‘Marriage Changes When You Don’t Just Need A Warm Body and a Paycheck’: A Talk With Rebecca Traister
(Link): ‘Marriage Changes When You Don’t Just Need A Warm Body and a Paycheck’: A Talk With Rebecca Traister by Jia Tolentino
- After two months, my [Jia Tolentino’s] copy of Rebecca Traister’s new book is already dog-eared, wine-stained, and train-battered. All the Single Ladies is essential, careful, bold, and rigorous; it’s a warning and a celebration, and I loved it. Traister and I talked on the phone last week.
- [Rebecca Traister said]… I always hated it when my heroines [book characters] got married.
- … but I took in the message that Laura learned, and then taught us: that marriage was the end of fun.
- …one of the interesting things that’s happened coterminously with the decline in marriage rate is the rise of the wedding industrial complex and the fetishization of marriage as the signal achievement of female life.
- That’s happened even as women have been marrying less and less, and for a couple of reasons.
- One, the economic strata of women who still most consistently marry are the wealthiest women: you have a whole industry that’s built up around selling them very expensive weddings, and this industry now crosses classes. There’s a diffuse but very strong pressure to correct women’s move away from marriage by fetishizing it.
- This, in turn, is possible in part because marriage is no longer the thing that kicks off a woman’s adult life.
- As sociologists put it, marriage is now a capstone event instead. It’s the thing you do when your life is in shape, when you have the right amount of money —and particularly in middle and lower-income communities, when you know you have the right partner, and in many cases, when you already have a kid. Marriage is popularly a sign that your life is in order, which contributes to this renewed positioning of marriage as aspirational.
- [Jia Tolentino said] Right. It’s the fairytale narrative run through a late-capitalist filter. You make your money, you formalize your ambitions, and then you still get rewarded with the kiss and the ring.
- [Rebecca Traister said] Despite all this, women are still not marrying at the same rate they were. You can bombard women with messages that they should be aiming for this; that they should be doing that. But you know what? They’re still not doing it. You might be able to make them feel bad about it—but this mass behavior no longer applies.
- Pretty good proof that marriage has historically been awful for us.
- [Rebecca Traister said] And I’m not saying there won’t be a countermovement. But so far, even with all the fetishization of marriage, with all of the pressure being applied by conservative politicians claiming that the cure for poverty is marriage—women still seem to be happy to stay single for longer, even if they’re being bombarded and, in many cases, tortured by this kind of messaging.
- They still seem to be acting in what they feel to be their best interest, which is not marrying unless it makes sense to them and in their lives. And when they are marrying, they are remaking this institution into something better by acting like their lives have value outside of it.
- …The things we associate with spousal relationships are often carried out by our friends, especially on the other side of marriage, because there is another side of marriage for a lot of people—whether through divorce, separation, or death.
- …And, the other part that you were mentioning is that: yes, marriage changes if you don’t just need a warm body and a paycheck. If you can get your ownpaycheck—if you can have a baby on your own—if you can have a sex life…
- … If you can have credit, and if you can have a job that isn’t taking care of people! I cannot imagine my life without any of these things.
- The Equal Opportunity Credit Act was in 1974.
- It’s absolutely fucking insane.
- Marital rape was legal into the ‘90s! The notion was upheld, all the way into the ‘90s, that you belong to your husband, that you have no sexual rights.
- …And this gets reinterpreted—as in the blowback to the Obama “Life of Julia” ad—as women wanting a hubby state, which is true inasmuch as it’s also true that men have enjoyed a free, invisible wifey state for essentially forever.
- …It’s not fair for anybody. It’s not fair for single people that the only acceptable times to back off work and prioritize yourself are around marriage and kids; it’s not fair that women are only celebrated when they are about to devote themselves to a spouse or a family.
- [Rebecca Traister said] We need to basically reimagine our citizenry. And I know I’m making a wish list—a higher minimum wage, a more robust welfare state. None of it is immediately realistic.
- But that difficulty points to the fact that we are really dealing with a significant reorganization of the nation. Our schools, our government, our schedules, our tax breaks, our housing policy—all of it was designed with one typical unit of citizenry, which is the married unit. (Interestingly, all these things accommodated single men. People may have looked at you askance, but the world made room for you. You could still earn.)
- …Women are not going to start claiming too much. Women are just getting closer to claiming something closer to their share. What looks like overreach is simply reach.
- Any time that a woman acts in her own interest or in the interest of her gender, she is accused of selfishness. Look, even, at the language of “having it all,” which is my most loathed phrase for a million reasons, namely that it’s a cliché. But it’s a perfect example of what we’re talking about here. “Having it all” has been the default state of male life.
- But when women make any kind of move towards having a full life that has many dimensions in many different directions, it gets framed as an issue of greedy acquisition. Every move toward equality for women has always been framed as narcissism, self-interest, vanity, self-regard, piggishness.