Is the start of your summer filled with nothing but weddings? There’s a long history explaining why so many fall in this month. Most of it stems from ancient Roman times and is tied to nature’s seasonal cycles. With mankind being agrarian for most of human history there are some traditions that are just harder to break, even if we get our food from Whole Foods now. Here’s a list of a few possible explanations.
Every wonder why wedding cake is a tradition? Here’s a fun lecture I did at Tufts University on The Origins of the Wedding Cake and in my own wedding dress to boot! The origins is just a small part in my full lecture of “The Sexy and Sexist Layers of the Wedding Cake” for the Women’s Center 2nd Annual Symposium.
In New York City, with a population of 8 million, there are at least 600 people who can’t find a mate worthy of marriage. What’s their solution (or last resort) to this conundrum in the dating digital age? An “extreme social experiment” hosted by FYI TV (part of the A&E network) where four highly educated and trained professionals will match them up with the soul mate they couldn’t find independently. Sounds like a really high end dating service, right? Not quite, the catch is you can only meet this soul mate if you’re willing to marry them sight unseen.
A terrible step backwards in women’s fight for equality overseas. Iraq’s Council of Ministers has drafted a law, The Jaafari Personal Status Law, which will be voted on April 30. If passed the law would:
This law was formed to appease the Shi’a Muslim community in Iraq, which have a stronghold majority in the country at 36 million. It’s argued that Iraq’s current law that women can only marry at the age of 18 religiously discriminates against the Shi’a Muslims. As it stands, UNICEF estimates that more than 24 percent of Iraqi women are married by age 18, and nearly five percent are married by age 15.
If passed before Iraq general elections, the law will violate the UN Convention on Rights of the Child, which Iraq signed and its own constitution.
To understand how widespread this issue is in the world and not just potentially in Iraq, here are some facts:
To read more about global child bride issues:
Information originally appeared in: Iraq Wants To Legalize Child Marriage – The Daily Beast.
An Oregonian boy becomes a man, not only by having his bar mitzvah, but because he chose to take his opportunity to use his d’var Torah, a traditional speech, to speak as a proponent of gay marriage [in Oregon]. Duncan McAlpine Sennett’s words speak volumes to his maturity, his reasoning and use of historical analysis proves his intelligence and his bravery to even address such a topic within a religious setting exhibits immense leadership and kindness. And he’s only 13! Mazal Tov to David, hopefully he will inspire many other people to positively speak on behalf of others.
To learn more about marriage equality in Oregon check out: OregonUnitedforMarriage.org
For more awesome speeches related to marriage equality:
When Harry Tries to Marry (2011): As a result of his parents divorce, young Harry believes arranged marriages are the only way to have a successful marriage. Straight out of college he rushes to employ a matchmaker, gets paired with a very nice match and goes about planning his wedding. Except amid a long-distance relationship… life and love unexpectedly happen. Harry is left to decide between his hardcore beliefs and the natural path that is laid before him. The movie ends on a really good lesson; that life and love cannot be rushed in youth, inexperience and impatience. Time is one of most important assets we can give ourselves. (Subjects: Marriage, Love, Arranged Marriages) Director: Nayan Padrai
The NY Times is having a debate on whether or not the prenup is passé. Whatever you think, I think it’s important to consider who needs to protect their assets the most. With men still earning $1 to women’s measly 77 cents, it is fair to assume that it’s not the women. Prenups highlight the unequal wage and income issues that women still face. If office income is not enough to make you think twice, consider that many women who decide to cut back on office hours part time or completely for family set themselves back considerably financially – in terms of retirement savings, competitive wages, position advancements, etc. Married mothers loose around $11,000 in salary for every year they miss in the workplace and that gap only grows with each kid. The role of homemake and mom just isn’t appreciated in terms of its economic contributions like a paying job is. If a prenup needs to be enacted and it favors the father, what happens to the women who put aside both her spouse’s assets and her own income earning potential? No matter what the courts decide in terms of alimony, divorced women can expect a 30% decline in their standard of living.
Whether or not a prenup is necessary before you say, ‘I do’ consider the larger social issues it relates to – not just for you but for all women.
See what others had to say in the NY Times debate: The Power of the Prenup – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com.
Laws preventing consanguineous marriages still exist, but more-than-friendly brother-sister relations still occur like out of a V.C. Andrews novel. The latest international news story was about a German couple in 2001: As a result of their amorous affection, they bore a child, did hard time, and love still survived. The idea of it still captures the distorted fears of moviegoers today with movies like The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003, 1986, 1974), Deliverance (1972) and Wrong Turn (2003). In less horrifying film, who can forget in The Godfather III when Mary Corleone ignited a fire with her cousin Vinnie Mancini, but her father, Michael Corleone, forbade it.
