Saturday, July 01, 2006

Marriage Schmarriage

"Don't worry about marriage", says Julian Sanchez. Marriage adapts organically to society as it changes, he says, using those magic words "organic" and "adapt" that are sure to calm the imagination of any post-modern, scientifically sophisticated reader.

Marital Mythology
Why the new crisis in marriage isn’t
Julian Sanchez


Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, by Stephanie Coontz, New York: Viking, 432 pages, $29.95

Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage, by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas, Berkeley: University of California Press, 293 pages, $24.95

The end, as usual, is nigh. “Barring a miracle,” Focus on the Family founder James Dobson writes in the April 2004 edition of his group’s newsletter, “the family as it has been known for more than five millennia will crumble, presaging the fall of Western civilization itself.” Dobson obviously has a knack for apocalyptic hyperbole, but some version of that sentiment haunts many a conservative mind.

It was the eschatological horror of wedding cakes adorned with pairs of little plastic men in tuxedos that prompted Dobson’s prophecy. But the fear of gay marriage is only the most headline-friendly manifestation of a broader concern that the institution of marriage is in a parlous state. As conservatives look at high rates of cohabitation and divorce, especially among poor mothers, many conclude that the institution you can’t disparage requires a helping hand from the federal government to stay afloat. Indeed, it’s not just conservatives: Political scientist William Galston, a former adviser to President Clinton, has argued that marriage is a key component of poverty alleviation, and that government must “strengthen [two-parent] families by promoting their formation, assisting their efforts to cope with contemporary economic and social stress, and retarding their breakdown whenever possible.” The most prominent recent effort in this vein is President Bush’s Healthy Marriage Initiative, run by the Department of Health and Human Services and funded to the tune of $100 million annually, most of which goes to fund educational or mentoring programs in which couples learn “relationship skills,” often by means of grants filtered through faith-based organizations.

If the link between gay matrimony and the “crumbling” of marriage remains something of a puzzle—for all the ink and pixels expended on the issue, no one has managed a compelling explanation of precisely how allowing more people to marry will induce fewer people to marry—concerns about the state of the family aren’t groundless.

To answer Sanchez' ironically worded puzzler, you only have to point out that the semantic leap necessary to classify two men in a commited romantic relationship as a marriage will simultaneously alter the meaning that heterosexual couples invest in the institution of marriage. You cannot redefine an institution without altering the expectations that you have for that institution. To point out how silly Sanchez's statement is, compare it to this analogy: "precisely how is it that allowing more people (women) to compete with men on professional football teams will induce fewer people (men) to play professional football?".

But to give Sanchez's argument some due, the fact that gay marriage is thought about by so many people in a non-oxymoronic fasion is an indicator of how much the marriage institution has already been redefined. Gay marriage is not so much a threat to traditional marriage as it is a symptom of its decline.

A spate of studies has led to a broad consensus among social scientists that children raised by their biological parents fare significantly better than children raised by single, cohabiting, or remarried parents on a wide variety of dimensions: They’re half as likely to drop out of high school or go to prison, more likely to attend college, and less likely to have behavioral problems or encounter material hardship—differences that may be reduced but do not disappear after controlling for factors such as parental income and education. These differences are apparent even in countries like Sweden, where both social norms and public policy are more hospitable toward single-parent families.

And there’s a class chasm in family structure: Some 3 percent of births to college-educated women take place outside of marriage, compared to almost 40 percent among high school dropouts. The proportion of women between the ages of 18 and 24 who attend college doubled between 1967 and 2000, to more than 38 percent, and fertility rates are significantly lower for women of childbearing age who hold a bachelor’s degree (an average of 1.05 offspring per mom) than for those with only a high school diploma (an average of 1.46). In short, the disadvantaged children for whom the stability marriage provides would be most helpful are also the least likely to enjoy it. “That is what government neutrality has gotten us,” Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), an ardent booster of using the state to promote traditional families, told an enthusiastic audience at the 2005 Conservative Political Action Conference.

Yet two quite different recent books on marriage (and its absence) suggest there’s something seriously wrong with the popular account of the American family’s ills, which attributes them to a recent breakdown in values, caused perhaps by latte-sipping elites who scorn traditional matrimony. In Marriage, a History, Evergreen State College historian Stephanie Coontz, author of the 1992 book The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, reveals that marriage has served diverse purposes through the ages, and that the really radical change in the institution was the 18th-century innovation of marrying for love. In Promises I Can Keep, sociologists Kathryn Edin of the University of Pennsylvania and Maria Kefalas of Saint Joseph’s University take a close look at the lives of poor single mothers in Philadelphia, where they found a story much more interesting and convincing than the familiar “values” narrative.

Does marriage, as some conservatives seem to suggest, have an intrinsic nature and a deep purpose that remain constant across millennia, such that changes in its form or meaning should be considered inherently suspect, as unnatural as oceans boiling and lambs shacking up with lions? Not so much, according to Coontz, who finds that when it comes to marriage, the most reliable constant is flux.

While “one man, one woman” has become the clarion call of gay-marriage opponents, Coontz observes that the most “traditional” form of marriage adhered more closely to the rule “one man, as many women as he can afford.” Many Native American groups cared about diversity of gender in marriage rather than diversity of biological sex: A couple had to comprise one person doing “man’s work” and one person doing “woman’s work,” regardless of sex. In Tibet prior to the Chinese occupation, about a quarter of marriages involved brothers sharing one wife. To this day, the unique Na people in southwestern China live not in couples but in sibling clusters, with groups of brothers and sisters collaboratively raising children conceived by the women during evening rendezvous with visitors.

Even within the category of monogamous heterosexual unions, Coontz finds a dizzying variety of motives and meanings associated with marriage. Among early hunter-gatherer bands, trading members to other bands as spouses was, above all, a means of establishing networks of trade and economic cooperation between men. Once each group had members with loyalties and ties to both, barter became a safer bet.

