In America, marriage is an institution often idolized and sought after; for some, starting at a young age. Young children, young girls in particular, can be seen playing marital games, dressing up as brides and acting out their dream wedding. But why is it that such an unstable institution is held in such high esteem, to a point where the act of getting married, not the marriage itself becomes an imperative piece in an entire nation’s culture? The average duration of a marriage in the U. S. today is 11 years, with 90% of all divorces being settled out of court (Culture).
In a society where the divorce rate is half the marriage rate, why is it that people still spend on average $20,653 to $34,421 on wedding preparations and ceremonies? Marriage, once seen as a sacred ritual has now become a more materialistic, showy practice following the multiple socialized construction of today’s American society. In “Gender and Ritual: Giving Birth the American Way”, essayist Robbie Davis-Floyd defines a ritual as “a patterned, repetitive, and symbolic enactment of a cultural belief or value. 107)” Marriages in nature are symbolic proclamations of a couple’s commitment to one another. Typically, the couple dates for some time before any proposal is made, and during this period of courtship, a relationship is established between the couple and their parents. It is usually imperative that a parent or parental figure approves of their child’s lover before any further relationship plans are made. Following the dating stage, there is typically a proposal of some sort.
In the “traditional” relationship, the man proposes to the woman, and depending upon her answer, an engagement ring is placed upon the woman’s finger, marking that she is promised to the man for marriage. Today, while women have been making striking foregrounds, very seldom is it heard of that a woman has proposed to the man whom she has been dating. For some, it is believed that if a woman were to propose to a man, she would almost literally emasculate him, and call into question his ability to be the head of their future household.
Even today, when taking a general survey amongst peers of what men and women prefer when it comes to marriage proposals, the majority have said that to have a man propose is the “right and proper way”, and is more acceptable, rather than having the woman propose to the man. For this reason, women wait, sometimes impatiently for their lovers to make a move, instead of initiating the proposal, resulting in lost time, and sometimes wasted efforts. Such a widespread hesitation amongst women comes from the social implications placed on what it means to be properly courted and married.
Following the proposal is typically multiple rehearsals at which the wedding party is placed into their respective positions during the ceremony, and a wedding rehearsal dinner, which is traditionally hosted by groom’s family. Such rehearsals serve typically one main purpose, to make sure the wedding ceremony looks perfect according to the bride and/or wedding planner’s visions. In her essay “Gender and Ritual”, Davis-Floyd notes that a typical characteristic of rituals is that it is “Usually highly stylized and self-consciously acted, like a part in a play. 114)” Wedding ceremonies are performed with respect to the wedding party’s religion, customs and traditions, depending on the socioeconomic status of the families involved. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars are spent on the venue, beautifications, food, the tailored clothing for the wedding parties, wedding planners as well as other special components seen as imperative to a “successful wedding. ” The bride and the bridal party’s garments usually are the most costly, due to the bride’s need to exude beauty to both her guests and her soon-to-be-husband.
In a society where reasons for marriage seem to be more superficially, economically and physically driven, high bridal budgets are seen as typical and are expected, if not promoted, amongst today’s brides. In today’s society, weddings are televised and commercialized more than ever. From celebrity weddings publicized all over the world, to the many wedding shows that are featured on television daily, the union of marriage has become more of a show than a symbolic representation and union. Even now, individuals get married for green cards, sexual satisfaction, cultural and social acceptance. levated social status, economic “enrichment”, beauty, or simply for the marriage rights that come along with a marriage license. However, when there are some nontraditional couples who wish to get married for the original purpose that marriage serves, the status quo is questioned, and sometimes those marriages aren’t allowed. It’s puzzling to many why the union of two people who have nothing in common, and seek to gain nothing but more power, money, or notability via marriage have been given more lead way to do so, rather than a same sex couple who actually are in love.
Davis-Floyd calls this “preservation of the status quo” (116), and although her essay specifically focuses on the ritualization of birth in America, the same idea can be applied to the ritualization of marriages in American culture. The roots of marriage in American culture are based on the Christian foundation that our country was raised upon. Many people still hold onto the laws established by our Anglo-Saxon founding fathers, even those of whom have no religious affiliations at all.
In her essay, Davis-Floyd states A major function of ritual is cultural preservation . . . Those in power will have unique control over ritual performance. They will use the effectiveness of ritual to reinforce their own importance and the importance of the belief and value system that legitimizes their positions. While marriage is supposed to symbolize a couple’s love and dedication for one another, there are still constraints under which couples who genuinely love each other can do no more than declare they are united under a “civil union. Legislations, bills, acts, and other legal restrictions have been passed and fervently enforced in our society that openly promote the marriage of unloving individuals while simultaneously reducing the validity of a same-sex couple’s commitment to a simple civil union, one that is not the same as marriage, and should not be treated as such. Marriages between people of the same sex are typically given difference rights than married couples, a reality that has been challenged by the LGBT community for quite some time.
It seems that while some politicians and legislators may not openly promote Christian ideals or restrictions, such classification of same-sex marriages appeals to the idea that the status quo must not be tested or changed, but is sought after to be maintained as long as possible. Marriages typically happen in this way: Men propose to women, should the woman say yes, the arrangements are made, the women go to great lengths to look their best for their “big day”, almost no expenses are spared, the grand wedding ceremony happens, and the couple is now married.
I was raised under the idea that you only marry someone you love, not someone who can provide the most for you physically, socially or economically, as those notions are fleeting and subjective, not firmly grounded or lasting. But in today’s society, to marry just for love seems to be a foolish choice, and those who do chose to get married do so with a checklist of presumed notions and benefits that are greatly desired and sought after by society. When considering weddings as a ritualistic ceremony, the ideas behind the wedding, the union, and what drives the marriage should be further examined. Societal constraints become increasingly prevalent today, even in the one of the most sacred of unions: marriage.
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