Archive for the ‘letters to the editors’ Category
June was a great month for AtMP! Four members were published in the NY Times in an ongoing discussion of same-sex marriage.
- On June 23, Katherine M. Franke’s op-ed, “Marriage is A Mixed Blessing” was published. In the article, Franke voices her concerns about the pressure for same-sex couples to marry. She wonders whether these couples will be able to hold onto the rights and benefits they currently have even if they choose to stay unmarried. Franke also points out the reality that many same-sex couples have found and developed ‘nonmarital ways of loving’ and do not intend to abandon them now that same-sex marriage is legal in New York.
- On June 27th, Nancy D. Polikoff’s letter to the editor was released in response to the article “New York Opens Doors to Gay Weddings.” Polikoff was worried her employer would end domestic partner benefits once DC passed legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry. Since the state enables both same and different-sex couples to register as domestic partners, they are able to adequately care for one another. Financially intertwined partners are eligible for domestic partner benefits.
- Kevin Maillard’s opinion piece, “Are Religion and Marriage Indivisible?” presents slightly different concerns. He notes that the religious exemption regarding recognition of same-sex marriage has implications beyond the wedding day. Some religious traditions ignore the evolution of the modern family.
- And most recently, Judith Stacey’s opinion piece, “Unequal Opportunity,” counters the two main arguments about same-sex marriage in New York, 1) It “hammers the last nail in the coffin of an endangered, sacred institution” and 2) It is an “unadulterated victory for equality, democracy and human rights.” Instead, Stacey proposes it puts social pressure on more couples to marry and worsens discrimination against unmarried people. She concludes her article by urging the “need to develop family policies that give greater recognition and resources to the growing array of families formed.” *We urge all AtMPers to follow this article with Nancy Polikoff’s fantastic book, Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage.
The reality is clear, many families are still unable to care for one another despite same-sex marriage being legal in seven states.
What do YOU think?
The Alternatives to Marriage Project represents a broad coalition of individuals and families who believe in choice and fairness. Freedom to marry should be one of those choices – as should freedom not to marry yet still be treated fairly under the law.
I’m writing because I read Amy Wood’s article on therapy with cohabiting couples this morning and wanted to let the AtMP community know that I have recently published a paper on this topic. I’ll paste in the citation below. I would be glad to email a copy of it to anyone who is interested.
Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). Working with cohabitation in relationship education and therapy. Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, 8, 95-112.
Galena K. Rhoades, Ph.D.
When does a person become an adult? What is adulthood, and why does it matter? How have the answers to these questions changed over time, and what do the changes mean for American society? How should civic institutions respond?
These fascinating questions are the subject of Transition to Adulthood, the latest in a research series called The Future of Children published by Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School (my alma mater) and the Brookings Institution. This anthology of 10 essays does not answer all those questions. In fact, it doesn’t seem to recognize that some exist; but, it does provide valuable insight into demographic trends and policy responses.
Why review it here? Because, according to one of the authors,
Becoming an adult has traditionally been understood as comprising five core transitions – leaving home, completing school, entering the workforce, getting married, and having children.
Today… only about half of Americans consider it necessary to marry or have children to be regarded as an adult.
The question begs so hard it practically jumps off the page: should marriage and parenthood still be understood as markers of adulthood by researchers and policy makers? Amazingly, none of the 19 authors in this anthology seem interested in changing their traditional understanding. For example, one lists women’s tendency “to delay marriage and parenthood” as a factor that has “helped to delay and complicate the passage to adulthood.” Even the use of “transition” (singular) in the book’s title suggests the authors’ devotion to the idea of one right way to become an adult, despite the rich diversity of reality which their data describe so well.
Equally amazing, none of the authors unpack the implied moral or normative value of adulthood; no one explains why it matters. Of course, I’d rather live in a country where my fellow adults act like adults, not like children. But my common sense definition of “acting like an adult” has little to do with the “five core transitions.” A book that recommends governmental and civic action towards a goal ought to justify why that goal is good for individuals and society. Instead, the closest it comes to explaining why adulthood matters is to describe the negative
consequences of the extended transition. … [F]irst … the growing burden placed on the middle- and lower-income families who were providing their children with schooling, housing, health insurance and income well beyond the age range of 18 – 21, the traditional age of majority. … [S]econd… the unexpected strain being imposed on key social institutions.
One thing the anthology does very well is highlight the different life patterns experienced by people of different gender, race/ethnicity, economic class and immigration history. For example, it cites one study of children of immigrants who (rather than becoming a long-term burden) provide regular or even total financial support to their parents, and another study finding that children of immigrants “differed in several ways from conventional American norms of departing the parental household and setting up a separate home.”
