Author and family and relationship expert Stephanie Coont talked on Wendesday night about historical perspectives of marriage and the new alternatives for successful relationships without the institution of marriage.
Held in the Whitsett Room in Sierra Hall, the talk started at 7 p.m. and lasted more than an hour, including a 15-minute question and answer session.
“Marriage is a world paradox,” Coontz said. “We are facing a deinstitutionalization of marriage.”
Coontz touched on this paradox in terms of how historically relationships were arranged which strengthened economic and social classes, and secured family interest on a substantial scale.
Marriages are strengthened today with respect to more intimate relationships, that relationships are voluntary and are renegotiable, Coontz said. This in turn has weakened the institution as people marry for other reasons than financial security, which was usually the case before. “For thousands of years, marriage was not about love,” Coontz said. “It was to strengthen claims to the throne, raising capital, trading deals and making connections.”
Coontz later talked about how people think that alternatives to traditional marriages are progressive. “We tend to think diversity is new,” Coontz said, adding that anybody who studies cultural anthropology will see that historically that was not the case. Examples Coontz provided were how one man would marry many women at a time and the acceptance of men having mistresses and seeing prostitutes.
“Divorce was common among the Shoshone Indians. Women would just put out their husband’s belongings and it was done. And in Japan, all men had to do for a divorce was write a formulated two-line letter like a haiku.”
Coontz talked about how evolving perspectives in different societies shaped opinions of what marriage should be and how the context of which you speak of marriage varies. The focus of her discussion was what has led to current American perspectives of marriage.
Coontz asked questions that address current policies opposing same-sex marriages. “Two hundred years ago, there was a change in wage labor. Women could raise their own dowry and 18th century Enlightenment (said) older generations and the state should not dictate to the younger one.”
Coontz said this made it clear that everyone was free to pursue happiness and apply this philosophy to marriage without the involvement of parents.
“If love is the basis of marriage how could they criminalize same sex marriage?” Coontz said. It became popular belief that “love was the death of marriage,” Coontz said.
Coontz said same-sex marriage wouldn’t affect heterosexual marriage. Married heterosexual couples use contraceptives to prevent pregnancies. If they can’t conceive, they use artificial insemination, and they are now eliminating gender roles in families, so marriage can apply to homosexual couples because they’re prevented from having children. If they do want some, they can go to alternate means, and lastly there wouldn’t be specific gender roles in their relationship either. This proves they won’t affect traditional marriages because those are changing themselves.
With regard to religious viewpoints found in the Bible, opposing homosexual marriages, Coontz said, “If people are going to go by Leviticus I can’t make an argument. But if you are going to go by Leviticus, do it all don’t pick and choose parts.”
“It’s an exciting time to be in personal relationships,” Coontz said. “There are so many options out there.”
Coontz said one of the most substantial factors that makes a good relationship is being friends with your spouse or significant other. Other points Coontz made were that every year people put off marrying until they’re 29 yeard old, the likelihood of divorce decreases, and that women should ask for change early in relationships, this prevents them from waiting until they are so angry that they ask for divorce.
“Two-thirds of women ask for divorce, and men are blind-sighted by this,” Coontz said.
Women tend to think that hinting around for what they want will get through to their partners, Coontz said.
The lecture closed with audience members asking questions regarding co-habitating before marriage, and interracial and bi-cultural relationships.
Stella Theodoulou, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said Wednesday’s talk is part of the Richard W. Smith Lecture Series, going on every semester.
“We are trying to show that Northridge is not just a commuter school, but an intellectual community alive and thriving,” Theodoulou said.
“Not just faculty, but the community and students benefit from events like this,” Theodoulou said.
“I thought it was very interesting,” psychology major Leslie Venegas said. “I found out about it through professor McAuliff.”
The next scheduled talk will be in rgard to social ecology and will be held February 21 during the Spring 2008 semester.