This is a not a photography post but I need a place to post a thesis I wrote on the interwebs. So here we go. Photography fans sorry about the change.
Thesis: Perceptions of modern marriage are based on a poor understanding of Victorian marriage; this leads to a call to return to a traditional form of marriage that never existed.
- Modern Marriage
- The threat
- Traditional values
- The ideal
- The reality
- Modesty and traditional marriage
- Victorian marriage
- The myth
B. The reality
- The history of marriage and unions
- Middle Ages
- Early America
- Modern America
- What changed?
- Where do we go from here?
On the surface marriage seems simple but there are state and federal laws that govern the creation and dissolution of this legal union and the laws vary from state to state. The factors involved in granting a marriage license include, age, familial relationships, the capacity to consent, current marital status and in most states, gender. (Post, 2006, pp. 47-48) Currently marriage is limited to two people, and in most states those people must of different genders. While the legality of marriage falls under federal and state jurisdiction, the social and moral aspects are still largely controlled by the varying religious sects. Many people get married by religious representatives, even if they do not consider themselves to be religious.
People who have non-monogamous relationships, choose to cohabitate but not marry, have more than two people involved in the relationship or of the same gender are considered to present an imminent threat to the traditional values surrounding marriage. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a conservative talk show host and author states that the decay of traditional values, “revolve[s] around the assault upon and virtual collapse of, the values of religious morality, modesty, fidelity, chastity, respect for life, and a commitment to family and childrearing.” She goes on to argue that when these values were in vogue women valued themselves more and in turn were valued by men. “When there was awe and respect for life; an ‘accidental pregnancy’ was met with commitment and responsibility because women expected it and men were accountable.” (Schlessinger, 2004, p. 53)
“Traditional values”, is a misnomer as the values of modern American society have numerous sources and differences; however it generally refers to a marriage that involves one man and one woman who come together for romantic reasons and then commit to a monogamous relationship. In this idealized viewpoint women’s modesty and morality is intended to act as a civilizing force on men. “A woman’s sexual modesty puts her, significantly, in a position to be the ultimate arbiter of a man’s worth. In a society that respected the power of female modesty, the men were motivated to do what women want.” (Shalit, 1999, p. 98) Opponents of unconventional marriages want society to return to traditional values, to go back to a time when pornography almost nonexistent, chastity and modesty were highly valued and people were monogamous. They are operating under a belief that the myth of the Victorian era was true. Pornography was common in the era and in 1895 there were 7,194 prostitutes in London alone. (Zablocki, 2005)
Most modern marriages fit within the ideal mold in that they are generally based on romantic love. If popular culture is to be believed, the romance dies out quickly and monogamy is a goal that is rarely achieved. There is a growing movement to support and legalize non conventional relationships, especially marriages between two people of the same gender. Relationships that involve more than two people or refuse to follow monogamous conventions are growing in popularity. There are websites like http://alternativestomarriage.org, that offer support to people in relationships who cannot or will not get married but intend to commit to each other.
Many of the ideals of the “traditional marriage” seem to come from a misunderstanding of the morays of the Victorian era. Men and women of the era did not marry for love as commonly as they did for social and economic reasons. Upper class women specifically were deliberately trained to be wives, not members of the workforce. It could be argued that Victorian marriage was anything but romantic as it most resembled a contract of indentured servitude. (To the Life of the Victorian Woman) Sex was a taboo subject and most women’s education on the subject came through practical experience. Many social excursions were segregated by gender, unmarried men and women were rarely allowed to spend time together unless they were chaperoned.
The morays of the Victorian period were heavily influenced by Queen Victoria and a strong response to the loose morals of the preceding generation. In Victorian America social standing based on the number of servants you employed, where you lived, and who you married; rather than lineage. Status conscious could use marriage as a way of improving their social status. The customs of the time made it difficult for couples to get to know each other in the way that is common in modern western culture. Romantic love between couples made for nice fiction but was rarely a primary factor. Status, mutual benefit for the families of the bride and groom were far more important considerations.
