate marriage or what we would know to be like “marrying for love” is about 200 years old because obviously prior to that it was about empire building, was about kinship building, expanding the family. Coincidentally, even though divorce was very, very difficult and expensive to get, once people started marrying for love as a kind of a rule, the divorce rates skyrocketed because as people at the time were like, “Why would you marry for love? That’s crazy.” They understood that love is too flimsy and fleeting a thing to build something like a family empire on it. So women have been co-opted into believing that there is status and moral status in being selected for marital service and having a man come along and choose us. And one of the ways that I feel like maybe we’re not as honest with ourselves about this, too, but there is this very deeply burrowed feeling of like being not like other girls. So he’s had this series of girlfriends before me, but I’m the one. I’m the one that he chose to be his wife. This idea that becoming a wife is somehow like a promotion, you know, and I say this without any kind of there’s not a specific kind of main critique of women who are listening to this who may have done it. But it is a reflection of how deeply embedded that is in the cultural conscience.
Jameela [00:23:38] And it’s a critique of the programing, right? It’s just like
Clementine [00:23:42] Yeah.
Jameela [00:23:42] This was, this was put into us, like in every movie that I saw, rom-coms, books, songs. So much of this was kind of drip feeding us this this sort of infusion of romance into marriage propaganda when marriage is largely a business arrangement.
Clementine [00:24:04] Largely a business arrangement, and also rarely one in which women find their soulmate. And I say that not because I’m saying men are shit, because I don’t think that that’s true. I just don’t think that the state of being madly in love with someone for the rest of your life, I think that that is very rare. And I think that the fact that we believe now, you know, if you think about the instruction, the propaganda of movies like How to Win a Man, oh “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.” “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days” is something that women of my age, 42, that kind of generation. It came out when we were in our 20s. Everyone loves the yellow dress that Kate Hudson wears, but it’s all about taming the bad boy. It’s- everything, there are so many, like reiterations of the Pride and Prejudice story where the kind of arrogant, British proud Mr. Darcy is tamed by the woman. And he realizes, as Jerry Maguire said in Cameron Crowe’s eponymously named movie: “You complete me.” This idea that somehow a woman would be the thing that completes a man. That that would be her role in life. That that should be her purpose in life, and actually that that confers some kind of real like achievement and moral superiority to her I think has been profoundly important to the marriage project because it relies on us never believing that we are enough to complete ourselves, that our job in life is to be the missing puzzle piece to an otherwise emotionally unreconstructed man who just needs us to come along and show him what love really is. And that that is where the movie ends, the happily ever after, where she completes him, and she says, “You had me at Hello.”
Jameela [00:25:44] Which is, by the way, by the way, that was supposed to be a kind of interesting feminist turn, because up until then, all the movies had been the man’s going to complete and save the woman.
Clementine [00:25:55] Yeah.
Jameela [00:25:55] So that was, you know, I think, an attempt to try to empower women in this. But it’s still late. Like, it still means that we’re being given this sort of job, and I think so much of the trauma that a lot of my friends had in the dating world is that they were looking for the bad boy. They felt unexhilarated by the nice guy, and I think that’s very real. And you know, when like the kind of the red pill community talk about that that doesn’t come from nowhere and doesn’t mean the way they talk about it is acceptable, but there was so much like kind of bashing in the way that they would dress. The nice guy always in the shit plaid shirt, buttoned up to the top and the shit haircut and always the glasses and in some way trying to like sort of, they were always presented as emasculated just for being kind. And so that programing goes in just in the same way that I was talking earlier about the fact that the lyrics and the porn and the fucking movies and the, you know, the artists that we see who disparage women. That was very disparaging of men, that genre, and it was hyping up of this kind of much more primal man who’s kind of a bit of a fucking renegade and a bit of a cunt.
Clementine [00:27:04] Hm.
Jameela [00:27:05] Like that’s, that’s the guy to try and, like, change him. So we’re given this thing of, like, find someone to change rather than find someone who already likes and respects you and who has a dedication to make you happy. I watched so many, so many of my lovely male friends get rejected for being quote unquote, too nice, and it felt insane.
Clementine [00:27:24] Mm.
Jameela [00:27:24] And I think that things are changing now because I think we are starting to recognize that that’s super problematic. I personally always only wanted the nicest possible person, regardless of their gender. I just want someone who’s going to be really nice to me all the time. I’ve never been interested in someone who’s going to be a lot of work or naughty in any way or bad or a prick. I’ve never found that attractive. It’s always made my vagina just go ____.
