Marriage belongs on the junk heap
September 19, 2006
Marriage belongs on the junk heap of human folly says Laura Kipnis. Finally a book lambasting marriage is out and written by a woman! Laura Kipnis has written a brilliant book, Hopefully men everywhere will read this.
The article from MSN’s Slate, in a piece titled “Beware the marriage trap” Meghan O’Rourke looks at the book, Against Love: A Polemic, by Laura Kipnis. The book’s message says, “matrimony is equal-opportunity oppressor.”
“Marriage, she suggests, belongs on the junk heap of human folly. It is an equal-opportunity oppressor, trapping men and women in a life of drudgery, emotional anesthesia, and a tug-of-war struggle to balance vastly different needs.
O’Rourke says THE NUMBERS seem to back up her thesis: Modern marriage doesn’t work for the majority of people. The [tag]rate of divorce[/tag] has roughly doubled since the 1960s. Half of all marriages end in divorce. And as sketchy as poll data can be, a recent Rutgers University poll found that only 38 percent of married couples describe themselves as happy.”
Kipnis’ poses the essential question, why do Americans keep getting married? Why, in what seems like an age of great social freedom, would anyone willingly consent to a life of constricting monogamy?
O’Rourke states that Kipnis’ answer is that marriage is an insidious social construct, harnessed by capitalism to get us to have kids and work harder to support them.
O’Rourke believes Kipnis is dead-on about the everyday exhaustion a relationship can produce. And Kipnis has diagnosed something interesting about the public discourse of marriage. People are more than happy to talk about how unhappy their individual marriages are, but public discussion assumes that in each case there is something wrong with the marriage — not marriage itself.
Kipnis argues, our social decisions need to start reflecting the reality of declining marriage rates — not the fairy-tale “happily ever after all” version.
Even in a post-feminist age of loose social mores we are still encouraged, from the time we are children, to think of marriage as the proper goal of a well-lived life.
Kipnis’ suggests Marriage could be a form of renewable contract.
While Kipnis usefully challenges our assumptions about commitment, it’s not evident that we’d be better off in the lust-happy world she envisions, or that men and women really want the exact same s****l freedoms. O’Rourke drawing inspiration from Kipnis adds in its ideal form, marriage seems to reify all that’s best about human exchange. Most people don’t want to be alone at home with a cat, and everyone but Kipnis worries about the effects of divorce on children. “Work,” in her lexicon, is always the drudgery of self-denial, not the challenge of extending yourself beyond what you knew you could do. But we usually mean two things when we say “work”: The slog we endure purely to put food on the table, and the kind we do because we like it — are drawn to it, even.
O’Rourke surmises that while it’s certainly true that people stay in an unhappy relationship longer than they should, it’s not yet clear that monogamy is more “unnatural” than sleeping around but finding that the hum of your refrigerator is your most constant companion. And Kipnis spends scant time thinking about the fact that marriage is a hardy social institution several thousand years old, spanning many cultures — which calls into question, to say the least, whether its presence in our lives today has mostly to do with the insidious chokehold capitalism has on us.
O’Rourke is amused by Kipnis’ exaggerated polemic romp, O’Rourke says it is wittily invigorating, it may not actually be as radical as it promises to be: These days, even sitcoms reflect Kipnis’ way of thinking. There’s an old episode of Seinfeld in which Jerry and Kramer anticipate most of Kipnis’ critique of domesticity; Kramer asks Jerry if he and his girlfriend are thinking about marriage and family, and then cuts him off: “They’re prisons! Man-made prisons! You’re doin’ time! You get up in the morning — she’s there. You go to sleep at night — she’s there. It’s like you gotta ask permission to, to use the bathroom: Is it all right if I use the bathroom now?” Still, love might indeed get a better name if we were as attentive to the intellectual dishonesties of the public debate over its failings as we are to the emotional dishonesties of adulterers.