The Evolution Of The Wife: How The Image Of A Woman In Marriage Is Changing

A life 2023

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The Evolution Of The Wife: How The Image Of A Woman In Marriage Is Changing
The Evolution Of The Wife: How The Image Of A Woman In Marriage Is Changing
Video: The Evolution Of The Wife: How The Image Of A Woman In Marriage Is Changing
Video: Steve Harvey - Should a wife take her husband's last name? 2023, February
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Reflecting on what a modern successful woman looks like, most likely, we will imagine one who has achieved great heights in her career - or at least successfully combines work with raising children. The idea of ​​perceiving a woman primarily as someone's wife, even if she is in a happy marriage, seems at least out of date, if not overtly sexist - it refers more to The Handmaid's Tale than to the current state of affairs.

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Alexandra Savina

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Marriage today bears little resemblance to what it was a hundred or even fifty years ago, but it still seems like a patriarchal institution. In addition, the rapidly losing popularity - according to Rosstat, in 2018, 917 thousand marriages were registered in Russia, or 6.2 marriages for every thousand residents of Russia. This is the lowest figure since the turn of the century - the marriage rate (that is, the number of marriages per thousand population) last dropped to 6.2 in 2000. Of course, explaining everything just by changing the attitude towards marriage will not work. Not the least role, according to experts, is played, for example, by the demographic hole: today, including small generations born in the nineties, are getting married. But it is also impossible to discount the fact that attitudes towards marriage are changing: today more and more women are thinking that creating a family is far from an essential element for happiness.

The modern Western idea of ​​marriage as an equal partnership of two loving people appeared relatively recently. Throughout history, marriage has been a way to achieve a variety of practical goals, primarily financial and strategic. Romantic love could become a pleasant bonus in him, but not the main task - until the end of the eighteenth century, when the creation of a family was finally combined with strong feelings.

Many marriage traditions maintain a sense of uneven distribution of power. For example, many are still waiting for the wife to take her husband's surname.

At the same time, the idea of ​​inequality is largely embedded in the marriage traditions themselves. Women throughout history have been economically and legally dependent on husbands. American women, for example, could not own property until the middle of the nineteenth century, and their incomes belonged to their husbands. In some countries, strict control over what the wife does is still found today - although, fortunately, less often. In the same USA, people with different skin colors were allowed to marry only in 1967, and homosexual marriages - in 2015. In Russia, as in many countries, marriage remains a heterosexual and mono-normative institution - only couples (which excludes, for example, polyamorous unions) and only heterosexuals have access to it and to all the opportunities it opens up. It is not surprising that the institution of marriage is associated with hierarchy: not everyone is given the opportunity to overcome the barriers on the way to it.

Even today, when spouses are independent of each other, and financial issues can be resolved through a contract if desired, many marriage traditions maintain a sense of uneven distribution of power. For example, many still expect that it is the wife who should take her husband's surname - men who do this are still a rarity. The latter are not always guided by feminist considerations - they can take someone else's surname, for example, because it just sounds better.

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For a long time, the only possible option to negotiate a marriage was a man's proposal. Women in some countries, like the USA or Ireland, were allowed to take matters into their own hands only in a leap year, often only on February 29. Catherine Parkin, an associate professor of history at Temple University, insists that such a tradition only perpetuated gender norms, rather than disrupting them, as one might think.Although in a leap year such a violation of the order did not cause indignation, the tradition itself often became a reason for jokes - supposedly desperate women could threaten the independence of men. Other popular traditions - to kneel down and give the bride a diamond ring - appeared relatively recently: the first - around the nineteenth century, the second - in the middle of the last century, thanks to a huge advertising campaign. Both are still popular and are equally associated with the male initiative.

In the twentieth century, society finally became interested in what happens to women in marriage - and how happy they are in the traditional model. The most famous criticism of the idea of ​​a patriarchal wife is Betty Friedan's 1963 book The Mystery of Femininity by Betty Friedan. Friedan debunks the myth of the happy 1950s housewife, which many still consider to be the ideal. The feminist insists that women who abandoned education and careers to take care of the family are not at all as happy as they would like to believe society - just the role of wife and mother is not enough for them.

