Thursday, August 12, 2010

love and marriage

Yep, still reading Marriage, a History. (I started it 5 months ago!?)

In fact I just finished chapter 10 on the sentimentalization of Marriage in 19th century Europe and N.America. The chapter ends with this excerpt:

"In the late 18th century, conservatives had warned that unions based on love and desire for personal happiness were inherently unstable. If love was the most important reason to marry, how could society condemn people who stayed single rather than enter a loveless marriage? If love disappeared from a marriage, why shouldn't a couple be allowed to go their separate ways? If women and men were true soul mates, why should they not be equal partners in society?

At the beginning of the 19th century, the doctrine that men and women had innately different natures and occupied separate spheres of life seemed to answer these questions without unleashing the radical demands that had rocked society in the 1790's.

The doctrine of separate spheres held back the inherently individualistic nature of the 'pursuit of happiness' by making men and women dependent upon each other and insisting that each gender was incomplete without marriage. It justified women's confinement to the home without having to rely on patriarchal assertions about men's right to rule. Women would not aspire to public roles beyond the house because they could exercise their moral sway over their husbands and through them over society at large. Men were protecting women, not dominating them, by reserving political and economic roles for themselves."

(This excerpt ends with a big "But...." and leads us into the next chapter entitled "A Heaving Volcano: Beneath the surface of Victorian Marriage")

Anyhow, I found it fascinating because this view of marriage and gender roles was the one I raised with almost 200 years after it first became a trend.

Oh! Also interesting was chapter 9 on the invention of the Male breadwinner ideal including how women's labor suddenly became radically undervalued in the world of cash transactions, significantly increasing wives financial dependence on husbands. And how the sentimentalization of the wife-as-homemaker made it a status symbol, a working class aspiration.

(Here's all my status updates on this book if you're interested.)

Not feeling up to expounding a whole lot on this... Just thought I'd make a note of it. Quite enjoying this book.

1 comment:

Stella said...

It makes me happy that I live in a time where I can be single and not feel like less of a person (though I did for most of my 20s).

I've sort of been leaning away from the whole idea of marriage lately. I just don't need it.

Love, on the other hand....