Friday, March 8, 2013

Marriage and emasculation

I realized something last night. The jokes and stories men tell each other about married life--about emasculation, about being "whipped," about how wives boss husbands around, about how marriage is an assault on manhood--suggest rather plainly that marriage is incompatible with this conception of masculinity.

A necessary condition for successful marriage (though not a sufficient one) is that married partners respect each other. If men believe that respecting a woman is to be whipped by her, or that becoming equal partners with a woman in the construction and maintenance of a family is degrading, then the marriage is doomed. Consider the following commercials. I've selected beer commercials because they tend to speak directly to/from the male id.

This is a common theme in beer advertising, which can be described as: men outwit their girlfriends/wives to hang out with their male friends and drink beer. The joke, of course, is that they have found creative ways to enjoy their lives and their masculinity within marriage, which otherwise would emasculate them.

Consider the following ad for Jim Beam:

This conception of partnership turns women pretty explicitly into sex slaves. If the ideal partner for a heterosexual man can never actually exist because her defining characteristic is enjoyment of her status as a sex object and object of manly scorn, perhaps we might want to think hard about what that means for men, women, and marriage.

As I've prepared to get married this summer, I've thought (and talked) a lot about what a marriage is. I don't think there's a right answer, but it seems clear that no relationship can survive if frustration is the baseline emotion for one of its partners. In the case of the commercials above, that frustration is a man's reaction to the concept of equal partnership between husband and wife. Yuck.

A final video, though not a commercial, in support of gay marriage. This is a worthy cause. However: to support gay marriage, the heterosexual men in the video show contempt for women (women who, presumably, they love). There's no small amount of irony here: the video is a response to the idea that gay marriage will degrade straight marriage. But if these men are any indication, further erosion of marriage hardly seems possible. They already hate their partners. What could be worse for marriage than that?

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