Another question begged: whose norms are “conventional?” A different essay mentions that “youth and parents from less-advantaged families continue to favor an earlier departure from the home than do those of more advantaged means.” Furthermore, “women are typically younger than men when they leave home because they complete college earlier, form cohabiting unions earlier, and marry about two years earlier, on average, than men.” However, “young mothers who do not enter a union before bearing a child typically remain in the parental home for several years and receive financial support and child care from their parents.”
What Transition to Adulthood does best is provide heaps of fascinating data. Here are just a few highlights about marriage and its alternatives: “About half of high school seniors say that they plan to cohabit as couples before they marry. … By age 34, 7 in 10 have tied the knot. … [T]he percentages of people who have never married, and who are intentionally childless, are higher now than at any other time in American history….”
Given this nation’s obsession with marriage and parenting – and our politicians’ willingness to legislate behavior – I was especially struck by the fact that, while there are many studies of people who are relatively rich or poor, “[r]esearchers know far less about the family formation patterns of young adults who grow up in families with modest resources.” Isn’t that the majority of us? I was also glad to see recognition that “young people who can build stronger and wider connections to adults other than parents (for example, teachers and adult mentors) also end up faring better than those who do not.” (emphasis in original)
With essays on education, labor, the military, civic engagement and “vulnerable populations,” as well as the immigration and family formation sections I’ve highlighted, Transition to Adulthood offers plenty of food for thought. I do hope that its target audience of “policy makers, practitioners and the media” will dig into the rich details and give more thought to what adulthood is, how people get there, and why it matters. Otherwise, we’ll end up with more legal carrots and sticks, more media hype, and less real help to build a society where we all can thrive.
I am puzzled by some parts of Jaclyn Geller’s article about Michelle Obama.
The first paragraph refers to Michelle Obama’s “natal children.” Is it supposed to be a problem that she gave birth to them herself??
Geller says that in a magazine interview, “Obama urged women to look at the “hearts” and “souls” of potential husbands and stated that she had always made mothering her first priority.” Aside from the word “husbands,” neither of these ideas relates to marriage; one is about wise choice of a partner, and one is about parenthood. I’m confused: Would the author prefer that women NOT consider “hearts” and “souls”, and is there something wrong with striving to be a good parent?
It’s odd to complain about parenthood being part of Michelle Obama’s public identity without noting how the media during and just after the election fawned over Barack Obama’s involved parenting style and/or the fact that Michelle’s mother moved into the White House to take care of the children when Michelle is away doing her work as first lady.
There are two references to Michelle Robinson changing her last name to Obama without any acknowledgment of the difference in the effect of those two names. Robinson is an extremely common name (I’ve known two Michelle Robinsons personally) and Obama is not; might changing her name have been a pragmatic strategy to give herself a unique identity? I think it’s actually sexist to view Obama as HIS name when it is in fact now HER name as well.
- ‘Becca Stallings
AtMP members world-wide received Update, our email newsletter, last week. We hit some technical obstacles to publishing all the articles in one place, but you can see them individually at the following links:
A First Lady We Can Really Admire? by Jaclyn Geller
The Marriage Index by Arcenia Harmon
If you’d like to comment on an article or send a letter to the editor, please click “Comments” below.
This morning, AtMP members world-wide received our email newsletter. You can read it here.
If you’d like to comment on an article or send a letter to the editor, please click “Comments” below.
Thanks for the latest electronic issue of AtMP Update. I would like to respond to Teri Hu’s article.
While Teri makes some good points, I think it would also have been worth pointing out that there has been, and is, a considerable variation in attitudes towards pre-marital pregnancy. While I agree with her point that in the times she mentions it was largely ignored if the couple got married, it is also worth noting that in many cultures and time periods it was not only condoned but EXPECTED as a pre-condition of marriage, either officially or not. Most “primitive” cultures, and pre-industrial agricultural societies tended to expect that a couple would start “seeing” each other and then make it “official” when she got pregnant. (And that the relationship would break up if she didn’t get pregnant within a reasonable time.) This was largely because children were a valuable resource, and a couple would want to prove that they were mutually fertile before engaging in a long term commitment. This even applied in early “straight-laced” America – analysis of birth and marriage records from the colonial periods seemed to show quite clearly that 70% or more of all marriages happened when she was expecting.
The key thing to those cultures seemed to be however that the marriages were more recognizing an already existing, stable and monogamous relationship, or at least one that was presented as such.
One can question whether there is a difference between a marriage that is a recognition of what already exists, or something that is at least pretended to be a prerequisite to a change in lifestyle.
– Arthur, from MA (My GF and I have been happily unmarried for 15+ years now, though we haven’t yet managed
to pull off the pregnancy outside of marriage trick – not for lack of trying.)
The Alternatives to Marriage Update article Single Women in India: Rarer, Riskier, and Happier Than in the U.S. by Kay Trimberger has generated some good discussions, and we invite others to read and respond.