That’s not to say the husbands were in full control either: In ancient Rome, married sons and daughters both lived under control of the patriarch until his death, and ancient civilizations more generally regarded marital decisions as far too important to be left to the whims of the marrying couple.

In the medieval period, too, marriage might be a handy means of cementing an alliance or sealing a truce among rulers. In other times and places, marriage was seen primarily as a means of regulating inheritance or succession. Often, especially where simple market sales of land were tightly restricted, it was the primary means of transferring landed property, and that was seen as the decisive factor in marriage decisions. Such considerations were not limited to the nobility: Peasant farmers who held land in separate strips might arrange a marriage that allowed adjoining parcels to be united. And while formal state approval is regarded in America today as a sine qua non of a valid marriage, the church considered a couple married as soon as they had exchanged “words of consent,” even alone and without formal trappings.

Among the working classes in later pre-industrial Europe, though a village was apt to intervene if a wedding brought a poor worker into the fold, marriage was seen as more centrally about the married couple. This view was encouraged by a church doctrine that recognized as valid any union entered by mutual consent and, later, by an emerging post-feudal economy in which young people were increasingly apt to leave extended families to seek their fortunes in cities or to work their own small plots. But husbands and wives saw each other more as business partners than as lovers. Marriage was a way of establishing an efficient division of labor, and a new widow or widower represented a job opening.

The love marriage, in which people more or less freely chose partners based on mutual affection, was really an 18th-century invention, Coontz argues. It was partly a spillover effect of new political ideologies that saw government as arising from contractual agreements designed to promote the happiness of society’s members and partly a result of further increases in economic autonomy, especially the autonomy of women. As late as the mid-19th century, French wags were still bemused at the new fashion of “marriage by fascination.” Opponents of gay marriage such as Maggie Gallagher sometimes identify this development as the central problem: the idea that marriage is mainly about uniting a loving couple, from which the notion that it ought to be equally available to gay couples follows.

Such critics sometimes talk as though marriage based on love is a recent innovation, rather than a transformation that’s been going on for centuries. As Coontz notes, during the 1950s—the conservative’s golden age for families—it was precisely the prospect of finding personal fulfillment through marriage to your soul mate that gave married life its central place in the social imagination. The vision of domestic bliss familiar from sitcoms like Ozzie and Harriet and The Donna Reed Show found its complement in a spate of self-help manuals and newspaper columns touting a successful marriage as the key to happiness, as couples’ average age at first marriage reached its lowest point in half a century. “In a remarkable reversal of the past,” Coontz writes, “it even became the stepping-off point for adulthood rather than a sign that adulthood had already been established. Advice columnists at the Ladies’ Home Journal encouraged parents to help finance early marriages, even for teens, if their children seemed mature enough.”

What emerges from Coontz’s account is the realization that marriage has no “essence.” There is no one function or purpose it serves in every time and place. This shouldn’t come as any surprise to readers of F.A. Hayek, who in The Mirage of Social Justice spoke of evolved rules and institutions that “serve because they have become adapted to the solution of recurring problem situations.…Like a knife or a hammer they have been shaped not with a particular purpose or view but because in this form rather than some other form they have proved serviceable in a great variety of situations.” Institutional evolution, like its biological counterpart, is opportunistic: A structure that serves one function at one stage may be co-opted for a very different function at another stage.


This is all fine and good, but it assumes that all these different socially adapted expressions of marriage are equally desirable. Do we really want to return to some collectivized social paradigm? Is there something about the way that marriage is defined today that is desirable to retain? Are the social developments to which marriage is adapting itself today and in the future good developments, or is marriage simply devolving with society into some unpleasant post-modern miasma?

Coontz knows the benefits of marriage, but she’s wary of attempts to stand athwart history crying “Stop!” If marriage now seems especially fragile, she argues, that’s not a function of public policy mistakes subject to easy political correction. It reflects underlying economic, legal, and technological changes that are, in themselves, mostly desirable. While not opposed to attempts to help couples craft stable marriages, she warns that “just as we cannot organize modern political alliances through kinship ties…we can never reinstate marriage as the primary source of commitment and caregiving in the modern world. For better or worse, we must adjust our personal expectations and social support systems to this new reality.”

That conclusion may seem excessively fatalistic, especially given Coontz’s own chronicle of marriage’s ability to adapt to changing circumstances. But it does encapsulate a core piece of Hayekian wisdom. Organic social institutions grow and evolve from the bottom up, as individuals change their behavior in light of the circumstances they perceive on the ground. Attempts to freeze or correct them in accordance with a Grand Plan—a vision of how they ought to function that views change as a dangerous deviation from an ideal—are no more likely to succeed for marriages than for markets.

Where Coontz’s history gives a picture of marriage painted in broad strokes, Promises I Can Keep is a close-up, lapidary study of unmarried low-income mothers in eight of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods, culled from interviews with 162 such women over the course of five years. Several of those years were spent living in their communities. Edin and Kefalas’ account makes it clear that the growth of single motherhood among poor urban women can’t be chalked up to anything as simple or straightforward as a “breakdown of family values.”

In a sense, the problem is an excess of family values. Women who dropped out of high school are more than five times as prone as college-educated counterparts to say they think the childless lead empty lives, and also more likely to regard motherhood as one of the most fulfilling roles for women; motherhood is so highly regarded that it becomes difficult to see even a pregnancy that comes in the mid-teens as a catastrophe to be avoided. And far from having lost interest in marriage, the authors write, the women they spoke to “revere it”—so much so that some are hesitant to marry when they become pregnant because single motherhood seems less daunting than the opprobrium they fear they’d face were they to divorce.
...
The growing focus on marriage in public policy owes its resonance to two distinct themes that recur in conservative thought: anxiety about unregimented sexuality, and the belief that social problems are better solved by local groups and time-tested institutions. Those tendencies make it tempting to conclude that calls for marital reform and the genuinely distressed state of some families are part of one coherent and insidious phenomenon: the collapse of marriage. Yet as Edin and Kefalas show, the biggest problems with marriage are not first or foremost problems with marriage.

