Part VI Spit and Polish: Re-thinking the Image Re-construction: ‘The Philosopher’ and ‘The Activist’ 267 CHAPTER 17 THE PHILOSOPHER VOICE: REFLECTIONS REVEAL QUESTIONS A CRITIQUE OF CONTEMPORARY MARRIAGE This activity of establishing a critical relation to the present can be undertaken in part by reinterrogating the work of previous epochs, not in order to reconstruct how they experienced themselves, but rather to draw out our proximity and differences from the surviving textual remnants that will allow us to interrogate ourselves – and, on the basis of that interrogation, encounter different possibilities of what it is to be in the present. (Barker, 1988, p. 88) Barker refers here to Foucault’s notion of ‘an historical ontology of ourselves’, discussed in Part II of this thesis. In Parts III and IV I employed Foucault’s dual lens of ‘archaeology’ and ‘genealogy’ to execute the task of ‘re-interrogation’, in order to establish a critical relation to contemporary marriage. The critical analysis of the story of marriage, and of marriage and the voice of psychology, revealed not only the multi-layeredness of our contemporary knowledge, but also the effects of our knowledge (both popular and professional); how these impinge on both the married and the unmarried by virtue of their prescriptions, and the subject positions that these discourses avail us. The interrogation of the interrelationship between knowledge and power, as it plays out in the discursive field of marriage, revealed the societal value of marriage (how it regulates our subjectivity in the realm not only of marriage, but also of love and sexuality), but of equal importance, it revealed ‘marriage’ as ever shifting, and therein lies its possibility for transformation. It is understandable that some people should weep over the present void and hanker instead, in the world of ideas, after a little monarchy. But those who, for once in their lives, have found a new tone, a new way of looking, a new way of doing, those people, I believe, will never lament that the world is error, that history is filled with people of no consequence, and that it is time for others to keep quiet so that at last the sound of their disapproval may be heard. (Foucault, 1990, p. 330) 268 This current reflection, which amounts to a critique of contemporary marriage (in the philosopher’s voice) thus strikes the affirmative bridge to the next part of the study, which aims to put the effects of our professional knowledge under the spotlight. This is done so that the activist/practitioner voice in me can question these effects in terms of their oppressiveness and usefulness, can put forward suggestions and can consider ethical practice. This may sound like a need for others to keep quiet, so that the sound of my disapproval might be heard, but I would prefer to present it as a continuous attempt at interrogation, so that transformation continuously remains a possibility. Without questions neither resistance nor transformation is possible. And, as set out in Parts I and II, my aim was to establish a critical relation to the present (marriage) – to deconstruct, but in tandem with political reconstruction. My next chapter, on advocacy, thus strikes at more than individual (private) autonomy (and transformation); it aims to ask questions (at the very least) about social justice, in this case ethical practice. My critical psychologist position, as defined in Part V, holds both the philosopher (critical voice) and the activist (affirmative, transformative voice). Marriage in the Prismatic Mirror: Reflections and Questions Marriage: From Pure Radiance to Diffuse Reflection Given its epistemological embeddedness, this inquiry constitutes an anti-essentialist stance towards marriage: it does not try to uncover the solution or key, the one true answer that will bring forth marriage in its pure radiance. It attempts to show marriage in all its descriptions (continuous and discontinuous) in order to reveal the possibility for re- description. It does not choose the mirror of pure reason, which would show up the pure radiance of marriage, the ultimate truth. It chooses, instead, to hold up the prismatic mirror that allows for diffuse reflection, for the ongoing construction (re-description) of the story, while remaining aware of the embeddedness of our descriptions. I am indebted to Rorty (1989, 1992) here for this pragmatic approach to what is possible. I value it as important since it reminds us that our (re)description is always contingent on our own situatedness (politico-historically), that we can never achieve a place (discursively) outside of that which we are describing. From this stance it is thus not possible 269 to employ pure reason to reflect the object of our description in its pure radiance, and should we try, the radiance might blind us to the power (oppression) of this pure reason, to the degree that we have reified the object (marriage). We might discover that the object we have been holding up as a shining example has lost some of its lustre. Questions About Holy Grails, Ultimate Meanings and Untouchables The archaeology of the story of marriage has revealed both ‘marriage as the holy grail’ an array of ‘holy grails of marriage’. Considering the last option first, we saw that at various times in our history the story of marriage has shifted and oscillated between the religion of love and the love of religion, as the panacea of marriage. The struggle for domination between the two has opened the door for, alternately, a sacralization of sex and a sanitization of sex. The first option underpinned the eroticization of sex and the latter its sublimation and silencing, in our literature on marriage, but the struggle for domination, also had real effects in terms of what people expected of themselves and others in marriage. The ideological struggles between religion and romance were further complicated by humanism and its imperative of ‘individual choice’. The latter raised questions about marriage as the gateway to adult sexuality and although this absolute has been eroded, there has been a return to this position in recent times as a result of the entry of HIV/AIDS, as discussed in Part III. As mentioned at the beginning of this section, marriage in itself has been set up as the Holy Grail as well. Apart from the fact that it has been prescribed as a manifestation of the (divine) natural order of things (from both a religious and socio-biological account), it has also been set up as a guarantee of immutability, exclusivity and permanence. Religion is not the only dominant knowledge system informing marriage anymore, and neither is romance, but it would seem that marriage still carries echoes of the covenant and the fairytale when it comes to the expectations of for-ever-and-ever and fidelity. Humans now have to deliver on the guarantees previously provided by God, and marriage took on that character as religion receded as the dominant worldview. No wonder, then, that some, in contemporary society as well as earlier, have come to hold on to marriage as an untouchable. For them to let go