Rajiv Garg (who recently joined AtMP’s board of directors) wrote this letter:
The conclusion that single women in India are happier needs more scrutiny. Moreover, due to the significant social and cultural differences it is unclear how we can better understand the obstacles and advantages single women face in the US by comparing the situation to single women in India.
Growing-up and living in India in the Hindu culture for twenty four years and visiting often, I have seen very little change (especially in rural areas and small towns in India where most people live) in the status of women. Even though lifestyles are changing, there are very few women, mainly in progressive big cities, who are happy being single. They are rarely accepted by the society (even less by their immediate friends and family since they see it as a shameful act and disgrace to the family) and often stigmatized and ostracized. Women past the “marriage-able age” (34+) are often subject to ridicule and assumed to have major personality or physical disorders even though arranging marriage is a family enterprise and the family takes part of the blame. These unmarried women are rarely happy.
It is true that single women in India do not have the pressure of finding a suitable match but this putative advantage is far overshadowed by very low-self esteem, fear of getting married to an incompatible groom, fear of being part of a new, often hostile and potentially violent family, being able to adjust to a new family and home environment, constant worry of how parents will accumulate dowry and pay for future gifts to the groom’s family…the list goes on. Even though some women may be happy (for a very short period of time until they are married) it will be naïve to conclude that they are happier than their American counterparts.
There is mention of Hindu culture having a positive image of celibacy. I must point out that celibacy is only revered in the religious context – the special space and respect for unmarried women and the act of voluntary abstinence is bestowed only if they become part of the religious system and hierarchy (similar to the celibate priests in the Western societies). Absent any religious affiliation, no special status or respect is granted to a celibate woman.
Also, contrary to the assertion in the article I believe that there is a cultural imperative in India that marriage/coupling should bring happiness. Even though personal happiness is not valued as much as happiness of the entire family, most people understand that if the couple is not happy, they cannot bring happiness to the family at large. The concept of finding a “soul mate” may be rare but most families compare astrological charts of the bride and groom and make efforts to ensure compatibility that would lead to happiness. In fact this cultural imperative is more pronounced in India as the bride is under constant pressure to not only please the husband but to bring happiness to the entire family.
There are local and regional feminist groups in India fighting for women’s rights but these efforts are primarily focused towards obtaining social and economic equality. It is encouraging to see that life for singles is changing in India but the change is very slow and limited to a very small segment of the society. Due to the relatively close knit social structure of friends and family, singles may not feel as lonely and desperate (even though that is debatable) as their American counterparts but to impute that single life is psychologically easier for Indian women (for the reasons mentioned above) would be a mistake. Single women in India face discrimination, live in subservience, and deal with a variety of tough challenges and hardships; I cannot imagine a scenario where we can say that generally they are happier than their American counterparts.
This makes me wonder about the interesting commentary and reporting by feminist intellectuals and journalists in India, perhaps they are focusing and reporting on a very exclusive group of single women that do not really represent the majority of single women in India.
Kay Trimberger responded:
Dear Rajiv, Thanks for your interesting comments on my article. Some of your comments I agree with and some I don’t. I did not choose the title, and I don’t think I use the word “happier” in my text. But I also have not objected to the editors about the title. I think my position is clarified in two other blogs I have written, and I’ll provide you with the links here.
“Single Women in India: A Conversation with Kay Trimberger”
“Single Women and the U.S. Women’s Movement : Insights from India”
Best regards, Kay
Chitra also sent a note in response to Kay’s article:
I am from India, and we do not have an equivalent of ATMP here, as most Indian women are expected to get married
However there are many women who dare to defy convention and are living happily as single women, or in live-in relationships. I for one have a boyfriend but just do NOT want to marry or get into a live-in relationship. It does not make sense to my peers or my parents – and this just goes to show that the pressure to get ‘coupled’ in America is as strong as the pressure to get married in India.
I liked the article on how single women in India are probably happier than their American counterparts. But in urban India that mostly tries to ape the west, celibacy is slowly beginning to be looked upon as ‘weird’ – and that is upsetting to the small minority that still choose to be celibate.
I liked reading about asexuality – and I know for a fact many Indians will be able to relate to it. I don’t think it is weird – if abstinence is acceptable, what’s wrong with asexuality?
The irony about being an Indian is – even though this is the land of the Kamasutra (and a high population clearly shows everyone is having sex) – you are expected to be celibate till you get married. And yet, as I mentioned, if celibacy is something you choose- you are frowned upon as someone ‘weird’. It gets confusing sometimes.
In any case, here I am , mailing you, letting you know that your website gives me so much hope and happiness.
Thank you ATMP!
btw I have written a funny article on why I do not want to marry on my blog.