The editor of Academic Coach Taylor, a blog of encouragement and ass-kicking for academics based on the main character of Friday Night Lights, is a Ph.D. candidate working in gender studies and media studies. ACT has smart opinions. Here’s one:
Wednesday, May 9, BuzzFeed posted a screenshot aggregation article titled “39 Ways Men Use Pinterest”. What followed was an all-too-obvious collection of boards like “Food I want My wife to Cook” (white chocolate cupcakes with truffle filling!) and “Things I’d like my wife to wear” (Xena-style mini skirt and bra separates!) and one particularly gay-tastic board of drag-queen-worthy pumps, “Shoes I Wish My Wife Would Wear” (srsly, bro?).
Was there ever a clearer indication, the Internet howled, of the piggishness of men?
Chris Menning of Modern Primate fired back the same day with “39 Ways (some) Women Use Pinterest”, a gallery of Pinterest’s double-edged gender sword: “Things I want my husband to buy me” (a BILLION etsy necklaces) and “things my husband should build” (a “half table”?).
As I stared at these two litmus tests for diagnosing a severe lack of imagination, I wanted to tell men to cook their own fucking burgers and women to buy their own fucking blood diamonds. Staring harder, I came to an amazing conclusion: marriage is fucked up.
Menning describes Pinterest pretty accurately as “a site that’s geared toward object fetishes”. From where I’m standing, that’s an awfully precise description of the cultural institution of marriage as well (individual results may vary). Anyone who’s remained stubbornly single through their 20s (or refuses to marry, or legally can’t) knows the financial woes of helping your friends “build a new life together!”: the numerous pre-parties (and required gifts), followed by the wedding (travel, hotel, clothes, and an even nicer gift). Marriage, in Western culture, operates on the model that a new couple needs “one of everything” in order to make a home, and should keep buying until they get it—and all those fancy cupcakes require lots of cooking gear too.
But the funny inverse of this model is that you should never need to share with others, because you have all your own stuff. It’s the sort of pernicious logic that suggests just because you serve gravy twice a year, you need a gravy boat that matches the rest of your dinnerware, rather than borrowing one from a friend or using your grandma’s old chipped gravy boat or just using a damn bowl. It makes marriage a groomsman to capitalism (sharing the honor with the seasonal shitshow of Christmas and the quickly metastasizing university system): a system organized around unsustainable, individualized consumption and planned obsolescence that spreads out via isolated family/home units, rather than more dispersed models based on sharing, community and friendship. Models that could be less entrenched in object fetishes and more sustaining, more inventive, more focused on the quality than the quantity of living. If we shared more than bought, there’d be a lot less profit to go around — but maybe we’d also be a lot less interested in profit as our life goal.
It’s a useful context for thinking about the gay marriage debate, recently punctuated by North Carolina’s need to define marriage as between a man and a woman in their state constitution. The same day the Pinterest articles were put up, Obama either broke the internet or declared war on marriage (depending on what side of the bipartisan brain-drain you frequent).
But as much as I lovelovelove Obama as my celebrity president, it’s a bummer that the only context in which gay rights and queer equality is discussed is in relation to long-term monogamous couplehood. Models that are themselves deeply linked up in problematic structures of property ownership, models that themselves began as ways of managing property ownership (of both land and women, or land through women). As if we’ve chosen to ignore that living in a pluralistic society might mean not just diversity of race, ethnicity, religion and sexuality, but also social and familial formations, which can directly redirect our economic formations.
And most of us don’t even live in these forms of monogamous relationships; the value of marriage shouldn’t be re-consecrated as the price for queers getting admittance to the equal rights party. Far more interesting is to imagine these debates as a way of asking better questions: like why the fuck are the state and the nation involved in marriage to begin with? Why can the state control who can visit me in the hospital? who gets my inheritance? who can adopt my kid? Why can health insurance only be bestowed on a spouse? Why don’t I get tax benefits for living with lifelong friends? When the hell are we going to let polyamory be politically visible? What exactly should the relationship between the nation and my body look like? — questions not easily answered by conventional notions of bi-partisanism.
I went roaming on Pinterest for “Food my Power Bottom should cook me”, “Clothes my polyamorous secondary should buy” and “Stuff for my Boston Marriage”. As of yet, nothing came up. There’s other ways to live in this world. Maybe marriage isn’t so great after all.