Clementine [00:27:47] Haha!
Jameela [00:27:49] But I do despair of that. And so, I think that that’s also something that’s so frustrating, the idea that you’re supposed to fix each other. I had an argument with a friend recently where she was just like, “One of you has to be the garden and the other one has to be the gardener.” And I was like, “No, we have to be our own gardens and gardeners and we have to be two whole-” Like I hate a half broken heart. I hate when two people wear two different sides of the same heart as if we’re going to complete each other. I believe that we should both be two full hearts who choose to coexist next to each other.
Clementine [00:28:17] Agreed.
Jameela [00:28:17] Is that romantic? No, but is romance slight ballocks? Yes, I think so.
Clementine [00:28:22] Oh, no. I think, I actually think that it’s very romantic. It’s realistically romantic. The idea that you would choose every day to- you know, my aunt said to me when I separated from my son’s dad, who again will reiterate, we have the most wonderful co-parenting relationship. It is possible to have different kinds of families, and it is possible to survive and to not just survive, but to thrive after separations. I hate when people talk about broken families because to me we separated and we healed our family. And now we have a whole family. We spend Christmas together. I just sent him a message yesterday saying this is, that these are the plans for Christmas. You know, he’s in our family WhatsApp group, my side of the family. So my aunt said to me you have to bring home something new every day to tell them. You have to you have to constantly work at being interesting for your partner. And I think that that’s what a lot of people it’s like goes back to what you’re saying about, I just want to stop worrying. This idea that somehow you would lock someone down and go, “Oh, phew, thank God I don’t have to spend the rest of my life alone.” But I also don’t really need to cultivate this relationship that I have. I don’t need to water the plants. If you want to use the garden analogy, I don’t need to water the plants, the relationship. Maybe that’s it is that the relationship is the garden and you both have to be the gardener. You both have to tend to it and make sure that if you want the relationship, if you want the garden to be beautiful, and somewhere nice to sit in. Somewhere where you’re not like, “Well, fuck, I killed all those plants. I’m going to start again somewhere else.” Then you actually both have to work at it. And I feel like that, you know, again, that sort of, as you said, the deeply embedded instruction of women. And I, I wrote this book and I know it’s in me. I feel, through a combination of different things in my life, if someone is romantically interested in me, I’m like, “What is wrong with you?” Like Groucho Marx, I don’t want to belong to a club that would have me as a member. There is something really fucking pathologically fucked up about believing that people who like you must have something wrong with them. And therefore you’re only interested in people who you have to work hard to get the approval of. Not all of that is patriarchy. Some of that is just childhood. Some of that is just being raised by 80s parents, you know?
Jameela [00:30:31] Or some of it’s being told, as we know from rom-coms, that I think he’s just not that into you.
Clementine [00:30:36] Yeah.
Jameela [00:30:36] That we’re told from as you know, as soon as we can understand that if someone pulls your pigtails, they like you and etc, etc.
Clementine [00:30:42] You have to work hard to make them like you.
Jameela [00:30:43] Yeah, yeah, and that they’ll be abusive. That means that they’re interested.
Clementine [00:30:47] And if women can soften the edges of the brittle man, we’ve done our job, you know, we’ve changed him and we become the exception. And if women and this is sort of broadly one of the reasons why it’s so easy to get women to sign up to that is because we are not allowed to be exceptional in the world, generally speaking. We’re not allowed to be the center of attention even when we write books like this or like, you know, you using your platform for things that actually matter and mean something. It’s not because you’re a smart, intelligent person who has committed herself to changing the corner of the world that she’s in. It’s because you’re an attention seeker. So when you think about, like street based harassment, men inflicting their quote unquote compliments on us, touching us, groping us, etc., etc., when we complain about that, we’re attention seekers. So as women, we’re not allowed to seek attention for the things we care about, but we must accept the attention willingly, gratefully, and with no complaint, the attention that men insist on giving to us. And when you think about the wedding day, and one of the reasons why the wedding day is so persuasive to women, so many, so much of the reason why she may want to be married is tied to the fact that she gets to stand up in front of her community on the wedding day and say, “I did it. I made it.” I’m somebody, and this gets to be my big day where I am unapologetically in the fucking center of everyone’s attention. And I’m allowed to be. I’m allowed to be obnoxious. I’m allowed to be demanding. I’m allowed to be eratic. I’m allowed to be a bridezilla, you know the words that women get called because this is my big day. It’s her big day. It’s her one big day.
