Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rites of Passage: Marriage



In my last post I talked all about adulthood and what the really means in a society. Between my thoughts and the comments of some other we pretty much concluded that adulthood is unique to each individual culture and society. Also it was pointed out that the “rites of passage” that I mentioned (sweet 16, getting a car, getting a job, etc) are not really “rites of passage” like the elaborate ceremonies in other cultures. The same can all be said about another rite of passage: Marriage.

Many of you know how I feel about marriage and if not think about how my journey into “finding myself” and becoming an adult has no mention of a spouse. It’s true I’m a very cynical person, but I’m talking about the concept of marriage as a whole, not love. Let’s take a step back and look at marriage in the United States first. First off we have crazy one night celebrity weddings, drunken Vegas weddings, weddings that are showcase for the parents of the bride, weddings that are broadcast nationwide and then you have the simple madly in love sharing their love with their family and friends weddings. Talk about a mismatch of ideas and practices yet the government still wants to restrict marriage (though don’t get me started on that issue…).

Now many of you might yell at me for this next part, but bear in mind that I’m looking at it from an anthropological perspective. Marrying out of love is something that has only become popular in the past couple of centuries. Marriage was, to many in ancient times, the same thing as their journey into adulthood. Girls would be married off at a young age for many different reasons and they were hardly ever love. There are many examples even in the Judeo-Christian Bible of girls being married off to satisfy their family debts. This still goes on in some societies around the world. So once again I point out that “love” and “Marriage” being intertwined is a newer concept.

So before one enters into a marriage they go through the rite of passage of the actual wedding. I happen to be one of those people who thinks the thought of parading yourself and spouse in front of hundreds of people to say “I love you” and want to spend the “rest of my life” with you (Yes they are in quotes for a reason, I’m not just quote happy) is an unnecessary measure. What I do like though is the rituals that many other cultures have that are associated with the wedding (imagine that a pagan like me who loves rituals…).

My favorite of all the wedding rituals happens to be the Russian wedding. First of all it is important to note that like in many European countries this is a multiple day event, sometimes even lasting a week. The first step in the wedding is the vykup nevesty which means “Paying of the Ransom,” and yes it is what it sounds like. The groom shows up with money or jewels to “pay” for his bride. This is all done in a very comical way even sometimes the bride hiding and him having to find her, or even a friend dressing up as the bride to fool the groom.

The next part is the actual wedding ceremony which consists of three parts: the optional traditional service, the betrothal and then the main service in either a church setting or the civil setting. During the civil ceremony, the parents give the couple two crystal glasses, which they break. The more pieces it breaks into, the more years of happiness they have. It is also customary for the married couple to release either balloons or two white doves to symbolize their love and partnership which is written in the sky for all to see. The bride also releases another balloon with her maiden name written on it, symbolizing her new life journey with her husband. After all of this the couple and their guests embark on a tour of the city where they have the opportunity to take pictures at historical landmarks.

Then comes the best part (well at least I think so): the reception. At the reception instead of toasting with champagne or wine like we do here in America, they toast with shots of vodka. The first toast is made to the newlyweds and after the first shot, the guests begin to shout Gorko, Gorko, Gorko, Gorko means “bitter.” To combat the bitterness, the couple must kiss for a long time. The second toast is made to the parents. Then the new couple dances the first dance of the night. As the night continues the guests dance, sing, play games, and make toasts (thus getting incredibly drunk). This celebration lasts several days, as the family continues to eat, drink, and celebrate. This part of marriage I could definitely get into.

The Russian example is just one in many elaborate rituals an ceremonies surrounding marriage. Once again though at its core marriage isn’t about love, religion or any of the other things it has been turned into. It is about two people entering into a partnership that they will both benefit from. Some marry out of necessity, some out of tradition and some out of love. Now we Americans marry out of love along with stupidity, drunkenness and greed.

