Saturday, April 06, 2013

They Call It A Yoke For A Reason

Right up front here, I'ma say I'm for Marriage Equality: if anyone is going to get married in America, everyone should be able to get married in America.

That being said, I miss the days when the debate wasn't over who but if.

Y'all remember (well, surely some of you must remember) those days?  When we were arguing for the abolition of marriage as an outmoded discourse?  (Which it is.)

It's not that I don't think those who are queer or QUILTBAG ought to be able to share in wedded bliss; I'm arguing that no one ought to want to put on the yoke of marriage: because it's a yoke.

I say this as someone who is married, and who has been relatively happy in her marriage.  I love Dr. Skull, and I love my child. I married him because he would not agree to having a child unless I did.  Dr. Skull is a traditional boy in some ways.

But I can't think what marriage has done for us, really -- well, it's given me a stick to beat my conservative students with.  It's been a kind of a club I can thump them over the head with.  Ha ha ha, I can say when they want to think I'm inferior: see, I'm MARRIED, so  I'm not the loser you thought I was. (Because feminists are losers, in their minds, you understand, but married women are winners.  It's a weird calculus they operate.)

But other than that?  Marriage has not kept us in the relationship.  Marriage has not made us better people, or better parents.  Marriage has not made us love each other differently, or better.  Everything we've done in the relationship, we've done ourselves -- the marriage didn't do it.  Whatever "marriage" is.

And here's what marriage does do -- it allows people to separate women into winners and losers. Well, people into winners and losers; but mostly women.  If women aren't married by a certain age, or if women get divorced, they're losers.  (I don't know if this is true everywhere, but it is certainly true in the South.)  This causes women to be so desperate to hook up that they will marry the most appalling men just to keep from being losers.

And it turns people into magical thinkers: as if getting married will make people (somehow) happy, (somehow) better parents, (somehow) better able to run their lives, (somehow) better able to make a living.

None of these is true, of course.  A marriage ceremony just makes you the same two people, only with a marriage ceremony behind you: The same two people, only now with more legal complications.

I want to argue for not marrying.

Here's why:

(1) Until everyone can marry, until we do have marriage equality, why support a corrupt institution?

(2) Plus, marriage is, in fact, traditionally an arm of the patriarchy.  That is, traditionally it was and to some extent still is a way for men to exchange control of women.  (Which, really, is why Dr. Skull insisted that I marry him before he would consent to having a kid with me: he knew it was the only way he would have any legal right -- any control -- of our child.)

(3) It was and to a real extent still is a way for a capitalist state to control both men and women. If your sexuality is locked into a dyad, you don't wander around doing what you like; also you can't leave. This stable situation makes for much better workers.

(4) Traditional marriage reinforces the idea that women are a sex class -- that we belong to men, that we are second class citizens, that our lives are secondary to male lives, that everything about us comes second.  We can see this in everything traditional marriage does, from the fact that women are supposed to take the man's name, to the way that marriage is constructed (women are given to the man), to the fury that erupts when women want control of their own fertility, even inside their marriage.

(5) Traditional marriage precludes the ability to experiment with other forms of relationships.  We hear, endlessly, from the Conservatives that the best way to raise a child is with the two-parent, M/F, married family.  They claim that this is the way children have "always" been raised.  Which, frankly, is crap, as those of us who have taken an anthropology class in the last ever know.  (Read Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's Mothers and Others for a more realistic and frankly fascinating explanation of how human families work, and what influence they had on human evolution.) If we stop locking ourselves into this Calvinistic prison of marriage, what might we be able to create?

This is not to say that those who want those dyads can't have them.  Whatever, and go in peace.

But it is clearly also true that for most of human history very few humans have lived in dyads -- and that, clearly, it's an abnormal way to live.  The big, messy, extended swamp of humans, living a sprawly group: that's the way most of us have lived throughout history.

My point -- and I do have one -- here in America more than half of these which we claim are the only "real" marriages fail; something like half of all parents are not married at all; and plenty of people are, in fact, same-sex or other-sexed.