Jameela [00:32:33] Mm.
Clementine [00:32:33] And after the big day, she gets to go back to being, or she gets to experience being a wife and slowly fade into the background of her life because she had her big day, and isn’t she so lucky?
Jameela [00:32:44] Can I ask a slightly problematic question?
Clementine [00:32:47] Always.
Jameela [00:32:48] Which is that, do you think that’s why I notice, at least in my own personal experience, that would be and again, I don’t really possess this, but I think my brain is just broken from childhood trauma, but I noticed there to be it, to be quite gendered that the people who get the most upset about their birthday and not having a birthday party and their friends not making a big fuss about them on their birthday tends to be women. And is that because of the fact that, again, it’s like just scrambling for an opportunity to be allowed to be celebrated, to be acknowledged, to be appreciated, for people to say, “I am happy that you’re around” because they spend so much of their lives feeling like shit, feeling underappreciated, ignored and prodded at, and no one’s allowed to be mean to you on your birthday. This is sort of like immunity on your special day, be it a wedding or birthday. That people have to be nice to you and they have to do things for you. Do you think that’s what that is? Is that the reason that men don’t crave it is because men don’t need it? We crave what we need.
Clementine [00:33:48] That is spot on for women. I think that the, the limited ways in which we are allowed to receive attention and in which we’re allowed to ask for attention-
Jameela [00:33:57] Mhm.
Clementine [00:33:58] Are often to do with things that either have nothing to do with us, like the circumstances of our birth, and certainly not like, you know, getting a Ph.D. or something like that, you know, or, you know, being an incredible speaker or an advocate or whatever. You’re not allowed to have attention to those things, but you’re allowed to, you’re allowed to be festooned with attention on your birthday and also on a wedding day, obviously, because that’s, you’ve done the big thing that you’re allowed to be proud of in the same way that women are allowed to be. You know, one of the very few things that women are allowed to boast about being is a good mother who sacrifices. You’re not really allowed to boast about any other thing as a woman that’s to do with yourself. But you are allowed to, I mean, people I’m not saying that people don’t get annoyed with the braggery from the sacrificial mothers, but you’re sort of allowed to do it. You’re allowed to be like, “Well, it’s my job as a mother to put my needs second because they’re my children and I would never do that to my children because they’re the most important thing, etc., etc..” You’re allowed to kind of like be
Jameela [00:34:56] Brag about martyrdom, yeah.
Clementine [00:34:58] Yeah, you’re allowed to be a martyr. And it’s, I find it really gross. I find that martyrdom motherhood is incredibly dangerous not just for women, but also for children. This idea that your mother would be a martyr, that she becomes like a secondary person in the world and that that’s the best way to mother I actually don’t think raises healthy, well-adjusted children, certainly doesn’t raise girls who see themselves as having a complexity of a future. And it doesn’t raise boys who see women as having complex subjectivity. But also the flipside of that is that I think that it’s not that men don’t, you know, indulge in that same kind of like sort of frivolous celebration. And I think that that’s a part of it as well, is that there’s something frivolous about birthdays. And we associate frivolous things with women.
Jameela [00:35:40] Mm.
Clementine [00:35:41] We associate things that women care about with being frivolous, because that’s how in the same way that any time an industry has become feminized, the pay has gone down and the respect for the industry has lowered. Any time women enjoy something, it’s automatically turned into something frivolous. And I think actually a lot more men would love to be frivolously celebrated on their birthday, would love to be indulged in a way that makes them feel special, that has nothing to do with how much money they earn, nothing to do with how many women they date, nothing to do with their status as men in the world, but actually just says to them, “Hey, I love you and I appreciate you and I’m really glad that you were born. And we’re going to have some balloons and some cake.” I mean, fucking hell, I’m the mother of a seven year old boy. They love their birthdays. They’re, it makes no logical sense that a man, a boy in transitioning to a man would get to a point where he doesn’t like having a cake and balloons and people singing and saying, “I love you so much.” In the same way. I think that it would be really a much more beautiful world, I mean, it’s not going to solve all the problems, but it’d be a much more beautiful world if men had flowers bought for them or men were given flowers to just as a thing. “I just bought you some flowers to make you feel good.” It reminds me of a story that I had in my second book, “Boys Will Be Boys,” which was about how boys are conditioned into practicing toxic masculinity because of that violence that bell hooks says that they’re indoctrinated into from a young age. And there was a story in there that went viral on Twitter a few years ago. I don’t know if you remember it, but it was from a face painter. He said, “I’m a face painter in America, and now I want to tell you about how male violence is created.” And she recounted a story of a little boy at a fair that she was working at. And mothers can be very dangerous agents of patriarchy.