Communities grappling with dim economic prospects, violence, addiction, and high rates of incarceration are going to have trouble sustaining all sorts of valuable social institutions, marriage among them. Broader changes in marriage, meanwhile, need not herald its collapse: They’re an ordinary part of the way the institution has always adapted, organically, to societies that themselves are always changing.


Okay, as long as change has always occured then we need not fear change.

54 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

An anthropologist told me once to be wary about all claims about polyandrous societies. For what that's worth.

Love matches were not suddenly thought of in recent times. Shakespeare would have been in trouble if his watchers had not understood the concept.

Like a lot of other luxuries, love has been making its way down the social scale thanks to secularism and wealth creation.

Nor is the concept of the single, poor mom all that recent. The 1929 Pulitzer Prize novel, 'Scarlet Sister Mary,' was about that.

July 02, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Gay marriage is not so much a threat to traditional marriage as it is a symptom of its decline.

That is precisely my thinking.
Heteroes have changed marriage to be more convenient, and easier to escape from; all well and good, IMO, but it also means that what's left could just as easily apply to any two or more consenting adults, of any sex or gender.

In any case, it turns out that gays aren't much the marrying kind.
After an initial rush, the states and nations that have allowed gays to marry have found business to be slow.

July 02, 2006 12:47 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

To answer Sanchez' ironically worded puzzler, you only have to point out that the semantic leap necessary to classify two men in a commited romantic relationship as a marriage will simultaneously alter the meaning that heterosexual couples invest in the institution of marriage.

Why? You very much need to explain how it is that changing the definition of marriage from a monogamous heterosexual pair relationship to monogamous pair relationship will somehow lead to the utter collapse of Brides magazine. Put more seriously, to move your statement from mere assertion to some sort of grounded conclusion, you need to explain how allowing gays to marry will alter women's motivations or expectations.

While you are at it, you might also consider that people are worrying about exactly the wrong thing. In Utah there are serious court challenges (and, if IIRC, at least one significant politician) seeking to eliminate the ban on polygamy as a violation of the first amendment.

Which, of course, it is. And if polygamy were to become fair game, then the institution of marriage would well and truly change.

Best not to worry about piss ants when there is an elephant in the room.

You cannot redefine an institution without altering the expectations that you have for that institution. To point out how silly Sanchez's statement is, compare it to this analogy: "precisely how is it that allowing more people (women) to compete with men on professional football teams will induce fewer people (men) to play professional football?".

Beware argument by analogy, particularly where the analogy is wholly inappropriate. There are several reasons why this one doesn't work. Chief among them is that your analogy is a zero-sum game, where as monogamous marriage is not.

Polygamy is, though. See piss ants, above.


Considering the immense number of material benefits accruing to marrieds, including the childless, one would think that simple fair play would require a pretty rigorous argument to ban gays from civil marriage (or a similar, but differently named) contractual relationship.

July 02, 2006 1:22 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

From Walter McDougall,'Freedom Just Around the Corner':

'John Adams surmised that the revolutionary spirit was born of a "systematical dissolution of the true family authority" inasmuch as American sons and daughters increasingly left their homes and hometowns, married whom they pleased, changed churches, and chose their own trades.'

Of course, elsewhere McDougall says that Adams never understood his countrymen.

Marriage, as a legal constraint as opposed to being a social phenomenon -- as which it thrives -- lost its purpose when bastardy laws became dead letters.

That said, I'm against homosexual marriage because I do not believe it is moral to deliberately bring a child into the world without a father.

That principle puts me in opposition to a lot of other things, as well.

July 02, 2006 6:45 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I agree as well that gay marriage is a symptom of the decline of the institution. Harry's pointing to bastardy laws is too strict--these things are always in flux and there never was a pure and completely rational expression of marriage, though he is right that lots of young people stood up to their parents in the name of love before the 18th century. But the combination of Freud and Hefner was lethal. Once you define the essence of marriage as a celebration of personal love (and c'mon guys, we know full well we just use the word "love" to please the ladies) and combine it with the notion that sexual fulfillment (I'm still waiting to meet the man who tells me in the presence of his wife that he married primarily for sexual fulfillment and has never looked back) is a baseline emotional need, if not a constitutional right, you have a pretty shakey plinth. Throw in a fixation with Oprah-speak and humanistic psychology drivel about personal self-esteem and "getting in touch with the real me" and you have the perfect recipe for two self-focused takers and no givers. Not much capacity to ride out the inevitable storms, not enough emotional security and not much room left for the kids, which is probably one major reason why we are having fewer. But the case for gay marriage in that paradigm becomes nearly unanswerable and that most gays will pass becomes completely predictable because many of them seem to want a wedding more than a marriage.

July 03, 2006 3:48 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

"...that most gays will pass becomes completely predictable because many of them seem to want a wedding more than a marriage."

True. And also, winning the battle was more important than enjoying the spoils of victory.

(Though wanting a super-duper wedding day more than a marriage is also common with heterosexuals - particularly young women)

Duck complains about the language-mangling, which I understand, but on the other hand, I take Skipper's point: what harm to society can there be if already-established gay couples want to commit to each other?

In Britain I think they came up with a very sensible compromise: gays enjoy the same legal rights as married couples but they don't have a 'marriage', they have 'civil partnerships' (and consequently they are 'civil partners', not husbands, wives or spouses).

I don’t know the take-up figures, but suspect it’s low.

Harry’s point about fatherless (or motherless?) children is valid, but in the end the wisest course must be for adoption decisions to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

Peter:

Here and on the other post you make many true observations about men and women and human nature, but I’m confused about what your main point is, other than a sort of general railing against Cosmo culture. What exactly is worse now than it used to be, and what would you like to see changed?

July 03, 2006 7:54 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Ps. while we're on the subject of nookie, you might enjoy Hitchens's latest blow-by-blow article.

July 03, 2006 8:17 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Brit, I must have been unclear.

I am not against homosexuals adopting fatherless children.

