Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Examining the Validity of Marriage

Growing up, I never really questioned that I would inevitably get married, have children and fulfill my traditional, heterosexual life. Why? That’s what I was taught. Despite the fact that my parents got divorced when I was only 4, I maintained my firmly laid out plan: I would meet Mr. Perfect in college and get married shortly after graduation. Done and done. Much to my dismay and joy, these dreams were slowly but surely replaced by something of a different nature.

Though not an entirely new revelation, it wasn’t until a few weeks ago when I read an article on AlterNet (discussing the need to rethink the institution of marriage altogether) that I seriously started to consider NOT getting married at all. Sure, it might be easy to blame feminism. Blame feminism for, no doubt, destroying the American family and putting these toxic thoughts in my brain. I admit that feminist teachings are part of it, but mostly, I attribute the transition to my constant habit of challenging mainstream ideals that present themselves as a binary (i.e. this or that). Romance or Horror?I chose Indie flicks. Democrat or Republican? I tend to fancy the Green party. Religion? None of the above, thank you. All these were personal choices I made prior to adapting feminist ideals. Feminism, if anything, helped me to recognize marriage for the patriarchal institution that it remains even today. In The Bitch in the House, Catherine Newman summarizes this idea by writing, “Marriage is about handing the woman off, like a baton, from her father to her husband” (65). In fact, Newman presents a number of compelling arguments that help explain her reasons for not getting married:

1.) The Religious Right and their Defense of Marriage Act use marriage as a vehicle for homophobic legislation.
2.) She could have ended up with a woman.
3.) Refusal to be possessed.
4.) Not being married means we (her and her partner) get to keep choosing each other.
5.) We already have [promise] rings (66-72).

In American society it can be difficult to comprehend long-term relationships that don’t culminate in marraige, despite the commonplace of divorce, adultery, and spousal-related abuse/rape. As if that’s not enough, a study conducted this year by the University of Chicago found that “people who suffer marital disruption through either divorce or widowhood are 20 percent more likely to have chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer than married people” (Newsweek). This study indicated that the only difference between married and unmarried persons is their access to economic and emotional (WHAT?) resources. I think it is important to consider the gendered effects of marriage, since it has been asserted by some that for men marriage is the best investment in their psychological health, while for women, it can be psychologically draining. “The more evidence shoved in our faces that marriage just doesn't work as well as we want, the more we bury our heads in the fantasy of marriage,” writes Amanda Marcotte in an article published on

Perhaps what we need to do, no matter how painful, is to demystify the status quo and figure out what this marriage hoopla is really about. How? Marcotte further asserts that “We could start by untying all the benefits that lure people into marriage and expanding them to all people -- health insurance, hospital visitation rights, tax breaks -- so that married people don't get special status over the unmarried.” What about (OH NO!) separation of church and state? What if everyone was legally conjoined under a Civil Union, and what if marriage remained a strictly religious practice (without additional legal benefits)? I feel as a society we must refuse to accept the current state of marriage (heterosexist, entrapping, and overly sensationalized) and embrace a more holistic view of what it means to be a united, fulfilled, and happy couple.

1 comment:

  1. Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.
    -Pat Robertson