would mean to let go of the idea of stability (of permanence and exclusivity). This stability is never neutral, though. It has taken on a political flavour, not just today but ever since the time of Antiquity (as was evident in Augustan law), as the doctrine of marriage collided with notions 270 of respectability (private and public esteem) and domesticity (family values). We thus have to ask ourselves what the effect is of these holy grails, ultimate meanings and untouchable character of marriage, and that is what I intend to put under the spotlight below. Marriage: Reified as Cornerstone of Society It is possible to understand marriage as a receptacle for all that society is; at any given point we can read our society, its fears, hopes and aspirations, in marriage. Marriage can thus not be separated from the stories of the sacred, the moral and the self (and the body, although it often falls silent, as mentioned above). Marr (2001) refers to marriage as the ‘shifting monument’ of American society and Kitzinger and Wilkinson (2004), below, refer to it as the ‘lynchpin of social organization’. Both these understandings have significance when we start to ask questions about the laws and policies that guide and regulate marriage. While marriage might be constructed as a private choice, it turns out not to be benign, as any challenge to its normative definition reveals. Marriage is the lynchpin of social organization: its laws and customs interface with almost every sphere of social interaction. Its foundational role in defining structures of social institution and citizenship means that definitional authority over what ‘counts’ as marriage, and who is allowed access to it, has always been intensely political. Systematic exclusion of any group of people from the institution of marriage has been (and continues to be) a powerful way of oppressing that group in terms both of concrete rights and responsibilities and – more crucially still – in terms of the symbolic message that the group so discriminated against is unworthy of equality, and is less human. (Kitzinger & Wilkinson, 2004, p. 132) Questions About Policies and Rights The above description of marriage as the ‘lynchpin of social organization’ invites questions about policies and rights. We have to ask how politics, corporations, institutions (such as education and religion) and the professions (especially the helping kind) engage with marriage as the cornerstone of society. How does this untouchable inform the laws, policies and professional wisdom that define citizenship (and normality) and, in turn, how does the latter reinforce marriage as good (untouchable) and oppress alternatives in the 271 process? It is important also to ask questions about to how the professions (the voice of normality) inform (and bolster) the politicians and lawmakers. The National Marriage Project, launched in 1999 in America, is a good example of how the professionals (in this case sociology experts from Rutgers University in New Jersey) can lend their voice to a revisionist agenda. Their findings became proof to substantiate the political agenda of marriage as good and all other alternatives as bad. This professional wisdom strengthened the voice of the conservative politicians who fought their battle for office (and power) on the basis of marriage being the cornerstone of family and society. It countered (and silenced) the other voice that fought for the rights of women to have abortions and for same-sex couples to get married. The opposite is, of course, also true: professionals can also lend their voice to a progressive agenda. The important question here, however, is how we engage with the power inherent in our knowledge; how accountable we are for its political ramifications. Marriage as the foundation of the nation became so deeply embedded in the western world that, despite late 20th century challenges, politicians still call on this notion as common sense. The reification of this notion made it hard to see or understand its ideological workings – how it kept certain people in power and how it bestowed rights and privileges. In this regard it is important to acknowledge that the professions (especially psychology in the form of marital therapy) did not contribute to any significant challenge to the pro-marriage ideology (as is evident in Part IV, ‘Double vision: Marriage and psychology’) and its political ramifications. (More on this in the next chapter.) The tie between citizenship and marriage (and its oppression) shows clearly in the discrimination endured by partners in same-sex unions and, to a certain extent, live-together relationships (depending on whether the co-habitation qualifies as a common law marriage). On the basis of the fact that they are not married, they cannot lay claim to being a dependant on their partner’s medical aid; are not entitled to each other’s pension (or estate) in the case of death of a partner; cannot vote for each other by proxy; and cannot be exempted from testifying against each other in a court of law. These are some of the disadvantages that Kitzinger and Wilkinson (2004) list to highlight the basic rights that are governed and regulated by civil marriage as the gatekeeper of citizenship. The fact that access to civil 272 marriage rests solely on gender raises question about the institution (which will be discussed below) and about alternatives and their legal status (also to be discussed below, in a later section). Marriage: Male and Female Subjectivity Male and female subjectivity has gained meaning and potency by virtue of the subjectivities of husband and wife, as informed by the meanings of marriage. Let me explicate further. This conflation of husband/male and wife/female reaches further than the actual status of being married: it also impinges on males and females who are unmarried. As Cott (2000, p. 3) remarks: The whole system of attribution and meaning that we call gender relies on and to a great extent derives from the structuring provided by marriage. Turning men and women into husbands and wives, marriage has designated the way both sexes act in the world. A woman does not have to be married to act like a wife. She takes care, cleans and cooks because she is a female without an appreciation of how this gender role has been reinforced by the conflation of female and wife (mother). Even when little girls happily play ‘house-house’ (cooking and cleaning), adults say: ‘Isn’t it amazing how they are just such “little mothers”’, implying that they are acting out their femaleness, without regard for how the gendered nature of marriage has contributed to this enactment. (Following this line of argument, we should see little boys happily play ‘house-house’ when and where post-gender marriage becomes a lived reality, when gender is no longer woven into marriage and marriage into gender roles.) Questions About Gender and Alternatives On reflection, marriage and heterosexuality came to stand in for each other. Marriage had stabilized our meanings of gender while heterosexuality, in turn, has stabilized meanings of marriage. One could thus