I am opposed to inseminating for the purpose of bringing up a child without a father.

The ratio of this happening must be about a thousand to one in favor of idiot heterosexuals. But the principle remains.

July 03, 2006 9:56 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

...c'mon guys, we know full well we just use the word "love" to please the ladies...

Ah - no, we don't.

I have no clear idea about what the ratio of my "we" is to your "we", but it's not less than 1:3, and it might be 1:1.

July 03, 2006 4:32 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Put more seriously, to move your statement from mere assertion to some sort of grounded conclusion, you need to explain how allowing gays to marry will alter women's motivations or expectations.

Skipper,
On the face of it, there doesn't seem to be any connection. Let's just say that I harbor suspicions of unintended consequences. As you point out with the situation in Utah, there are other threats to the institution. But surely you can see the false dichotomy you are drawing here. It would be easier to oppose all redefinitions of marriage than to focus on one, polygamy, to the exclusion of another. Once society gets in the mood to be generous with its symbolic grab-bag of goodies it tends to go overboard.

The last thing we should do is diminish the role of child bearing and rearing from the focus of marriage even more than has already been done.

July 04, 2006 6:02 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Any future attacks on the institution of marriage will be as nothing compared to the brutal beatings already inflicted on it by Hollywood stars, with their lightning divorces and unromantic but very wise prenuptual agreements.

July 04, 2006 7:10 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I dunno about that, Brit. Women don't think like us, according to Skipper.

I was waiting in the checkout line at the supermarket last night and contemplating my ignorance. The tabloids screamed about babies and splits by Jen and Angelie and etc., all people unknown to me but on a first-name basis with the women who buy those papers.

It occurred to me that the apparently intense interest in the marital and romantic escapades of the glitterati may be an escape mechanism for women without much drama in their lives, who would like to experience some, but are putting it off in favor of keepin' on keepin' with that balding, overgutted slob next forward in the line.

Or maybe not.

July 04, 2006 10:07 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

It's a point of view, I suppose.

One modern phenomenon I have noticed is the case where a couple who have lived happily enough together for a decent period - say 7 to 10 years - eventually decide to get married, and then almost immediately divorce.

It's happened a few times within my circle of acquaintance.

New angle: institution of wedlock is ruining family stability! End this marital madness! Won't somebody please think of the children?

July 04, 2006 10:31 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

...but are putting it off in favor of keepin' on keepin' with that balding, overgutted slob next forward in the line.

I shouldn't plug the same book twice in a week but you really must get a copy of Davies' Fifth Business. There is a wonderful scene where the hero--a single, Protestant Canadian private school teacher from the '50's who develops a lifelong fascination with Catholic saints for reasons you must read to find out--meets a old, learned, but hilariously eccentric Spanish prelate who tries to educate him about Catholic ways and makes a wondeful speech on how the saints give simple peasant women hope and let them dream like teens in the face of the sweaty, drunken, simian characters they ill-advisedly agreed to spend a life with in a moment of misguided female romanticism. You would enjoy it mightily.

Brit:

This must be Peter's book-recommendation week. One of Kingsly Amis' later novels features four middle-aged couples who are friends. Three are married, but one has been common law for years. The three married husbands are jealous beyond words because the non-married guy's partner is always beautiful, defential and adoring to him when they meet. Finally, she persuades him to marry her. Once married she immediately stops worrying about how she looks and starts nagging the hell out of him. Finally she is happy and can relax. It is one of the profoundest insights into female psychology I've ever read. Oroborous should buy it.

But you are aware that stats show common law relationships are far more unstable compared to marriages, aren't you?

July 04, 2006 6:16 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

In 'The Letters of Pvt. Wheeler,' which are real letters of one of Wellington's Old Contemptibles, there is an enlightening discussion of peasant marriage in Corfu in the 1820s.

The clergy don't come off very well there.

++++

When my wife worked at a hospital, she noticed the phenomenon of the M.D.-hunting single gals who quit making themselves up once they'd bagged one.

Tricia's hair went from long and black to long and silver when she was in her late '20s. One night she was at the nursing station with a couple of single anglers, and a distinguished, rich looking older man came by, asking directions. He paused to compliment Tricia on her beautiful hair.

Tricia says the single gals gave off steam.

July 04, 2006 7:09 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Peter:

The Old Devils, yes? Kingley's finest work.

That's not my preferred explanation for the phenomenon, though, since the women have intitiated the break-up in several cases I know.

I think it's that the official status of marriage makes some people claustrophobic, inducing premature mid-life crisis.

July 05, 2006 1:20 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

I believe it is now pretty much established that about 70% of modern divorces are initiated by women and that an equal percentage of women live to regret it. Most of them are fools but to be fair, they have endless encouragement from the modern culture to bolt and not much to stay. Pretty tough to see clearly when those desperate waves of misery strike or to understand all things must pass. There aren't too many happy Shirley Valentine endings in real life.

I agree about mid-life crises and a lot of that stems from the big immature hullaballoo about sex we modern Peter Pans make. (We really do tend to focus too much here on what young people do in bars--boring!) But why would the offical status of marriage be any more claustrophobic than a "committed" common-law relationship?

You know, I'm starting to get the impression that I'm the only one around here who has anything good to say about marriage, idealistically as opposed to pragmatically.

July 05, 2006 3:44 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

With a long-term unmarried relationship, even with such onerous shared burdens as a mortgage, car loan and an entire circle of friends, there's nevertheless a vague feeling of 'I could still get out of this if a better offer came along". Marriage after a long period of common law living is the supposedly voluntary act of closing that option til death do us part - the sudden realisation of which prompts some old newlyweds to bail out.

The difference is children - the planned getting of which is a much more sound motivation for marriage after a long common-law relationship than just the desire to have a grand white wedding and a party.

I have no stats to back up this theory, but all of the cases I've seen of the sudden-divorce phenomenon were child-free.

July 05, 2006 4:02 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

Let's just say that I harbor suspicions of unintended consequences.