Now let’s go back to the definition of what marriage is, which has to be broken down by cultures. There is no one umbrella definition for marriage which is why it irritated me when people use the argument “Same sex marriage is going to change the definition of marriage.” David Schwimmer, an anthropology Professor from the University of Manitoba says in the best. He talks about how in general, Western cultures consider marriage as “an exclusive and permanent bond between a man and a woman that is centrally concerned with assigning sexual rights in each of the partners and establishing parental responsibility for the children of the union” (Schwimmer 2003).

Traditionally, it also organizes parents and children into domestic groups in which basic roles are distributed. Variations and changes, such as same-sexed marriages, are seen as an affront to a divinely ordained order. However, other cultures have developed very different conjugal arrangements, which suggest “that other solutions to basic human problems have worked in different social contexts and that changes in Western patterns might not necessary lead to social and moral decay” (Schwimmer 2003).

So that fuels the fire that there is no one definition of marriage. Elaborate ceremonies and rituals aside marriage is something that is so much different at its core in so many different societies. There are some anthropologists that devote their whole life to studying marriage and trying to find out just what it is.

References:

“Defining Marriage” by: Brian Schwimmer, Department of Anthropology, University of Manitoba
September 2003

3 comments:

The Writing Revolutionary said...

Marriage has always been an interest of study as far as my cultural anthropology endeavors go. I have always had this deep interest in the concept of love, and why both of marriage and love were always synonymous with each other. Before I even began my studies into cultural anthropology, I found this concept of marriage and love to be awkward at best. Although I was well versed in my role in the American "Matrix", I still found it odd (I like to see the strangely familiar as odd, and the odd as strangely familiar).

This post almost seems as if you have something against the idea of the western marriage normality. Perhaps you have just been sick of the continium of the same rite-of-passage your whole life and thrive for something different. Maybe it isn't marriage per-say that you have a problem with, but how it is portrayed and acted out (in a western sense, of course). I will agree with you that the idea of marriage being some kind of selfish show to prove that you have accomplished something in your life is pointless. That we both completely and utterly share a strong dislike for.

The most interesting section of this piece was Schwimmer's view and analysis on the definition of marriage. How insightful! I do think that perhaps the real answer in discovering what marriage really is in relation to the human existence is not defining marriage, but viewing it as a crutch in which people use to SHOW that they are becoming into adulthood. I think across the board, the road to marriage shows something (anything) about the two/few/many individuals involved.

Also, I had a question about this particular part of the blog: “an exclusive and permanent bond between a man and a woman that is centrally concerned with assigning sexual rights in each of the partners and establishing parental responsibility for the children of the union” (Schwimmer 2003)." "Sexual rights": does this mean to say that most of the people involved in a western marriage are the roles they must fill in during sexual acts, or does it mean gender roles based on the sexuality? If it does have to do with gender roles, I find this highly comical. Also, I would lost to see a post on gender roles from you! Gender roles fascinate me because they literally take over each and every individuals life. We, men or woman, stop or start doing/acting/being a certain way because it doesn't fit our private parts role in which we have assigned ourselves. Oh my gosh! You have to do a blog on gender roles, or I will and I will be 379,847 pages long.

Great post, girlllll!
Priscilla

Sam Curtin said...

First of all your comments always make me smile cause you're so freaking smart! That's exactly what I was trying to get across that this whole western idea of marriage is something that I reject, namely how people act when they are in a marriage. Also weddings are just boring in the Western world, I like other cultures ceremonies so much better! On the flipside of that marriage to a man because of an obligation, like we see in other cultures, I reject as well.

I love your comment: "I do think that perhaps the real answer in discovering what marriage really is in relation to the human existence is not defining marriage, but viewing it as a crutch in which people use to SHOW that they are becoming into adulthood. I think across the board, the road to marriage shows something (anything) about the two/few/many individuals involved." I completely agree!!


As far as the sexual rights Schwimmer was reffering to gender roles which is another subject I have a lot of issues with! I deffinetly will do a post in the future on gender roles but I feel like it might end up as an 1,000 page rant!

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