also ask a question about the legitimacy of this ultimate meaning of marriage, as a union of opposite genders. This begs the question, if marriage transformed itself (to transcend this imperative), would gender become more flexible and variable? On 273 both counts, what would be the implications of the uncoupling of gender and marriage? And what if we fail to uncouple them? The need for societal stability has tied marriage to gender (procreation, family), monogamy (exclusivity) and permanence (for-ever-and-ever). On an individual level, related to this societal function, marriage became the vehicle for private and public esteem, and for safety. This was not a continuous process of attribution. There have been many challenges and discontinuities over time, and despite its central status, there have always been alternatives to marriage and people have always tried to live marriage in alternative ways. One way to live marriage in an alternative way would be to uncouple gender and marriage, but the feminist voice of the latter half of the 20th century viewed marriage, rather than the conflation of marriage and gender, as the problem. Accordingly, they advocated that women should refuse marriage, should challenge its legitimacy as a form of social organization, and opt for co-habitation instead. At the start of the 21st century we find ourselves in a situation where feminists continue to get married but are rather silent on the reform of this institution, on what post- gender marriage would look like. Ironically, civil unions, the second prize being held out to same-sex couples that want to marry, present feminists (and men who want to access a post- gender marriage) with a legally recognized alternative that in its languaging loses the gender imperative associated with marriage. Unless we also actively and critically reflect on gender (as separate from marriage), civil unions will just become marriage by another name, still linked to the gender roles and prescriptions associated with civil marriage. If we truly uncouple gender and marriage, same-sex couples should be able to marry as the commitment imperative would then outweigh the gender imperative in the definition of what constitutes marriage. At the dawn of the new millennium the gender imperative still seems to outweigh the commitment imperative, as is evident from the ongoing struggles of same-sex couples to have their marriages legally recognized. (For a review of the South African situation see Chapter 10. In this country it would seem that our constitution, which privileges individual human rights, created the space for the gender imperative of marriage to be successfully challenged in principle, but the change in the law required to make this a lived reality is still up for some stiff competition from within both state and church.) 274 The question becomes: why do same-sex couples not just accept the alternative of civil unions? And their answer (as explicated in Chapter 10) could be that it is indeed a second prize – for them it is not an alternative, it is their only option (because gender prevents them from accessing the other alternative). Accepting this option of civil unions would mean that they are settling for a ‘lesser status’ as human beings (as is evident from the passage quoted from Kitzinger and Wilkinson, 2004 in ‘Marriage: Reified as cornerstone of society’). Given the symbolic value of marriage (i.e. commitment and romance) acquired over the ages, some in this predicament feel that same-sex couples should, like everyone else, at least have the option of becoming married. The civil union denotes more of a business contract – its potential gain is the loss of the gender dilemma (and oppression), but its loss is the symbolic value of romance and commitment, as associated with marriage. The gender imperative of marriage gave rise to another ultimate meaning, which equated marriage with family. It positioned marriage as the only institution worthy of procreation and the rearing of children. Most right-wing politicians have argued that marriage is what provides a stable environment for children and in doing so they have also been able to argue that gay partners cannot adopt children since they are excluded from marriage. The gender imperative of marriage thus makes it a very public affair, on the count of both citizenship (as discussed above) and family. Despite the state’s recognition (generally in the Western world), through liberalizing laws, that individuals cannot be restricted in their choice of marriage partner (except in the case of a same-sex partner), to get divorced and to control reproduction (freeing-up of abortion as a choice) (Lewis, 2001), marriage, tied to gender, is still central to our place in the larger social world and moral order. Given the implications this has for citizenship, family and parenting, we might want to re-think this ideological alliance. Marriage: Stability and Solubility On reflection, ‘reflexivity’ is key to the modernist project and to modernist marriage – people talk about themselves constantly in a reflexive way in terms of their fears, needs, shortcomings and aspirations (Gergen, 1991; Giddens, 1991), generally as well as in relation to marriage. Lawson (cited in Gergen, 1991) links the postmodern dilemma of fragmentation to the modernist proclivity for reflection: ‘The post-modern predicament is indeed one of 275 crisis, a crisis of our truths, our values, and our most cherished beliefs. A crisis that owes to reflexivity its origin, its necessity, and its force’ (p.134). The psy-complex (discussed in Chapters 4 and 11) is maintained by individual reflexivity (self-surveillance). It is through continuous comparing with the norm that individuals put themselves under the spotlight, measuring themselves (and their marriages) according to the dominant normative discourses, informed to a large extent by the voice of psychology. When we understand the workings of reflexivity in relation to the psy-complex, underpinned by humanism and individualism, divorce can be read as an enactment of the modernist impulse, the completion of a reflexive move. Divorce spoke to modern marriage as a reflection of its shortcomings. The first half of the 20th century saw the pure relationship become a reality (Giddens, 1991). In the case of marriage this implied a ‘relationship initiated for, and kept going for as long as, it delivers emotional satisfaction to be derived from close contact with one another’ (Giddens, 1991, p. 89). The modernist notion, that it should be a choice and for the benefit of the individual, was firmly entrenched by the latter half of the century. Marriage had to deliver emotional and sexual gratification, as well as opportunities for individual growth. Safety and stability for the sake of family was not necessarily ruled out either, but often in conflict with the discourse of humanism. As such, 20th century divorce was starting to say something of the impossibility of the overburdening of modern marriage; of its conflicting textual strands. The moment we look in the mirror (of modernist reflexivity) we