Monday, June 6, 2011

Faces of Traditional Marriage

Foreign Policy recently featured a slide show on "the strange world of Afghan weddings and the dark side of early marriage."

According to the feature, which cites UNICEF data, "more than 50 million girls under the age of 17 in developing countries are married" while "millions more are at risk of being forced into child marriages." In Afghan society, where women have limited opportunities to obtain economic independence, "daughters are often seen as an economic burden." So, girls are forced into marriages as a way to "pay debts or create social alliances between families."

The article doesn't make it explicit, but the payment the bride's family offers a man in exchange for providing for his member of the sex class' basic subsistence is sexual access to the girl and her presumed ability to procreate, preferably, male children.

Although, I find it strange that Foreign Policy refers to forced child marriage as "strange" rather than, say, the more accurate "abusive" and "misogynistic," I don't highlight this slide show to demonstrate how "backwards" Afghan society is compared to Western "enlightened" societies. Indeed, the "traditional values" forces in the US, relying on their own patriarchal religions to define marriage, differ only in degree to their Afghani counterparts.

Marriage, USian defenders of marriage tell us, is not a loving supportive relationship between two adults, as that definition apparently diminishes the institution and what it means to be a "husband" and a "wife." It greatly offends them that LGBT advocates refuse to view marriage as an institution that exists primarily for procreation and only if heterosexual coitus is possible between the spouses.

And yet, of course, if ability to procreate and engage in heterosexual coitus constitute the very core of Real Marriage, it would be illogical under their own reasoning for USian "marriage defenders" to object to weddings between a 40-year-old man and a 13-year-old girl who has begun menstruating.

In fixating on the biological realities of human sexual reproduction, "marriage defenders" exaggerate biological sex differences and create ethereal, unequal gender, spousal, and parenting roles that bear little resemblance to many people's experiences actually living out those roles. The message, reinforced, is that men and women are very very different and, in this difference, lies a natural hierarchy- whether that is explicit or only implicit. Although, of course, in many religious marriage ceremonies, women still literally promise to obey their husbands.

If we could disregard for the moment the issue of the benefits associated with the institutions, would it be more feminist for the state to issue civil unions and domestic partnerships to all couples? For, these non-marital institutions lack the sexist, abusive, and hierarchical "traditionalist" baggage associated with the word marriage. Instead of we same-sex couples clamboring to get into an institution tainted with a strong legacy of inequality should progressive heterosexuals be clamboring to domestically partner one another?

No comments: