Monday, January 9, 2012

Two Sides of One Shield?

From which radical second-wave feminist marxist text was the following passage pulled:

"The purpose of government was the guarding of property-rights, the perpetuation of ancient force and modern fraud. Or was it marriage? Marriage and prostitution were two sides of one shield, the predatory man's exploitation of the sex-pleasure. The difference between them was a difference of class. If a woman had money she might dictate her own terms: equality, a life contract, and the legitimacy- that is, the property-rights- of her children. If she had no money, she was a proletarian, and sold herself for an existence."

Any guesses?

It's a passage in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, published in 1906.

I highlight it because it reminded me of some recent conversations that have been occurring at the Family Scholars Blog (FSB). Recently at FSB, Barry posted on marriage's problematic history with respect to coverture and women's rights. His point was, to paraphrase, to ask opponents of same-sex marriage who appealed to tradition why they rejected other aspects of "traditional marriage" if preserving tradition was so important and vital.

Interestingly, opponents of same-sex marriage who commented to Barry's post mostly expressed a similar sentiment, perhaps best expressed by this comment:

"Reaching back to 1886 to find a case to make an argument that doesn’t really have anything to do with the subject at hand seems a bit desperate."

Indeed. And, isn't it interesting to see opponents of same-sex marriage suddenly find the appeal to history and tradition so.... unappealing and irrelevant. I mean, I'm all for people recognizing the absurdity and offensiveness of coverture, but.... the way some people talk about how Marriage These Days is in the pits, one doesn't always know which historical traditions they actually would be in favor of restoring and which they would reject in order to save marriage.

Which brings us to two.

Upton Sinclair was writing in 1906. A lot of things have changed for women since 1906. But, during the time in which he was writing, I don't think his observation would have been an unfair representation of what marriage was for many women. Lacking the same opportunities as men to support themselves and their families, marriage was often a matter of survival. As was prostitution, and working in a limited number of fields for a fraction of the wages that men earned.

In her bookRight-Wing Women, writing in post-sexual-revolution 1983, radical feminist Andrea Dworkin echoed Sinclair's observation:

"[Right-wing women] see that traditional marriage means selling [sex] to one man, not hundreds: the better deal... They see that the money they can earn will not make them independent of men and that they will still have to play the sex games: at home and at work too.... Right-wing women are not wrong"

I'm not sure many opponents of same-sex marriage, many of whom mock, ridicule, and dismiss feminist critiques of "traditional marriage," understand women's legitimate concern about efforts to regress back to more "traditional" understandings of gender roles and marriage. Again, it's not always clear which aspects of these understanding "marriage defenders" accept and which they reject.

This is especially so when people, like Phylis Schlafly for instance, imply that women who have careers are selfish and that fathers have no corresponding responsibility to balance their professional and home lives. (Interestingly, this view also implies that fathers don't have an important role in the upbringing and rearing of children, other than bringing home a paycheck. A role that, by the way, could easily be fulfilled by another woman these days).

My point is this.

Women, and men, should have a choice about working and/or staying home without people with large platforms shaming them for these choices and saying that they can only do one or the other because of their gender. Not only is it not selfish for a woman to work outside the home, or lazy for a man to want to be the primary caretaker for his children, oftentimes, both women and men (or both partners in a same-sex relationship) have to work anyway, to make ends meet. The financial ability for one spouse not to work is a real privilege.

It behooves the "marriage defense" movement to recognize not only that reality, but the reality that many people have negative connotations with what people like Schlafly refer to as "the traditional lifestyle of husband-provider and fulltime homemaker." It doesn't resonate.

Not only because many people believe it is a narrative of Real Family that erases non-heterosexual families, but because pressuring women into being financially dependant upon their "husband-providers" doesn't feel to them what marriage is or should be.

It feels like an exchange of home-making, sexual, and reproductive services for the privilege of a home to live in and food to eat. I'm not saying all women feel that or that women who are homemakers are prostitutes, but if women don't have a genuine choice about the matter (or don't think they do because being a Real Woman is defined as being a homemaker), many women will feel that way.

And, these women will reject "traditional marriage" and all that it stands for, in favor of more progressive definitions and labels. The better deal.

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