Subject: Laura Kipnis' article
I'm not entirely clear as to what Laura Kipnis is arguing in her recent Observer piece. The tagline claims that "she explains why monogamy turns nice people into petty dictators and household tyrants," but while she makes that claim in the article, she never backs it up.
She dismisses the 38 percent of married Americans who claim to be happy as well as the fact that "we all know that domesticity has its advantages: companionship, shared housing costs, childrearing convenience, reassuring predictability, occasional sex, and many other benefits too varied to list." Committed to the idea that marriage is evil (quite literally if one believes her title), she does not ask that third of the population what is special about their marriages that they can say they are happy. Neither does she interrogate the remaining 62 percent as to why they are unhappy; the bulk of her article indicates that she sees herself as something of an expert on what is wrong with marriage. While high divorce rates and low rates of marital happiness are certainly cause for concern, Kipnis seems to be using these statistics as a jumping off platform to rant about marriage, because the vast majority of her article is vitriol whose basis appears little more than anecdotal.
The first of her complaints about the institution of marriage is "the endless regulations and interdictions that provide the texture of domestic coupledom." She elaborates, "Is there any area of married life that is not crisscrossed by rules and strictures about everything from how you load the dishwasher, to what you can say at dinner parties, to what you do on your day off, to how you drive - along with what you eat, drink, wear, make jokes about, spend your discretionary income on?" It's called compromise. It's about cohabitation and shared bank accounts. And what kind of spouse makes rules about things like what the other person wears or jokes about?
Kipnis continues, "What is it about marriage that turns nice-enough people into petty dictators and household tyrants, for whom criticising another person's habits or foibles becomes a conversational staple, the default setting of domestic communication? Or whose favourite marital recreational activity is mate behaviour modification? Anyone can play - and everyone does. What is it about modern coupledom that makes policing another person's behaviour a synonym for intimacy?" My question is, what married couples does she know? Yes, it is a problem that many people, women especially, seem to think that by entering into an intimate relationship with someone they will somehow be able to change that person, and certainly some spouses nag far too much, but is that behavior really true of every single married couple she knows?
She also complains about the lack of options available if mutual desire does not last a lifetime, bemoaning the fact that "waning desire for your mate is never an adequate defence for 'looking elsewhere'." Is marriage just a convenient mechanism for getting sex? Has she actually read the traditional wedding vows? Marriage is about sharing your life with another person. Certainly there are few people who want a life without sex, but it's a weak marriage if you want to get out of it just because the sex isn't good anymore.
Lastly, Kipnis opposes the American idea that "Good marriages take work," arguing that after a day at work, no one wants to come home and do more work. Her factory analogy is flawed, though, as the work that goes into making a marriage work is not physical labor or paper pushing, but rather talking to your partner and learning to compromise and so on. Does Kipnis really believe that relationships should just work on their own with no effort from the involved parties? Although, in the previous paragraph she seemed to express the opinion that marriage is just about sex, and no one expects to work to maintain a relationship with a prostitute.
There are valid arguments to be made in opposition to the institution of marriage, but Kipnis' article amounts to little more than self-centered whining based on generalizations.