Of course, today not everyone is looking for a “decoration” and a housekeeper in their wife. But many still do not see the point in marriage, even if they are far from the first year

in a happy relationship

Friedan has been accused of primarily focusing on white middle-class women - African-American women in the fifties and sixties who work to support their families and face other difficulties. Nevertheless, it was not only she who spoke about the need to reconsider the position of women in marriage. A number of Western feminists since the eighties, for example, advocated replacing marriage with a contract - so that partners (not necessarily two) could change the conditions for themselves, in accordance with their needs and desires, without obeying established norms.

On the Internet, you can find The Good Wife's Guide, an instruction allegedly printed in the fifties on how a wife should behave when she meets her husband at home after a day's work. In addition to cleaning and a hot dinner, the guide invites the woman to prepare herself and the children (so that everyone looks happy and rested), not to complain and remember that the topics that the husband wants to talk about are more important than her own. The guide is most likely a fake (even Wikipedia doubts its authenticity), but similar ideas are still alive today. There are hundreds of texts on the Web about how an ideal wife should behave - in one of them, for example, 25 points, from self-confidence and the ability to cook to love for someone else's dog. “We drove for several hours to a camping point on the California coast, near the Oregon border. Like a complete fool, I didn't book a place and the campsite was full. She suggested simply spending the night on the beach instead of driving to the hotel or home. It was so adventurous - I was happy that she didn't let the fact that I hadn't planned everything enough to ruin our plans. I need just such a partner,”says one of the heroes of the article.

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In principle, heterosexual marriage is not always beneficial for women. Sad statistics may be hidden behind strong feelings: women are still more likely to do “invisible” unpaid housework and plan family life, their career paths are more often changed due to having children and caring for them, and so on.

Of course, today not everyone is looking for a “decoration” and a housekeeper in their wife. But many still do not see any sense in marriage, even if they have been in a happy relationship for several years. Moreover, the line between the official registration of marriage and partnership is becoming increasingly blurred. Legal issues between partners can be settled without registering the relationship, and the very registration of a marriage does not mean that the couple will not need to formalize something additionally. A stamp in a passport does not guarantee long-term relationships and romantic feelings - the divorce rate in Russia is declining, but remains high.

In why a woman needs marriage, in 2019 it is time to look for new meanings. Von Weaver, author of Happy Wives Club, is one of those trying to do this. Weaver's book, which began with a blog of the same name, is dedicated to tips for a happy marriage and is based, among other things, on the experience of women who have been married for more than twenty years. She says that she decided to take up the project, since she was happily married herself - but noticed that lately society and the media see marriage less and less. Weaver admits that after the book of advice came out, she was criticized for trying to bring women back to the patterns of the fifties, but she pursued a different goal. In her opinion, the main thing to remember about marriage in the twenty-first century is that it is based on free choice. A modern wife is, first of all, what she wants to be.

Any woman today has to decide on her own what marriage means to her - and whether it means anything in principle

The same feeling arises when we think about other modern wives - those whose marriage in our eyes looks like a free choice, a bold decision, and not a desire to fit into the system. This is, for example, Sherrill Sandberg, who taught women from different countries the ideology of "Lean In". Her views on how to combine a powerful career and raising children were largely influenced by her partnership with her husband. After his sudden death, Sandberg even decided to rewrite the chapter: her mother's experience changed radically after she was widowed. Another modern wife is, for example, Meghan Markle. Last spring, she became part of one of the most conservative families on earth, but still on her own terms. Yes, Markle refused acting, but against the background of Kate Middleton she looks much bolder - at a wedding ceremony, for example, she went to the altar alone.

Deprived of previous meanings, marriage at the same time liberates and poses new questions for a woman. It is no longer possible to move by inertia - but even those who deliberately made this choice and are satisfied with it are not always able to unequivocally answer the question of what it means to be a wife today. Marriage has ceased to be the only social lift and an opportunity to receive at least some guarantees of stability and security. The marriage contract, where each member of the union performs a certain function, is replaced by partnership - which turns out the way the participants in the process themselves see it.

Any woman today has to decide for herself what marriage means to her - and whether it means anything in principle. There are more options than ever: it may be the same desire to quickly and easily settle legal issues, or it may be the idea of ​​consolidating partnerships, with the attached joy of communication, life together and support. Finally, the marriage itself can become an important, symbolic event in the life of a couple, already free from patriarchal connotations. Marriage today is exactly what partners put into it, a unique formula that is reassembled every time. A woman can finally choose her own role in this combination - and this is, without a doubt, a political gesture.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons (1, 2, 3, 4)

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