You have a choice when your reality and your theory don't match, as I tell my students: you can put your fingers in your ears and say LA LA LA really loudly.

Or you can change your theory.


Athena Andreadis said...

Exactly. Like you, I had hoped that at some point we'd move past this intrinsically patriarchal, hierarchical institution to a more equitable arrangement. Instead, alternatives are shoehorning themselves into this lousy format.

delagar said...


Anonymous said...

This is the second or third post I've seen with these arguments in the past week.

#2 and I discussed our thoughts, and even though she's strongly feminist etc. we don't think that marriage has to be all of the above.

Marriage is a contract that has standard meanings in law and in culture.

If the patriarchy is overthrown, marriage can still exist. We can get rid of marriage and the patriarchy will still be there.

People who want to experiment with different types of relationships can (in the US anyway). They just have to enter into different contracts, contracts that aren't called marriage. That argument doesn't work as an argument against homosexual marriage-- allowing gays and lesbians to get married does not at all change a heterosexual marriage contract (meaning there is no reason for a "civil union" if they can just get married), whereas allowing polygamous marriage under the same license does.

Without marriage, we would need more contracts. And there's nothing stopping us from having all those more complicated contracts now, but most people are happy with the standard cheap one.

I strongly believe in the monogamous marriage contract and I want mine protected. I don't really care what other people do with their lives in the privacy of their bedrooms (or lawyers' offices), but I like the protection of my contract.

delagar said...

I guess I'm being simple-minded, but I just don't see what you need to be protected from -- what marriage protects you from.

I mean, aside from the things that are *creations* of the patriarchy: children as property, women as property, that sort of thing.

Shulasmith Firestone writes, in the Dialectic of Sex, about the sort of society I'm thinking we might head toward:

Bardiac said...

Nicely put, Delagar!

And we can't just have contracts and that's that. I can't contract with someone (outside of marriage) and have that person inherit my social security, or get social security because we've had the contract for ten years. Nor can I leave stuff to someone without paying any taxes with any sort of contract. Nor can I share my benefits without paying taxes the way married folks can, and on and on.

The research done on my system shows that folks who can/do claim family benefits get 9K a year in untaxed additional benefits. No contract (short of marriage) I can make will give me that extra money.

delagar said...

Ah. Social security & tax benefits.

Good points.

That seems like a flaw in the system -- a way of discriminating *against* those who don't /can't/haven't married.

Or who don't have traditional partnerships -- dyads. I don't see why the government should be in the business of enforcing those dyads. (Well, of course, I *do* see that, actually -- for all those reasons I name in my post. But it seems contrary to justice and equality that the government *is* in the business of doing so.)

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with this, but...

I was hospitalized recently, and my roommate (non-sexual life partner) was not allowed to visit me. If he had been my husband, he would have. We have been entangled for 9 years now, and we are seriously considering getting married for the benefits. We already share finances and a bank account.

So I guess I mean I agree if marriage is about who you are having sex with, but it doesn't need to be about that.


delagar said...

See, but, RadiantSophia, isn't that a ridiculous rule?

I've never understood the rule that makes you a possession of your family, such that they are the only ones allowed access to you under certain circumstances. Frankly, I'd much rather see my friends than certainly members of my family if I were ill.

And I can't imagine this would be hard to set up -- we could have a medical registry where we could list those we wanted to allow access, for instance, or those we didn't want to allow access. Whatever.

Or everyone could be allowed to visit unless we specifically barred access. Or, if we requested that, no one could be allowed to visit without our permission.

Because what the fuck, we're adult human beings, these are, in fact, decisions we can make for ourselves. We don't *belong* to anyone, much less our next of kin.

lfconrad said...

There are, in fact, over 1100 "benefits" extended to heterosexual married couples that other partnerships are denied, MANY having to do with property, money, etc., as Delagar points out.

I've been struggling with the idea lately of needing to have a license to get married. I mean, we have to have a license to drive, to hunt, to teach in public schools....We are supposed to license our pets...Having to obtain a "license" to LEGALLY spend the rest of my life with someone? I just can't wrap my mind around that. Why don't we need a license to have children, then?