Monday, May 25, 2009

Utter Nuttery

A wingnut, Sam Schulman, argues against same-sex marriage using the funniest language. Just read this:

The entity known as "gay marriage" only aspires to replicate a very limited, very modern, and very culture-bound version of marriage. Gay advocates have chosen wisely in this. They are replicating what we might call the "romantic marriage," a kind of marriage that is chosen, determined, and defined by the couple that enters into it. Romantic marriage is now dominant in the West and is becoming slightly more frequent in other parts of the world. But it is a luxury and even here has only existed (except among a few elites) for a couple of centuries--and in only a few countries. The fact is that marriage is part of a much larger institution, which defines the particular shape and character of marriage: the kinship system.


Consider four of the most profound effects of marriage within the kinship system.

The first is the most important: It is that marriage is concerned above all with female sexuality. The very existence of kinship depends on the protection of females from rape, degradation, and concubinage. This is why marriage between men and women has been necessary in virtually every society ever known. Marriage, whatever its particular manifestation in a particular culture or epoch, is essentially about who may and who may not have sexual access to a woman when she becomes an adult, and is also about how her adulthood--and sexual accessibility--is defined. Again, until quite recently, the woman herself had little or nothing to say about this, while her parents and the community to which they answered had total control. The guardians of a female child or young woman had a duty to protect her virginity until the time came when marriage was permitted or, more frequently, insisted upon. This may seem a grim thing for the young woman--if you think of how the teenaged Natalie Wood was not permitted to go too far with Warren Beatty in Splendor in the Grass. But the duty of virginity can seem like a privilege, even a luxury, if you contrast it with the fate of child-prostitutes in brothels around the world. No wonder that weddings tend to be regarded as religious ceremonies in almost every culture: They celebrate the completion of a difficult task for the community as a whole.

This most profound aspect of marriage--protecting and controlling the sexuality of the child-bearing sex--is its only true reason for being, and it has no equivalent in same-sex marriage. Virginity until marriage, arranged marriages, the special status of the sexuality of one partner but not the other (and her protection from the other sex)--these motivating forces for marriage do not apply to same-sex lovers.

The piece goes on like that except it gets weirder. Like this:

But virginity and chastity before marriage, license after--these are the burdens of real marriage, honored in spirit if not in letter, creating for women (women as modern as Beyoncé) the right to demand a tangible sacrifice from the men who would adore them.


Few men would ever bother to enter into a romantic heterosexual marriage--much less three, as I have done--were it not for the iron grip of necessity that falls upon us when we are unwise enough to fall in love with a woman other than our mom.

Quite wonderful! I envy the writer for whatever he's smoking. But it's time to come back to earth.

First and most importantly. Note very carefully that the piece is not about general kinship systems. It's about PATRILINEAR kinship systems. A matrilinear system wouldn't care about the identity of a woman's (voluntary) sexual partners, because all her children automatically belong to her extended family. It is the patrilinear system which has to guard the sexuality of its women so that inheritance and patrimony can be guaranteed to pass in the male line. This point is crucial. Crucial. Schulman wants to talk about a patrilinear inheritance and kinship system, not about how to protect women.

Second, the systems he so lovingly paints for us are not, in fact, intended to protect women. All those systems allow for prostitution, rape happens in all of them and in many the husband can throw away an unsatisfactory wife as if she was a snotty used tissue. Virginity before marriage does protect women in traditional societies, often from their own male relatives (think of honor killings). But its main objective is to make certain that men know who their offspring are.

Though Schulman's article mentions the phenomenon of new daughters-in-law being treated like serfs, he nevertheless implies that the alternative to traditional patrilocal marriage would be even worse for us poor women. He, for one, thinks that men would fuck anything that moves, including minor children, if the patrilinear kinship system disappeared altogether. It seems to me that if this were really true he'd insist on something stronger than traditional marriage as the corrective. Pre-emptive detention, say.

Third, note that Mr. Schulman tells us he has been married three times. The kind of kinship system he portrays (not the one I've clarified for you) would not allow this, any more than it would allow same-sex marriage. He has made a mess of his own kinship map by having married so many times. Whose relative is he now? Which young women should he protect and from whom? Divorce has a much bigger impact on his imaginary kinship system than anything same-sex marriage could cause, especially given those wild men with insatiable desires for variety.
Via Sadly, No.