Stephanie Coontz of Evergreen State College in Olympia has a new book, "Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage,"
and she wants you to know about it. The Seattle Times helped her out, giving her a lengthy space in the Op-Ed section
recently to market her book and its ideology based beliefs about the declining importance of marriage in our society.
Coontz’s hypothesis is that the institution of marriage is of declining relevance in our society and that, instead of promoting marriage, we should get over it. This is a popular topic within the gender feminism orthodoxy because they see marriage as a patriarchal institution designed to oppress women. Their strategy is to destroy the foundations of marriage in our culture, in particular through a frontal attack on the male side of the equation, then come out with proposals to “move beyond” marriage.
Any critical reader should see that Coontz’s treatise falls on its face from the very beginning. She approaches the topic from the solipsistic perspective of the gender feminist, assuming that the only relevant factor to consider about marriage is the role played by women. Men apparently have no say in the matter and are just patriarchal brutes waiting to ensnare a woman.
Here are some examples. Starting from her hypothesis that once the idea of “love” entered the equation of marriage in the late 18th century, it was forever destabilized:
The truth is that for centuries, marriage was stable precisely because it was not expected to provide such benefits [love]. As soon as love became the driving force behind marriage, people began to demand the right to remain single if they had not found love or to divorce if they fell out of love.So, no fault divorce was just one factor in rising divorce rates, according to Coontz. The other, as you might expect, only relates to women.
Such demands were raised as early as the 1790s, which prompted conservatives to predict that love would be the death of marriage. For the next 150 years, the inherently destabilizing effects of the love revolution were checked by women's economic dependence on men, unreliable birth control, harsh legal treatment of illicit children and their mothers' social ostracism.
So, once love entered the equation, it was only women who practiced the belief that love should be the basis of marriage. But, alas, they were still dependent on men and so the “love revolution” could not yet fully blossom. This changed, however.
These restraints collapsed between 1960 and 1980. Divorce rates had long been rising in Western Europe and the United States, and although they leveled off following World War II, they climbed at an unprecedented rate in the 1970s. This led some to believe the introduction of no-fault divorce laws, which meant married couples could divorce if they simply fell out of love, had caused the erosion of marriage.
The so-called divorce revolution, however, is just one aspect of the worldwide transformation of marriage. In places where divorce and unwed motherhood are severely stigmatized, the retreat from marriage simply takes another form. In Japan and Italy, for example, women are far more likely to remain single than women in the United States. In Thailand, unmarried women now compete for the title of "Miss Spinster Thailand." Singapore's strait-laced government has resorted to sponsoring singles nights in an attempt to raise marriage rates and reverse the birth strike by women.And, as if on queue, Coontz falls back on the idea that women hold all the marriage cards, and opt out of marriage simply because they can support themselves.
The norms that traditionally penalized unwed mothers and their children have weakened or been overturned, ending centuries of injustice but further reducing marriage's role in determining the course of people's lives.
By the 1970s, women in America and most of Europe could support themselves if they needed to. The 1980s saw an international increase in unmarried mothers (paving the way for Murphy Brown), as more people gained the ability to say no to shotgun marriages, and humanitarian reforms lowered the penalties for out-of-wedlock births.After having drawn broad conclusions by looking at only half the equation - women, Coontz does get it right about one thing: ridiculous government policies to promote marriage are doomed to failure. They are more likely to discourage it than promote it.
Almost everywhere, women's greater participation in education has raised the marriage age and the incidence of non-marriage. Even in places where women's lives are still largely organized through marriage, fertility rates have been cut in half and more wives and mothers work outside the home.
It's hard to believe we could revive the primacy of marriage by promoting traditional values. People may revere marriage in the abstract, but most have adjusted to a different reality. The late Pope John Paul II was enormously respected for his teaching about sex and marriage. Yet during his tenure, premarital sex, contraception use and divorce rose in almost all countries. The Bible Belt has the United States' highest divorce rate. And although many American teens pledged abstinence during the 1990s, 88 percent broke that pledge, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Youth released in March.What Coontz and legions of other commentators on the contemporary state of marriage and heterosexual relationships seem to miss entirely, perhaps willfully, is the role that men play in the equation. They also are loath to admit that government has stepped in to attack the institution of marriage – entirely through an attack on men and fathers.
It is amazing how pundits of all types can see a declining marriage rate and automatically assume that it is entirely due to more choices available to women. The point they make with a tone that suggests, “of course, we are just stating the obvious,” is that women opt out of marriage in order to pursue a career instead. They see this despite the fact that the statistics on marriage do not support this assumption.
Take the marriage statistics in King County, for example. As of the 2000 census, 46% of men in their 30’s in King County had never been married. But, only 33% of women in the same age group in the county had never been married. Does that sound to you like women are deciding not to marry? It looks more to me like men are opting out, while more women are willing to give it a go.
It would appear that the vast majority of women are chasing a smaller and smaller percentage of men who are willing to enter into a contract in which they sign away their personal and economic liberty (and, some would say, some of their Constitutional rights). Some of the decline in marriage rates is attributable to the factors sited by Coontz, but the lack of balance in the equation is at least an equally important factor, and one that nobody wants to discuss.
Indeed, Coontz is right that our society needs to take a fresh look at marriage and families. While she makes some valid points, she fails to provide useful insight because she falls back on her feminist ideology and, naturally, ignores the choices made by men. Certainly, men are at least half of the equation, something that either just never occurred to Coontz or she chooses to ignore.
If we want to draw valid conclusions, we need to consider the role of men and the choices men make. In particular, we need an honest look at how insidious legislation such as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has raised the risks of marriage to such a high level that, in fact, it is men that are opting out.
Among the drama queen gender feminists that populate the VAWA bureaucracy, the opting out of men is a goal. But, is it for society at large and for the majority of the women who seek a partnership with a man?
If so, someone forgot to tell the millions of women in their 40’s who are flocking to on-line dating services like eHarmony and Match.com and desperately hoping to find that rare man who still believes that marriage is worth the risk of losing his economic and physical liberty. Perhaps, in addition to the fact that there are indeed fair-minded women out there, this explains the growing popularity of groups suchs as the Independent Women's Forum.
One thing is certain, though rarely mentioned: The rate of marriages in the US is not at its natural level – with or without love as the basis – because of the external influence of hostility towards half of those in the equation.
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