notice the discrepancy between the reality and the ideal – and discontent ensues. A glance in the mirror might reveal unkind realities such as sexual slavery and gender inequality lodged in the material and social embodiment of the ideal (traditional) marriage. As individualism claimed the territory of marriage it produced a construction of marriage as a private choice and with that came the acceptance of the possibility that marriage could be the wrong choice. This filtered through to the legal level with the reforms in divorce laws of the late 20th century. Marriage thus gained solubility, but because marriage had still not been significantly challenged as the normative form of pair-bonding, divorced individuals (and their children) suffered the instability that came to be associated with divorce. They were subjected to the pathologizing that still emanated from the ideology of ‘marriage is good’ and all other alternatives (including divorce) are bad. Maybe this negative space post-divorce has 276 something to do with the fact that many people remarry (more than once) after divorce to regain a sense of normality and acceptance, in a society where these are still so strongly tied to the norm of heterosexual marriage (an in-depth discussion of the instability associated with divorce is given in Chapter 10). Questions About Divorce and Alternatives As long as marriage is treated as a discrete entity, an absolute truth (a manifestation of some divine, natural order), it will stay in a double-bind with divorce (the latter becomes the only way to protest). It will require critical reflexivity (the postmodern mirror) to reveal marriage as an ongoing, discursive relation, to reveal its limits (ideological underpinnings). This critical reflexive stance can thus reveal the alternatives to marriage that can free it from the double-bind with divorce. When we are able to understand marriage as a socio-historical, discursive artefact, it becomes possible to resist, not just through getting out (divorce), but also through transforming it. Once we uncover the (ideological) limits of marriage we are able to both re-describe it and describe alternatives to it. When marriage takes its place as a particular truth of pair-bonding, it becomes possible to also opt for its alternatives. When the alternatives gain legitimacy (as standing next to marriage, rather than being lesser) there might be more people willing to get off the marriage–divorce roller coaster. If marriage no longer represents the pinnacle of the fulfilment of romantic love, individual identity and family, then divorce (and alternatives such as co-habitation) might be considered less disastrous. This could allow for redefinitions not only of marriage, but also of family. With the high divorce rates of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the redefinition of family seems to have become a necessity. For children of divorced families to find a sense of belonging and connection, they have to redefine family, but it might be easier to do so in a context where marriage no longer dictates the ultimate meaning of family. From a postmodern stance both marriage and family become multiple and variable. It is possible, however, that children from divorced families who had to grow up with the instability and pathology that arose from the dominance of the ideology of marriage as the manifestation of some divine, natural order, might now, in their adult lives, aspire to traditional marriage – a backlash in reaction to the instability they had to deal with. The other possibility (as mentioned above) is that they might become advocates for the redefinition of family and 277 marriage based on the very discomfort they had to experience as a result of the narrow definitions of these institutions. In conclusion, it appears as if we have to ask ourselves whether we can separate the issue of divorce from the constitutedness of marriage. When we deconstruct the ideal, we can re-describe it (and describe alternatives to it). We can make it work for us instead of having it make us feel that we are continuously failing it. In the latter scenario there remains only one option in the end – divorce. Marriage: The Simulacrum In relation to the above reflections on the ultimate meanings of marriage and its untouchable character, it is important to try and understand how the latter are maintained. One cultural phenomenon that might speak to the reification of marriage as the pinnacle of romantic love is found in the neutralized images of the bride and the wedding day (Geller, 2001). It appears as if people are literally buying into these images (as displayed in popular magazines, in film and on TV) and although it might seem innocent to want to have the fairytale wedding and look like the fairytale princess on your wedding day, the fairytale perpetuates certain not so innocent customs. Antiquated customs, such as the ‘giving away’ of the bride by her father to her groom, the bride taking her husband’s surname and being carried over the threshold, smack of the tenth commandment (which positions the wife as the husband’s possession) and of marriage as an economic deal, where the wife’s economic wellbeing is in the hands of her husband. The invocation of the fairytale does make a statement about romance, but it is a statement oblivious to the gendered power relations upheld by traditional marriage. Questions About Subversion The question that the hyper-reality of marriage throws into relief is that of subversion. Has the time come, for those who are serious about redefining marriage, especially as a post- gender form of pair-bonding, to rethink the invocation of the fairytale princess and Prince Charming on their wedding day. The wedding business has become big business, though, and there are individuals and companies that have a vested interest in keeping them (the princess and the prince along with the bridesmaids, the children dressed like angels and the fantasy creation of a cake) on life support. It is difficult to opt for a different kind of enactment of the 278 wedding day ritual if not much else is available in terms of images. What might be an example of a subversive, yet significant, wedding day ritual, which celebrates commitment and love without perpetuating the gendered power relations central to traditional marriage? It has become customary for couples to write their own vows and for brides to also address the wedding guests. White has been challenged as the colour du jour for a virginal, innocent bride. These shifts appear to be tentative acts of subversion, which articulate the lived reality of 21st century marriage, which can be likened to an economy of marriage rather than to a fairytale. Marriage: The Straddling Act The archaeology of marriage reveals marriage as a straddling act between self and couple, self and family, private and public, romance and reason, and stability and change, to name but a few of the dichotomies of marriage. In a world where life has been rationalized to death, marriage can present itself as the cave to which we can retreat, to find sanctuary and