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Marriage a most unnatural state of affairs?

(165 Posts)
MiniTheMinx Fri 06-Jul-12 22:03:41

The monogamous family seems to me to uphold patriarchy better than any other institution. Men have for thousands of years sought to control women's reproduction as a means of controlling wealth. The most obvious way in which they have done this is through marriage.

Having read quite a lot and of course experiencing first hand the joys and the lows of monogamy, with all the emotional fall out, the sense of ownership but also support, the security but also the boredom! (at times) I question just how natural monogamy is.

Women are brought up to believe in fairy tale endings, white weddings and happy retirements, men, meanwhile we are told are naturally less inclined towards faithfulness. Their behaviour proof of biology, our faithfulness and commitment is likewise biologically driven.

I don't believe biology drives our desire for monogamous relationships and think this a materialist social construct which can be accounted for by the study of our material and economic history.

I am interested in hearing what others of you think, is marriage and monogamy an unnatural state of affairs?

MiniTheMinx Sat 07-Jul-12 10:33:45

Really interesting point vezzie A few months ago I got round to reading Huxley's Island, a place where children had an extended family group, not based on biological ties overtly. Every child had it's primary parents but also others that they could go to for support. Every child and adult had responsibilities to the land and all work was carried out to meet needs rather than the other way around. Interesting read.

I think it's so true that when we live in isolated economic units of consumption, some have more purchasing power than others, it is without doubt one of the reasons some children will never experience either a wonderful childhood or reach their full potential in life.

Himalaya, why do you think communal living might be bad for women?

GothAnneGeddes Sat 07-Jul-12 10:55:23

I think there's rather a lot of romanticising going on here and not of monogamy.

Mini - Communal living can be very bad for women because there is often hierarchy and women can be on the bottom of it, particularly if you have joined a family and are not a blood relative. Over-crowding and a lack of personal space are also huge issues.

The extended family models I've known have often featured women being treated like unpaid servants, particularly because that's the view of women in wider society.

Likewise, if children are not really taken seriously in society communal living is no better for them and they can be just as at risk of abuse.

Kibbutzem were generally agreed to be disastrous for children, so I'm not sure why people are viewing them fondly.

Dahlen Sat 07-Jul-12 11:00:47

Goth, but that's because they've still followed patriarchal values. If we're talking about what future society could look like, then we'd surely want to improve things and not replace it with an equally outdated, misogynistic way of living? Why can't we adopt some of the newer styles of communal living (which don't actually mean all living in dorms or anything), which can be very beneficial to women? People still have their own spaces, can often live in pair-bonds if they want, but the pairbond is not the economic basis on which the community is based.

GothAnneGeddes Sat 07-Jul-12 11:07:54

Dahlen - there's still issues of individual freedom and privacy.

Considering how it tends to be women who are made to compromise and give up/ limit their happiness for the benefit of others, I doubt even supposed equalitarian ideals would lead to better outcomes for women.

Full disclosure: The idea of communal living gives me the shivers. I can just about cope with 1 child, 1 husband.

Also important note: many women are living alone now, yet this is almost never praised or not condemned, either by the right or the left.

MrsHoarder Sat 07-Jul-12 11:08:15

Sometimes marriage gives the individuals more freedom. I could not have had a year off with DS, before spending another year retraining without the security of marriage as a safety net.

As for wider community and other adults children can turn to, are you advocating a system much like the one the church has of godparents? Because that's what my godparents have been for me (still are, even though I'm an adult, married and with a son). So maybe the traditional system isn't too bad as long as the adults are treated as equal partners, which is how the law now treats marriage.

solidgoldbrass Sat 07-Jul-12 11:11:54

Yep, the problem with a lot of the communal arrangements that have been set up so far is they have all pretty much been about one man (being Leader or Preacher or whatever) setting up a personal kingdom. And the women who joined them have always been seen as a resource rather than members.

I don't think that romantic heteromonogamy is inherently wrong, just that it very,very clearly doesn't work for everyone. The only thing that will work is an acceptance that people are different and want to live in a variety of ways.
IMO the ideal would be for the parents of a child to commit to the child/children as co-parents regardless of whatever romantic relationship may exist between them at the time of conception or afterwards.