Which could equally well be used as a justification for miscegenation laws.

But surely you can see the false dichotomy you are drawing here. It would be easier to oppose all redefinitions of marriage ...

Why? One redefinition of marriage poses absolutely no problem to society if everyone who could, did. The other is a beggar-thy-neighbor redefinition that poses serious problems for society if as few as 5% of those who can, do.

Material consequences matter, don't they?


I'm glad to see I'm not the only Kingsley Amis fan around. Stanley and the Women (or is it Troubles with Women -- I can't remember, and I'm not at home to check) is probably pertinent here.

Peter:

There are much more substantial things going on besides Freud and Hefner to affect marriage: urbanization, the vast increase in personal wealth, and The Pill.

The first created anonymity, the second allowed the option of divorce without the threat of absolute penury, and the third allowed women to choice when and how many.

Regardless of Freud, Oprah, Hefner, or that all purpose bogeyman, Darwin, those conditions would have greatly increased divorce.

July 05, 2006 4:56 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Brit:

How postmodern of you. So a common-law relationship is sturdier because the potential for bolting is up front, but a lifelong commitment is shaky because it scares us too much? That sort of puts paid to the notion that individuals are rational and understand their minds and interests better than anyone else, no?

BTW, I'd like to amend my comment in the post above about the modern preoccupation with sex. It's actually a pre-occupation with self a la humanistic psychology that is doing so many people in. Sex is just one of the more common and exciting ways to live that out. But you are right that marriage and the self-focussed life don't go well together, which is why childless marriages are often fragile and why divorces often occur after the kids leave home. The tragedy is that the couple never learned (or were too full of themselves)to see each other in the same interdependant way. That's not surprising when modern women in particular think dependency is a sin and men are traditionally too thick to appreciate what they are getting. Some move on to greater happiness and fulfillment, but far fewer than expect to when they are packing their suitcases.

July 05, 2006 5:13 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Skipper:

Yes, obviously to some extent, especially general prosperity, but talk about irony! Are you not admitting that the social conservatives who opposed the Pill, etc. on the basis it would undermine family were right all along and the liberals/libertarians who assured us there was no reason to assume such (man being sensible and all) were snowing us? Does this mean we are slaves to technological development and its inevitable consequences? Is the game up? That doesn't say much about our free will, does it, never mind democracy?

You guys sure have the knack of making marriage and family sound like one big drag. Except yours, of course.

July 05, 2006 5:27 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Well I'm not prescribing or proscribing, I just sometimes enjoy pointing out quirks and kinks, quinks and kirks, you know.

I've got no idea whether anything much I say has anything much to do with reality. Geez, my magnum opus was about why Britain has the best weather in the world.

We all have our roles to play, and you've already baggsied the tutting maiden aunt...

July 05, 2006 6:11 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Tutting maiden aunt? That's insulting. I prefer to see myself as the Karl Malden pastor character in Pollyanna, who liked to cheer everyone up with thundering sermons that began with things like: "DEATH COMES UNEXPECTEDLY!"

But whenever I worry that I'm too much of a puritan killjoy, I just think of you with your breezy assurances that the only rational response to any social problem, no matter how pathological, is to order another pint, marvel at the variety of life and produce a charming sitcom out of it. It gives me resolve.

July 05, 2006 8:34 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Yeah well, takes all sorts, dunnit squire?

July 05, 2006 9:05 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

OT, but I don't know where else to put it.

Plug for dailyduck in my column today, which should be posted at www.mauinews.com in 3 or 4 hours from now: roughly 6 pm EDT.

July 05, 2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter:

Are you not admitting that the social conservatives who opposed the Pill, etc. on the basis it would undermine family were right all along and the liberals/libertarians who assured us there was no reason to assume such (man being sensible and all) were snowing us?

Ummm. No. I think it takes a strong dose of pollyandaise (an enzyme that makes everything in the past appear rose tinted and scented) to presume that marriage was once some idyllic arrangement, rather than a frequent repetition of the axiom that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That the divorce rate was low at one time reflected, as much as anything, mortality. If something over 20% of all women died during, or as a consequence of, childbirth, then by definition the divorce rate is going to be lower.

Then there is the problem of advocating the alternative: to whom are you going to sell the notion that women, or couples, should not be able to choose how many children they have?

Besides, the effect of The Pill was to have fewer women with so many children as to have no ability to leave a marriage, no matter how abusive. Do you prefer that?

On the other hand, the ability to break up a marriage without risk of absolute penury is, IMHO, a far more powerful solvent. I expect you will not choose to argue against material well being.

Does this mean we are slaves to technological development and its inevitable consequences? Is the game up? That doesn't say much about our free will, does it, never mind democracy?

Well, telling people what they must do with their own lives hardly sounds democratic. What's more, your question sounds positively Leftist: people are simply incapable of making their own decisions, and must, instead, have government make those decisions for them.

That the government consists of people is an irony to which the Left is immune.

You guys sure have the knack of making marriage and family sound like one big drag. Except yours, of course.

Well, I didn't intend to make it sound like a drag. My marriage is the center of my life, as it is for all the guys I know. My neighbor across the street is a couple years older than I. Nearly a year ago, his wife died very suddenly.

It is obvious that marriage wasn't a drag to him.

July 05, 2006 3:48 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Once married she immediately stops worrying about how she looks and starts nagging the hell out of him. [...] It is one of the profoundest insights into female psychology I've ever read.

Which explains a lot.

The meta-point that I've been trying to make, here and in the other thread, is that your paradigm of gender relations is incomplete, and it may be of benefit to you to rethink it.

Men and women are different, but that doesn't mean that they can't interact to their mutual benefit and satisfaction.

The above cliche about marriage, supposedly insightful, does describe some marriages - but not most.

BTW, you never did get around to explaining why normal sexual relations between men and women are exploitive, and foster contempt.

July 05, 2006 4:34 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

The two marriages closest to me personally that broke up both collapsed when the wife developed progressive mental illness.