solace (private). At the same time, however, marriage is inherently part of the economic and public deal that we find ourselves in. Marriage has to provide love, money, status (legal rights) and a safeguard against death (in the form of HIV/AIDS), and these aims are not always synchronized. They reflect different (and often opposing) societal narratives: romance and reason, safety and growth, individualism and collaboration, self and partnership (family). It seems, though, that we get into trouble when we try and describe as marriage one side of the dichotomy. The postmodern understanding of self as discursive process opens the door to an understanding of marriage as a receptacle (mutable holding space) for the intersection of two processes, rather than for two discrete individuals. When we understand both the self and marriage to be fluid and variable, it becomes possible to tolerate and engage with the straddling act since we are not trying to set marriage up as being a holy grail or as having an ultimate meaning. On reflection, the latter turns out to be an attempt to pitch marriage as a guarantee of stability and permanence, but paradoxically it is the frozen meanings of marriage that land it, and individuals in marriage, in trouble, since marriage cannot hold change or otherness when it becomes static; it can only brake in and of itself (divorce) or brake individuals who then suffer the oppression that results from static, unreflexive marriage. 279 Questions About Tensions and Conflict Marital conflict reflects societal conflict. The straddling act within marriage does not belong to marriage per se, but we are unable to see this unless we have an appreciation of marriage as a fiction, a socio-historically variable form, a discursive field. When we do not make the link between societal conflict and martial conflict, we have two options. One is to own the conflict as our (individual) failure (our limited capacity as individuals to be married). The other is to blame marriage as an illegitimate structure that is responsible for the conflict. When we understand the self and marriage to be discursively manufactured, as underpinned by the interplay between dominant ideologies, we gain a different understanding. We do not have to lay all the blame on either the individual or marriage. We have to understand, instead, how they are both positioned by the struggle for domination between conflicting ideologies; how they both are artefacts of human intersubjectivity. In the dance of self–other, both ‘self’ and ‘marriage’ represent dominant constructs of human meaning making. This understanding has huge implications for the practice of psychology and its dealings with the individual, and also for marital (couple) therapy and its dealings with and prescriptions for individuals in marriage or alternative forms of pair-bonding. It appears to touch on the level of ethical practice and this notion will be further deliberated in the next chapter. Marriage: Finding the Other Half Before moving on to the next chapter, it is important to give voice to the silencing of the choice not to marry or co-habit. The romantic love (intimacy) discourse of the late 20th century still held out incentives around mutual love, respect and belonging, but it has been reified to such an extent that it has obscured other possibilities (outside of committed romantic relationships) to access these rewards. Both marriage and civil partnership, in service of the romantic love discourse, have pathologized those who refrain from commitment (Geller, 2001). In mainstream society it is still hard for people to accept that some might opt for ‘being single’ as an alternative to marriage. Professional and lay wisdom regards entry into a committed relationship as a developmental stage on the road to emotional maturity. The conflation of the romantic discourse with the professional developmental 280 discourse has contributed to a questioning of the uncommitted individual as abnormal for having failed to either find or commit to ‘the other half’, or for committing to that ‘one special person’. The implication of this is that individuals who are uncommitted (either by choice or circumstance) cannot be regarded as whole. The choice not to enter marriage or any other form of committed relationship does not fit with the idea of self as a discrete entity; the static nature of the essential self cannot allow for this kind of fluidity and continual redefinition in relation to others. Uncommitted individuals do not necessarily refrain from love or sexual relations, but when they do enter into these kind of engagements, there are no expectations of permanence or becoming whole, maybe not even of exclusivity. Questions About Being Single The dominance of the romantic and developmental ideologies compels us to ask questions about how it obscures the right of people to choose not to enter into committed relationships (of which marriage is pitched as the most desired and most normal) in favour of either multiple relationships or refraining from any romantic or sexual engagement. As a result of the dominance of these ideologies, ‘single’ has taken on a somewhat negative, pathologized meaning, and perhaps, to restore its status as a legitimate alternative, it needs to be languaged differently, in the same way that people who choose to marry but not have children prefer to be called ‘child free’, rather than ‘childless’. The dominant ideology that ties marriage to family also pathologizes those who refrain from having children as being less whole (and less normal). There are advocacy groups, within the alternatives to marriage movement in the US, who privilege ‘marriage free’ as a description of their relational status, rather than ‘single’ or ‘uncommitted’. The obvious irony here is that despite the claim, to be ‘marriage free’, these individuals still hold marriage, albeit in negative form, as central to their definition of self. The Ethics of Marriage The above reflections and questions have attempted to put under the spotlight the ethics of marriage, by revealing how power speaks through its meanings and oppression, through the effects of the struggles for domination between dominant ideologies of marriage. This critique of contemporary marriage has also highlighted how the professional voice of 281 psychology constitutes a form of productive power, not only through its prescriptions in relation to marriage, but also through its silences and general neglect of power. Questions About Marital (Couple Therapy) For marriage to be, and remain, ethical it has to allow for critical reflexivity, particularly with regard to how it is positioned and manufactured by psychology and its practices, such as marital (couple) therapy. In turn, psychology has to become more accountable for the power inherent in its knowledge and practices, and the affirmative impulse of this study now requires me to deliberate the challenges to ethical practice with regard to marriage, and to comment on the level of intervention. 