Why we should question the tradition of marriage
CW: divorce, discrimination, sexual assault, child marriage, misogyny, abuse
As someone with divorced parents, the difficulties of marriage have always been present in my life since a young age. Whether it be arguments between my parents at dinner, or the fact they never spoke nicely of or to one another, I have always known that marriage was not always how it was depicted in movies. The more I questioned my parents’ marriage, the more I questioned the fundamentals of marriage as a whole and how morally corrupt and misogynistic some of those principles are.
A few studies have confirmed that children with divorced parents are less likely to get divorced than children who grew up with married parents. As much as this study made me quite smug and was one of the few positive outcomes of divorced parents, apart from double the amount of Christmas presents, I don’t simply think that children of divorced parents are more capable of upholding a marriage than any other person or that they are scared of marriage as a result of divorce, but also because they may be more aware of changing family dynamics . Children with divorced parents often have a more open mind when it comes to the definition of family due to their own non-traditional family experience (by traditional family I mean two heterosexual married parents). They probably do not see marriage as a requirement for success (especially seeing as almost half of marriages are not successful anyway) but they could aspire to other positive aspects of a family (should they even want a family which of course is possible), such as a good relationship, having children or even a cat. They may realise that in many cases people are getting married simply to say they are married, and not for the love for their partner or the desire to have a life-long commitment to that person.
Nowadays, views are changing constantly as to what constitutes success and stability in life. Some people associate marriage with stability, and financially security as a family unit but fortunately we are moving away from such rigid ideas of what success means. However, this perception still exists among current and principally previous generations, creating a huge amount of expectation and pressure for people to get married. This is especially the case for many young people to the point where, at the age of thirty for example, they feel like a failure if they have not fulfilled the expectation to be married. Questions of why or when someone is going to get married are often posed at family gatherings or at work. Recently, an acquaintance got married to their long-term partner just to satisfy the questions from their family and friends.
Misogynistic expectations are particularly prevalent towards women to the point where women change their title from ‘Miss’ to ‘Mrs’ to ‘Ms’: an entire element in their name dedicated towards being married. The fact that men keep their title of ‘Mr’ highlights the engrained misogyny related to marriage continuously perpetuated by society. It is clear from these titles that society has applauded the notion that a woman’s identity changes because of a man, and not vice versa, preserving the concept that a woman has not reached the ‘next stage’ of her life if she is not married. I hope we continue to move away from associating a successful woman with marriage and acknowledge that a woman can create her own identity that cannot be altered by anyone but herself.
In addition to such clear sexism through such a simple change in title, we must acknowledge the unjust framework marriage was built upon. The notion of marriage is an old tradition which was originally created to establish a man’s ownership of a woman. Hence, why the father of the bride walks the bride down the aisle to the groom (the ownership of the woman is being passed from man to man). Traditionally, the wife would take the husband’s surname as well. Interestingly there is a rise in women who walk themselves down the aisle and women who keep their maiden name as a feminist stance. However, although I have been using the terms ‘women’ and ‘men’, we should know that people of all genders and sexes can get married too (although it isn’t a legal option for all people), which is also another source of my issues with marriage.
Marriage is a concept that was built around the idea of two sorts of genders: a man and a woman. There are fixed traditions specifically for each gender because traditionally it meant that people could start a family. Nowadays, marriage is by no means the only way to create a family. Families that do not require a married couple are numerous, such as single people raising children or adoption. However, these gendered stereotypes have been a cause for discrimination and judgement towards families that do not fit into this fixed mould. The legality of same-sex marriage is a prime example of the inequality that exists. Even in places where same-sex marriage is allowed, discrimination against a married couple of the same sex or different genders to the stereotypical ‘man and woman’ permeates our society, causing for there to be a hierarchy amongst married couples. According to the website ‘Considering Adopting’, “less than one-fifth of adoption agencies are actively attempting to recruit LGBT adoptive parents”. Clearly this issue of adoption would exist in a non-married couple as well but I believe it’s important to highlight how marriage reinforces such discrimination against people of all sorts of genders that don’t conform to the traditional and heterosexual ‘bride and groom’. How can we still be using this system of commitment when it is already set-up from the get-go to re-establish inequality and false ideas surrounding gender?
Some would suggest other legal alternatives such as the Civil Solidarity Pact (PACS) in France. Although a married couple is taken more seriously, to the extreme where society quite literally favours married couples because marriage supposedly guarantees more stability. Consequently, there are many financial benefits in being married rather than simply being in a long-term relationship or in a PACS, such as less income tax. Being able to adopt is also made a lot easier when a couple is married which creates the other dilemma of discrimination against non-married couples. This issue is particularly problematic for same-sex couples who not only may face discrimination as a married coupled but also if they are simply in a relationship.
This discrimination is also, if not more prevalent where non-heterosexual relationships are completely banned by the country or culture in question such as Saudi Arabia. There are also many other issues that arise when criticising marriage especially in such countries where traditions and family honour are indispensable, such as the existence of illegal, unethical and abusive marriages. Although similar problems would still exist with or without the concept of marriage, marriage has been used as an excuse to justify cases of rape, abuse, control and other numerous atrocities that are allowed to happen because it occurs within a married environment[PJS9] . According to some, marriage for men signifies complete control over women and in some cases believe they own their wife and their bodies. For example, with regards to underage marriage: “Child marriage is also driven by patriarchal values and the desire to control female sexuality, for instance, how a girl should behave, how she should dress, who she should be allowed to see, to marry, etc”. Marriage therefore facilitates this sort of abuse particularly in countries where sexual contact is only allowed within marriage[PJS10] . No sort of abuse or sexual assault should be deemed acceptable simply because it was within the private sphere of a married couple and thankfully there has been an increase in acknowledgment and awareness of marital rape from a legal aspect in countries around the world (child marriage, unethical and abusive marriages are huge topics which I’ve barely touched upon so please read my other article for more depth).
I am not opposed to marriage nor do I disapprove of married people. People get married for all sorts of reasons such as love, religion or culture. However, I believe that we have become so accustomed to the normality of marriage and that we do not question its principles enough. I disagree with the fundamentals surrounding marriage and the morals and traditions it was built upon. The idea that in some places, marriage is used to justify marital rape or abuse horrifies me. Additionally, I believe that there should be no expectation for people to marry in society whether it be because they do not believe that staying with one person for life is sustainable or for any other reason which quite frankly is none of our business. I criticise marriage because I do not want to fall into this societal trap and encourage this view of marriage as a required norm that defies equality, specifically amongst genders. Until marriage is available for all people or when marital traditions are not gender-based or unjust then I do not think my views on marriage will change.
Written by Annabel
A note to the reader:
Please contact me if you have any other ideas or information regarding marriage as I would love to gain another perspective and learn more about it, specifically in other areas of the world. Thank you for taking the time to read my article.