December 4, 2008

Proposition 8: The Musical

Posted in humor, marriage, politics, queer at 11:19 pm by LB

From Funny or Die, requires no comment:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about ““Prop 8 – The Musical” starring Jack …“, posted with vodpod

See also my previous post refuting the claim that marriage has been the same since the “dawn of time.”

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November 5, 2008

Marriage…Since the “dawn of time”?!

Posted in gender roles, heteronormative, marriage, privilege at 5:17 pm by LB

Since my master’s thesis was on marriage, normative gender roles, and the production of heteronormativity, I very much enjoyed Jon Stewart’s November 3rd commentary on Proposition 8 opponents (even though my own marriage politics is of the Beyond Marriage flavor).

He comedically points out that while those who are against the legalization of same-sex marriage rely on the definition of “traditional marriage” and the way it has “always been,” their arguments, if nothing else, are short term at best.

With traditional marriage, women were property exchanged between their father and their husband, often for the sake of political power, transferring wealth, and keeping the peace. And as Stephanie Coontz points out in her book Marriage: A History, the idea of marrying for love is a fairly recent phenomenon…perhaps less than 100 years old! Love and sexual faithfulness were less important feature of marriages than were the political and economic interests that were advanced by the union. “Marriages of convenience,” at many times, were actually quite normative at some times.

The bottom line is that there is no “traditional marriage” or marriage “norm” that we can either continue with or change. The fact is, that marriage ideals have always changed with societal changes, and often with changes in technology. Marriage’s definition has always been a social construction, and has always been related to political, social, economic, gender, and racial power. Stewart’s piece demonstrates this basic, yet unacknowledged fact:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Even more, just like there is so “natural” definition and understanding of marriage–that it is a human construction that can be defined differently, the way we have organized societal obligations along the lines of marriage is also a construction, and so can be constructed differently. That we take the married family to be the social unit upon which our social assumptions are made is something that needs it change; it does not reflect the interests and realities of many Americans’ lives and their desired choices today. We have to stop foreclosing ways to organize one’s economic, reproductive, and sexual needs, as well as the way we wish to form relationships commitment other than heterosexual marriage. Just like heterosexual marriage is not what is always has been defined as, social organization does not have to be what it always has been. We can be creative in the way we organize our lives to meet our needs, if we can only decenter marriage as the central, normative, ideal set of living arrangements.

July 15, 2008

My thesis is finished

Posted in feminism, gender, heteronormative, marriage, personal, queer at 7:38 pm by LB

Well, I finally finished.  Today I submitted my Master’s Thesis.  It is now in the hands of FedEx via the US Postal Service.  I have done several posts that in one way or another relate to my project, so I thought I’d share with you the title, abstract, and Table of Contents to get an idea of what I’ve been working on:

“Engendering Heteronormativity:

A Critical Analysis of Marriage in the United States as a Discursive Site of
Cross-Institutional Practices”

Abstract

This thesis is a critique of the United States’ adherence to marriage as the primary organizing feature of both social life and civic status, which in turn perpetuates gender inequality and heteronormative structures. This thesis demonstrates how ideal American citizenship requires participating in marriage, which further maintains the gendered public/private divide. The analysis concludes that since marriage is not one institution, but rather is comprised of cross-institutional practices, it persists in producing gender hierarchy in spite of the equalization of marriage laws and economic practices in the latter half of the twentieth century. Further, the cross-institutional nature of marriage means that legalizing same-sex marriage is unlikely to fundamentally change the discursive meaning of marriage and that same-sex marriage will be subject to the same normalizing and marginalizing effect of marriage practice.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: What the Same-Sex Marriage Debate Tells Us About Normative Marriage…1

i.    Same-Sex Marriage Advocacy: “We” are Just Like “You…3
ii.    Marriage is Not a “Path to Liberation”…11
iii.    Queer Theory: Same-Sex Marriage as a Site of Regulation…17

Chapter 2: Citizenship, Marriage, and Gender in the United States…25

i.    American Political Philosophy, Citizenship, and Marriage…27
ii.    Citizenship and Marriage in Public Policy: The Cases of Native Americans and Polygamists…31
iii.    Slavery: Property Cannot Make Contracts…34
iv.    The Importance of Sexual Citizenship…37

Chapter 3: Shaping Normative Families Through Taxation and Social Welfare…45

i.    The Depression and the New Deal: Marriage Norms Through Economic Policy…46

ii.    1990s Social Welfare Reform: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program…52

Chapter 4: ‘Home Economics’ as a Means of Producing Gender…62

Conclusion: De-centering Heterosexuality and Normative Gender…82

June 10, 2008

Times article on gender, marriage and same-sex couples

Posted in economics, gender roles, heteronormative, ideology, marriage, queer, social justice at 8:42 pm by LB

via Feministe

The New York Times reported an interesting study on the relationships of married (heterosexual) and same-sex couples.

