We’re looking forward to the release of Dr. Bella DePaulo’s next book by Double Door, Singlism: What it Is, Why it Matters, and How to Stop It, a collection of writings on singlism. The essays are intended to both inspire readers and instruct how to tackle this all too common form of prejudice.
One of the contributors is a long-time, devoted member of AtMP, Jaclyn Geller, who wrote an essay titled, “Why the History of Marriage Matters.” In this essay, Geller explores some of the problematic aspects of the history of Western marriage and explains why AtMP’s formation was so decisive and important. Here’s a sneak peek of the first two pages:
In Book Nine of Homer’s epic, The Iliad, the Greek warrior Agamemnon regrets his dispute with fellow soldier, Achilles. It is nine years into the Trojan War; the Achaeans are a superior force, and Troy is destined to fall. But a quarrel between the two most formidable Greek soldiers, Agamemnon and Achilles, has weakened their army. Achilles has withdrawn from the battlefield, giving Trojan fighters the upper hand. Agamemnon decides to repair the rift with his comrade by allowing Achilles first dibs once Troy has been conquered:
if the gods grant that we sack the city of Priam, let him be there when we are dividing the spoil; he shall load his vessel with piles of gold and bronze, and choose for himself twenty Trojan women, the most beautiful after Helen. Then, if we return to Argos, he shall have my daughter to wife…I have three daughters, Chrysothemis, Laodice, and Iphianassa; any one of these he shall have without bride-price to take to his father’s house; and I will give her a dowry greater than ever man gave to a daughter. (The Iliad 121-122)
An envoy of generals visits Achilles’ tent to make the offer, which he rejects.
Agamemnon’s proposal contains beliefs that must have seemed obvious to the culture that mythologized him as a national hero. (For centuries The Iliad was recited orally at public gatherings before it took shape as a written text.) First, the practice of ancient armies taking the spoils when they conquer a village includes appropriating both goods and people: namely, women, although men were customarily taken as slaves as well. Second, the way of healing a breach between men is with the “giving” of a daughter in marriage. Her consent is not deemed necessary. The waiving of her bride price (a token fee paid by her husband) is represented as a gesture of noblesse oblige intended to cement an alliance between men, the operative figures in Greek society, and the only ones whose desires, intentions, and decisions, matter. In The Iliad these beliefs are not put forth in the form of arguments; they are assumed. Like most assumptions, they appear to require no explanation and no defense.
I first encountered Homeric epic in high school, when, I dutifully trudged through a few chapters of The Iliad, found it tedious, and put it aside in favor of the more immediate pleasures of Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, and Elvis Costello. Like many teenagers have before and since, I resisted my teachers’ best efforts to convey the greatness of epic as a “cornerstone of Western civilization,” a “book whose influence rivals that of the Bible,” and other magisterial descriptions that evoke boredom in the minds of sixteen-year olds attending public schools.
*To finish reading ”Why the History of Marriage Matters” download the PDF.