Tipping Sacred Cows: Marriage
I haven’t been posting much lately. This is largely due to my desire to create posts for punkassblog crossed with the difficulty of packaging my opinions in a manner that will not be immediately dismissed by the readers there. Another important factor is the amazing tear that Amanda Marcotte of pandagon.net is on with respect to . . . well, pretty much everything. Her positions are fresh, well reasoned, and run exactly counter to the “common sense” (a.k.a. flawed and indefensible) positions of everyone else*. Lately, most thoughts rattling around in my head are “amens” to her posts and positions.
Much of the popular focus was on the political machinations required to generate sufficient populist sentiment against female self-control of reproduction. To create an issue that mobilizes voters, everyone on the “other side” of the “debate” must be painted as the worst type of moral transgressors. The supporters of individualized reproductive control must be placed outside the category of people-who-can-be-reasoned with and into the category of people-who-must-be-controlled-by-force. Once this meme spreads, it will influence political outcomes but will also result in harassment, bombings, and murder–as we have seen again and again.
“Fair enough”, says mainstream pro-life america, “we will disavow the violent and focus on finding political solutions to our disagreement. We may even find ourselves on the same side of a political issue–access to contraception for example–and we can put our differences aside and work on these issues.”
And here is what I found striking: rather than take the bloody hand offered, Amanda takes the position that the pro-state mandated childbirth movement** is acting violently against women by petitioning a coercive institution to turn its instruments of force against women.
The next bit of well-reasoned opposition to an institution we take for granted came in a series of posts about marriage. It started with a review of Against Love by Laura Kipnis. I’ve not read the book, but the recommendation that prompted Amanda to read the book and her reviews as well, indicate that it is a no-holds-barred review of romantic love and the institution that enshrines it: marriage.
Its nonsensical to think that an institution as old as patriarchy and slavery should be shielded from anything less than the most rigorous and all-encompassing scrutiny. Since the dawn of recorded history, marriage has been a transaction among men. It was a deal struck between property owners to transfer the package of benefits and liabilities that a dehumanized female, most frequently a young child, represented between contracting men.
After the period from ~10 trillion BC to around 1900 AD, in small pockets around the globe, women gained the first few shreds of status beyond that of a possession. They weren’t immediately branded or set fire to for owning and managing property, entering and leaving contractual relationships, seeking education or otherwise competing with the primary benefactor of state-violence: european men.
With the state recognition of a subset of the personhood of some women being only one to two hundred years old, that marriage is still a fine and dandy institution seems remarkably unlikely.
Social norms have a tremendous amount to play in protecting marriage from reasoned examination. For most individuals on earth, and especially for the overwhelming majority of women, familial violence or other coercion practically eliminates alternatives to traditionally marriage. But even in situations in which a “free choice” is presumably being made, the social remnants of our tribal past along with the tenacity of organized religion provide blinders that many feel compelled to wear.
That being said, the state, in my opinion, is the primary engine keeping marriage alive. Primarily, it provides legal sanction for the patriarchal use of violence against women and children. In the west it relies on a basic economic axiom: behaviors that are incentivized will increase and behaviors that are disincentivized will decrease. Entering marriage comes with tremendous economic benefits: a friendlier tax structure, employment benefits, estate planning, even (apparently) housing benefits based on “family zoning.” In addition, state sanction for child raising is granted to married couples and denied to other social relationships.
Exiting marriage gives both partners massive legal bludgeons which ensure lasting acrimony among all but the most amicable divorces. Future relationships are made difficult by the social stigma of divorce as well as the legal strictures around income, children, division of property, etc. In some sense, the two aspects are indivisible–the state regards the marriage as failed and wishes to make it as unpleasant as possible and this is reflected in societal norms***.
The ultimate question, and the most revolutionary, is why a third party is necessary at all to validate, certify, legitimize or officially approve of a relationship between 2 or more consenting adults? It is indefensible, dehumanizing, divisive, and demonstrates a lack of respect for persons that is the hallmark of the busy body, the social engineer, the theocrat, and the politician.
This meme that no social institution is sacred is now “out there” in a variety of forms (thanks again, Amanda). This is the first step to improving the experience of being human.
* I am only being slightly hyperbolic.
** Big thanks to whoever coined this term
*** This may seem like a chicken-and-egg situation since societal norms are likely to be expressed legally in a “democratic” society, but legal marriage is a modern repackaging of aristocratic property arrangements of years past–hard to say.