While today sibling relationships are both taboo and illegal, there was a time when it was widely practiced, and even encouraged in order to prevent the tainting of royal bloodlines. Before Mark Anthony, Cleopatra VII was married to her brother Ptolemy XIII, and she was the offspring of a sibling marriage as well. While technically illegal during Roman times, it is said that Roman Emperor Caligula did the deed with all three of his sisters, Julia Livilla,Drusilla, and Agrippina the Younger. And no story of incest would be complete without the tale of Oedipus, who brought shame and ruin to himself and his city for marrying his mother. These tales were (and still are) told to children to impart lessons on morality, civility and health. The moral of these stories is that it is wrong to bang your sister and have children with her, but unsurprisingly, nature has a hand in promoting or preventing this kind of attraction.
The Westermarck effect is a process by which two people become sexually desensitized to each other during their first couple years of life, which is thought to be a natural selection process promoting gene diversity. For example, when a sister’s friend finds her older brother attractive, the sister fails to relate to the attraction. On the other hand, there is a theory of a “genetic sexual attraction,” whereby relatives kept apart during their formative years might be more inclined towards mutual sexual attraction. Finally, it’s well known that the risk of congenital diseases and birth defects rises with each inbred generation, a risk factor that can be determined by an “inbreeding coefficient.” An Ohio State studyresearched Charles Darwin’s genealogy. Ironically, Darwin himself was a product of consanguineous marriages; and after marrying his cousin; their 10 children faced severe health problems and infertility. Three of them died prematurely. It is thought that Darwin’s children suffered from inbreeding effects.
Over hundreds of years, marriages between cousins frequently occurred for a variety of reasons. Like ancient Egyptian royalty, European royalty encouraged marriage between cousins as a political strategy to unite kingdoms and forge alliances. The Hasburg family of Austria was most famous for interfamilial marriages, so much so that Charles II of Spain exhibited signs of genetic disorders. Ultimately, his infertility led to the extinction of the Hasburg family line. Survival and companionship was another motivation, which was especially useful in pioneering communities. For small religious groups at risk of extinction, faith survived better by marrying those within the community – namely relatives. Retaining wealth, assets and titles was a huge driver in uniting relatives. Laws prior to the 1900s forbade women from retaining property and turned all assets over to her husband’s control. So to keep it in the family, families literally kept it all in the family. But in today’s more modern times, love may just naturally bud at family reunions, maybe as a result of that “genetic sexual attraction” theory. Pass the potatoes please.
Despite the dangers of inbreeding, along with the social and religious ramifications, there are an amazing amount of geniuses and leaders associated with this consanguineous practice. Johann Sebastian Bach married his cousin and they had seven children together. Albert Einstein thought it a smart idea too. Jessie James was not so much of a tough-guy to say no to his cousin, and perhaps writers Edgar Allen Poe and H.G. Wells both found inspiration in their aunt and uncle’s children. Queen Victoria, who set in motion the Victorian model of a modest bride, married her cousin, Prince Albert. Jerry Lee Lewis married his second cousin, an improvement over firsts, but he loses points because she was allegedly only 13. And while FDR bravely battled the Depression and Nazis, and while Rudy Giuliani fought against the destructive efforts of terrorists in 2001, both succumbed to the feminine wiles of their cousin-wives as well. (Giuliani anulled his marriage after 14 years with the Catholic church on the grounds the cousin-thing made it illegal in the first place.)
Affinity marriages are ones of indirect blood relations and can be defined as “in-laws,” which are still too close for comfort in certain jurisdictions and religions. One of the most famous affinity marriages is that of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, daughter to Spain’s Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand II. Catherine had been married to Henry’s brother, Arthur, who died suddenly. To keep relations between Spain and England strong, Henry married Catherine after she promised the first marriage had never been consummated, and the Pope granted dispensation from affinity. Eventually, Henry, lusting after one of the Boleyns, justified his divorce from Catherine on the grounds that she had, in fact, consummated the marriage with Henry’s brother. And then he accused Anne Boleyn of sleeping with her brother in order to get rid of her.
Despite religious condemnation, legal disapproval and social discontent, history has shown that the practice was generally accepted among some of the world’s greatest leaders, thinkers and poets. While Thomas Jefferson marrying his third cousin seems too long ago to matter in the present day, the taboo itself has widely shaped and influenced history and culture. The question of its morality is not what’s being debated here, this dialogue is to bring attention to the fact that by treating consanguineous marriage as abnormal and taboo, we fail to recognize it as a pervasive component in history and in doing so only half the story will ever be heard.