Dunno what that proves.

++++

Holiday screwed up my timing. The column is at www.mauinews.com, but you have to hit the 'Local Columns' button, then go back to July 4.

July 05, 2006 4:38 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

A very flattering description, Harry.

July 05, 2006 5:16 PM  
Blogger Duck said...

Thanks for the plug, Harry!

I've been busy the last 4 days, with my brother visiting from Maryland. Went to the amusement park yestery and the movies today. Saw "Superman", excellent film. I think it is the best of the Superman franchise.

Which could equally well be used as a justification for miscegenation laws.

It could be used as a justification against anything, as just about anything has unintended consequences. We need to look what is in the "for" column as well. I don't see anything for gay marriage, and denying it is not an injustice as it is in the case of a mixed race couple. In that case the couple's only choice was to live together outside the law and forego the leagal benefits of marriage, which also handicapped their children. I have yet to see what is denied to a gay couple, beyond the satisfaction of being told by society that they are no different than a heterosexual couple, which is a lie.

Why? One redefinition of marriage poses absolutely no problem to society if everyone who could, did. The other is a beggar-thy-neighbor redefinition that poses serious problems for society if as few as 5% of those who can, do.

But redefinition in the former case confers a societal expectation in favor of redefinition for any group that wants societal approval for their own variant. Their is nothing inherent in any one polygamous marriage that beggars any neighbors, it is only in the aggregate that beggaring occurs. It is another example of the "tragedy of the commons". It is a problem that an individualist culture like our own has to be especially diligent against.

I think the fact that only about 2 or 3 percent of eligible gay couples take advantage of the opportunity in those countries that have legalized gay marriage puts paid to the notion that this is the great civil rights cause of our age.

July 05, 2006 8:43 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Sure, Oro, I'll give it a shot (although that isn't what I said), but how about first you tell me a bit about those differences between the sexes as they relate to the subject at hand. In previous posts I had understood you to say that any differences were socially constructed ones, or at least products of different times of little relevance to us, and that true freedom for women would come when they thought and acted like men. In this past week or so, between you and Skipper I feel I'm in the Institute for Natural Law here. But if all you are saying is that there are plenty of differences between men and women with regard to sex but they can work them out sometimes, we don't have much to argue about.

July 06, 2006 5:41 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I wasn't actually paying attention, but my wife was watching a segment about addiction on whatever that public TV news program is, in which a researcher alleged that brain scans prove women react more strongly to graphic ads than men do.

If I absorbed it right, women are driven to addiction by TV beer ads to a greater degree than men, because their brains process Marlboro Man-type ads in a different part.

It then went on to tell the sad tales of several women crystal meth addicts. I don't recall ever seeing any TV ads for ice, but, as I say, I wasn't really paying attention.

Sounds unlikely, on the whole. I don't see a lot of female yobbos wearing Michael Jordan jerseys.

Bu what do I know?

July 06, 2006 9:24 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Sure, Oro, I'll give it a shot (although that isn't what I said)...

Then how about just explaining this passage of yours in greater detail, and in a way that a simpleton like myself can understand:

"Yes, and there is the rub, because the problem is that male lust needs a female to service it. Not exactly a great theoretical basis for non-exploitative sexual relations based upon equality and mutual respect. Of course, today we've solved that conundrum by telling ourselves fairy tales about how female lust is complementary, and so it's a win/win situation."

In previous posts I had understood you to say that any differences were socially constructed ones, or at least products of different times of little relevance to us, and that true freedom for women would come when they thought and acted like men.

Ah, no, although in many previous posts, going back years at BrosJudd, you have assigned that role to me.

It may be that I have often been opposed to ideas or philosophies that you have championed, along with others who have written the kinds of things that you describe, but I don't much share those sentiments.

In fact, the most satisfying parts of being female lie in those areas in which they differ from men. Women would be happier acting like men only if they don't like being women.
I do support the right of women to successfully follow a male path, if they'd like.

July 07, 2006 12:58 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Oroborous:

From the Daily Duck, July 7th, 2006

In previous posts I had understood you to say that any differences were socially constructed ones, or at least products of different times of little relevance to us, and that true freedom for women would come when they thought and acted like men.

"Ah, no, although in many previous posts, going back years at BrosJudd, you have assigned that role to me"...

In fact, the most satisfying parts of being female lie in those areas in which they differ from men.


From The Daily Duck, March 29th, 2006:

It strikes me that your idea of equality is that men and women should think and be treated the same way in sexual relations--like men.

"The short answer is yes".

I'm just a country boy, Oro. Can you help me out here?

July 07, 2006 4:19 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Yes I can, although I'm both amused and a little perturbed that you would bring up the 'No' means no (and after a few martinis, 'yes' means no as well) thread again, wherein you wrote such gems as:

"I suspect these women(many troubled)are experiencing rage and shame at being casually dismissed in the morning and are so hellbent on revenge that they sincerely re-write the history of the night before. It's all a mess with many women being positively schizophrenic about the tension between defiantly asserting their modern equality and their visceral aversion to emotionally empty sex."

"Yes, we all think we know self-sufficient women who like one night stands, but they are far from the norm and [...] they often become jaundiced manhaters."

"The subjective mindset of [women] often proves to be very protean..."

And you claim that I am a misogynist ?
Look in a mirror, says I.

More tomorrow.

July 07, 2006 8:21 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I've told you before that I don't think you are a misogynist, otherwise I doubt you would be here arguing about this. But I do think you are wrong. Besides, isn't that accusation the product of a kind of Godwin's law on this subject? You can do better than that.

This is getting a little surreal, but here goes. You can call it the impulse to commitment, nesting, "let's do breakfast" or whatever you want, but I'll rely on tens of thousands of novels, testimonies and poems, both modern and historical, to argue that, however lustful the female may be, she generally dreams and yearns for sex+, whereas her lustful male counterpart frequently wants sex full stop. The "+" involves some degree of emotional commitment or relationship beyond the physical. That is the eternal dance around which endless numbers of conventions and laws have been built with varying degrees of strictness and success. It seems to me that you want to either deny that distinction or claim modern woman is leaving all that behind, and you often use the Victorian straw man of the sexless, lustless woman to make your case. Not even most Victorians believed in that, so why do you keep hammering away at it? Yes, Oro, women can be very lustful, as Chaucer, Donne, Shakespeare and endless others recorded. Let's move on.

