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July 30

The Evolution of Marriage

Filed under: News — posted by Amanda @ 1:00 pm

Courtney E. Martin had an interesting piece at The American Prospect the other day about the ways in which the legalization — here and there (but not there) — of gay marriage and has prompted her to reevaluate her own aversion to the tying of the knot. As a feminist wary of wedlock myself, I can’t help but nod along with her argument that historically, marriage is both heterosexist and just plain sexist. At the same time, it’s hard for a straight gal to condemn an institution that once considered women property at the same time that her gay friends are happily flocking to California to make their love public, official, and legit in the eyes of the very law that heretofore shut them out.

But still. Societal expectations die hard, and when it comes to matrimony, Martin notes, “all perpetuate rigid ideas of gender roles within marriage. Why not avoid the temptation to fall into a his-and-hers routine by never adopting the marriage label?” I hear that. Like many other women chasing careers before men, I worry what “marriage” might mean for a young professional trying to work her way up the ladder.

Take, for example, my name. (I mean don’t.) (I mean, unless you’re my husband.) (Anyway.) These days, a woman may not get married until her early 30s — or, SHOCK, later — when she has already built a reputation in her field. How would changing her name change … that? While more and more women may seem to be keeping their names — or at least going the Cox-Arquette route — research actually doesn’t bear that out. In any regard, in most places, the assumption that the woman will shrug off her family name is still there.

There also persist tales of employers who (illegally) avoid hiring married women of a certain age, a certain “she’s gonna get knocked up and leave, or even if she comes back she’ll always be rushing out for parent-teacher conferences” age.

Thankfully, more and more are becoming more flexible — and human — in recognizing that family life [and, ahem, single life] is just as important as work life. In fact, I’m lucky to work in a office filled mostly with women — many with children — who set a strong example of how to balance, well, everything. Ideally, so do their partners. On that tip, back to Martin, who says the advent of legal gay marriage feeds her “fantasy that, without the dominant culture’s definitions of husband and wife as default, my partner and I will be constantly pushed to reinvent our relationship, question our assumptions about who should do what, and stay honest and authentic.”

To me, that’s the real question: are we willing to overlook history in order to help this institution continue to evolve into something that can, in turn, help our society evolve? Martin concludes, at least, this: “I’ll never look at the white dress again without seeing all the shades of gray.”


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