10th Place: "Marriage and Mixity"
Maren Perkins of Provo, Utah
SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall 2009)
In 2008 amidst the presidential election there was another issue brewing, one that proved just as divisive as the traditional Democratic/Republican lines during an election. This issue is homosexual marriage, and it has recently come up in California, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona, Florida, and Maine. Opposing views have proven so irreconcilable primarily because of two forces: religious and human rights/discrimination discourses. From a religious standpoint some people see homosexual marriage as immoral, whereas others consider the ability to marry whomever one chooses as a fundamental human right and think that any opposition to this is discrimination. National and state constitutional bans on homosexual marriage, which are the most forceful way the state privileges heterosexual monogamous marriage, can seem very threatening because many Americans like government to stay out of what we consider personal matters, such as choosing a marriage partner. However, in this case heterosexual monogamous marriage should be privileged by the state above all other possible gender arrangements or household partnerships because it is only through this arrangement, one man and one woman committed exclusively to one another, that true gender parity can be achieved.
What is marriage? The United States defines it as a legal union between a man and a woman that allows privileges for taxes, healthcare, inheritance, and other matters of the state. Religion also adds a sense of moral and procreative responsibility to the mix. Little considered, however, is the potential marriage holds for advancing the relationship between the sexes. It must be noted here that state privileging of heterosexual monogamous marriage, as long as it is marriage in the traditional sense, does not serve to advance gender parity any more than any other arrangement and indeed can be very damaging to it. But the key point is that this is the only arrangement that allows for and provides the structure for it to be achieved; any other relationship or partnering does not allow the possibility for this advancement in gender parity. In order to understand why this is important, the questions must be asked, what is this advancement and how does it occur?
Marriage has traditionally placed a burden on women over time and space; however this essay will focus on modern marriage in the United States. This country has made efforts that have greatly advanced the position of women and they enjoy more freedom than many of their counterparts around the world, yet many forces continue to hinder the realization of gender parity in American marriages. One major influence is the devaluation of reproductive work such as bearing and raising children and managing a household. Many of us continue, whether consciously or not, to assign artificial levels of importance and responsibilities to the public and private spheres. This inevitably leads to the conclusion that the public sphere, which in a family is usually represented by an employed father, is superior to the private sphere, which is usually portrayed as a mother who is responsible for the children, cleaning, etc. This double standard is made painfully obvious by the fact that employment is meticulously recorded as a part of the US economy, while reproductive labor is not assigned any value, monetary or otherwise, in the running of the state despite the fact that it is this unpaid auxiliary force that supports the economy going by allowing the employed to focus more fully on their jobs. The responsibilities and prestige associated with each sphere can be poisonous for gender parity because these entrenched roles are hard to break and the devaluation of reproductive work is reflected in the societal devaluation of women and maternity. Besides this issue there are many more that work against parity through marriage, such as domestic violence, divorce and the devaluation of the family.
Once these barriers are overcome an improved version of marriage can be realized in which each partner values one another and the roles that they play in their relationship and their family. Sylviane Agacinski, a French feminist philosopher, wrote in her book Parity of the Sexes that “the human figure must be that of a couple, not a simple figure” (2001, 15). Neither a man nor a woman is whole without the other, and to ignore what Agacinski calls the “mixity” of humanity is to leave out one-half of it. She argues that mixity is absolutely necessary, saying, “…we are struck with terror and boredom at imagining beings so similar they understand each other immediately. It seems that, without sexual difference, differences between individuals would not suffice to render them opaque to each other. They would surely harmonize too well, and this absence of others would be a hell” (2001, 19). Thus heterosexual marriage provides the outlet to avoid this “hell”—it allows the possibility of achieving parity, not absolute equality, and thereby provides the only way for men and women to advance in their knowledge and understanding of their own and the other sex’s importance in the advancement of their relationship and in the advancement of society.
Agacinski, Sylviane. Parity of the Sexes. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.
Full Citation for This Article: Perkins, Maren (2009) "Marriage and Mixity," SquareTwo, Vol. 2 No. 3 (Fall), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticlePerkinsMarriage.html, accessed [give access date].
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