Progressive. Queer. Feminist. Opinionated.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Rules of marriage

There's nothing like a sex and gender course to make you think.

We were talking about Alice Lesnick's "On the Job: Performing Gender and Inequality at Work, Home, and School" Journal of Education and Work 18 2 (June 2005): 187-200 in class today. This led to a discussion on marriage and oppression. Questions arose. For example, is marriage, no matter who is involved and how voluntary this involvement is, an oppressive institution? Say a woman chooses to stay home with her children; she loves being a stay-at-home mom and she never regrets not having a job outside the home. Then she gets a divorce. Suddenly, she is without income or means of an income. So wouldn't that mean she was involved in an oppressive institution, even though she chose the involvement, to some degree?

I don't pretend to know the questions to these answers, although it was very interesting to consider the questions.

Eventually, we came to the question of gay marriage. This led to some interesting new thoughts I've never considered.

First of all, let me say that I am 100% behind gay marriage. I want us some rights and I want ‘em now! I'm also very aware that some queer folk are not interested in gay marriage because they don't want to ... well, to put it simply, they don't want to play on the het turf.

A fellow student made a very interesting point in class today. She said that if she were a US senator and the bill to allow gay marriage hit her desk, she'd sign it in a second because it'd be expanding the idea of marriage, and she thinks that's a good idea. But, at the same time, she admitted that she's not a big fan of gay marriage because gay marriage has become a heterosexual construct.

She made a very good point. (And side note: this is a queer woman who made this comment, so she’s not working with prejudice here).

This got me wondering. I'm for gay marriage above civil unions because as wonderful as civil unions might be, they are not marriage. And "separate, but equal" doesn't work: we know that. But, at the same time, when we fight for gay marriage, are we fighting on heterosexual terms? Are we creating a marriage in imitation of het marriage? And I think we can all admit that het marriage is not without its many faults.

Where's the middle ground? Separate, but equal doesn't work, but at the same time, I don't want to live in a pseudo-straight marriage.

It's complicated for us (and when I say "us" here, I mean queer people). Ion and I are trying to create a stable, healthy relationship, and we're trying to create it on equal footing with the typical straight union. But we don't want a straight relationship. We aren’t straight. And so we find complications everywhere.

Ion doesn't want to change her last name because she's attached to the first letter of that last name. (It's a long and complicated story, and I'm not going into that). At first, I thought that I wanted to share something with her, so I was willing to change my name. But then I considered the history of changing my name - I'd be throwing myself into a legacy in which women changed their names so they could be chattels of their husbands. And I cannot do that in good conscious.

Every step of the way, there's another problem. It looks like Ion's going straight into grad school, and I want to wait a year. She's going to pick a big city (so it will have things to offer to the Chemist and the English major), but I can't shake the feeling that I'm following her. She's the cook in our relationship, but she doesn't pick up after herself, so I am I acting as the housewife as I clean up after her mess? Who washes the dishes? How to we negotiate who washes the dishes? Should we have to set rules for this? Who washes clothing? We could do our clothing separately, but it makes more sense to combine our colors and whites.

We're making up these rules as we go. We're constructing a marriage, but the only rules we have to follow are the rules that were created by a patriarchal, oppressive culture. If we utterly ignore those rules, we’re moving down a road that hasn’t been set out for us. There are no “rules” for gay marriage. This is a good thing, but it makes everything so complicated.

There's no easy answer. But then again, isn't that the point of being a liberal? There can't be an easy answer to big questions. When you’re trying to figure something out, you can't just say, "It's hard work," and avoid the deeper meaning. It's impossible to define something with simple words and not consider the history behind those words. You have to consider the truth behind every word, and wonder if you can even define that truth. The world's not black or white - there are grays and blues and greens and fuchsias.

I don’t know where these thoughts leave me. I suppose I should just settle on being happy that I had the thoughts. It keeps my mind from being static, which is good because stagnant things rot. My only option is to keep reading and keep studying, because then I can keep learning and thinking. And that’ll make it easier for me to make my own rules, along with Ion.


Anonymous Johnicholas said...

You asked whether marriage is inherently an oppressive institution.

Male and female reproductive biology is different. Both males and females suffer biological costs (calories, wear-and-tear on various organs) for each child that they have, though females suffer vastly more of these costs.

The web claims that sperm costs the spermbuyer about $200-$600 per insemination, while egg "donors" get payed $5000 or more per donation.

I think that 200/5000 ratio is a very conservative estimate of the difference in biological costs (in particular, the father has the ability to leave during those 9 months, and essentially force the mother to shoulder the entire cost of raising the child - in some fish the opposite is the case, and the mother can commit "abandonment".)

Marriage (with premarital sex and divorce both illegal) is something like socially-imposed symmetricalization of costs. Though the costs are not perfectly symmetrical, both are paying a quite high cost (supporting children and sacrificing the possibility of sex with anyone else), so the costs are similar.

My answer is that this old-style marriage was not built as an attempt to keep women down: if anything, it was an attempt to keep rapists and abandoning fathers down- the problem is that biology is annoyingly asymmetrical to start with.

7:25 PM


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