It's not the sex that divides us, it's the "+". I've tried to imagine the woman you are talkng about and I've come up with two images. The first is the young, carefree party-girl. She's been around since the year dot and she generally either reins it in and leaves all that behind after a time and settles down with no apparent damage to civilization as we know it or she becomes a pathetic, somewhat desperate, creature who can't quite figure out what went wrong. In some cases, much worse.

The second is the so-called "new woman". Armed with the Pill, a career drive and professional qualifications, she indeed does seem to compartmentalize sex the way men have always done. You and I could argue about how common she actually is--I don't know-- but it's your use of her as an ideal against which you measure your expectations from all women that disturbs me. She clearly relies on a combination of material comfort and public success to bolster that emotional strength, and even then she often doesn't make it, as any shrink will tell you.

And therein lies the exploitation. You have latched on to an ideal of women devoid of emotional vulnerability with respect to men that is very recent and contrary to most of human experience and then gone on to absolve yourself of any duty to recognize differences and order your behaviour accordingly. I think you are making the classic libertarian error of failing to distinguish between the political argument that individuals should be free to make choices in social affairs to avoid oppression and the complementary modern psychological trick of assuming everybody knows best what is right for them and so it's nobody's business and no-one's to gainsay. No need for fathers to be protective of daughters or brothers of sisters, etc. If they've had one to many in a bar, they are on their own. If they get pregnant, how could they have been so stupid? If they won't leave you alone after, they need counselling or whatever, as long as they get out of your life.

And the consequences? Ask the average young black woman with kids from a love-match or two that have never seen their fathers. Ask the millions of kids who schlepp back and forth between houses. Ask any honest mental health professional about the state of mental health among young women today. Ask the young women with eating disorders or the jaudiced teens who have lived it all by eighteen. Even Aly McBeal figured it out in the end, painfully. Your ideal may be some aggressive, tough professional that complements you perfectly, but what do you do about those irksome Monica Lewinskys? I assume what Bill did.

We will never agree on a snapshot of what the situation actually is at any one time. I'm going with what I understand to be the general reality over millenia and you seem to insist a new day has dawned and that is all irrelevant. Maybe, we'll see, but I do ask you to pause and consider whether the evidence you are throwing up is just too self=serving by half. For you and Harry to point to the porn trade for women as evidence of anything is wild. Talk about a niche market! But two questions on that. Are you hoping that trade will grow to match the regular trade in order to substantiate your theories on the equality of female lust? And why is there a seperate porn trade for women, anyway? Both trades feature lustful men and women. I mean, what do women want anyway?

July 08, 2006 5:15 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

I pretty much completely agree with Peter on this.

In the book "Mother Nature," Sarah Hrdy discusses the concept of the "environment of evolutionary relevance." Very briefly, that means that eons of sex that always lead to pregnancy, combined with the very significant demands of birthing and raising children, was bound to leave a mark.

So while women now can choose to have sex and completely avoid the risk of pregnancy, women's brains simply aren't wired that way. At some level, I suspect whenever women have sex, they are thinking "father of my child."

Hence, as Peter notes, sex for women is nearly always bound up in context, whether it is nourishing the existing relationship, or encouraging a new, and hopefully permanent, one.

It is all about context.

Thank goodness.

July 08, 2006 6:00 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

...In other words, female porn always has a storyline.

July 08, 2006 6:09 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I don't know about that, Brit, but I'm told loyal, raunchy husbands are featured prominently. They don't seem to be big on strangers in freight elevators.

July 08, 2006 6:37 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Maybe that's why plumbers and other handy tradesmen are so frequently involved. "Take me to heaven... but would you mind having a quick look at the washing machine first? It's making a funny noise when I do the whites..."

July 08, 2006 7:36 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

And the problem for men is that only the women know the storyline. I could never remember my lines.

July 08, 2006 7:39 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Duck:

That's the problem with us men... can't multitask.

July 08, 2006 8:29 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

There's female porn?

Who knew?

July 08, 2006 8:04 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

It seems to me that you want to either deny that distinction or claim modern woman is leaving all that behind...

...it's your use of [the so-called "new woman"] as an ideal against which you measure your expectations from all women that disturbs me.

You have latched on to an ideal of women devoid of emotional vulnerability with respect to men that is very recent and contrary to most of human experience and then gone on to absolve yourself of any duty to recognize differences and order your behaviour accordingly.

No, no, no.

This is what I mean when I write that you "assign a role" to me. You're not responding to anything that I've written, you're responding to arguments made by others, words that you're putting in my mouth.

It seems as though you've decided that I belong in a certain category, and you're responding to the general point of view of those who fit in that category. Unfortunately, I am not among them.

Statements like:

...absolve yourself of any duty to recognize differences and order your behaviour accordingly.

No need for fathers to be protective of daughters or brothers of sisters, etc.

If they won't leave you alone after, they need counselling or whatever, as long as they get out of your life.

...you seem to insist a new day has dawned and that is all irrelevant.

not only don't describe my point of view, in some cases they're the exact opposite of what I believe.

But maybe I'm just really bad at communicating.
If anyone has any examples of things that I've written that would tend to support those ideas, I'd appreciate it if you'd point them out.

If they've had one to many in a bar, they are on their own.

Again, it's not that they're on their own, it's that they're idiots for having one too many in a bar, alone, as opposed to with friends or at home.

Your ideal may be some aggressive, tough professional that complements you perfectly...

Yes, it is, but I'd be deluded if I thought that "aggressive, tough professional" described me.

...but what do you do about those irksome Monica Lewinskys? I assume what Bill did.