But do bear in mind, anyone who wants to go on and on about the wonderful romantic commitment you share with your spouse - fine if it works for you, but this idea of the perfect couple-partnership in which each person finds all their social, emotional and sexual needs met by the other person is not only not natural by any description, but in evolutionary terms it's really, really recent. Up until about 50 years ago marriage was predominantly percieved as an economic transaction; way back it was about land and resources, then after the industrial revolution meant that nearly every man was going away from his home to work for wages at an employer's place of business, it became important that the woman was in the home taking care of domestic stuff in order to enable the man to be away from it. So the deal became that the man provided the money, the woman provided all the domestic, social, emotional, childrearing and sexual services. So women were supposed to pick a man who was solvent and hardworking, men to pick a woman with good domestic skills, who was inclined to obedience. Romantic love was widely regarded as a sort of temporary sugar-coating on the whole business.

This worked well enough for men and quite well for children too. But the problem was that it didn't benefit women - it's not good for a human being to be reduced to the status of something between a pet and a servant, with no prospect of improvement.

GothAnneGeddes Sat 07-Jul-12 11:18:03

Sgb - I agree entirely with that. Also agree that idea idea of needing someone to "complete you" is unwise, to say the least. I also dislike the holding of the romantic relationship to be more important then all others.

Mrs Hoarder - yes, I think you can make the traditional system work for you and certainly comes with built in legal protection (to an extent), which is not to be sniffed at.

Himalaya - (sorry I missed you before). I think serial monogamy is often the reality, but "til death do us part", is still the ideal.

MrsHoarder Sat 07-Jul-12 11:20:15

The reason people talk about the romantic commitment they share with their spouse is because sometimes theory clashes with what people are witnessing in the real world. And in modern Britain, marriage is not the same as the style of marriage feminists attack.

In the 1950s a married woman was considered to be the property of her husband, but after the first big feminist wave that wasn't the case, and the ideal now is for equal partnerships where both people try to help each other develop and improve. Yes women tend to be the lower earners, do more housework but that is generally the post-children shift in division of labour. Not that men are marrying for a domestic wife.

Sometimes it goes skewy, and domestic abuse is a problem, but we try to set up institutions to protect against that.

Dahlen Sat 07-Jul-12 11:30:14

Goth, you wouldn't have to live in a commune though. That's the point - that everyone could choose what they want.

Marriage can work very well. But the rate of marital breakdown and the level of abuse would suggest a lot don't, and of those left, no way are all of them happy. Empty nest couples, couples who stay together out of principle rather than desire, etc. I'd actually say happily married couples are in the minority.

Which isn't to say it isn't a perfectly valid lifestyle choice. It just shouldn't be held up as the only or ideal way to live.

Single women are only allowed to be single without children. Single mothers are demonised. And if you look at media portrayal of say Bridget Jones and eccentric old bats with cats, I'd say single women are mocked rather than hated, but not encouraged or even treated with indifference.

IAmSherlocked Sat 07-Jul-12 11:49:45

"this idea of the perfect couple-partnership in which each person finds all their social, emotional and sexual needs met by the other person is not only not natural by any description"

SGB - this is really interesting. I do find it strange that once in a relationship or married, that person is supposed to then be able to meet all your needs forever. I was on a thread on here about emotional affairs and it seemed clear that for some people, having a close friendship with someone of the opposite sex with whom you discuss things more meaningful than the weather and what's on TV, is equivalent to cheating on your partner. I found that very strange - that once you are in a relationship you are meant to eschew all other relationships of any kind with the opposite sex.

MiniTheMinx Sat 07-Jul-12 12:00:24

I don't know much about Kibbutzem, wouldn't ever have joined one because of my opposition to the state of Isreal (partly Jewish so no it's not a lazy rationale) I have read that children slept often in dorms in separate blocks with adults sharing the supervision. That simply sets up the supervision of children not as valuable socially necessary labour but as a job to be endured. Not healthy at all.

I also shudder at the idea that communal living would be in any way similar to the enforced living conditions in Russian cities under Stalin. Horrific and dehumanising, lack of privacy and autonomy and having share space with people who are not in any way disposed to each other.

