Friday, June 11, 2010

Marriage, to I Do or Not to I Do?

Sorry for the unintended absence, I have been busy with exams and post-exam recuperation and have simply not found enough inspiration to blog. Most of my feminist angst has gone into reading for my dissertation (the title of which will be "Gender and Development: The Double-Edged Sword of Victimization and will focus on gender roles in development discourse). I think a lot of my feminist energy will have to go to that in the next year. Hopefully it will motivate some interesting blog posts as well.

I stumbled upon this post about marriage today, written by Jessica Bennett and Jesse Ellison, writers of the Equality Myth and got really excited. It is the first time (that I am aware of) I read something by any of the authors and I really enjoyed it.

Now marriage is a tricky subject. Criticize the institution or the idea of it and married people, or believers, take it as a personal insult on their love for their partners. This, according to me, is exactly what I find fault with in the whole notion of marriage. My love for someone, or anyone else's love for someone should not change at the signing of a contract. It will hopefully remain the same, because a contract is an inanimate object and should certainly not determine anyone's feelings for an animate human being. This whole idea of "taking it to the next level" confuses me. How does a contract do anything the like? My love for a partner will grow and develop regardless whether I sign a paper and declare my love in front of other people or not. If it does not, then the purpose of the relationship needs to be considered seriously, i.e. why I am in it. Furthermore, love is something that is a private feeling between two people, or more if you are into that, but as far as I know the norm considers involving a third person cheating unless it has been cleared with previous partner beforehand.

This is not to say that people should not or are not allowed to show that they are in love. It simply means that my love for another person is not to be manipulated either way by how my friends and family feel about it.

Apart from me feeling that marriage is completely irrelevant in the love department, I also have a problem with what it signifies. Marriage is a contract. A contract that historically made women their man's property, a housewife, a reproductive organ and a slave to boot. Although equality is moving forward in society, I still feel that this is what marriage signifies in most cases, but to throw in this equality and flip it somewhat, I will extend the contract of property to the man as well, so that when two people enter this contract it signifies that they "belong" to each other, i.e. they are each other's property.

Although there is obviously a difference between slavery and marriage, there are also similarities. The symbol of owning someone else, to have a right to demand certain things of them and to expect things as well. I'm not saying here that all people should do as they wish with no regards of other people's feelings, but the general consensus seems to be that marriage signifies something more serious than "just" a relationship. Marrying someone means taking that final step to be tied down. Come on, even the expression "tied down" hints at what this ceremony signifies.

I am positive that there are people out there that marry each other as a declaration of their love or something like it and live a full, happy, equal marriage. I am also positive after observing the society in today's world that these are few. Marriage signifies something, and people who decide to go through with it have probably not through through the implications of their actions and the act of reinforcing gender roles and an archaic system of ownership. Most of them probably don't want to conform to some gender roles either, they just go through with it because it is the social norm. I am not condemning marriage, I am just questioning it.

For more about marriage and ownership, see Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract (1988).