Why was Monica "irksome" ?
Naive, for sure, but Bill was flattered by her attention to him.
Do you mean, because she thought that Bill would leave Hill for her, that she desired more than a fling ?

You assume wrongly. Without going into detail, Monica spilled the beans to Linda Tripp because Bill wasn't even attempting to satisfy her. Since I am the type of host that ensures that the guests leave happy, that wouldn't have happened to me.
Plus, Bill was cheating on his wife, which I would not do, although IMO just having sex with a flirty intern isn't necessarily "cheating".

For you and Harry to point to the porn trade for women as evidence of anything is wild.

You were the one who brought it up.
Presumably you thought it evidence of something, although you also seemed to assume that it wasn't flourishing.

Are you hoping that [the for-female porn] trade will grow to match the regular trade in order to substantiate your theories on the equality of female lust?

You are the one who seems to believe that "equality" must mean "the same".
That women purchase less porn than men indicates that they don't like porn as much as men do, and not much else.

I mean, what do women want anyway?

They want what you said that they want, sex+.

One of the differences between you and I is that I think that most men want sex+ too, at least those older than their mid-20s, whereas it seems as though you believe that most men go their entire lives desiring nothing more than sex full stop.

The second is the so-called "new woman". Armed with the Pill, a career drive and professional qualifications...

As Harry noted in the "No means no" thread, he finds it humorous that some think of the 70s as ancient history.
I feel the same about those who view the 70s as recent history, although I can understand it - '88 still seems vaguely contemporary to me.

In any case, we now call "new women" just "women", the Pill has become two dozen better products, and "a career drive and professional qualifications" don't "arm" women anymore - they're SOP, standard operating procedure. More women than men graduate from college now.

July 09, 2006 5:03 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'I'm told loyal, raunchy husbands are featured prominently. They don't seem to be big on strangers in freight elevators.'

Not true. It's all about masterful strangers who are tamed by love into becoming one-women men. But they sure are not that way at the start.

It's all about improvement projects.

These are rape fantasies, after all. Not 'Little Women.'

And if it's a niche market, it's a very big niche: 4 out of 10 books sold in America are women's rape fantasies.

++++

The Boston Globe tells its homosexual employees who are getting fringe benefits for a partner they have to marry by Jan. 1 or lose benefits.

Amusing comments at timblair.net about what a tangled web some of us have woven.

July 09, 2006 7:46 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

"4 out of 10 books sold in America are women's rape fantasies."

Where does that stat come from?

What with the Da Vinci Code, Stephen King novels and Harry Potter, there can't be many other books around...

July 09, 2006 11:01 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Harry:

"4 out of 10 books sold in America are women's rape fantasies."

I guess that explains why we read so many testimonials from women about how much they enjoyed the real thing.

Young man, here's a tip. You are too old to indulge in such teen fantasies. The kids don't need you to tell them to go out and have fun. They know how to do that already. They need you to warn them when to stop and tell them why.

July 09, 2006 4:23 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Peter, Brit:

I think when Harry says 4 of 10 books (of the set "fiction") are female rape fantasies, he is tarring all of the Romance genre with the same brush.

Now I can't claim any firsthand experience with the Romance genre (Although I do remember a girlfriend talking about one novel and mentioned the male protagonists name was Everard. Either I read too much into that, or it was working at the female subliminal level). But I have read articles about the Romance genre, and, without exception, those articles substantiate Harry's diagnosis.

July 09, 2006 5:53 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

40% comes from an analysis by a U. of Iowa prof, some 30 years ago. I've forgotten the title of her book, and even her pen name -- she chose not to use her real one. But it was a big story in Iowa at the time.

I mean copies of books, not titles.

The figure may have changed a bit over the years, but whatever it is, it's high.

And the books have changed, too. They are a lot rauchier and rapier than they used to be. (My wife's book club sometimes reads one of the more pretentious ones, and I read those, which is how I know.)

It does not follow that 40% of women readers read rape fantasies. The smaller percentage who do, though, read prodigious quantities of them -- hundreds of titles a year. You can subscribe to a service and get a new one almost as often as your daily newspaper.

Studies show these women are ovewhelmingly married, and that they claim to get laid a lot -- about 3 times as often as women on average.

I have not seen a study which tells whether all this sex is within the marriage, or whether Harlequin romance readers are pushovers.


Even identifying these books as rape fantasies, rather than the more coy 'romance,' gets up the hackles of some. But that's what they are.

There are all sorts of reading materials that fly under Peter's radar: dream books, for example. As a purveyor of crude news for hoi polloi, I pay attention to this stuff. My people.

July 09, 2006 10:01 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

BTW, yesterday I received a tendentious book about the indigenes of the New World by a well-known ax-grinder named Jennings.

Flipping through, I see in a caption an Indian named Bad Marriage. No backstory provided.

July 09, 2006 10:02 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

Hmm. I can see how you could just about get away with calling, say, Lady Chatterley a 'rape fantasy' and possibly even Jane Eyre, but I suspect that Harry and the (probably nutty, has a lot of cats) professor would also count Pride and Prejudice.

It's well known that women like a man with some authority, purpose and even on occasion, a bit of oomph, and they do like to fantasise about 'reforming' Wild Ones, but 'rape' is a word with a specific meaning.

If however, you do define 'romance' as 'rape fantasy', then I fully believe the stats. But that tells me more about U of Iowa professors than anything else

July 10, 2006 2:01 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

We're talking about Harlequin romances written in the late 20th and 21st c.

All the Brontes put together are not selling 40%, or even 0.004% of the fiction books purchased by American (and, one supposes, Canadian) women these days.

July 10, 2006 11:38 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

If you doubt Harry's analysis, perhaps this will clear things up:

The Clan of the Cave Bear.

It is a series. It sells. A lot. But not to men.

July 10, 2006 5:39 PM  
Blogger Brit said...

I suppose I've learned not to be surprised by anything any more.

July 11, 2006 1:09 AM  

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