I have been having an ongoing discussion with Small Holding about the changes in the institution of marriage. My point has been that the feminist movement is more a reflection of other changes in the culture. It certainly would shape some of the discussions, but most of its impact was political and directed more toward the small segment of women who are in the upper tier of society. For most other women, it was simply a recognition of what was already going to happen when combined with demographic and technological (birth control) changes.
Whether these changes have been for the better of course is still very much a matter of discussion. But I think it is important to realize that it was not simply a matter of people in a vacuum all the sudden deciding to behave differently.
On another note, in addition to having computer problems (solution will be to get a new computer), blogger has made changes to its interface that make it extremely difficult to format these posts. Blogger's formatting has always been awful. But now I am having difficulty importing formatting from other sources. Unless I can figure a way around these changes, the already spotty formatting here is likely to get worse.
What [Stephanie] Coontz found was even more interesting than she’d originally expected. In her fascinating Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage, she surveys 5,000 years of human habits, from our days as hunters and gatherers up until the present, showing our social arrangements to be more complex and varied than could ever seem possible. She’d long known that the Leave It to Beaver–style family model popular in the 1950s and ’60s had been a flash in the pan, and like a lot of historians, she couldn’t understand how people had become so attached to an idea that had developed so late and been so short-lived.For thousands of years, marriage had been a primarily economic and political contract between two people, negotiated and policed by their families, church, and community. It took more than one person to make a farm or business thrive, and so a potential mate’s skills, resources, thrift, and industriousness were valued as highly as personality and attractiveness. This held true for all classes. In the American colonies, wealthy merchants entrusted business matters to their landlocked wives while off at sea, just as sailors, vulnerable to the unpredictability of seasonal employment, relied on their wives’ steady income as domestics in elite households. Two-income families were the norm.Not until the 18th century did labor begin to be divided along a sharp line: wage-earning for the men and unpaid maintenance of household and children for the women. Coontz notes that as recently as the late 17th century, women’s contributions to the family economy were openly recognized, and advice books urged husbands and wives to share domestic tasks. But as labor became separated, so did our spheres of experience—the marketplace versus the home—one founded on reason and action, the
other on compassion and comfort. Not until the post-war gains of the 1950s, however, were a majority of American families able to actually afford living off a single breadwinner.
See also: The Way We Weren’t Stephanie Coontz National Forum: The Phi Kappa Phi Journal, Summer 1995. pp. 11-14. Originally as an introduction to her: The Way We Never Were: American Families And The Nostalgia Trap (updated in 2000).