Jameela [00:37:24] Women can really uphold it, yeah.
Clementine [00:37:26] Absolutely, and so this woman brought the little boy over to the face painter. Of course, the father’s standing like ten feet back, because if he gets anywhere near face paint, then he’ll automatically become gay or a woman or something terrifying. And she brings the little boy over and he says to the face painter, “I’d like to have a butterfly on my cheek.” He’s four years old. And the mother says, “You can’t have that. That’s for girls. Get something for boys like a skull or something like that skull and crossbones.” She turns to the dad and she says, “You don’t want your son having a butterfly on his cheek, do you?” And the dad says, “No, no, not a butterfly.” And the face painter kind of says, This is her confirming to the boy that the most senior male figure that he loves in his life does not want him to express himself in this way. So she said that she painted the skull and crossbones on his cheek and he looked miserable. And she sort of said to him, “Do you want me to put a butterfly on the other one?” And he said “yes.” And he looked very happy. And the mother heard and said, “no,” dragged him off. She made a complaint about the face painter, and she was like the woman who was writing this said, “you know, I know that people will respond to this and say, you’re making a too big a deal of this. It’s just, it was just face paint.” And she said, “But yeah, that’s the point. It’s just face paint.” And I don’t want to live in a world where a little boy is taught to be ashamed of loving something as simple and beautiful as a butterfly. And to me, that’s kind of the flip side of what you’re saying, that one of the few things that women are allowed to be indulgent about is the frivolous, beautiful kind of things that the colors, streamers, glitter, bubbles, you know, butterflies, all these stupid things that only daffy, flibbertigibbet women would like. But actually, maybe men would fucking like to blow some bubbles in the park one day. Maybe they’d like to fly a kite. Maybe they’d, they’d like to, you know, have someone bring them a bunch of flowers.
Jameela [00:39:10] Well it’s interesting, it’s interesting. Like when it’s gay men, suddenly no one blinks and they’re just like, “Oh,” as if they get a pass, as if they are somehow female when they’re not.
Clementine [00:39:19] Yeah. Exactly.
Jameela [00:39:19] They’re just men who weren’t forced to adhere to toxic masculinity as much. They’re men who rejected it. What we touched on earlier, because you know, I think talking about men is very important. But I also do really want to want to get to the bottom of this, because I think you write about it so beautifully in the book, but this unhappiness that is in women that you’re finding that in this day and age now. You were talking about how at the beginning of your own experience of marriage, you noticed that. But even now, in this day and age, with all this talk of empowerment, people are still largely unhappy in marriage. We know now that that’s not, and you know that that’s statistical that marriages are so likely to fall apart. Can we talk a little bit about the unhappiness and how weird it is that to to not enter into that means that you will be portrayed as the lonely, weird cat lady?
