Most little girls dreamt of wearing an immaculate wedding gown walking down the aisle, heading towards a blurry face clad in a tuxedo standing in the front of the altar. It is a dream of a typical standard wedding ceremony in the hopes of spending the rest of their lives with an ideal spouse. Marriage gives these girls the impression that it is the ultimate stage of being a woman –aside from bearing a child. However, as life opens new opportunities and offers different perspectives to a woman while she grows up, what seem to be as a fairy tale dream of marriage ends up as a plague that should be avoided. At least that is the kind of image which Catherine Newman tried to portray in her essay I Do.Not: Why I Won’t Marry.
The author happily narrated that she enjoys a happy and fruitful life with a man and a son – an image of a true family where marriage certificate is the only nonexistent factor in her blissful family life. Newman claims to be a mother and a lover, but certainly not a wife. On her essay, she enumerated her arguments drawn out from her personal encounters and opinions, and she firmly stands on her desire not to get married. Her essay is a personal interpretation on the concept of marriage which provides certain points to support her stance, as well as inconsistencies which generally weaken her sincere position of staying unmarried.
Newman initiated her arguments in the essay by citing a specific ordinary event which she happens to experience. From a typical Catholic wedding ceremony, Newman observed the detailed process of the ceremony seeing these details as symbolisms of the negativities of marriage. Marriage, as she stated, is a tool for upholding patriarchy (Miller 60). She considers marriage as a part of society where cultural norms are established. Marriage is a venue wherein the political and the public sphere are determined, and when this division came into light, the power dynamics between men and women are specifically distributed. Not only does she see this as a form of limiting the role of gender in a society, Newman also considers marriage as an unfair and limited method of recognizing a relationship. The sacrament of marriage has been included under the law of the government and thus offers a different set of rights and privileges to those who are under it. Since the standard for marriage is mostly allowed for hetero couples only, those who belong in homosexual relationships and those who opt not to get married are prohibited to experience the rights enjoyed by married couples.
Newman strengthened her views by likening the whole marriage ceremony itself as treating women like an object or possession being passed down from the father to the husband. That is practically the reason behind Newman choosing to live an unmarried life together with her partner and son. She does not want to objectify herself, because for her, to be considered as a possession is also synonymous to losing her self-identity. She expressed her confidence that her seven-year relationship with her partner does not need marriage to further strengthen it. In society, Newman’s relationship with her partner can be identified as a form of ‘social marriage’ or in common American term “cohabitation” (Coles 49) where some societies such as tribal societies perform certain rituals for marriage to be ratified – though it is not considered as a form of legal marriage since some of these tribal societies do not have licenses yet.
The legal aspect of marriage is one perspective in which the ritual is considered as a social norm. The other aspect of it is seen by the incident during the wedding reception where Newman has been asked why she and her partner are not married. The fact that their marital status is being questioned pertains to the idea that marriage is a necessity in attaining the legitimacy of a relationship. It basically tells that any relationship not enclosed in marriage is something not to be recognized and this became the motivation for Newman’s stance.
Newman emphasized the aspect of marriage as an entitlement for monogamy. She believed that the forced monogamy induced by marriage makes it even more susceptible for adultery. To quote her, Newman said that “it seems cruel and unusual that one should have to give up so much in order to commit to a man” (Miller 62). From this aspect, monogamy makes the marriage feel more of like a burden and a 24/7 job without pay rather than the original vows made because of love. Why does marriage entail monogamy? Historically, marriage has been created to provide order for the unregulated and ever changing relationships between man and woman (Featherstone 284). The formation of family through marriage has been ‘forced’ by society itself which Newman openly expressed her belief on ‘open, honest non-monogamy’ (Miller 62) instead with her relationship with her husband.
All of her arguments are derived from her own experiences and thoughts. Basing it from her situation with her partner she ratifies why they are better off not married. However, as previously mentioned her opinions present inconsistencies which gives an impression of weakening her stance. Newman had a good start in presenting her arguments by using feminist-inspired statements, her observation of the details of the wedding ceremony and comparing it as a ‘traffic in women’ (Miller 60). Although it can be said that these theories are derived from feminist thought, it did not provide a solid reference to further elaborate on her stance which she can effectively relate to her real-life experience.
Such instance in the essay which weakened her stance is where she mentions the times that she wishes her partner would demand her to marry him (Miller 63). As well as another part where she wrote that after giving birth, she wanted them to have the same last name (Miler 64). Newman openly expressed those desires despite her position of not wanting to get married. The way she wrote those parts of the essay projects a certain lamentation towards her current situation. It gives off a certain impression that Newman may not be satisfied with the non-marriage aspect because in those two aspects of the essay, she immediately follows it with an argument to defend it. Somehow, it indeed looked like a defense mechanism to shadow her apprehensions because if her relationship is going to be looked at from the context of social norms, the non-marriage aspect provides an easy exit for both parties if things did not work out in the end.
Those small sentences depicting her indecisiveness towards non-marriage can be considered as a sign of fear. Marriage – though viewed by anti-marriage people as only a piece of paper – entails a huge responsibility of maintaining togetherness. If that is not the case, a couple can resort to divorce – the very aspect which Newman dreads to experience. There is also an instance where she also wrote some of her frustrations with her partner’s nonchalance about picking out their couple rings. Her following statements convey an effort of persuasion which can be addressed either to the readers or to her own self. The last two sentences of her essay, ending with: “I take him. I do” (Miller 65) is an evidence which encompassed Newman’s possible apprehensions and uncertainty towards her relationship. By further favoring her current situation of being unwed, Newman masked her insecurities and diverted her situation by looking mostly at the positive light. For people who have to keep their pride and hide their fear, this kind of defense is an inevitable human reaction.
Perhaps if Newman and his partner would have been married after they have shared seven years of fruitful years of staying together, her views towards the ritual might be different. In this modern day, people’s idea of marriage has evolved due to either its success or its failures. It would have been much appreciated if Newman diverted away from her personal experience and focused more on providing rational and logical reasons of not favoring marriage. The essay serves as a self-convincing list on why she should think marriage is not a need in their relationship, rather than emphasizing the negativities of its social influence. It is a weak persuasive essay because Newman herself – by means of her implied laments – has been weak in defending her stance, one way or another.
Coles, Roberta. Race & Family. California, USA: Sage, 2006.
Featherston, Mike. Love and Eroticism. California, USA: Sage, 1999.
Miller, James. Acting Out Culture. Boston USA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.