Magi Mike's Blog

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Traditional Western Marriage has Seldom been the Human Standard

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People, taught that particular social habits promoted by Christianity are natural, fail to realize that family life has evolved to meet people’s needs in their particular society. John Scanzoni, a University of Florida sociology professor, has found that polygamy, bisexuality, homosexuality, philandering men and working women have been the social norm in many societies in recorded history. Scanzoni is the author of Healthy American Families: A Progressive Alternative to the Religious Right, published by Praeger.

Ever since humans have been around, we’ve been continually altering, tinkering, tweaking, reinventing and changing every aspect of our families.

Throughout history in most parts of the world, people believed that the right and moral thing to do was for one man to have several wives. Most human societies practiced some form of polygamy, which was invented by men primarily for their own economic and social benefit. A man wanted to be assured that his land and livestock would be passed onto his sons after he died, and having multiple wives increased his chances of having male heirs. Insights into polygamous marriage—including male promiscuity—can be had simply by reading the stories of biblical characters like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David.

And the argument that homosexual marriage is wrong because it violates the ancient moral ideal that marriage is the union of one man and one woman is wrong. The Greeks and Romans began to move away from polygamy for practical reasons, but men still had sex before and after marriage with as many women as they wished. Most Greek men were openly bisexual, and many Greek thinkers believed the most profound love occurred between two men, not between a man and woman. Scanzoni pointed to Plato:

Plato, for instance, believed sex with one’s wife was necessary in order to bear children for the sake of family honor, but for sexual ecstasy one turned to one’s male lover.

Along with accepting alternate forms of sexuality, people have long been receptive to the idea of women in the labor force, Scanzoni said. Before the early nineteenth century industrial revolution, women typically worked alongside their husbands on farms, and many also carried on vital occupations such as seamstress and midwife. Scanzoni continued:

There was no sense at all in people’s minds that women should not do productive labor. The woman’s labor was as essential as the man’s for the survival of the household. Women did not grow up thinking a man would support them, unless they belonged to that tiny handful of elite upper class women who were aristocrats or royalty.

And it was in the class of the nouveau riche, the bourgeoisie, who imitated royalty and nobility in their hope of joining the upper class, that women were excluded from the board room, which became a male domain throughout the twentieth century. Bourgeois values spread to the lower classes as they became literate and so women were expected to remain at home or, at best, were permitted to do “women’s work” like nursing and hairdressing. Scanzoni explained:

For the first time in history a new style of marriage was born, in which the husband was provider and the wife was homemaker, and it permeated late nineteenth and twentieth century America, becoming the 1950s style of marriage championed by the Religious Right

Today, however, there has been a shift away from that option as increasing numbers of younger, well educated women view work just as men do, as essential for gaining a sense of autonomy or control over their lives. Recent census data show that in large urban centers, and for the first time ever, child free women in their 20s earn more than young men, he said.

The male as primary breadwinner used to be practical when men earned more than women. But as women start to earn more, or even the same money as men, that male breadwinner role no longer makes any economic sense.

In the current economic crisis, men have been more likely than women to lose their jobs. The downturn has highlighted how essential women’s earnings are to the economic well being of the household, underscoring that just as men don’t have the option not to work, neither do women.

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Written by mikemagee

29 November, 2010 at 12:18 am

3 Responses

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  1. Whenever I hear arguments against gay marriage, I never hear a single rational reason for why its illegal. It’s always “The Bible clearly states” or “It’s abnormal behavior”, or some other such statement. But they don’t seem to realize that the Bible is not science, real science shows there is strong proof that tie genetics and homosexuality together. But try pointing that out, and the average theist will usually not listen to reason, and instead will stand their ground, even in the face of reason.

    Misterioso Adversario

    17 December, 2010 at 9:09 pm

  2. The means of production are land, labor and capital. Land should not be allowed to remain fallow; labor should not remai idle; capital to be invested for further production.
    So God asked Adam and Eve to work hard, land to be ploughed and with the capital earned from hard labor cities arose and Cain took refuge in one of the cities.
    The same principle we see in Old Testament operates even today.

    A.Yeshuratnam

    17 July, 2011 at 3:21 pm

  3. It is not clear to me whether you are being critical of the Old testament or admiring it.

    Mike Magee

    17 July, 2011 at 6:54 pm


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