Clementine [00:40:20] Yeah, I think that there are a lot of deeply unhappy women who are either in, you know, legal marriages or de facto relationships that essentially are in all respects a marriage, who feel stuck not just because of economics, although that’s a massive part of it, but who feel stuck because the alternative that you could be a woman alone in the world has been so consistently presented as a shortfall, as a state of misery, as something that you’ll be judged for, even in your own experience people saying, “Oh, well, you know, I guess he just doesn’t love you that much because he’s not marrying you.” That sort of like pity, the fear of pity that women have that makes so many of them work so hard to stay in relationships in which they feel invisible. And I’m not talking about all marriages, but I am talking about there are women who are listening to this, listening to me say this right now in your podcast who are recognizing themselves in this. They feel invisible, they feel miserable. They feel like every day is a constant battle of trying to get him. And it’s not always him. This happens in same sex relationships, too, because same sex relationships formed and cultivated under a white supremacist patriarchy replicate heteronormativity in these ways. Not always, but often can do. But the alternative to that is for a lot of women so outside of their conception of what their life could be, that it doesn’t even feel possible. So instead they feel like, well, I just have to keep making this relationship work because otherwise I’ll be a single mum, which is, you know, punitive when it comes to economics. So many women have to choose between poverty and staying in relationships that are either just, they’re invisible or that they’re being outright abused in. And if I’m a single mom who will want me? Who will want me then? Because there’s still always this idea that you have to be partnered as a woman to have anyone see any kind of like perceptive, perception of value in you, than a woman alone. And that’s really at the heart of what I want to kind of encourage in the book and why I say in the introduction that it’s not just a critique of marriage, but it’s a love letter to women. Because I want them to understand it’s not always going to be easy, but it is possible to create and carve a life for yourself that is radically different to everything that you’ve been told you need to aspire to, and that actually there are dreams out there waiting for women that we have not even been shown we’re allowed to have. I quote Adrienne Rich in the book, who is a 1970s radical feminist, lesbian poet and liberationist, who said that aside from economics, which is how women have been sucked into marriages, economic concerns, because and also for so much of history, only recently women have been able to have children outside of wedlock that haven’t been labeled with horrendous terms like illegitimate. You know, that to call a child illegitimate in the world because they don’t have paternity conferred to them by marriage is disgraceful. But she says, aside from economics. Heterosexual romance has been presented as women’s great adventure. And that’s the problem, is that when we think about the possibilities for our life, it is changing now. There are women out there who are modeling a different way of being, often because they have economic independence. When you think about, I make the point in the book that if there’s an irony to the fact that so many of the Hollywood stars who kind of flitted in and out of romantic comedies as America’s revolving door of sweethearts are all single now by choice because they’re women in their fifties who are financially independent, and they will not lower themselves to put up with a man’s fucking bullshit in their house. There is an irony to that, but what it speaks to is the fact that until we economically liberate women, until women and mothers in particular, until the society that we live in reflects that we will care about you and your children regardless of what the makeup of your family is, and we will actually back up what we say about children being the most important thing in the world, then women won’t have the freedom to pursue what is a great adventure for them outside of heterosexual romance. They won’t even have the capacity to do it.
Jameela [00:44:34] Therein lies the, you know, the call to arms on TikTok that we’re seeing of young, predominantly white, but only white men saying women need to like quit their jobs. They need to get back in the kitchen. There’s an uprising of kind of the trad wife, you know, who’s there glamorizing, smiling while she’s baking, smiling while she’s doing all the traffic.
Clementine [00:44:54] Always under 30.
Jameela [00:44:55] Smiling. She’s always under 30 years old, very slim, very well put together, managing like an insane amount of tasks, but always like almost creepily smiling in every single video, even though you’re not looking at the camera, just like so thrilled to be opening the oven. But when it comes to being a housewife, there’s nothing wrong with that. Choosing to stay home and do the immense labor of raising your children full time or doing whatever you want to do is fine. But the push for that to happen means it’s not something that’s naturally occurring. People are trying to push and bully and demean women out of working roles so that they won’t have the money once they’re married to leave if something happens that they start to object to. And that could be something as extreme as domestic violence or just being taken for granted.
Clementine [00:45:39] Just being or just changing.
Jameela [00:45:40] It’s so interesting that there is this like debt, that this is why women are kept back. This is why women weren’t allowed to have their own bank accounts in America until the seventies. This is this is why all of it happens, is to make sure that we don’t have the means to leave. We don’t have the means to dare to have standards. And I think that’s why I like sometimes when I talk about the importance of women’s financial liberation, sometimes people will be like “you capitalist pig,” and I’m never talking about an excess of wealth, but I just think it is so key. I’ve watched generations and generations and generations of South Asian women in my entire lineage who have stayed with men who beat the shit out of them, who cheat on them, who give them terrible STDs, who don’t help with any of the child-rearing, who demean them and diminish their entire humanity. Women have become shells, and they just had to stay because they weren’t able to leave. It is all by design. It is all a fear of women’s freedom, women’s sexuality. It is a hatred, as you write like so elegantly in the book, about, you know, a hatred of women’s lust. All of this shit is by design, and it’s making a huge comeback. No coincidence when we are becoming the most empowered. The second Beyonce said, “Who run the world? Girls” it was like an alarm went off and amidst like misogynists, which isn’t me blaming Beyonce just to be very clear, I love that song.
