November 5, 2008
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:
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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.
September 26, 2008
I just heard on CNN that Louisiana’s Rep. John LaBruzzo (R) is looking into a plan to pay poor women to have their tubes tied. This is based on his concern that poor people reproduce at a higher rate than more economically privileged people do, who pay more in taxes. Folks, this is his guess–he has no data to this effect. Mark Waller from The Times-Picayune reports on nola.com that “He said he is gathering statistics now.”
Hmmm…so instead of looking at the actual range of factors that affect poverty and aiming to solve those, he’s going to racistly assume that it’s because they’re voluntarily having “too many” children “they can’t afford,” and if they can’t afford them, we should encourage, not free contraception and education, but sterilization, so he’s then going to try to find data to support this?
It also could include tax incentives for college-educated, higher-income people to have more children, he said.
Now we’re at the meat-and-potatoes. It’s not really about “helping” people to avoid welfare (as if having kids is the prime reason people are on welfare in the first place), but also ensuring that the “right” kind of people reproduce–those who are wealthy and educated.
The idea here is that poor citizens receive social welfare and therefore do not have the “right” to have families. This is bullshit in and of itself. On top of that, LaBruzzo is essentially hoping for the “extinction” of the poor on account of his faulty logic that that would reduce or eliminate poverty, as if poverty were a function of people, not of societies and economic systems. Even more, well-educated, wealthier people should have even more children to make more educated, wealthy people! Who knew economic privilege was genetic!
OK, I know he’s not saying that. But if he really thought about the implications of poverty begetting poverty, he might realize that helping people out of poverty is not at all accomplished by telling them not to have children (and since when should we coerce the poor with money to do invasive, irreversible, medical procedures on their bodies?–and for the record, he’s sure not suggesting that we pay for or demand that poor women have abortions), but to help change the environmental circumstances and social structures that perpetuate economic inequality.
And never mind that the rhetoric that children and families are the “foundation” of our society that justifies a slew of tax advantages given to middle and upper class families. Forget the college tuition credits given, and deductions for homeowners’ mortgages that partially subsidize the middle-class American life. The right consistently talks about tax breaks to help families out, but those breaks are for people who owe taxes to begin with: they are tax breaks for the middle class, not the poor. But folks like Rep. LaBruzzo seem appalled that folks on welfare would dare to be free citizens and have children, who allegedly are the reason for their poverty. Meanwhile, middle and upper class families benefit from their own share of social welfare in the form of tax deductions and government-guaranteed education (as well as partially taxpayer-funded state universities), and this welfare is completely invisible to them. I don’t have kids and I am forced, through taxation, to pay for the education of other people’s children.
In one way or another, aren’t most of us social welfare recipients?
July 23, 2008
You know, I’m really starting to get sick of all the “news” stories about rising gas prices and how that’s affecting family summer vacations. Several times a week I hear, read, or see some sort of report about how people are “coping” with having to cancel vacations and instead are creating their travel experience at home (i.e. having a luau in your backyard because you can’t afford to go to Hawaii). There’s even a cute name for them: Stay-cations.
This is by and large the hot gas-related story of the summer. The gist of the story? Woe is me, gas is so expensive that we can’t afford to take our family vacation, we’re sooo stressed out over it, we’re handling this stressful and tragic situation the best we can by having a pretend glamorous vacation at home.
Ahem, privilege, anyone? Honestly, I really don’t feel all that bad for the families who are so economically privileged that they can actually afford to take off of work (or are privileged enough to have paid vacation time) and can go on a family vacation. Why should I?
I’d say I was solid lower-middle to middle class growing up. We went on a vacation every year: a week at my grandparents’ condo in the Southern Tier of New York, less than 3 hours from home. Why? Because it was free. A few summers we didn’t go; those years we visited my aunts, uncles, and cousins in New England. Besides the travel costs of my parents’ station wagon? Also, for the most part, free.
We never went on what you might call a family vacation. And up until now, I didn’t realize that going on some wonderful elaborate trip was some sort of innate American right such that we ought to spend valuable news time lamenting that middle class families this year can’t afford to drive halfway across the country and stay in a resort for a week. Heaven forbid for a summer you actually spend that week doing activities–gasp!–in your own general region. Or that you might now have to vacation–shock!–every other summer. Or, that you–horror!–spend time socializing with friends and neighbors. In an age where we hardly know our neighbors, and where most people are unfamiliar with the gems and resources in their own town, is it really all that huge a loss that the privileged Americans have a Staycation?
Why are middle and upper-middle class families and their precious Disney vacations the face of the rising cost of gasoline and not the working class families who lived month to month as it was before the exponential price increases…who maybe have to skimp on food or medical services, and for whom a Myrtle Beach trip isn’t even on their radar? Instead of moping about being stuck at home, maybe some of these families should spend part of their summer volunteering for charities who help those who will only ever hear about DisneyWorld in the stories told by other more fortunate kids.