Dahiney Ghuri in Pul-i-Kumri, Baghlan Province, Afghanistan: Afghanistan’s neighbor, Pakistan, outlawed forced marriage and acid throwing on December 11, 2011. Unfortunately for Afghanistan, a similar story has gained huge international attention as well, but for opposite reasons. 15-year old bride, Sahar Gul, who after refusing to become a prostitute by her in-laws was severely beaten and locked in a dirty basement bathroom for several months with barely enough necessities to survive. Her in-laws of seven months pulled out her nails, clumps of hair, burned her with cigarette butts, and tore pieces of flesh from her body. Gul, in critical condition, will be transported to India for serious treatment and recovery.
The Buccaneers (TV mini-series 1995) – If you like romantic period pieces this series is for you. The Buccaneers is the last novel written by Edith Wharton of four young American girls with “new” money that spend a season in England in the hopes of finding rich, aristocratic husbands. The girls are successful but their stories unravel as being married and someone’s wife reveals a much more sordid and unsatisfying life than they had been lead to believe. How the girls cope with obligation, expectations of their sex and class and love is worth a watch. (Subject: Marriage, Etiquette, Love) Director: Philip Saville
A historical moment for Pakistan, whose Senate passed two new bills: The Acid Control and Acid Crime Prevention Bill 2010 and The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices (Criminal Law Amendment) Bill 2008. This makes the following illegal in Pakistan.
This chart has been circling the Internet. What’s interesting about wedding tradition today is that it is mostly shaped by pop culture and media, whereas back in the day it was influenced mostly by religion. This chart lays out the various verses that relate to marriage, sex and women’s issues. While a lot of these practices are not as commonly practiced, I thought I might address ones that are:
Man + Women (Nuclear Family) bride who could not prove her virginity was stoned to death – this still happens in the middle east and sub-Sahara in what is justified as an honor killing. Honor killings are not limited to stoning but can also include burning, acid burning and other forms of abuse. For example, in Iraq 2007, a 17-year old girl, Du’a Khalil Aswad, was stoned to death in an honor killing because she fell in love with someone outside her religion. She was from a minority Kurdish religious group called Yezidi, and the boy was a Sunni Muslim. Iraqi Security forces stood by and watched as she was dragged into a square and publically flogged until her death. Pools of her blood collected around her body in the middle of the street. Not one person in the crowd tried to save her. The entire event was captured on camera and released on the Internet (Warning: Graphic Violence)
Man + Woman + Woman’s Property – This was called coverture and wasn’t outlawed until 1933.
Man + Woman + Woman + Woman – An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 people live a polygamist lifestyle in the US.
Rapist + His Victim – While no one forced a victim to marry their rapist, one parallel issue that could be drawn is how state abortion laws treat pregnant victims of rape. First, states that outlaw abortions outright are leaving little choice for its constituents, along with the states that limit the victim’s freedom to chose the outcome of their pregnancy and have control over their own bodies.
Male Slave + Female Slave – The Department of Justice estimates that more than 250,000 American youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Each year an estimated 800,000 to 900,000 human beings are bought, sold, or forced across the world’s borders [2003 U.S. State Department estimate]. Among them are hundreds of thousands of teenage girls, and others as young as 5, who fall victim to the sex trade. in 1999 that more than 200 international matchmaking services operated in the United States, arranging 4,000 to 6,000 marriages annually between American men and foreign women, mostly from the Philippines and former Soviet Union.
From Frans Kahn to now a tired middle-aged man, the French are having their own sexual revolution as of late. The question is which way is it going?
While many of us fret over unimportant issues related to our own weddings or believe that our freedom of choice on how to marry is a sign of progress, we must remind ourselves that equality and humanity in marriage is seldom enjoyed in other parts of the world. From the denial of gay marriage to the following issue of child bride, we must remember that many existing forms of marriage violate basic human rights. It is up to us who are privileged enough to enjoy healthier forms of marriage to not turn our backs on those who still need help.
Dangerous Beauty (1998) – Based on the 16th century true story of Veronica Franco who falls in love but can’t marry the object of her affections due to a lack of a dowry. With no marriage prospects, she’s faced with the decision to either enter the convent or become a courtesan. She chooses the life that provides her access to education, independence and the power of expression and articulation, as opposed to the cloister or wifehood which forbids women an education, basic intellectual rights and keeps them as subordinate creatures. Her beauty and smarts win over the hearts (and beds) of most of Venice’s aristocrats, but after Venice faces war and then the plague she is accused of witchery and causing the downfall of Venice.
Yes, Virginia [Woolf] dowries so still exist! The writer who insisted women must have their own income would be upset about this law decision and the culture leading up to it in all capacities. Our Canadian neighbor’s B.C. Supreme Court turned down a petition for payment of a dowry under a marriage contract authorized in a sharia court of Amman, Jordan. Seems that the dowry and sharia were contracted by the bride’s uncle, leaving her to live in poverty after her divorce.