MARRIAGE, A HISTORY: HOW LOVE CONQUERED MARRIAGE
This book discusses the evolution and influence that marriage has had on modern society and how marriage has been changed by the concept of “love-based marriage.”
In the earliest days of humanity:
People shared their food, many people contributed to the raising of children and children had a communal upbringing, as opposed to the nuclear family upbringing. Notably, people hunted in large groups to get the game so both able-bodied men and women would participate in these hunts because you needed large groups of people to drive large game over cliffs etc. so they could be killed and eaten. However, when humanity adapted and hunting technology improved, fewer people were needed to hunt and hunting became more focused on speed and upper body strength. So the hunting group became smaller and societies became more clannish and the idea of individualized property developed and thus did marriage.
Men needed a wife to design cooking utensils and maintain the food supply through gathering. So, sexism also developed once marriage developed.
Once societies became more advanced and early human empires developed, like Egypt and Rome, marriage become politicized. In Ancient Egypt, it wasn’t uncommon for fathers, who wished to conquer other nations, to force the conquered kings or princes to marry their daughters. These marriages served to form of political domination over the conquered nation.
“When a powerful ruler sent his daughter to be the primary wife of a lesser king or prince, he expected that she would represent his interests in her new husband’s household” p. 58
Some of the conquered kings or princes resented these arranged marriages by their conquerors and did everything in their power to avoid their wives.
The notable story of Anthony and Cleopatra was really about the politics of marriage, not love. (see page 62-63)
“The triumvirate set up to rule Rome after Caesar’s murder was unstable and riven with the rivalry between two of its members, Mark Antony and Octavian, Caesar’s designated successor…The existence of a biological son in Egypt, acknowledged by Caesar himself, was a major worry for Octavian and an intriguing opportunity for Octavian’s foes…Initially, Cleopatra did not take sides in the escalating rivalry between Octavian and Mark Antony…[however] within a year, Cleopatra bore Mark Antony twins…the same year his twins were born, 40 B.C., he and Octavian made up their differences. Antony took responsibility for the Eastern part of the Roman Empire and sealed the deal by marrying Octavian’s sister, Octavia…But Marc Antony did not repudiate his relationship with Cleopatra…Eight years after marrying Octavia, he formally notified her of his intention to divorce her and committ to [Cleopatra]…By this time, Marc Antony was championing Cesarion, son of Cleopatra and Caesar as the rightful ruler of Rome…[Because Cesarion was still young to be ruler]…Antony offered to hold his place at the protector of Caesar’s bloodline.” (p.63)
Other notable examples of political marriage include that of Queen Tiye (a commoner) and Amenhotep III. Amenhotep married this commoner to protect his power from foreign rulers queens.
For generations, both aristocrats and commoners married to build wealth, gain property, gain influential in-laws, consolidate power and enhance their standard of living. In fact, it was considered strange and even a liability for couples to marry for “love” because above all marriage served the purpose of advancing the station of the society or family. Some families even sought to maintain their wealth and power by only marrying cousins, so that no rival families could claim their wealth or power.
Marriage was so politicized that the Catholic church stepped in a forbid cousin marriages, even between eighth cousins. Thus, some of the earliest incest laws were developed.
This is how marriage functioned for years and years. First and foremost, marriage was a way to gain wealth, in-laws, power and survive. It was not about love. Loyalty and love between spouses was not valued. First and foremost loyalty was to your birth family, parents and siblings.
It wasn’t until the 18th century that the idea of love-marriage became popularized. In the 1700s, many younger people went through a period of apprenticeships and then once they completed them, they were able to marry someone of their choice (so long as it conformed to societal expectations of what constitutes a suitable choice) and then they would set up their households. Thus, in the 18th century, people actually married later than those in the 19th century and even the mid-20th century.
In the 18th century, you began to see a lot of literature about love-based marriages, such as Noel Clarissa (1748) and Charlotte Temple (1791) [p.158].
In the 19th century, the idea of female purity was heavily promoted. White women were expected to be chaste and pure, think of the cult of domesticity. In fact, white women were said to be completely asexual. It was considered desirable for a woman to not want sex at all. In contrast, because many African-American women were enslaved and often faced rape and exploitation, they were viewed as not ideal. Thus the systemic injustice that Black and lower-economic women faced was blamed, not on racism or discrimination, but on lack of female purity.
Policies, which limited women’s right to earn their own money and own property put women in a position of dependence on men, so many women had to marry out of necessity.
When the Industrial Revolution occurred, the idea of the male-breadwinner marriage developed. Men would go to work and [white] women would stay home. Then, in the 20th century, marriage became even more love-based and idealized. After WWII, the economy was booming and [white] men earned enough to be the sole breadwinners, while the[white] wife stayed home. People also married young, younger than in the 18th century, in the post-WWII era. So, from the late 1940s to early 1960s, you have the epitome of the male-breadwinner, nuclear family (Coontz). Today many people regard the 1950s marriage model as the ideal marriage, but the reality is that this short period of marriage was more of an anomaly than the norm (Coontz). Thus Coontz, argues that there wasn’t truly a golden age of “good old days” of marriage (Coontz).
In the 1970s-1980s, you had more women join the workforce and divorce increased because prior to this era, no-fault divorce was very uncommon because religious and judicial leaders did not allow for easy no-fault divorce. Today, marrying for anything other than love is considered weird and people divorce more often. Women have more opportunities to work outside the house, own their own homes, so there is more opportunity for many women [or men] to choose not to marry at all. However, in some cultures and countries, women still have to marry as a means of survival (Coontz).
- People married later in the 17th century than in the 1950s.
- The first vibrator was invented in the 19th century, which was the height of the sexual purity movement, to treat women for hysteria. (See p. 190)
- Marriage was used as a tool of eugenics (see p. 213).
- Abortion and gay marriage were not as frowned upon in Ancient times as you would have thought and male affection, such as sharing a bed, in the 19th century wasn’t frowned upon. (See p. 185)
- The largest single and most successful act of welfare occurred after WWII and it went to white men veterans, Black men weren’t included. (See p. 219/223).
- Poor economic conditions and discrimination contribute to lower marriage rates for low-income, African-American women. Coontz noted that African-Americans are more likely to disapprove of cohabitation, but are often blamed for not valuing marriage and having a high out of wedlock birth rate. I know this is a stereotype we have all heard. This is what Coontz writes, “Sociologist Frank Frustenberg has been following a group of economically disadvantaged women in Baltimore, mostly African-American who became pregnant as unwed teens in the 1960s. Most of these women married the fathers of their children. But 80 percent of those marriages broke down before the children reached age 18…By the 1980s few [women of that generation] married the fathers of their children. One reason they did not marry was that they thought that their boyfriends would not be able to support a family in touch economic times of the 1980s. Many also said their mothers’ experiences had convinced them that being a single mother was preferable to entering an unstable marriage.” (Coontz, 269-271). (See pages 269, 286-290).
- Female lawyers are less likely to marry (p.285).
- “Traditional-minded women” are less likely to marry, but their marriages are more likely to last when they do marry (p. 297).
- Conclusion: one- size policies to encourage marriage, like the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, do not help. (see p. 292). Solutions should incorporate flexible options.
- Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell is a 19th-century novel that focuses on love-based marriage.
Source: Marriage, A History of How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz