Tuesday, March 21, 2006

what she said.

in the comments section of my previous post, i stumble around with some half-baked ideas about our culture's messed-up relationship to both marriage and divorce. i want to write more on this, because i think i will have much to say. today i found* this interview with author Stephanie Coontz on alternet, which elaborates on much of what i was trying to say in that comment thread, or will want to say in a later post. to wit:

We would be remiss to think that [marriage] was ever a stable institution. Instead, it has always been in flux. It has only been based on the concept of love for 200 years; before that, it was a way of ensuring economic and political stability. Through painstakingly-detailed descriptions and anecdotes from hunter-gatherer days to the modern era, Coontz points out that "almost every marital and sexual arrangement we have seen in recent years, however startling it may appear, has been tried somewhere before." So when we think of cohabitation, gay marriage, or stepfamilies as deviating from the "norm," we are wrong, because there has never really been a "norm."

For a country obsessed with the perfect image of the nuclear family -- mother, father and two kids -- this is eye-opening. We are trying to force ourselves to be something we never really were, or were for a very brief period of time. Instead, Coontz argues, we need to be more tolerant of and open to different forms of union. People with traditional "family values" lack the skills to adapt to social realities that have changed marriage, such as the increased independence of women.

yes! this is what i'm talking about, people. well, i'm not talking about it that much yet. but read the interview anyway - it's good.

*hat tip to the pandagon archives for the link.


Cinnamon said...

Thank you for this link. I've picked this book up several times at W&CF and put it back. I've been leery of buying another book. But after reading the interview I think I have to have it.

And on a side note, I think I would love talking to you some time about marriage. I'm horribly conflicted about the institution as a whole and how I want to take part in it, but my partner is not.

kate.d. said...

cinnamon - yeah, i want the book now too :) and we should definitely talk sometime. it'd be really interesting to chat about it with roni and amy next month...i feel like all of us have unique experiences and perspectives, and lots of perspectives are what i want right now!

karen gsteiger said...

I've found marriage to be interesting. When you're single and living together, you think you know what it will be like, but it still feels much different and much harder. I don't know if it's a psychological/cultural thing (I did grow up Roman Catholic, after all), but there's something about the legal commitment that's daunting. Or maybe it's just all the expectations of "happily ever after." Or maybe it's just that, by the time you marry someone, you've been with them long enough to see all of their flaws and yet are inextricably bound to them. It's when a relationship turns into family, and God knows you can't ever really escape your family.

But uh, you know, it has its good points too. ;) It's nice to feel *chosen* by someone, and a spouse will be there for you during the best and worst of times.

But there's really no need for politicians and religious leaders to start invading everyone's private lives and start defining concepts like "marriage" and "family" in a increasingly rigid way.