Same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility […] With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

While generalizations couldn’t be made by sex, I would be interested to see if husband and wife “types” emerge in same-sex relationships, along lines of economic providing/dependency and domestic work–especially when children are involved in the relationship. Economic necessities of families–and the government and social restrictions on how these are met–don’t go away just because the sex of the partners changes. Economic roles in families are indeed gendered, and are organized along sex-based gender role expectations. But this isn’t to say that the structuring effect of the heteronormative traditional family won’t in any way also structure same-sex marriages.

I’d be interested in reading the study itself, because, notably, the above quote was the only comment made about income and domestic work…and it was with reference to heterosexual couples only. There was nothing reported in the Times about the of division of labor and employment in same-sex couples, and nothing about how things change when children are involved. Some studies have shown that egalitarianism in heterosexual couples tends to go out the window once children are born. The article was really more about conflict resolution and less about economic relations in the family, which I think misses a very important aspect of family constitution. Read the rest of this entry »

May 5, 2008

Loving, of Loving v. Virginia dies

Posted in marriage, news at 4:48 pm by LB

Mildred Loving, whose court battle resulted in making interracial marriage legal has died.

From her statement, made a year ago on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision:

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Via Alas, a Blog

RIP, Mildred Loving.

(Cross-posted to The Reaction)

April 16, 2008

What’s wrong with this article? Marriage and Taxes, part 2

Posted in economics, gender, gender roles, heteronormative, ideology, marriage, patriarchy, social justice, U.S. politics at 2:14 am by LB

Especially in light of my critique of ‘marriage’-centric social organization, check out this article from CNN.com:

Study: Single parents cost taxpayers $112 billion”:

Divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing cost U.S. taxpayers more than $112 billion a year, according to a study commissioned by four groups advocating more government action to bolster marriages.

hmm…what’s wrong with this so far? (hint: it’s something to do with the premise of the article)

Ok, I’ll tell you.

  1. It implies that divorcees and parents who are unmarried are not ‘taxpayers.’
  2. Thus, it positions those not divorced or single parents–married people, single people (aka not-yet married), and married parents–as the ‘ideal taxpayer-citizen’

And that’s just the first paragraph.

Next:

Sponsors say the study is the first of its kind and hope it will prompt lawmakers to invest more money in programs aimed at strengthening marriages.

Could it possibly be that our social and economic structures heavily favor married parenting, and that’s what needs to be investigated, rather than ‘strengthening marriage’??

Two experts not connected to the study said such programs are of dubious merit and suggested that other investments — notably job creation — would be more effective in aiding all types of needy families.

…which is good, especially since I heard on NPR recently (I can’t find the show reference! aah!) that divorce and income are correlated (and ya know, ‘the sanctity of marriage’ etc. is of utmost important to preserving ‘traditional’ –read: patriarchal capitalist –values).

There’s more:

Scafidi’s calculations were based on the assumption that households headed by a single female have relatively high poverty rates, leading to higher spending on welfare, health care, criminal justice and education for those raised in the disadvantaged homes.

Right, because there’s a natural connection between single mothering and poverty, apparently, so we need to fix the ‘single mothering’ rather than, say, the ‘feminization of poverty’ or the socio-economic structure that perpetuates single-parent (mother) poverty.

See, there’s two problems here with our socio-economic structure:

  1. The assumption of two parents present and sharing a home. The model used to be male breadwinner/female domestic servant. Now, women are ‘allowed’ to have economic independence but continue to bear the homemaking burden.
  2. Women are paid less money, plain and simple.

So in a single-parent family where that single parent is a woman, she’s doubly screwed economically.

At the end of the day, the article–along with the study and those who commissioned it–assumes the natural and neutral center of American life (ought) to be marriage and specifically, married-parenting. Further, they conclude that we should tell people how they should structure their networks of association in their life because it would cost less in government expenditures and because they are deviating from some sort of arbitrary ‘normal’. Sure marriage is the norm in American society; that doesn’t make it natural. It’s still an arbitrary primary structure of social relations.

