Can Marriage Be Saved?
I JOKILY PREDICTED on a heated David Susskind show in 1971 that marriage would "wither away like the state." Seconds earlier the popular and utterly infuriating TV host had accused me of calling marriage a form of slavery. No, no, no. Other feminists, specifically Sheila Cronan and Ti-Grace Atkinson, had equated marriage with slavery, not I; but there was no way I could convince Susskind, who was wagging his finger, consulting his notes, insisting, "Yes, you did."
Trapped in a surreal television moment with a live studio audience, I had a little fun with Marxist theory and Mr. Susskind. Please understand that I was referencing Engels (Anti-Dühring, 1878), where the wither-away phrase regarding the eventual role of state power first appeared. (The notion that the state would wither after the advent of true socialism was elaborated on by Lenin in The State and Revolution, 1917.)
At the time I did not believe that either marriage or state was about to go into a fading act. Neither, quite frankly, did I expect to witness such a strong resurgence of these problematic institutions. Yet here we are today, living in an era when the vested interests in "state" and "marriage" are stronger than ever. These historically related phenomena and passionate conflicts are nothing to celebrate, in my estimation.
Heterosexual feminists of the 1970s had many differing opinions about marriage, whether it needed to be monogamous, whether it needed to be legalized by the state, but we basically agreed that the gut issue was equality--that is, childcare and housework had to be equally divided. We talked more about divorce, alimony, custody, child support and domestic violence than we did about sanctified union. No one I knew in that dress-down, bluejeans era ever dreamed of a wedding gown. No one I knew even wore a skirt. Romance and love? Hmmm, juicy subjects for analytical treatises on subtle but pervasive forms of oppression.
Who could have predicted today's turn of events? Who could have predicted a gay-rights lobbying group called the Log Cabin Republicans?
A few of my friends decided to marry after the feminist movement, uh, withered. I didn't, probably less from conviction than from lack of opportunity, I imagine. Marriage was never one of my front-burner concerns.
Same-sex marriage boils down to property and inheritance rights, or, to use the current relevant terms, to medical benefits and Social Security. No problem there. When it veers into soppy sentiment about the state's affirmation of love and a lasting union, I think about prenuptial agreements, divorce rates and deadbeat dads.
Susan Brownmiller, best known for Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975), has just completed a comic novel.