Clementine [00:46:59] No, no, no, no, but you’re you’re spot on. Firstly, everyone must read Susan Faludi’s “Backlash” that was written in 1991, which so, like forensically explores and outlines how every moment of social progress for women has resulted in a backlash just like this one, where our progress is always depicted as being somehow harmful to our happiness and always the cause of feminists, always. This, we can even trace this back in regards to, you know, marriage and women. Look at the 16th and 17th centuries when spinster began to be, began to be used as a pejorative because women in the middle class, the newly established middle class in England and Europe, were suddenly able to choose not to marry because marriage meant giving up their identity and their inheritance, and everything they owned would like pass over to their husbands. But also they were starting to be able to establish themselves as businesswoman. Certainly doesn’t mean that all women were able to do that. Women in a particular class bracket have always had more privilege and more access to be able to do these things. But in terms of counterarguments for any kind of ding dong on his like fucking kitchen table podcast where he’s saying, “Well, you just know, like women just need to be in the home because that’s what makes them happy.” Firstly, I know that Dave on his kitchen podcast has never read a book by a woman because he’s not interested in women’s opinions or thoughts. He’s interested in his own thoughts confirming to him what he thinks is real, which again is Marilyn Frye’s male authorship of perception.
Jameela [00:48:30] Mhm.
Clementine [00:48:30] But secondly, this mythological period of the traditional American “Leave it to Beaver” housewife who was so happy in the home, firstly discounts the extraordinary number of migrant women and women of color and working class women who, by the way, have always worked but who also were necessary to uphold that system.
Jameela [00:48:54] Mm.
Clementine [00:48:54] So all of these women who worked in factories, who worked as cleaners, who worked doing all of the grunt shitty jobs that racism has ensured that, and white supremacy has ensured that white middle class people will always be protected from. They have always worked, but they’ve been discredited. When people say, “I want women to go back into the home,” I tell you who they’re not talking about: black women. They don’t want black women raising children in their home because so much of this is, and the Trad wife movement in particular, is directly borne out of white supremacy. Theodore Roosevelt, President Theodore Roosevelt, aghast at the rising rates of not just immigrants coming to America in the late 19th century, but also the rates of immigrants having children. When white middle class people and white middle class women in particular, who were heavily involved in the suffrage movement were declining to get married. He said, “We need to be careful because we’re having a race suicide.” So this is all about ensuring that white people and white women in particular keep popping out white babies for the state and maintaining white supremacist power. Also, in the 1950s, so 1950 to 1965, is there abouts where that kind of period of postwar, “Leave it to Beaver,” American housewife, the establishment of suburbia, where that really kind of finds its zenith.
Jameela [00:50:11] Mm.
Clementine [00:50:12] Stephanie Coontz calls it “The Long Decade” because it was a failed project. It doesn’t work. People talk about traditional marriage and point to that as if that’s not like the end point of the history that we’re at right now.
Jameela [00:50:24] Mhm.