Sure sounds like life, liberty, and all that jazz to me!

cross-posted to The Reaction

see my part 1 here

April 15, 2008

Thoughts on the Tyrrany of Marriage at Tax Time

Posted in economics, heteronormative, marriage, queer, social justice, U.S. politics at 8:50 am by LB

I’ve seen a few articles over the last few days about taxes and inequality for lesbian and gay couples, due to the inability to get married, as well as straight couples who aren’t married. Mostly, they are addressing the economic inequality faced by cohabitating queer couples who are legally unable to marry (in 49/50 states). Also, any tax allowances made for couples in civil unions at the state level don’t apply to federal taxation.

I thought I would take this opportunity, then, to give a mention to what many times is overlooked in the Andrew Sullivan version of same-sex marriage advocacy (see his Virtually Normal): that economic dependencies and living arrangements are not internal to intimate relationships. In other words, just because the majority of economic relationships are intimate ones as well does not mean they have to be, and does not mean they are necessarily correlated conceptually. The way our social, economic, and legal policies have shaped the meaning of intimate and economic life informs the way that we think about structuring life. Take away those institutional expectations and rewards, and new possibilities are opened up for organizing the fulfillment of a variety of needs– and perhaps in more productive ways.

In full disclosure, my Master’s thesis involves gender norms as they are produced in marriage and through the interconnection of marriage, economics, legal decisions, liberal political theory of the founders, and citizenship, so my thoughts are referring to a body of research that cannot in any way be meaningfully replicated here.

I simply pose a few questions to chew on:

  • Why do we assume intimate relationships must also involve economic dependencies and domesticity? Or rather, that if they don’t, they are less socially valuable, are less fundamental to society than those who do.
  • Why do we assume that the skills and qualities of an intimate couple are what makes the best or proper parents? This is especially relevant when oftentimes it is friendships, not intimate relationships, that end up being the life-long ones.
  • What is marriage a (presumed) life-long relationship, characterized by economic dependency/support, cohabitation, emotional reliance, sexual fulfillment, and potential parenting partnership? Why do we assume that one person should be responsible to fulfill all these needs? And that we should assign civic identities and rights based on the collapse of these relationships into one?
  • In what ways does the emphasis on marriage and coupling, especially in the same-sex marriage rights movement, neglect and further marginalize those who espouse other arrangements than the life relationships collapsed into one?
  • Does the emphasis on same-sex marriage in LGBTQ advocacy render even more invisible and produce second-class citizens of queer folks who do not replicate heterosexual relationship norms of marriage/domestic partnerships?
  • Finally, what is the function of marriage as a civic identity?

This last one is actually the question my thesis addresses, and it is a complex one. But thinking about it, and the other questions I pose, should make us question why our society rewards structuring both “private” and “public” spheres of life in terms of marriage and coupling and their affiliated expectations.

Sure, same-sex couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples. That’s not where my argument is centered. I’m just not convinced that so many rights should be allocated based on intimate coupling, and the assumptions that go along with it (see bullet #3). I personally advocate that civic identity should not be premised on intimate relationships or on the way one structures one’s relational life. I see a value in affording certain benefits for those who are in economic dependencies, but that those dependencies should be unrelated to intimate life.

Further, we can begin to think about the other possibilities for living than the only one provided to us when we shake the assumption that marital coupling is and should be the center of social organization. Hell, it may even allow us to think of ways to resist consumerism, financial strains, the emotional stresses of work-family balances. Sustainable living and embracing the Slow Movement become more practical and plausible ways to live. The dirty commie idea of communal living or intentional communities as a shared approach to solving certain daily needs can be more commonplace. But this is a threat to aggressive capitalism by solving problems and meeting needs outside of the capitalist marketplace and reducing consumption. This too, of course, threatens the tax base by creating fewer discreet households by redefining ‘household’. Shaking the emphasis on the individualistic and atomistic ideal of marriage and coupling as the ultimate conflation of relationship needs can indeed challenge ‘rugged individualism’ that has harmed values of community and shared responsibility. Indeed, for me, challenging the place of marriage as the civic identity par excellance is deeply politically progressive.

Thus, I argue that aggressively advocating (same-sex) marriage (or alternatively offering rights to “marriage like” relationships) tends to imply that the marriage-based structure of rights and privileges is just fine “as is” (and I’m not even going to broach the gender normativity still (re)produced in marriage). Instead, I’d like to advocate for different solutions, beyond marriage.

recommended reading: Michael Warner’s Trouble With Normal (on my amazon recommendations)

cross-posted to The Reaction

see my part 2 here