How Marriage Is Evolving In a Time of Women's Independence by Susannah Wellford. See details below.
If you haven't read Icelandic Nobel Prize winner Halldor Laxness' book "Independent People," you need to pick it up right away and bring it with you to the beach. It is an unforgettable story about, among other things, how and why women and men live together as partners.
The story revolves around a man fighting to make it on his own as a sheep farmer in the unforgiving climate of Iceland. He will accept no help or charity from anyone, except of course from his wife who is little more than a slave in his house.
For much of the history of the world, men and women lived together because they needed each other. Marriage was an economic arrangement, and love and emotional support came second or perhaps not at all.
On the small farm in Iceland, where the main character Bjartur lives, he wants a wife so that when he comes in from a long day in the cold, he has a warm meal waiting.
His wife also bears and takes care of the children (whom he needs to work on the farm) and keeps the home warm and clean. He provides her with more elemental things: a roof over her head, food to eat and status as a wife.
Without him, she has to rely on the charity of others to live. In exchange, she gives up her rights and freedom. The independent people of the novel's title are decidedly not the women.
In America at least, marriage has evolved a lot since the times when women had to marry to survive. Love and emotional support are the key reasons that people marry now, not financial necessity. In America, women are almost half of the labor force and make a good amount of money, although not quite what men bring home.
They increasingly hold leadership positions, have equal rights to men in most things and are more than capable of leading fully independent lives. But this independence means there may not be as pressing a need for women to marry, and perhaps this helps explain why the marriage rate has been in a steady decline in America since 1970.
But still, almost everyone I know is married. And despite the falling marriage rates, I think for most people it is still the gold standard of how to live one's life. I certainly grew up wanting it. My plan was to meet the perfect man, get married, make a home together, have children and live happily ever after.
I got a lot of that, but after 17 years, I was single again. Here's what I have now: I have two incredible children, a beautiful home and a great job. What I don't have is a husband.
Unlike the women in "Independent People," when I lost my husband (through divorce, not death!), I didn't need to immediately find another man to take me in so that I could survive. And while I would love to have the companionship and love of marriage again, it won't be a financial necessity for me.
I think American society is very much in transition – women are climbing towards parity with men in economic status and in leadership, but we also still want to live together as partners in marriage.
The rising divorce rates show that we are having trouble figuring out what this means in a time when the traditional male/female roles in society and in the home are rapidly evolving.
My sister Liz is a great example. She is married to Chris and has two daughters. When her girls were very young, she had a flexible schedule at work while Chris worked a demanding full time job. Now they both are working full time, which changes the dynamic in the marriage.
When she gets home from a long day at work, she wants someone to take care of her, but so does Chris.
Without someone full time at home nurturing the culture of the family, making sure everyone's needs are met, both partners have to be more flexible and willing to do what needs to be done.
But instead of breaking down as a couple under this new arrangement, they now devote much more time to working on their marriage, making sure that they are still communicating and taking time to enjoy each other to counter the inevitable stress.
When you poll Americans to ask what they want from a marriage, 62 percent say the ideal marital arrangement is for both partners to make money and for both to share equally in the work at home. But this is not the way things work out for most families.
Women in America still do twice as much of the housework and child care, even when they are also working full time outside the home.
One solution for ambitious women is to marry a type-B man, who will be willing to take on the traditionally female roles of keeping house and children cared for. I've seen marriages like this that seem to work out beautifully, but the uneven balance of power can't be easy for either partner.
I think the best marriages are those built on deep love, strong mutual respect and a sense of equality. As American women become more independent and powerful in society, the answer isn't abandoning the institution of marriage but rather working harder to have marriage evolve to become something that works better, and is happier, for both partners.
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