282 CHAPTER 18 THE ACTIVIST VOICE: ADVOCACY FOR ALTERNATIVES CHALLENGES AND INTERVENTIONS Challenges on the Level of Ideology From the previous chapter, ‘Critique of Contemporary Marriage’ and the genealogical reflections in Part IV, it would appear that there are three very particular ideologies with which the profession of psychology has been colluding, either through overt support or through silence. The first two ideologies stabilized and neutralized marriage, but at the same time contributed to the oppression of individuals inside and outside of marriage, whereas the third provided destabilization without paying much attention to alternatives to marriage. The challenge to the profession with regard to ethical practice appears to be on two levels: the first on the level of ideology and the second, related to the first, on the level of ethical practice. On the level of ideological challenge, the first is an active challenge to marriage as natural [marriage is pre-ordained, the manifestation of the (divine) natural (socio-biological) order of things] and the second challenge, related to the first, is to marriage as superior. The latter discourse of ‘marriage is good’ (because it is natural), makes all other alternatives, including divorce, bad because they erode what is good and natural. The third ideology that has been bolstered by psychology, not directly in relation to marriage, but indirectly since it created an ideological space for individualism to claim the territory of marriage, was that of liberal-humanism – marriage has to be for the benefit of the individual. Whereas the first two ideologies, of marriage as natural and marriage superior, were informed not only by religion but also by science (socio-biology, mainstream psychology – to name two of the scientific disciplines) and romance (marriage is the pinnacle of romantic love, from the g-ds, if not from God), the prescriptions of the third ideology (through the privileging of individual choice) pitched it in opposition to the first two. It loaded marriage with conflicting expectations and, at the same time, provided the ‘out’ since this ideology contributed to the conception of marriage as a choice, an institution one could enter and exit. Reason could override the ideal of marriage as exclusive and permanent. 283 Through the support of the individual, individual needs and growth, psychology did indeed assist individuals to challenge the legitimacy of marriage as forever-and-ever (and even as monogamous), but at the same time it did not significantly challenge marriage as the heterosexual norm for pair-bonding. The result was that divorced individuals (and their children) found themselves in a rather unsupported and even hostile space post divorce (as discussed in Chapters 10 and 17). Psychology did not do much to assist people to make sense of the tensions and the straddling act that modern marriage became in its reflection of society’s tensions. Instead it focused on the (married) individual and his/her failure (capacity to be married) or on the dyad (and later the family system) and its pathologies. Since psychology as a discipline (with the exception of feminist psychology) until the late 1970s remained oblivious to the socio- cultural underpinnings of marriage and the possible oppression linked to the effects of the dominant ideologies, it restricted marital subjectivity. One such straightjacket of marital subjectivity was the provider/homemaker model of marriage, kept in place by the hegemony of traditional marriage’s close association with traditional gender roles (in fact they stabilised each other’s meanings). It is only since the 1980s that certain sub-disciplines within psychology have started to shift, to take a critical look at marriage. Up until that point psychologists (especially marital therapists) took either a stance (overtly) in support of marriage (as natural and good) or at most a neutral stance (which supported marriage as an individual choice). Mainstream psychology, for the best part of the 20th century, did not invest in the alternative descriptions of marriage (such as co-habitation or civil unions) or the re- descriptions of marriage (such as post-gender marriage). And since psychology, as the dominant purveyor of truth with regard to being human in the 20th century, has ignored and neglected marriage as a socio-politically informed institution (in favour of individual or interactional pathology), it has (through its silence) contributed to the alternatives remaining in the shadow of pathology. Some pockets in the discipline (drawing on the first two ideologies, as mentioned above) have actively protested the alternatives, so much so that the alternatives became vilified; that it was easy for the power of the knowledge of marriage as natural and good to creep back in, for divorced people to run right back into a second 284 marriage (unprepared) to escape being abnormal, and for people living together to flee into marriage at some point, to do the right thing. To Transcend: Marriage vs. Everything Else and The Divine and/or Natural Order Marriage (and Gender) The challenge to ideology that is now presenting itself to the practice of psychology, especially marital and couple therapy, is to take seriously the challenge to transcend the norm of marriage versus everything else and to transcend the norm of marriage as either divine and/or natural. In the first instance this would mean acknowledging diversity, for alternatives to not be seen as lesser forms of marriage. As long as the ‘marriage versus everything else’ (including divorce, that as viewed as erosive) discourse retains its dominance as a knowledge frame with regard to pair-bonding, within the professions as well as within society in general, all alternatives (such as co-habitation) will be viewed through the lens of marriage, to then show up as lesser forms of marriage. Under these discursive circumstances the alternatives can never achieve legitimacy on a par with marriage, and marriage stays locked in a double- bind with divorce. The previous chapter argued that marriage and gender have become so entwined on an ideological level that it is difficult to transcend marriage as natural unless we also start to critically reflect on how gender is positioned by the ‘natural order of things’ discourse. As long as we view gender as something that exists outside of language, as a discrete, objective category of being (predetermined on a biological, natural level), it is hard to understand marriage as a variable discursive formation. If we are unable to perturb gender, marriage may very well remain the last station on the journey of becoming an adult – of being male or female. I am not advocating androgyny here. I am drawing attention to the close link (ideologically) that exists between female and wife, and male and husband. I thus advocate an uncoupling of gender and marriage, but in order for this to happen, we have to critically reflect on the existing repertoire of femaleness and maleness, for it to transcend the straightjacket of wife and husband. 