Then you have cults and sects where everyone except an elite are there to work and provide service. Children are isolated to be indoctrinated with questionable ideas. Where women have in some cases been told to make themselves available sexually to all the men.

In terms of space and the built environment, of course houses are not designed to be anything other than crowded because most have been built to accommodate the nuclear family.

It seems that these modes of communal living serve men, religion and money. What if there were other models, associations of choice, where all work was valued as socially necessary, where the task of all domestic labour was visable and socialised, shared between all members, allowing women to work and persue their interests. Supporting all children equally.

exoticfruits Sat 07-Jul-12 12:17:27

The collective looking after of children didn't work and they stopped it. It has been proved that 2 parents are the best way to bring up a DC.

Lottapianos Sat 07-Jul-12 12:20:04

'IMO the ideal would be for the parents of a child to commit to the child/children as co-parents regardless of whatever romantic relationship may exist between them at the time of conception or afterwards'

Completely agree solidgoldbrass. I think the parents' relationship should be a completely separate issue to their commitment to parenting their child and that their commitment to parenting a child should be a legal commitment, rather like committing legally to a partner in marriage.

Personally I am very anti-marriage due to its sexist patriarchal history. Seeing traditions like white dresses, engagement rings and name changing continue today give me the shivers and makes me wonder why the heck, in this day and age, marriage is still seen by so many people as on the main achievements of a woman's life (the other being motherhood).

I have been with DP for 7 years and we have a much healthier, happier relationship than virtually all of the married couples we know. That's not to say that you can't be happy in marriage, but if you are, it's all to do with your relationship and how compatible you are as a couple, and not to do with some words you spoke to each other one day or the ring on your finger. IMHO! I will never marry him but would love to have a civil partnership - it's not the monogamy or the commitment that bothers me, it's the lack of equality which for me is inherent in marriage. I have no desire to be a 'wife'.

Dahlen Sat 07-Jul-12 13:20:57

exotic - The Children's Society report would disagree with you.

Dahlen Sat 07-Jul-12 13:24:27

It concluded that the most pertinent fact was the number of adults invested in caring for a child, and that it did not matter what the relationship was between those adults, the adults biological relationship with the child, nor whether they actually lived with the child. What mattered was how much contact they had with the child and what they did with it. That would rather support lots of different ways of bringing up children, including, as I said earlier, single parents with a good support network who can actually offer a much better likely outcome than an isolated nuclear family. It's time we stopped looking at 'best'. There is no such thing. There is certainly 'wrong' (e.g. abusive) but there isn't a right. There are lots.

exoticfruits Sat 07-Jul-12 13:48:58

I can't see that the children's society disagreed with me see here
Obviously it is easier if both parents live with the child. It is perfectly possible for parents to separate and put the children first-but you only have to read step parenting threads on here to know that many parents fail in the ideal-their own feelings come first. I have been a single parent and did a good job but it wasn't the same and DS definitely felt it wasn't.

Dahlen Sat 07-Jul-12 13:58:09

That page neither confirms nor denies either viewpoint. But if you read the entire research, it makes very interesting reading.

I'm glad you're happy with your own family set up but you can't possibly use it to extrapolate and make a judgement on all single parent families and how they compare to all 2-parent families. The plural of anecdote is not data.

exoticfruits Sat 07-Jul-12 14:08:08


A child's relationship with their parents is key to them having a good childhood.
Of greatest importance is a lifelong commitment to children by those adults with primary care and responsibility for their care and upbringing.
Parents and other significant adults in children’s lives need to maintain their commitment to their children and endeavour to get along in the interests of the child, even when faced with the most challenging and stressful personal circumstances – including when couples separate.
How separations are handled, how well informed and included children are about what’s going on and how much conflict they see between their parents all contribute to how secure and happy they feel at this time

Lottapianos Sat 07-Jul-12 14:13:59

My parents have been married for 30+ years . They are both narcissists and their marriage is utterly miserable, with infidelity on my dad's side. But they stayed together 'for the children', they are also Catholics and very hung up on keeping up appearances. It has meant that my siblings and I have grown up feeling fully responsible for our parents' happiness and knowing that they stayed together for us has been a huge burden to carry. I've been in therapy for the last two years and it's helping me to get my head around the situation and realise that it's not actually my fault that their relationship is so unhappy.

