Criticisms of the institution of marriage

Some commentators have been critical of marriage, sometimes condemning individual local practices and sometimes even the entire institution. A good many of the criticisms are developed from a feminist viewpoint that claims marriage can be particularly disadvantageous to women. However, there are other viewpoints from which marriage in its usual forms is problematic.

Health Concerns

A study of 9000 British civil servants in 2007 implies that marriage to the wrong partner may lead to an increased risk of heart disease.BBC NEWS | Health | Rocky relationship may risk heart

Feminist concerns

In many areas of the world, when a woman was in her early teens her father arranged a marriage for her in return for a bride price, sometimes to a man twice her age who was a stranger to her. Her older husband then became her guardian, and she could be cut off almost completely from her family of origin. The woman had little or no say in the marriage negotiations, which might even have occurred without her knowledge.

Some traditions allowed a woman who failed to bear a son to be given back to her father. This reflected the importance of bearing children and extending the family to succeeding generations.

Often, both parties are expected to be virgins before their marriage, but in many cultures women were more strictly held to this standard. One old tradition in Europe, which survived into the 20th century in rural Greece, was the practice of hanging the bloody bed sheet from the wedding night from the side of the house. Similarly, sexual fidelity is very often expected in marriage, but sometimes the expectations and penalties for women have been harsher than those for men.

In some traditions marriage could be a traumatic, unpleasant turn of events for a girl. The Lot of Women written in Athens in the mid 5th century BC laments this situation:

Young women, in my opinion, have the sweetest existence known to mortals in their father's homes, for their innocence always keeps children safe and happy. But when we reach puberty and can understand, we are thrust out and sold away from our ancestral gods and from our parents. Some go to strange men's homes, others to foreigner's, some to joyless houses, some to hostile. And all this once the first night has yoked us to our husband we are forced to praise and say that all is well.

On the other hand, marriage has often served to assure the woman of her husband's continued support and enabled her to focus more attention on the raising of her children. This security has typically been greater when and where divorce has been more difficult to obtain.

Some people claim that society effectively brainwashes people (particularly young girls) from early childhood into thinking they will never be truly happy until they get married. Many fictitious children's stories end with the main characters getting married and living "happily ever after". As a result many adults subconsciously have an unrealistically "rose-tinted" expectation of what married life is like that usually turns out to be disappointing.

Allegedly antiquated traditions

The remnants of older, arguably antiquated, ideas can be found in today's wedding ceremonies and traditional practices. For example, women may be symbolically "given away" by their fathers. Some brides vow to "love and obey" their husbands and some grooms vow to "care for" their wives. A groom might remove his bride's garter, a symbol of her virginity, as a public representation of his claim on her sexuality.

One very common tradition is that of the groom carrying the bride over the threshold of their house. Investigating the origin of this tradition around 100 AD, Plutarch postulated three different possibilities. The first was that the act of picking up the bride was a symbolic re-enactment of the The Rape of the Sabine Women. Another was that it symbolized the bride's reluctance to surrender her virginity, which she did only under duress. And the last suggested marital faithfulness - having been carried into the house by her husband, she would only leave it the same way. This, of course, was in the context of a patriarchal culture in which it was said that a woman should only leave her house when she was so old that people would not ask whose wife she was but whose mother. It has also been said to originate from a Roman belief that it was bad luck for a bride to stumble while entering her new home.

These traditions, though often attacked by critics and scholars, nevertheless remain a treasured part of many ceremonies.

Masculist concerns

Some commentators argue that marriage and divorce now operate in Western societies in ways that are unfair to men. The divorce rate is very high, now half that of the marriage rate, but only 15% of men are awarded custody of their children with their ex-partner. This has continued unchanged since 1994, with annual support payments increasing 18% to $40 billion paid by 7.8 million separated parents. Of these, 6.6 million are fathers with cash incentives of up to $4.1 billion available to states that create support and average orders. This may help to explain the conclusion of a recent marriage report by Rutgers University:

"Continuing decline of the marriage rate accompanied by an increase in the number of cohabiting couples; a small increase in the percentage of children living in fragile families and born out of wedlock; and a sharp increase among teenage boys in their acceptance of unwed childbearing and a slight decrease in agreement among teenagers, especially girls, that living together before getting married is a good idea".

Further, during a litigated divorce child custody, paternity, alimony, child support, fathers' rights and allegations of domestic violence create additional concerns, especially with hourly rates for divorce attorneys continuing to rise. In the United States, 85% of orders of protections are awarded to females, with only 7% of petitions being denied. Since the enactment of the Violence Against Women Act of 1995, in the United States, more than $1 billion has been spent on police and prosecutors. In such cases, divorce attorneys generally leverage an assault charge into an order of protection to get the offending spouse (usually the man) out of the home to physically separate him from children and his property.

Expense of wedding

The actual legal cost of a wedding amounts to little in most countries, but marriage ceremonies and the associated wedding feast or receptions can be a very expensive exercise. Although, in theory, much of the expense is discretionary, peer pressure and family influences can lead couples their families to spend large sums in a single day at a time in their lives when it would be economically prudent to avoid overspending as the couple in most cases are likely to be setting up a household together and starting a family.

In many societies a whole industry has grown around marriage and the pressure to overspend can be extremely difficult to resist.

Figures from Australia show that the average cost of a wedding is AU$28,700'I do' now comes with a $28,700 price tag - National - www.smh.com.au.

See also

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