I suppose we have Mark Sanford to thank for the recent frenzy of articles about marriage (or was it Jon and Kate?). There’s Caitlin Flanagan’s piece in Time, Aaron Traister at Salon.com, the Women’s Day/AOL living survey, Amanda Fortini wondering “why would anyone submit to the doomed delusion that is marriage?” No surprise then that last week, the Church’s Mormon Message was Elder Oaks on divorce.
I just read (and re-read) Sandra Tsing Loh’s much-discussed piece in the July issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Loh, in the middle of her own divorce, suggests that marriage itself is outdated. “Sure it made sense to agrarian families before 1900, when to farm the land, one needed two spouses, grandparents, and a raft of children. But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines, and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?”
While I’m sure I’d missed her point entirely, since I had been thinking about gender already, I noticed that in subtle and not-so subtle ways, she rejects traditional gender roles.
Last week, Marc Wilson wrote an interesting piece on gender roles where he noted that for him at least, “marriage has eliminated some of the gender/sexual tension inherent in dating and has even made me more interested in developing a more ‘manly’ role.” It had me wondering if traditional gender roles make marriage easier.
Towards the end of Loh’s article, she quotes Helen Fisher as saying that “most of the world’s fifty-year marriages are made by Builders who marry other Builders.” What is Fisher’s definition of a Builder? “The much calmer person who has traditional values.”
And so though I don’t know how to flesh it out yet, I do wonder if traditional gender roles make marriage easier. Do they also make it better? And if so, what does that mean for those who don’t feel like the traditional gender roles come naturally to them?