I am sick of hearing that marriage is the best environment in which to bring up children. Apart from my own experience, I work with parents and children every day and the healthiest families have been the ones where the adults are capable of putting the children's needs first when necessary, and where the adults communicate well with each other. IMO, the relationship between the adults really doesn't matter - it could be mum and dad, mum and nan, mum and new partner, dad and auntie, whatever. Or as another poster said, a lone parent who has a good support network of other adults around them. Marriage does not necessarily mean stability, happiness or security for anyone.

Dahlen Sat 07-Jul-12 14:26:47

Quote (which is significantly condensed from the full report):

A child's relationship with their parents is key to them having a good childhood. The Children's Society recognises and supports the wide diversity of family structures and significant relationships in which children are raised.
Of greatest importance is a lifelong commitment to children by those adults with primary care and responsibility for their care and upbringing. We recognise the change in our society and culture; policies and attitudes need to keep up with these changes.

I think the only thing that makes clear is that the people responsible for the care and upbringing of a child have an important role and that society and culture are changing and this doesn't necessarily mean two married parents.

Parent does not necessarily mean biological parent, nor does it mean a heterosexual relationship, nor does it mean living in the same dwelling as the child.

MiniTheMinx Sat 07-Jul-12 14:46:46

Unfortunately Bowlby is still very much misinterpreted too. The study of developmental psychology if you do social work, still covers Bowlby but attachment theory states that children are born to expect and seek out security from a main carer. The main carer is usually, as biology would dictate the mother but doesn't have to be. According to attachment theory the child needs a secure attachment to the main carer for approximately the first five years.

It is possible to see how a predominantly male state has taken up this idea to shackle women to the nuclear family. Single mothers are seen as a burden upon the state and it's tax payers so the only socially sanctioned choice is the nuclear family.

monsterchild Sat 07-Jul-12 15:32:13

Dahlen I agree, I think healthy families can take many different shapes, but as long as it means healthy children, then I'm not sure I care what that shape is.
i know I brought up the evolutionary biology but there's a lot more to people than that, and one of the constraints of living however you like in a healthy way is the government and cultural pressures. (I will say that stepfather step child relationship is tough)

Many more people than you may imagine live in communal groups, where I live (western US) it sometimes looks like ranches, or family compounds or just like-minded people living together. usually in their own spaces, but the houses are near (or within a wall/fence like a true compound), but have shared outdoor areas. It's not really different than a small village, except there's perhaps more harmony because people have for the most part chosen to live there rather than being born into it for generations. And there are usually fewer people.
But as Dahlen points out, the individual groupings within this community are all at the comfort level of the individuals. there may be pair bonding, or not.
And it seems to work ok, as long as the people in it are trustworthy...

exoticfruits Sat 07-Jul-12 15:54:57

It doesn't really matter who the 'parents' are, but they need to be committed to the DC from birth-for ever (or at least until they are independent) This is most easily achieved by those that are married-or in a legal arrangement that isn't that easy to get out of. Two people are better than one-they are less likely to both die together. Obviously if the birth parents are toxic it isn't a good thing, which is why it is best to have families where the other adults love your DC enough to rescue them first in a fire i.e. grandparents.
Marriage may not be perfect, but it is better than a commune where the others might not even like your DCs-never mind love them.
(You can only speak generally-there always exceptions to the rule) If, for some reason, my baby had to be adopted I would want him/her to go to a married couple-who intended to take their marriage vows seriously.

Feckbox Sat 07-Jul-12 16:01:07

"Men have for thousands of years sought to control women's reproduction as a means of controlling wealth. The most obvious way in which they have done this is through marriage. "

For a moment I thought I was back in 1974 at my sociology lectures at university.
I though this notion was absurd then and it's even more absurd now.

I know of precisely NO men to whom this applies. Control of women's reproductn as a means of controlling wealth ? In Britain today ? Are you serious?

On the other point, monogamy does not come naturally to many. Works great for many others.

MiniTheMinx Sat 07-Jul-12 16:02:12

Haven't travelled much then feck???????

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