Like most Taylor Swift fans—and anyone who’s tuned into a pop station on the radio recently—I’ve been listening to (and loving) the song Lavender Haze from Swift’s latest album Midnights. The chorus: “I feel the lavender haze creeping up on me / Surreal, I’m damned if I do give a damn what people say / No deal, the 1950s shit they want from me / I just wanna stay in that lavender haze.”
Swift uses the phrase “lavender haze,” as she explains in an Instagram video, to refer to an intense feeling of being in love, complete with an “all-encompassing love glow.” Presumably in contrast with the “1950s shit” people want from the narrator of the song. From the other lyrics, we might assume that this “1950s shit” includes people’s constant barrage of questions about whether or when the narrator is going to become her lover’s bride—because, of course, “The only kind of girl [people] see / is a one night or a wife.” No other options.
I like this song—not just because it’s catchy and fun, and because a lavender love haze is a lovely image, but also because I think I understand that “1950s shit.” Like Swift’s narrator, I reject gendered roles that limit women—and men—to being only a part, a shadow, of who we could be. I have been surprised to find that this takes constant conscious effort; that is, I’ve been surprised by the pull these “traditional” gender roles have had in my life, even as a millennial woman raised in a relatively liberal environment who identifies as a feminist.
Six years ago I married my husband, both of us wanting an equal partnership that would help us both grow more fully into who we were meant to be. We still seek this, and in many ways we have it. But when we got married, I don’t think I was mentally prepared for all the baggage the words “husband” and “wife”—especially “wife”—held deep within my being. Or for the assumptions and expectations that come along with being a “wife” in our world. I didn’t want that “1950s shit.” But it pursued me.
I saw these gendered expectations play out broadly during the COVID-19 pandemic, as women quit or reduced hours at their jobs in massive droves—much more so than their male partners—to stay home with kids who had to do school online. When unexpected stressors hit families, women are often most impacted. Wives are the ones assumed to take on extra childcare responsibilities, to pick up what is lacking around the home so that husbands can keep working. That “1950s shit” has chased us right into the twenty-first century. And I’m not about it. As Swift writes, “No deal.”
This isn’t stated directly in the song, but I imagine that Swift’s narrator, like many women of my generation, may be thinking something along these lines: I don’t want to do what a marriage-obsessed, gender-role-entrapped world thinks I should do with my life. I don’t want the baggage that comes with being a wife. I want to live my own life, be my own person, choose love on my own terms. So a relationship might make sense for me, but not marriage. I get this. I feel it. Sometimes it feels as if marriage is “1950s shit” or bust—or, put differently, it feels like “1950s shit” and “lavender haze” are the only two options for a romantic relationship.
But I wonder if this sells short the possibilities of marriage. Personally, I’m all for a lavender haze when it happens, but I also want commitment. I appreciate the stability of marriage. I enjoy the assurance that it would take more than a bad day, or a whim, or a season of not feeling the hazy all-encompassing love glow quite as strongly, to dissolve the loving partnership my spouse and I have built over many years. I’m not saying marriage is for everyone, but I am saying it was a good choice for me—and, crucially, that it can look like whatever we and our partners want it to look like. We have the freedom to choose a marriage partner who shares our egalitarian values, and the exciting opportunity to dream together of what this partnership could entail.
I don’t think this is necessarily easy. It can be a struggle. It involves being willing to subvert others’ expectations, and for many of us, it involves some deep personal work of exploring why we hold gendered assumptions in our own minds and how we might uproot them. For religious people, it often involves questioning interpretations of sacred texts that have been handed down to us, as well as finding new resources within our faith traditions that can support and guide us as we seek to build equitable marriages. As a Christian, for example, I’ve had to rethink what I’ve heard about Ephesians 5:22-33 (a common passage read at Christian weddings, including the verse about wives submitting to their husbands). And I’ve learned to draw on other parts of scripture, like Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew nor Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
I’m not saying that every woman wants marriage. But I do think it’s worth reflecting on all of our options, and not ruling marriage out as always and only some “1950s shit.” We have the agency to choose to make it something different entirely. For women who desire marriage, this is my hope: that we will define it on our own terms, rethink what it looks like in a religious context, freely defy others’ expectations of it, and navigate it in a way that does not limit but increases our growth, agency, and power. So here’s to that lavender haze—and to a profound sense of freedom to build relationships in new ways, and to be our full selves as we do so.
 See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8DLofLM7No for the music video.
 See https://www.instagram.com/p/CjZfqKnrKHk/.
 I’ve written about this passage in more detail at https://lizcooledgejenkins.com/2020/08/14/wives-and-participles-and-bible-and-im-done-defending-paul/.
6 thoughts on “Lavender Haze and the Struggle for Egalitarian Marriage by Liz Cooledge Jenkins”
Perpetual vigilance is required, and even then acknowledging that patriarchy is defining you as I write…
Thanks, Sara – for sure.
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You’re so right that all those assumptions about marriage, and especially women’s roles in marriage, have changed so little in the past decades, as the COVID pandemic illustrated, and it can be hard to get past them when it can seem as if all of society is trying to push them onto everyone. It makes me think of all the different forms of marriage and formal and informal partnerships that are accepted and considered to be traditional in different cultures globally now and in the past. Humans have made the idea of marriage/partnership/family work in so many different ways and it is so true that, as long as everyone is respected and taken care of, we should all be able to choose what works for us.
Thanks, Carolyn – yes, so many different forms that work for different people and cultures! I appreciate your emphasis on respect and care.
Thank you for this important post. I deeply appreciate what Swift does in this song and in her music and career, to claim female empowerment and agency. And even when women and men try very hard, gendered expectations are so deeply entrenched and hard to heal. I just read a book called ‘Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equity at Home, which followed 40 couples that had actually achieved gender equity and how (not all were opposite sex couples). It was fascinating and hopeful, but also underscored this ‘1950s shit’ Swift abhors, that is still definitely with us.
I also appreciate your nuance with the letters included in the New Testament. In seminary, we learned about the social context of these epistles and how they were meant to be interpreted at the time. The Galatians letter, by Paul, was meant to be interpreted broadly, for everyone, and for future generations: as part of the Body of Christ, we transcend these divisions and are set free from them. Whereas the Ephesians letter, which came much later and was written by members of the heavily persecuted Jesus Movement, was giving advice about how to ‘fly under the radar’ so your house church won’t get targeted by the authorities as dangerous. Clearly, the house churches were full of empowered women leaders, and it was causing quite a disruption in the culture, or that letter would not have been written. It was not meant to be ‘for all time,’ but just temporarily to save peoples’ lives. When we understand the social context of our ancient texts, it helps us know better how to apply them more appropriately in our own social contexts as well, exactly as you say.
Thank you again for a great post!
Thanks Tallessyn, appreciate what you add here!
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