285 Challenges on the Level of Practice To Recognize Alternatives (and Normalize Divorce) As earlier discussions have pointed out, divorce (as a choice that has lifestyle implications) has not been normalized despite the mainstream acceptability of this choice to exit marriage. In other words, we have come to accept that people do get divorced, but divorced people (following the choice to exit) still find themselves in a world where marriage reigns as the norm for heterosexual pair-bonding. Their life and lifestyle is thus coloured by a flavour of the abnormal or even pathological until they remarry. Even in sections of society that are more liberal in their acceptance of other alternatives to marriage, such as co- habitation, the ‘finding the other half to make yourself whole’ discourse still dominates. The effect of the latter is that there is less pressure on individuals to remarry, but there is still pressure to be part of a couple. What is required in practice is thus a reflexive morality that can hold both marriage and its alternatives as ethical and lifestyle options, even if an alternative might be a choice to live outside coupledom in general. Through the acceptance of alternatives as legitimate lifestyle and ethical choices to marriage, living life after divorce might become more normalized, but it might take a further acknowledgement by the profession that being single is not a default state, that the latter might be an ethical and lifestyle choice too. The normalization of divorce and the acceptance of diversity in practice would assist people who seek therapy (as individuals, dyads or families) to shed some of the burden of pathology, of failing the institution of marriage and/or romance. It would seem to me that therapists have an ethical responsibility to assist their clients to understand their discursive positioning; to assist them to acquire a critically reflexive stance, so that they can understand their limits as limits imposed by the web of dominant cultural stories in which they are caught, rather than to view their limits solely as individual or interactional property. To Adopt a Critically Reflexive Stance As Foucault (1990) points out, it is the recognition of these limits that makes resistance possible, but for individuals to resist they also need a democratic space, where there is news (knowledge) of alternatives. It seems that as practitioners we have to maintain a critically reflexive space in therapy to offer clients this kind of democratic space, in which 286 resistance and transformation become possible. At the same time I have to caution that this democratic space is not akin to the democratic space foreseen by humanistic psychology. For the latter there is no limit. It is an ascendant process of individual growth and self- actualization, of overcoming obstacles in a linear way. The post-structural democratic space is one in which there is always awareness of the fact that, to the extent that we are always suspended in a web of knowledge-power, limits remain. We are thus able to transform our own position, through challenging the legitimacy of certain ideologies that keep us pinned, that straightjacket us, and thus we might find more room to breathe. But we never escape power – the configuration just shifts. Therein lies the challenge of our undefined work of freedom, to continue to work with our tensions and the straddling acts that ensue from them. Humanism proposes that we can escape the tension and straddling acts through individual choice; from the stance of a post-structural therapist that appears to be unethical since the reality is that we can never escape tensions or straddling, we can only (continuously) shift our own position in relation to them. To Recognize the Symbolic Value of Marriage The archaeological review of marriage in Part III of this thesis revealed the stabilization of marriage as the preferred form of heterosexual pair-bonding and showed how it became neutralized as the pinnacle of romantic love, individual fulfilment and civil status, and safety and security. There have been certain discourses that have displayed remarkable longevity despite mutation; they might have fallen silent and dropped from conversation, but they have left a sediment of symbolism and cultural practice that is still very central to the way we give meaning to contemporary marriage. Examples discussed in previous chapters are those of the fairytale and the covenant, which have left marriage with the symbolism of, in the first instance, unadulterated romance, and in the second instance, exclusivity and permanence. The fairytale and the covenant live on in practices such as the wedding day (which is an enactment of the fairytale) and the vows (despite being rewritten they have not disappeared, continuing to invoke hints of exclusivity and permanence). It is important to recognize the appeal of marriage on a symbolic, if not an ideological, level. This is especially so when it comes to individuals in a same-sex, pair- bonding relationship who want to get married. Recent attempts by same-sex couples to attain 287 the right to legally marry have opened up a resurgence of the revisionist lobby, which wants to limit access to marriage based on its gender imperative. As discussed in the previous section, civil unions have been proposed as an alternative, but this option will remain a second prize until same-sex couples can legally choose marriage as well. In their case marriage might be the protest – against being relegated to a contract devoid of the symbolism of marriage (and as such still being subjected to a lesser status of being human, if not of citizenship). On the level of practice it is thus important to not fall into the either/trap. Marriage is neither good nor bad; it is how we give meaning to it that turns it into heaven, hell or a slice of life. What is important for me, as a therapist, is to understand that marriage can be an act of both conformation and protest, but to appreciate this reality I need to understand both its ideological underpinnings and its symbolic weight. On the Level of Intervention Ideologically Conscious Marital (Couple) Therapy Given the above deliberations on challenges to ideology and practice it would seem that I have to say something about the actual interventions that we perform as therapists. It would appear, in the first place, that we have to be aware and conscious of our own stories and subjectivities with regard to marriage. We have to accept that we cannot leave our own embeddedness outside the therapy room; neither can we bring it in as if it holds an absolute truth status, to run the risk of imposing that on our clients (and pulling their straightjacket tighter). We have to hold it and own it as our situatedness. This will enhance the second understanding of therapy, which underpins intervention, as a discursively democratic space (as explicated above), where we can assist clients to become ideologically conscious: where they can explore their own situatedness, and the oppression thereof, as well as the alternative stories circulating in the culture. My third proposed understanding, underpinning intervention, rejects the idea that clients have to