24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
After reading this book, it is abundantly clear that for almost the entire history of mankind, marriages have not been based on love, let alone equality. Marriage was basically a necessity, serving both political and economic purposes, in contrast to the many choices for living arrangments that have appeared in the last fifty years or so. In addition, marriage in the past was all about male domination, a wife having no legal standing whatsoever. Divorce in most settings was nearly impossible. But the introduction of love into forming marriages has been transforming in many ways.
In the absence of formal legal rules and governments, powerful families or tribes generally ruled over territories. Marriages were used to forge alliances among rulers. In the lower classes marriage was an economic necessity - a solitary individual found it almost impossible to survive. Marriages were not formally sanctioned, though the Church in the Middle Ages attempted to impose some control. Fundamentally, the intent of two consenting adults established a marriage. With the rise of constitutional governments and individual rights, women gained some ability to withstand forced marriages, but were still seen as subservient to husbands - not equals. Women because of their "differences" were seen as being suited to the domestic sphere only, but many women chafed at that arrangement.
There is no doubt that the twentieth century saw more changes in marriages and other living arrangements among adults than in all previous eras combined. The changes were uneven, often depending on the state of the economy. The changes of the 1920s, in which potential partners followed their feelings, somewhat regressed during the Great Depression of the 30s. Also, the long decade of the 1950s was somewhat of an anomaly, as the "male breadwinner" marriage predominated featuring the happy housewife surrounded by all her appliances. But that was short-lived.
The 1960s was a time of social unrest and the assertion of rights, and the institution of marriage was not spared examination. The author points to the huge increase of economic opportunity and the entry of women into the workforce and the development of reliable birth control as the primary factors in altering the acceptance of traditional marriage and its limitations and compromises, opening up the possibilities of finding true capatibility and love. However, that idealization of marriage certainly fueled a rise in the divorce rate.
The book because of its breadth, can seem to be a bit jumbled as snippets of information and incidents from many different times, not necessarily strictly chronological, are included. On the other hand, the subtle differences of various eras are quite interesting including the exceptions to women's subservience. Also, in modern times developments in marriage, divorce, workforce participation, etc have been very uneven, which makes for ambiguous statistics and explanations. Despite huge changes in perceptions of marriage, older notions still endure in no small way.
The author is not anti-marriage, claiming that, at its best, it still represents the best living arrangement for two people. But it is evident, that more options exist for those dissatisfied with marriage, which by a large majority are women. The book is a very useful look at the history of marriage, but is hardly the last word on the evolution of marriage, alternatives, relationships, etc.