Cosmopolitan says after turning 25, whereas Match.com says at 27. However, I disagree with both. According to Erica Hunter in Change and continuity in American marriage, “Marriage is a legal and social contract, and an institution that includes romance and weddings that reinforce gender roles and heterosexuality” (Hunter 308). Again, we see this reoccurring pattern of social constructs reinforcing the fundaments of heteronormativity. Because the thought of marriage involves a woman, in a white, poufy dress, walking down the isle to be greeted by a dashing man in a tuxedo, marriage is seen as a normative heterosexual doing.
Growing up, young girls were socialized into dreaming about their ‘dream wedding’, imagining even the most precise detail, from the perfect dress to the type of flowers displayed to the perfect wedding song. It’s almost as if young girls have been taught that marriage is a necessity in order to live a fulfilling life. Young girls are socialized to believe that they will someday marry someone who they are madly in love with. This notion of romanticism in marriage did not always exist. Throughout history, the purpose of marriage has changed and still continues to change. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, marriage was used to create rigid social classes and secure the wealth of those of middle-upper classes. Marriage was also used to justify having children and maintaining a happy family. This created the “’ideology of separate spheres’, or the idea that men’s and women’s work should occur in different spheres: men’s lives would focus on work and the public sphere, while women would attend to the domestic needs of the family and home.” (Hunter 310). In this sense, marriage reinforced gender norms and created this social construction of roles that women and men had to play. As years progressed, marriage no longer was used to create roles and separation between classes and genders. Individualism and freedom became key in shaping the notion that marriage was a result of romanticism and the idea of spending the rest of your life with a specific someone. Hunter writes that now, marriage is being used as a social indication of different rites of passage: as a legitimate marker of one’s transition into adulthood or as a legitimization of a couple’s relationship in the eyes of others (Hunter 308).
In arguing the heteronormativity that marriage reinforces, Hunter fails to address how marriage has played in the lives of those who have been marginalized, including the gay and lesbian community, bisexuals, queers, transgender people, those who are intersex, the polyamorous, and asexuals. Hunter only examines marriage from a heterosexual perspective. She states, “Laws and social pressures that subtly label heterosexuality as normal and ideal, while stigmatizing all non-heterosexual and non-marital practices, support marriage.” (Hunter 311). It’s great that Hunter addresses this reinforcement of heteronormativity. However, she does not go beyond a simply addressing of the issue. Nowhere does it mention the implications that this heteronormativity has on non-heterosexuals or if non-heterosexuals are taking action to fight back against this gender-binary reinforcing system.
In today’s society, celebrities who have been together for a substantial amount of time but have not eloped are constantly being asked, “When’s the wedding?” For the younger generation, Scott Disick and Kourtney Kardashian’s relationship is one that is constantly being under attack. Although they aren’t the best example of a relationship that doesn’t involve a formal marriage (I mean, they are on the best worst TV show in America, Keeping Up With the Kardashians), Scott and Kourtney do show the rest of the world, on television, that there is nothing wrong with not getting married. They have kids and are expecting a third, and even with children, they are able to maintain a relationship that any couple in a marriage would. Although they are continually pressured and asked about getting married, they have not bought into this social construction.
Another probably much better example of a couple in a long-term relationship that has not gotten married would be Oprah Winfrey and Stedman Graham. In a NY post article, Winfrey states, “I think it’s acceptable as a relationship but if I had the title ‘wife,’ I think would be other expectations for what a wife is and what a wife does.” Winfrey brings out the idea of “separate spheres”. Because she does not want to have to play the gender roles that have been reinforced through marriage and a heteronormative society, she has opted out of this system and instead, has embraced a more non-traditional type of relationship. Through disagreeing with the conventions that marriage underlines, Oprah has defied this gender binary system.
Marriage has been on the decline in recent years. Hunter states, “Family sociologists often note that delayed marriage, less time spent in marriage, and decreased fertility suggest that marriage is no longer a basic necessity of survival.” (Hunter 312). Delays in marriage have become a result of people, more importantly women, becoming more involved in the workforce, thus breaking out of these “separate spheres”. Does this decline in marriage indicate a more progressive society? Does this mean decline in the importance of marriage signify a decline in the cultural reinforcement of a heteronormative society?