Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A "Marriage Culture" for Maggie

I have long since speculated, from the implications made by one Maggie Gallagher-Srivastav, former President and current Chairmen of the Board of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), that what she means when she declares that the United States of America must return to a so-called "marriage culture" is a massive cultural shift to the repressive era of the 1950s.  It appears that we may now have some form of substantive evidence to support this allegation: on both the group's FaceBook wall (pictured) and their Blog they seem to be glowing over a recent New York Times "article" by Erica Jong -- this piece, however, is far from traditional investigative journalism (disingenuous on NOM's behalf) and is merely an opinion piece!  (I, personally, doubt that NOM's management intends their supporters to actually read more than what they have quoted on their Blog; and, even if they do, the fact that it's merely an Opinion piece probably won't cause them a moment's concern.).  Although, it is precisely this regressive cultural tradition that has been much beleaguered by popular culture in the manner in which it has always repressed women: to keep women subservient to the males in their family, and to keep women under the patrilocal heel of a society that generally enacts laws to control their conduct and the reproductive rights of women's bodies!

In 1970, Maria DeSantos charged the American Psychological Association with colluding with the established American patrilocal hegemony, saying: "Women come to you suffering from depression.  Women ought to feel depressed with the roles society puts on them....  Those roles aren't biological, those roles are learned.  It started when my mother threw me a doll and my brother a ball" (Alinder, pp. 144), which was the accepted wisdom of psychiatrists and sociologists in terms of requisite stereotypical marital gender-roles.  And, a decade later in Slovenia and the Ukraine, the worship of the native hearth-goddess Berehynia was reclaimed amid a horrible recession in an effort to sustain nationalism and to alleviate pressure on the work force throughout these eastern districts of Europe.  However, this worship came under great scrutiny as a "renaissance of patriarchy" by romanticizing stereo-typical gender roles; through local propaganda the goddess was lauded as the ideal mother and feminine-identity, insisting that the place for women was tending the hearth and her family (Phillips, pp. 49-59; Slobin, pp. 337-57; and Wejnert, pp. 335).

It is, perhaps, synchronistic that - on the same night that NOM posted this article to their FaceBook profile - I caught a fabulous documentary on HBO called Love Crimes of Kabul.  It was a truly eye-opening introduction into a female-oppressive society in which marriage, sex, familial duty, societal honor, and the penal codes are each culturally fused; indeed, this is one of the few societies in which a "Marriage Culture" akin to that opined by Maggie Gallagher-Srivastav may be properly observed.  According to Islamic Sharia Law premarital sex is illegal and can lead to a prison term spanning as little as one year and as much as fifteen years!  This is because a female's virginity is highly valued in the consideration of an appropriate "bride price" when one's father negotiates a marriage arrangement for his daughter in an effort to substantiate his private wealth through his own daughter - weather or not the sex was consensual, or if it was merely anal intercourse (a form of birth control) is of no consequence; if the female has already been "known" carnally her value has already been greatly depreciated.  Depending on the offense, however, and the level of dishonor one's own family may be experiencing, they may make an attempt on their daughter's life upon her release from prison - an act known as an "honor killing", which is quite legal.  Even simply falling in love with a boy whom your parents have not arranged for you to marry is considered a punishable offense amid Afghan patrilocal culture.  Moreover, in accord with Afghan culture, a male usually feels a societal obligation to marry a female after intercourse has taken place due to the esteem in which the "institution of marriage" is held.  Surprising, if a woman flees from her husband's home, even under the duress of physical violence, she is legally prosecuted as a criminal that may have engaged in premarital sex, and a prison sentence is subsequently imposed.

It may be shocking to most Americans to learn that there have been similar culturally and legally imposed "marriage" institutions in our own country.  Prof. of Family History (Evergreen State College), Stephanie Coontz tells us, "The wife...was legally responsible for providing services in and around the home, but she had no comparable rights to such services.  That is why a husband could sue for loss of consortium if his spouse were killed or incapacitated, but a wife in the same situation could not.  And, because sex was one of the services expected of a wife, she could not charge her husband with rape".  This, presumably, meant that a husband could sue his own wife should she flee from his home, even if he were violent and abusive towards her!  Even as late as 1964 the American Medical Association had the audacity to publish an article in which beating one's wife was an acceptable method for punishing an aggressive spouse for allegedly "castrating  activity" so that one's husband might "re-establish his masculine identity" (Coontz).  Furthermore, gender inequality within Civil Marriage laws was ultimately intended "to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law" (Ibid.), because marriage has been historically about property and power in which - as our Afghan coevals dutifully attest - parents' arranged their children's marriages in order to forge a political or financial alliance, to expand upon the familial labor-force (businesses were often a trade-skill), or to seal a business deal.  This patriarchal notion of "traditional marriage" began to change about two hundred years ago when individuals started to believe that they had a right to choose their own marital partner.

Yet, according to Gallagher-Srivastav during a debate at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, PA., she insists that:

If we had a powerful marriage culture, gay marriage would make no sense [emphasis mine].
Perhaps, Maggie....if we lived in a country with a "culture" far more identical to that of Afghanistan you can be certain that we would have a "powerful marriage culture" that is an established fixture in the penal codes where marriage is viewed only in terms of procreation and a societal duty or honor!  After all, in a culture in which marriage is a societal obligation - including the production of children - than marriage does have a significance in which two males or two females receiving a legally-binding marriage would be, quite frankly, laughable.  But, is this yoke of oppression seriously one that any free-born American citizen could tolerate living under?  Furthermore, would it even be constitutionally feasible considering that the Great Promise of our Constitution is about expanding personal freedoms rather than prohibiting them even if culture and honor seem to suggest otherwise to a certain segment of the population that follows a specifically constrictive religious purview? Sadly, it is within such a society that the freedom to marry the spouse of one's choice would not be culturally valued.


  • Alinder, Gary (1992).  "Gay Liberation Meets the Shrinks".  In Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation.  Karla Jay and Allen Young (eds.).  New York University Press: pp. 144
  • Coontz, Stephanie (2011).  "Gay Marriage Isn't Revolutionary.  It's Just Next."  (Last Accessed: 12 July, 2011).
  • Phillips, Sarah D. (2008).  Women’s Social Activism in the New UkraineIndiana University Press: pp. 49-59
  • Slobin, Greta N. (1997).  “Ona: The New Elle-Literacy and the Post-Soviet Woman” in Gisela Brinker-Gabler and Sidonie Smith (eds.),  Writing New Identities: Gender, Nation, and Immigration in Contemporary Europe.  The University of Minnesota Press: pp. 337-57
  • Wejnert, Barbara (2002).  Transition to Democracy in Eastern Europe and Russia.  Praeger Publishers: pp. 335.

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