Marriages are pretty precarious nowadays with so many of them ending in divorce. There is no shortage of advice out there on how to put the spark back in your marriage, how to make your marriage work, how to keep the romance going, how to save your marriage, how to fill in the blank. Are we flogging a dead horse here? If it’s so much work and takes so much darned effort, is it really worth it and should we be getting married at all? Should we just call the whole thing off?
The Israeli Merav Michaeli thinks we should. In her Ted talk Cancel Marriage, she tells us marriage is an outdated institution that began when a man needed to pass on all his earthly belongings to his rightful heir in the quest for immortality, but the only way he could do that was by owning a womb (a wife).
She also tells us the root for the word wife is the Hindu-European ghwibh-, which means shame, and vulva. Google it, she says, so I did. Etymology is nothing if not muddy, but there it was –shame and pudenda, along with a few other possible derivations.
I also discovered that woman comes from womb man and that the old German word for wife isweib which is now used if you want to insult a woman. Our language is still full of it. We say “the little woman” and “the wife”. Nobody ever says “the little man” and “the husband” do they? There’s also “wife swapping” but never “husband swapping”. There’s a long line of tradition where women are merely walking wombs and mere chattels.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Marriage keeps a woman in her place as keeper of the home, whilst the man is the master of the home. Feminism was supposed to change all that, but it didn’t, not really. Sure, women can now drive, vote, go to university and get a job, which is all awesome, but on the domestic front, it’s same same. Now instead of just working in the home, she gets two jobs, one in and one out. The childcare, cleaning, washing, cooking and shopping are still primarily her responsibilities, on top of her career or outside job. Women make up half the population of the planet but they work harder and longer hours for less money.
But this is 2015, you say, surely times have changed? But no they haven’t much. A U.N. Report just out this year states candidly: “It is clear: the global economy is not working for women.” Women spend two and a half times more hours than men on unpaid care and domestic work but the average global gender pay gap is 24%. From laborer to university professor, men earn more for the same work. Ironically, the more education a woman has and the higher up the ladder she goes, the bigger the gap. In every country from America to Australia, Botswana, France, England and Sweden, it’s the same story.
It’s not just less pay per month that is the problem but less money overall which ultimately leads to a smaller pension and poverty in old age for most women, unless they are married. “Over their lifetimes, women in Sweden and France can expect to earn 31 per cent less than men; this figure is 49 per cent for women in Germany and 75 per cent for women in Turkey.” Women get to bear our children, the next generation, but they are forced to suffer because of it. Having and rearing a child requires time away from “real” work. Even though childcare is probably the most important work of all, society punishes women for it.
With women doing most of the work around the world, they are obviously too busy to notice they own 1% of the property worldwide. In many societies, women are property. So maybe Michaeli has a point. Whichever way you look at it, the female of our species has always had a raw deal which is perpetuated by the institution of marriage, which in turn is perpetuated by governments and society.
Let’s cancel Tuesday too
At first the thought of cancelling marriage sounds outrageous, like cancelling Tuesday, as one of Michaeli’s detractors put it. But Michaeli explains that marriage is popular only because it’s the “default option” and that we have to cancel it before we even can start looking for other alternatives. When you really think about it, marriage is an institution and a social construct, not a natural law. The fact that most of us expect to do it and society, friends and family expect us to do it – get married and have the 2.3 kids – does not necessarily mean it’s the right thing to do. Maybe humans aren’t cut out for marriage after all.