Clementine [00:50:24] It’s conservative. It was a conservative project that failed because economic boom times don’t last forever. And actually, what ended up happening, apart from the fact that women were miserable in that scenario, as documented by Betty Friedan in the early 1960s in “The Feminine Mystique,” where she spoke to thousands of American women who were like, “I’ve gone to university.” They used to call it getting an Mrs. Instead of a Ph.D. you’d go to university to get an Mrs. because they wanted middle class white girls from good families to go to university to meet doctors and lawyers, and the men who would go on to become the captains of industry. So all of these women said, “Well, I’ve got an education and I feel empty. I know I’ve got everything I’m supposed to want. I’ve got this family, I’ve got this house, I’ve got these appliances, and I’m miserable.” There’s no coincidence that in the 1960s, when Valium was released into the market in America, it became, over the next decade, the most prescribed drug in the country. And they called it mother’s little helper because women were so miserable. Also, 100 years before that, when Victorian era women who because of the Industrial Revolution, were suddenly, you know, the domestic space used to be a side of work for the family, for everyone in the family. And suddenly they had nothing to do. They were being prescribed laudanum to keep them in a state of kind of just out of it Valium-esque malaise because they were so. Someone cannot live with nothing to do. And the other thing I’ll say or one of the last things I’ll say about this kind of like idealized world is that women ended up having to go back to the workforce because the economic boom time ended, and they needed to help support their families. So what happened was between the 1970s, in the 1980s, all these women who’d been raising children in the home went out to work. And over the course of that decade, the statistical number of women who said that they would keep working even if they didn’t need to family wise, increased dramatically because what they found in work was a sense of purpose and a sense of independence. It also speaks to the fact that it is a myth to say that women are naturally the nurturing caregivers, and women naturally need to stay at home because so many of the world’s most privileged wealthy women have included as part of their class and marital status, the exploitation of working class women and black women and women of color as domestic servants, as wet nurses, as enslaved women. So if women are naturally this kind of like, nurturing caregiver, why did we need to outsource all of our work to to really like oppressed marginalized groups of people? It’s, it makes no sense. And the same people who are propping up that narrative now that women need to get back into the home, they’re so clearly afraid of women’s empowerment and women’s independence and what it means that women are in droves leaving long term relationships are saying that’s not for me because men aren’t trying hard enough to be the people that they deserve. But what they’re not acknowledging is that that shit costs money. You can’t actually put women into the home in the economic climate that we live in. And the same people who are saying it are the same people who are saying billionaires shouldn’t be taxed. So they know actually that it’s not going to happen. They know that women will have to keep working in order to financially support their families. What they want is for women to stop trying to take positions of power over them and for women to shut up about how fucking disenfranchized we are. They want us to suck shit, do it with a smile on our face, and just be so grateful that we have a man, quote unquote, putting a roof over our head while we’re still doing all of the unpaid work at home and going out to do the paid labor that helps to pay all of those bills and raising all the children. The really infuriating thing about it is that, you know, to be very generous, I think, and compassionate about it, is that those men are separating themselves from the incredible thrill and gift and privilege of truly knowing women and truly knowing what it means to be in an equal relationship where you work together and where you know each other. And that, I think, is reflective of how desperately the patriarchal project is trying to maintain its primacy, trying to maintain its influence by dehumanizing the men who have been made to believe that they need it in order to have power in the world.
Jameela [00:54:38] Hmm. So true. And you document this all with history, with fact, with context, with nuance in your book. And people should definitely go out and read it, whether they are married or not, or thinking about it or not thinking about it. It’s just fascinating to ever understand how an industry can be created, how we can lie that it comes from the Bible, where in the book we learn that it absolutely doesn’t. And there’s just so many interesting facts in there that you just won’t be able to unsee once you see it. And I think it’s just empowering to always have all the information before we make certain decisions. I appreciate you for this book. I appreciate you for all of your books and all of your work. And thank you for coming here today and speaking so passionately about this ginormous subject. And I think you’ve done it with immense compassion and a good lack of judgment, and I appreciate that because that’s what I always try to promote on this podcast. We want people to have information without any shame. But, Clementine Ford, thank you so much.
Clementine [00:55:33] Thank you, Jameela Jamil, and I appreciate you and everything that you do and your recognition that it’s not an attack on anyone, it doesn’t. I know people will read it and still want to go and do it, but as you said, I think you and I are both on the same page about just having facts and knowledge in the world is one of the most empowering things that we can seek to have, so I appreciate you and your work so much. Thank you.
Jameela [00:55:54] Thanks. Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela Jamil, Erin Finnegan, Kimmie Gregory, and Amelia Chappelow. And the beautiful music that you are hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. And if you haven’t already, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show. It’s such a great way to show your support and helps me out massively. And lastly, at I Weigh we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. Please email us a voice recording, sharing what you weigh at firstname.lastname@example.org. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our listeners.
Listener [00:56:31] I weigh my good relationship with my parents, my parent’s sense of humor, and then my sense of humor, my ability to make people laugh, being an empath and wanting to dedicate my life to helping others. I weigh my health, my ability to menstrate, and I know I complain about it a lot, but it’s something that I’m really proud of because then I’m able to have a baby when I get older. And I weigh all my good friendships, my friends that make me laugh and make me so happy and helpful and safe. And I weigh myself, my good attitude and my ability and willingness to seek out things that will help me and make me a better person. Alright, love you, bye.
February 20, 2024
Guest Cindy Gallop
We’re revisiting this incredible episode with MakeLoveNotP*rn’s Cindy Gallop, as Jameela shares an exciting announcement.