It seems there’s been a rash of celebrity engagements this past couple of weeks. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Drew Barrymore, Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel, Mario Lopez, John Legend and even Aretha Franklin all announced engagements. Even Sinead O’Conner is staying married, after announcing a split. With all of this attention put on marriage, I thought I’d take a look at who really benefits in a traditional marriage.
The institution of marriage predates reliable recorded history. It was the norm for all marriage to be arranged, sometimes at birth. The parents would pick a spouse based on purely economic factors. Families joining to become financially and socially stronger. Whether the groom’s family paid a bride price, or dower, or the bride’s family paid a dowry, the melding of families was very much for power and economic reasons and had nothing to do with love. It was a purely secular union put in place to help each family move up in society. Brides wed out of obligation and duty and were expected to be virtuous and faithful to their husbands, who, in turn were expected to provide financially for their wife and children. However, sexual monogamy was never expected for the husband. It was assumed that his sexual needs would be met both inside and outside the marriage bed. Great deal for him, but what about her?
These women went directly from their father’s home to their husband’s home and were expected to be obedient in both surroundings. They never enjoyed the luxury of personal freedom and exploration. Even in North America, women weren’t able of choose to be single without fear of societal backlash until the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. Women were expected to subjugate their personalities in favour of the path their husband chose… even when marrying for love. It was 2006 when the Church of England officially took the word OBEY out of the marriage vows. Yes, women were expected to OBEY their husbands. That one four letter word gave men all the justification they needed to abuse their wives for centuries.
In the 1960’s women in western civilizations seemed to have had enough. There was an uprising of women who were demanding their human rights. The right to choose what to do with their own life. It sure took us long enough, but once we started tasting freedom, it became more and more widespread. The church was still doing everything in its power to keep us barefoot and pregnant, from not allowing birth control use and abortion to shoving the institution of marriage down our throats at every opportunity.
There was a perceived danger in women choosing to be single. The erosion of the family unit. Traditionally, parents would take care of their family, then later in life, the family of their children would take care of the parents. If a woman chose to be single, how could she possibly afford to take care of her parents in their declining years? Would she even want to? If she is choosing freedom, what does obligation even mean to her? These were some of the questions at the root of society’s fear of the Women’s Movement.
Indeed marriage rates did decline and divorce rates went way up. Men went from “Honey, I’m home. What’s for dinner?” to wondering when the delivery guy was coming. Something else of importance happened during this time. In 1965, in the United States, medicare and medicaid became available. This took away the need for children to take care of their elder parents. This changed the economic family dynamic.
Unfortunately, there was a backlash to the feminist movement. It seemed to create a generation of men with severe Peter Pan syndrome. These adult men, not only want their wife to be a partner, but also a mother. It seems that these liberated feminist mothers didn’t think to teach their sons how to be liberated, strong men. This, along with the media (magazines, movies etc.) telling women that they are not complete without a man, created a surge in marriages. .. marriages that didn’t last. After all, what liberated woman wants to be mean mommy to her husband? And let’s face it no man (unless it’s his fetish) wants to have sex with mean mommy.
Women who choose to be single, have reproductive freedom like never before. Now medical science has made it possible for women to have babies without benefit of marriage, or even a relationship. It’s easy to understand why there are so many heterosexual men out there who seem to genuinely hate women. They fear they are being rendered obsolete, and that is a legitimate fear. Successful women are choosing to be single mothers.
As Gloria Steinem once said, “Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.”
Yes traditional marriage was great for men. They had a subservient wife who took care of hearth and home, their every need and want, with no expectation of sexual fidelity. The pendulum travelling inexorably to the other side now. Even in the non western world we are seeing another women’s revolution. Here in the west, there are women who choose marriage just to have a companion, knowing full well that it can be as permanent as they want it to be.
This attitude has spawned another type of man. I have seen it in generations Y and Z. This young man is looking to be kept. They are male gold diggers, looking for an older, successful woman to marry.
I suppose marriage hasn’t changed that much after all. After a brief flirtation with love, it’s still all about money and power.