Postsecret Strikes Again: Gendering the Desire for Marriage

I read PostSecret, as I believe I've mentioned before here.  Sometimes they're banal, sometimes they're annoyingly common - this week included "I don't shave my legs in the wintertime"; who the hell does if you don't absolutely have to, honestly? - many are less "secrets" and more just statements, and there are usually...hopefully...a few that touch a subtle nerve in you, striking up the feelings of poignancy and human connection for which this project became famous.

Of course, reading PostSecret - consuming any kind of media, really - becomes a lot more complicated and interesting once you've "taken the red pill", so to speak.  Things your average person would find funny or scroll past without pausing catch the eye and poke at you.  Like the "I always bring fat customers extra helpings of breadsticks" secret from a few weeks ago, or the few over the years that have admitted to covert feelings of racism, or the cissexist assumptions made about whether or not lesbian couples could ever become pregnant without outside assistance from a couple months back (here is a good roundup of several of the worst offenders).  This week's Sunday Secrets included the following postcard:
A postcard depicting a black-and-white image of a man and woman in traditional Western wedding dress/tux holding each other and smiling in front of a church.  Red text overlaying the image reads "This is what I fantasize about...I'm a guy."
Pop culture in this country makes endless jokes about a presumed male reluctance to commit in relationships with women, and with marriage being the biggest commitment to a relationship one can make, of course men are skittish, amirite?  We understand - and teach young girls - that women long for marriage, that marriage is the pinnacle achievement of Relationship Rewards Points; we're expected to dream about The Big Day when we get to be the princess in the white dress with the church and the wedding cake, to have notebooks filled with pictures of the dream dress, etc.  But we refer to a man's wife as a "ball and chain", bachelor parties are a last-gasp-of-freedom usually involving alcohol and nude women before you lose your freedom forever to your marriage, etc.  Marriage, and weddings in particular, are constructed as a thing women desperately desire and men equally-desperately run from. 

And that's what makes this secret a powerful enough thing to have shown up on PostSecret.  A man is keeping his longing for a wedding (or marriage; it's hard to tell if it's the wedding part or the marriage part he's talking about from the image) a secret because fantasizing about weddings is a girly thing.  And of course, in a culture where masculinity is defined and constructed as not-femininity, the worst thing a man can do to damage his masculinity, and thus his identity as A Man, is admit to being feminine in any way.  For a man to have this girly desire for his wedding day is shameful, emasculating, and thus best kept secret.

I found this fascinating on a personal level, as well as a sociological level, because after being engaged my senior year of high school (and coming to my senses shortly thereafter, thank the gods), then coming to my "feminist awakening" in college, I decided I wasn't all that interested in marriage.  I maintained that position for years, and probably would have been quite satisfied to remain unwed the rest of my life, whether partnered or not - yet I'm engaged now, and looking forward to the day when we can make it legal (we haven't yet, because I refuse to take advantage of a privilege of access gained purely by chance because we happen to have different gender markers on our driver's licenses, and he agrees and supports that choice).  Yet when we got together, and our relationship turned deeply serious, he was the one who asked me to consider marrying him.  Not just in the "he proposed, of course, because the man always does the asking (but it's for show and form, the decision is usually all but made ahead of time)" sense, no.  He knew my feelings on marriage.  And we had a serious discussion wherein he made it clear he would respect that if I said no, but he also explained that he strongly did want to get married.  As in, it was a long-held wish of his, in the way that we teach women they should wish for marriage.  So he was the driving force behind our engagement, out of genuine desire for marriage.  (I've since warmed to the idea quite a bit, although the complexities of the vast war machine that is the wedding-industrial complex still make me want to run screaming into the night.)  So to me, this secret provokes a "So what?  I wouldn't even be engaged if not for the fact that my fiance feels similarly to this guy.  This is a *secret*?"

But I understand why.  It's our gendered expectations of what is an "acceptable" desire re: marriage and weddings that make this statement "I'm a guy who fantasizes about his wedding day" so taboo as to be a Secret one can only tell to an anonymous secret-gathering art project.  I wonder if I could send in a complementary secret, confessing my disinterest in weddings and outright hate for "traditional" wedding gowns, and have it been seen as equally confessional-ish because I'm a woman...?

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