The monogamy of a Victorian marriage is a myth. It was widely believed that a woman had no sexual desire; however the lust of men was widely accepted. Women were expected to be virgin brides, and once married she was to accept the advances of her husband but never express any interest of her own. The happiness of her husband and the care of her children and home were what should keep a Victorian woman happy and satisfied. On the other hand “a man was expected to enter marriage having had sexual relations. … His liaisons would have been with a prostitute, paid mistress, or a servant.” (Reibstein, 1993, p. 65) Within the confines of a marriage, intercourse was either for the man’s satisfaction or procreation. “This set up encouraged men to continue their pursuits of sex outside marriage – again among lower class women” (Reibstein, 1993, p. 66)
Romantic marriages are a luxury of civilized society with a class system based on economics and not ancestry. For early human societies, marriage was an informal arrangement with the primary purpose being survival. “Today we see indiscriminate mating as immoral and crude, but it was necessary for the preservation of the species under primitive conditions. . . As long as society remained primitive, the relation between married male and female was a practical one: the family unit was a unit for physical survival.” (Lederer, 1968, pp. 26, 27) In civilized societies where lineage is the basis of inheritance virgin brides were necessary in order to ensure that the heir was legitimate. Marriage was a matter of convenience and mutual benefit, if the partners enjoyed each other’s company then they were considered fortunate, if they loved each other they were considered odd.
The crusades are a likely point of origin for the prevalence of the ideas of romantic love in western culture. Upper class women were better educated than their male counterparts; and were expected to be well versed in the arts. The crusades sent large numbers of noble men to foreign countries for years at a time. This left educated and bored noble women in charge of the estates to be entertained by traveling troubadours; resulting in poetry, art and songs based of romantic love and of course affaires. “The romantic environment was utilized during the courting of the female by the male, but after marriage the male became dominant and even tyrannical. Romantic love had nothing to do with married love.” (Lederer, 1968, p. 30)
Despite the growing prevalence of romance it still had little to do with marriage. In the 1900’s the American government began to actively encourage marriage, with the understanding that a strong and stable family led to prosperous citizens and by extension a more stable society. States encouraged marriage through social systems; pensions, housing, subsidized medical care were only available to the families of married men. In the interest of gaining benefits, the number of relationships legitimized by the law increased. (Reibstein, 1993, p. 66)
In America the women’s liberation movement changed social dynamics changed and marriage, “Until recently ideas of marriage have been marked by a double standard. In theory monogamy ruled but in practice there was an expectation that men would stray. Advice books, well into the present century, were clear on that point. Women should hope for a faithful husband but not become too upset if fell short of the ideal.” (Reibstein, 1993, p. 60) Expectations regarding marriage underwent fundamental changes; these newly liberated women could now expect and even demand mutual satisfaction in a relationship. While it was still accepted that men would not remain faithful it was no longer accepted that the woman would look the other way or automatically forgive them. Opinion surveys from 1960-1980 showed a trend of strengthening belief in monogamy, despite the growing prevalence of open marriages and the sexual revolution. (Reibstein, 1993, p. 60)
There are some who believe that modern marriage has fallen short of traditional values, women’s increased independence and working outside the home as well as social deviants like homosexuals or polygamists are considered to be the cause. Dr. Dobson, Christian talk show host and author believes that we live in immoral times and independent women take away from men’s egos. “Hardly a day passes when the traditional values of the Judeo-Christian heritage are not blatantly mocked and undermined” (Dobson, 1981, p. 101) Women who have always acted as a civilizing force are now acting for themselves and no longer acting as the moral compass for men. “A woman’s’ life combines security and independence most effectively within a framework of a conjugal system in which men’s membership of and standing within a community hang on their performance as dutiful partners and fathers.” (Dench, 2000, p. 166)
The traditional values are a myth of western culture. People look longingly to the Victorian era under the false assumption that they were able to maintain an ideal that seems unachievable by modern society. The reality is that traditional values are an ideal is unachievable on a large scale and even the much admired Victorian’s were not able to do it. If western culture were to return to older models of marriage then they would be based on convenience and mutual economic or social benefit. They would be loveless unions and romantic connections would be formed outside the marriage resulting in even lower rates of monogamy then we have now.
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