Monday, January 22, 2007


I like being married. It's cool. It's hard sometimes, but it is infinitely less depressing than the asisine game-playing of single dating life that other people seem to find exhilarating but which sickened me well before I met Justin at the age of 27.

The New York Times had a chirpy article which you probably can't read for free anymore about how 51% of women over the age of 15 (yeah, that's a bit young to count) are now unmarried, including interviews with chirpy swinging single New York females who are happy to be free of the shackles of matrimony. Which is fine, if they're happy that way.

But the Columbia Journalism Review Daily took exception:

...America is not a monolith. As much as we would like to persist in thinking that we are a classless and race-blind society, the Times, of all papers -- having run groundbreaking series on both race and class -- should realize that a phenomenon that might bode well for middle-class white women might be absolutely disastrous for poor black women.

Apparently, though, we are the only ones to see it like this. Because apart from a tossed-off paragraph that reminds us that, buried within these statistics, seventy percent of African-American women are single, there is nothing to indicate how the epidemic of single parentage in the black community contributes to this statistic. We imagine -- though aren't told -- that many of these women are raising children alone and being dragged deeper into poverty because of their unmarried status.

How un-chirpy. But true. (And not just for black women, of course, but for women of all races who don't have a swanky loft in the East Village.)

It seems like there are only two ways to talk about marriage: 1. as the bedrock of traditional mores that every adult who is not a priest or hideously unattractive should partake of, heterosexually, or 2. a somewhat antiquated institution of at best neutral moral value that is fine if it makes you happy but doesn't bear any relationship to the good of society at large. Are those the only alternatives? Isn't it possible to encourage marriage as generally beneficial to individuals, their children, and society at large without imposing gender inequality or heteronormativity?

And does the fact that 51% of women are now single have anything to do with men? Should they be glad we don't expect as much from them, or should they be concerned that society's expectations of them are lower? Should we even care what they think?

I don't mean to suggest that marriage is necessary for people to have happy relationships or healthy families (I know plenty of exceptions), but it seems like, no matter what the trend is, women get the raw end of the deal and often don't even realize it. That there are a number of educated, upper-middle-class, happily unmarried women does nothing for the many single women who barely get by and have no one else to provide for themselves and their families. Who do you think is suffering more from this trend toward singleness, men or women? Surely it's not men as much as women and their children?

(That was the first thing I've gotten worked up about in a while. I've been taking a break from blogs, mostly.)


Laura said...

Very good points, Juliet. I've been thinking about marriage recently too (because I was asked twice on a recent interview trip whether I was married -- doesn't the lack of ring denote anything these days?). I love your (dare I say?) feminist hermeneutic of suspicion here. :-)

benmc said...

How about 3.) Paul in chapter 7 of his first letter to Corinth? Although it doesn't answer your questions, it's an approach that neither sanctifies nor mandates marriage but doesn't scorn it either.

Madame M said...

Not to mention what not being married is doing to the FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLDS.

The NY times is so weird sometimes.

Great post!

Justin said...

1) I wouldn't be so sure that this trend is good for men - marriage makes us live longer, probably because women (present company excepted :) try to keep toxic substances away from our hands/mouths, gently advise us not to try Evil Kineval (sp.?) stunts, etc.

2) If the NYT paid much attention to class ... it wouldn't get the ads it did. It'd be the Daily Worker. Race, and even better "lifestyle" politics, is safer for them.