Show 272: Rethinking “Traditional” Marriage w/ Stephanie Coontz

Rethinking “Traditional” Marriage: Stephanie Coontz on her book, Marriage, A History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage

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From Publishers Weekly:
When considered in the light of history, “traditional marriage”—the purportedly time-honored institution some argue is in crisis thanks to rising rates of divorce and out-of-wedlock births, not to mention gay marriage—is not so traditional at all. Indeed, Coontz argues marriage has always been in flux, and “almost every marital and sexual arrangement we have seen in recent years, however startling it may appear, has been tried somewhere before.”

Based on extensive research (hers and others’), Coontz’s fascinating study places current concepts of marriage in broad historical context, revealing that there is much more to “I do” than meets the eye. In ancient Rome, no distinction was made between cohabitation and marriage; during the Middle Ages, marriage was regarded less as a bond of love than as a ” ‘career’ decision”; in the Victorian era, the increasingly important idea of true love “undermined the gender hierarchy of the home” (in the past, men—rulers of the household—were encouraged to punish insufficiently obedient wives). Coontz explains marriage today as a way of ensuring a domestic labor force, as a political tool and as a flexible reflection of changing social standards and desires.

Stephanie Coontz teaches history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and is Director of Research and Public Education for the Council on Contemporary Families, which she chaired from 2001-04. She is also the author of The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, and The Way We Really Are: Coming to Terms with America’s Changing Families.

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