necessarily make either/or choices. It privileges therapy as a discursive space to explore ways to also work with the tensions that clients are caught in. In other words, we cannot peg marital (couple therapy) as the space for people to decide for or against marriage. It might be more useful to consider it as the space for both re-description and de-scription. In 288 the first case this would be to re-describe marriage (to challenge the idea of a ‘one-size fits all’ kind of marriage), to allow for breathing space; and in the second case to also describe what the alternatives (to marriage) might be. But on both counts this understanding asks for a rich, discursive, democratic space. Re-description only becomes possible in a context where alternative meanings are circulating. In the case of marriage these would be concerned with what it means to love, to care, to commit and to parent and what it means to be a wife, mother, partner and lover (to name but a few of the knowledges and subjectivities that are invoked in marital [couple] therapy). I am thus advocating interventions that can transcend marital (couple) therapy as a way to address the skills-deficits of individuals who are struggling with either marriage or other forms of committed relationship, or as a way to correct dysfunctional interaction patterns. In my vision of intervention I want to make it ethical to the degree that it does not pathologize individuals and couples without regard for how they are ideologically underpinned and loaded. Interventions would thus refrain from pathologizing individuals, from making them feel like lesser human beings because they are not married (whether that might be as a result of divorce, co-habitation or choosing to be single) or because they are choosing to get married as same-sex partners. Marital (couple therapy) does not operate in a cultural vacuum. By adopting an ideologically conscious stance that is sensitive and accountable with regard to the power effects of its own knowledge, psychology can play a role in the promotion of accountable corporate and government policy. On the level of the macro-political context we can promote a culture where marriage and its alternatives hold equal currency value, without rejecting marriage as a lifestyle choice. This stance reveals a belief in ‘the alternatives’ as equally legitimate (and it shows my ‘liberal-humanist’ slip), but it belies the complexities of the workings of the knowledge/power interrelationship as explicated earlier in part II and IV. Although ‘deconstruction’ provides us with the vehicle to give voice to that which is silenced and marginalised; to put the alternative knowledges on the table, so to speak, it does not provide us with an answer as to which is socially more just. The latter is a function of power, which creeps back in the moment we have placed all the alternatives next to each other. What the ideologically conscious stance (as advocated here) allows us to do, though, is 289 to become conscious of our ‘organising principle’, of how we reorganize the alternatives into a hierarchy; of how we position ourselves in relation to the language games of ‘private autonomy’ versus ‘social justice’. Whereas traditional ideology critique has an emancipatory objective, grounded in a search for ultimate truths and a belief in pure reason, the ‘critique’ under construction here is sceptical of liberation as a destiny. Given the epistemological stance of this study (as set out in Part I and II) this critique set out to highlight the ‘limits’ of marriage in the present through a socio-historical interrogation of the past. This then provided the basis to ask questions as to what becomes possible in the future; to ask questions about transformation whilst remaining aware of power. It thus views ‘liberation’ as ongoing and always embedded in webs of power/knowledge. In its affirmative strivings it asks for an engagement with ‘the limits’, for a judgement of the effects of ideology in order to re-describe. For the latter to become possible there has to be a ‘democratic’ space though where critical reflection could reveal ‘alternatives’; where it becomes possible to gain a sense of ‘what would be better’, whilst remaining cognisant of how ‘the better’ has the power to silence and marginalise to the degree that it becomes reified, and oblivious to power. 290 Epilogue A Question of Marriage: Of Holy Grails, Ultimate Meanings and Untouchables Having come to the end of this critical engagement with marriage I have to ask how it changed things, if anything. But before I answer this question it is important to own myself once more, since the answer to the question under discussion can never be separated from my own embeddedness. I started from a place where, on a personal and professional level, I had become increasingly frustrated with the ‘straightjacket’ of marriage. My attempts to interrogate and disperse was thus not without an agenda. I had two choices, I could embark on a quest-narrative and search for the holy grail, the ultimate meaning of marriage, its essence, that should I find it, it would make possible the kind of marriage that would fulfill rather than restrict, or I could do the opposite and embark on an anti-essentialist narrative that would haul out the holy grails of the past and call them to answer, as to how it ‘conditioned’ the present and try and discern possibilities for the future. The latter presented itself with greater epistemological appeal, in the context of my personal dance with ‘marriage’. The gain of the latter, for myself, is the increased personal and professional awareness: of the ideological situatedness of marriage, of how it ‘gets caught’ in the web of ideological interplay, of stories of self and society; of how it can never be anything but a straddling act (between self and society, romance and reason, personal freedom and social accountability, to name but a few of the oppositions) and of how it rides on our intersubjective attempts to give meaning to, and make sense of, our human need to belong. In the end, it is not marriage per se that is the problem. It becomes a problem though when we start to take it for granted, when it becomes reified and neutralised by the dominant knowledge systems (such as psychology) of the time; when we fail to understand its collusions and tensions with other dominant ideologies and how that restrict (and potentiate) our range of subjectivity. When being married becomes a dominant measure of your worth and your normality it sets up a world where being divorced or unmarried will always 291 interfere with a person’s sense of fit with their world, where the latter will always remain in the shadows of pathology. My appeal to the profession is thus to ask the question of ourselves: “To which degree do we enforce the status quo by keeping the focus on the ‘unhealthy individual’ or the ‘unhealthy marriage’”? We have the option to cast the net wider to create a conversational space in therapy that allows for an interrogation of these truths about marriage and self, that would allow re-definition and re-description.