Monday, December 7, 2009

Marry Me?

I grew up in the south. After I was grown it became known as more “southwest,” but a local humor writer proposes the theory that the “south” is any state that seceded during the war of northern aggression, so Texas counts as the south. My mama is Baptist, and came from rural Arkansas to west Texas, then Fort Worth, where she married very young and raised her five children, four girls and then a boy. I am the oldest of those five. And a dreamer. Always a dreamer. I was going to be an actress. But I am a dreamer. I lived my life in books and movies and dreamed. I emphasize this point because being that much of a dreamer can lead to being that instead of a doer. And those dreams not coming true can lead to great disappointment in later life.

So, besides being a famous actress or writer (or a great writer who gets to star in the movie of her ‘great American novel?”) what do girls growing up in the south in the late 1960s dream of? Marriage. Being a housewife-having a husband who will take care of her financial security, while she takes care of his more personal needs- freshly pressed shirts, happy babies that know how to behave well when Daddy comes home to a delicious meal and lovely dessert. Of course, this family is the pillar of the community and active in the church. This was what every girl dreamed of and planned for. The big wedding with lots of flowers and bridesmaids and the perfect, happy life after. The girls who didn’t dream of this perfect family life got ‘talked about.’ No one wanted to undress next to them in P.E. The ones who didn’t turn out to be gay were simply thought to have something wrong with them that prevented them from meeting that expectation that everyone held to be the natural progression of our lives. I can remember once going to a movie alone; something I still don’t mind doing, and my maternal grandmother saying, “Why, don’t you have a boyfriend to take you to the movie?”

In this day of ‘social networking sites,’ I have been privileged to discover that this dream happened for some of the girls I dreamed with through our high school graduation in 1975. For many of us, though, it didn’t happen quite that way. For me it certainly didn’t. Many of us, including me, greater happiness came the second time around. Some have had to try more than that-some have not found that ‘soul mate’ who can provide the realization of all those dreams.

Now many of us have daughters, and some have granddaughters. What will they dream about? I hope that we are a little further removed from the ancient writings that have led so many of us to that grave disappointment in life that the young girls growing up now will not believe themselves to be lacking in any way if they simply decide that they do not wish to follow that same path. Patterning ones’ life after the expectations of others can only lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

I had a conversation with my nephew a couple of years ago. He will be 29 in 2010, and is a very highly “evolved” young man. He has never been a serial dater, but tends to have one long, serious relationship at a time, and they typically last about 3 or 4 years. The relationship he and I were discussing ended a few weeks ago, but on this particular evening I asked him if he thought that it would end in marriage. His parents were divorced, and his response was, “You know, everyone tells me what hard work marriage is, but no one has come up with a reason that it is worth doing.” We talked about the usual reasons (apart from the moral teachings of the church, which we have both left behind) such as children that marriage is worth doing-besides being partnered with someone you love for a lifetime. He said he believed he could do that without the ceremony…the same answer applied to having children.

Nieces from another sister feel the opposite; they want to get married and have babies. So while there is hope that this won’t continue to be what defines women, it still haunts the edges of our consciousness.

When I began to question the faith I was raised with, one of the things that I noticed about the writings in the bible on wifely behavior didn’t sit well with me. Then I realized that all of them were written by men. I also noticed that men seem to get more out of marriage. I read that women are more likely to describe the relationship is unhappy, and women are more likely to file for divorce. “Of course,” I thought. Marriage was designed by men, and benefits them more-why should they want to end it? Those men spent over 6000 years telling women that they were property, and that they must submit to the authority of their husbands. Why didn’t god tell women that? It just seems suspicious to me for someone to say, “Hey, God told me you have to submit to me or else.” Had I not figured it out on my own, and someone actually told me that, I probably would have to respond with, “Yeah? He’s got my number-tell him to call me himself!”

Women live longer, and work harder to take care of themselves. Women work full time jobs and still wind up with more responsibility for taking care of the house, the kids and elderly relatives. Women have been going to college and graduate school more than men for the last several years. Women have come up with life changing inventions and scientific, mathematical advances, and have worked harder to prove that they are just as smart in math and science as their male counterparts. And yet, women earn .73 to each dollar a man makes, and women still feel inferior if they can’t find someone to marry them? It is time for this paradigm to change. I know that at least one generation after mine still has the notion that traditional marriage and family is the best life path for a woman to take. So my generation may not have been the last to hold this notion, but I do hope it is being chipped away at, and before long, we will not be defined by our ability to find a man to marry.

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