Feminism, the cost of a wedding, and trends in cohabitation have nothing to do with men giving up on wedded bliss. Babble of the Sexes climbs atop the cake for the big day conversation.
There’s a popular article floating around that claims men have given up on marriage and it’s all about feminism. Apparently those awful women who want equality have ventured too far out of the kitchen and men are taking their ball and going home. Feminism is described by others as the radical notion that women are people but these folks would have you believe you can’t be both women and people at the same time, that “women aren’t women anymore.”
If men have given up on marriage, I have some alternative theories.
The average cost of an American wedding is $26,444 (www.costofwedding.com). That’s a lot of money. When you add to that the $11,244 in student loans and $8,163 in car loans reported by the Motley Fool in January of 2015, getting married is spendy. It’s spendy regardless of your gender. Maybe men haven’t given up on marriage. Maybe they are too broke to participate.
The cost of just being together
When I’m low on cash, I look at things that are important to me and not and adjust my spending accordingly. With a reduced social stigma around cohabitation before marriage, there has to be a personal buy-in to spend the money on a formal, recognized by the government union. In Canada, at any rate, your rights are essentially the same after a prescribed period of time anyways, which is a pretty handy way to save tens of thousands of dollars. I don’t personally need the government to bless my need for a two-car garage, and I image many young men feel the same way.
The times are a-changing after all.
The date of the article being circulated is in 2013. Its findings are very hetero-centric. Perhaps the men surveyed had given up on marriage because they felt they might never be legally allowed to marry—each other, that is. It was not until two years later that SCOTUS would decide on marriage equality. Based on the level of excitement around #LoveWins, it seemed there were a LOT of men who were excited about the prospect of marriage. They likely weren’t deterred by feminists in their enthusiasm.
We can wax nostalgic around the good old days where marriages used to last, but there’s something inherently wrong with assuming that all of those unions should have lasted. There’s nothing to celebrate in socio-economic conditions that forced people to stay in marriages that were unsafe or disadvantageous to their own health and wellness.
I don’t personally think men are taking their ball and going home because women are interested in equality. I think marriage is expensive, has personal but less social relevance from some perspectives and a whole bunch of folks who were very interested in marriage were not considered. After all, a level playing field means you can use that ball to have fun with your teammate (who is not your subordinate because progress).
I’m going to propose something radical. Instead of blaming feminism, I think feminism should be taking the credit. At least partial credit anyway. I think feminism, the LGBTQ movement, divorce rates, and a whole lot of other factors have changed how people, not just men, view marriage.
For years society has defined what it means to have a successful relationship. It is now often referred to as the relationship escalator—that is, a societal defined path of steps from meeting, to dating, to exclusivity, to marriage. Now people are realizing that instead of having society define the rules for them, they can actually choose to define what works for themselves.
And people are doing just that. They are choosing to create relationships that reflect their own values and needs. For some that simply means eschewing the costs, both monetary and emotional, of marriage. They may have every appearance of a traditional, heteronormative marriage without the ceremony or the legal piece of paper. And they are just as happy.
In fact, there was a recent study out of The Ohio State University that says,
“Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”
And, it isn’t just about exclusive, monogamous relationships any more. As people let go of the societal rules many are realizing that they have the ability to have deeply connected and committed relationships with more than one person. All forms of non-monogamy, such as polyamory and relationship anarchy, are becoming more common. They allow individuals to create relationships that are more flexible and don’t require one person to try to be all things to another.
Are we really upset about the decline in marriage?
So it begs this question: if people are choosing different relationship styles, formations, and commitments, who is upset about a decline in marriage? The obvious answer is people who benefit the most from marriage. While it may be argued that everyone may benefit in some way, I think it is hard to dispute that men have benefitted more than women in heterosexual marriages.
Our social system has been set up to give men more flexibility and more power in marriage. It wasn’t even that long ago that men could legally rape a woman as long as he was married to her. Unfortunately that is still true in some places and there are people that still believe it should be that way today.
A recent article by a Christian blogger who provided eight steps to take if your wife won’t have sex. While he says he would never “advocate for a husband to force himself physically upon his wife or to physically abuse her in any fashion,” he is more than happy to suggest shaming her in public and “withdrawing her funding.” Those steps may not be physical force, but I’ll just say that if it walks like a duck…
I see the willingness of individuals to take responsibility for designing their own relationships, and ultimately happiness, as a good thing. Making choices that are authentic, fulfilling and not just defined by societal obligation are what I encourage as a therapist. What better place to do that than in important relationships?
So, feminism, if you contributed to these changes, I offer a big thank you!
You raise some really good points. Sometimes “giving up on something” and “making a different choice” are a matter of perspective. I thank feminism for giving me a choice. I know my partner and I are defining our own path for our relationship that makes sense to us.
His one disappointing discovery was that he hoped THIS feminist would be more equitable about sharing the covers.
Photo: Gustavo La Rotta Amaya/Flickr