‘”Marriage is the destiny traditionally offered to women by society.” – Beauvoir’s thoughts

Posted: October 24, 2012 by anitahadasangwan in Uncategorized
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Simone de Beauvoir defines marriage as the destiny traditionally offered to women by society and her statement-“It is still true that most women are married, or have been, or plan to be, or suffer from not being”- is relevant today. So the study of woman has to include the analysis of marriage.

According to Beauvoir the economic evolution in woman’s situation is in the process of upsetting the institution of marriage, increasingly it is becoming a union freely entered upon, and the various issues like adultery, divorce etc are now getting equal in the eyes of the law. Marriage has always been a very different thing for the man and for woman, the two sexes are necessary to each other but it has never brought about a condition of reciprocity between them. Woman has always been ‘given’ in marriage by certain males to other males and till a long time contract of marriage was between the father-in-law and the son-in-law, not between husband and wife.

For the woman marriage is her sole means support and the sole justification of her existence. This statement made by Beauvoir may not hold true today in the economic and social context but is still relevant. Ji Sung Kim writes in her blog about cooking and women that

To elaborate, Simone De Beauvoir wrote, “Marriage is the destiny traditionally offered to women by society.” In systems of traditional domesticity, married women worked in the home. Part of their work was cooking food in the manner of their foremothers. Cooking, along with housekeeping, was seen as antagonistic to the modern woman’s freedom to pursue her agency. It wasn’t just consumer culture peddling their fast food; women’s very departure from the home, her physical ‘distanciation’ from the kitchen, required she needed food that could be presented during the hours she was home. Having worked all day out there, the second shift of ‘in here’ work would begin upon her return if cooking meant the vegetables had to be washed and chopped by her hands and the meats had to be drained of blood, braised and then boiled for eight hours. So yes, convenient foods helped. Traditional foods are not antagonistic to women’s pursuit of life, but its foundational support.

Marriage is enjoined upon women for two reasons – first is that she must provide society with children and second is it’s her function to satisfy a male’s sexual needs and to take care of his household. For girls marriage is the only means of integration in the community and that’s why mothers have so eagerly sought to arrange ‘suitable’ marriages for them. Once again Beauvoir points out that the girls is ‘given’ in marriage and the men ‘get’ married , they ‘take’ a wife. She takes his name; she belongs to his religion, his class, his circle; she joins his family, she becomes his half. A woman is doomed to the continuation of the species and the care of home- that is to say immanence. For man marriage is a perfect synthesis of maintenance and progression but not for the woman.

Beauvoir states that even when the woman is emancipated she is led to prefer marriage to a career because of the economic advantages held by men and the promise of an ‘easy’ life. She compares the single woman of France and America that they are both socially incomplete though in America more so. Even if she makes her own living, to attain the whole dignity of a person she has to wear a wedding ring. Maternity in particular is respectable only for a married woman and her child is a severe handicap for her in life.

Today, of course things are better for the unmarried mother but still not much and they face a life full of difficulty and problems. But with social and familial support, and with the government also coming forward things are easier, at the same time this differs widely from one society to another.Beauvoir uses a common example to bring home a very relevant point. Girls when asked about their plans for the future reply that they want to get married but no young man considers marriage his fundamental project.

Well, today the answer of the girls has also changed with at least the majority of the girls aiming for a career and financial independence.Beauvoir says that arranged marriages have been more numerous in France than elsewhere, but maybe we in India can refute this statement. She says that clubs devoted to such matters still flourish and matrimonial notices occupy much space in newspapers. Well, all this holds true of India even today.A girl does not have much choice and if a man is reasonably eligible in such matters such as health and position, she accepts him, love or no love. Though the girl desires marriage, she also fears it. It benefits her more than man but also asks more sacrifices of her. Analyzing further Beauvoir says that marriages are generally not founded on love. The very nature of the institution, the aim of which is to make the economic and sexual union of man and woman serve the interest of society, not assure their personal happiness. The woman especially is not concerned to establish individual relations with a chosen mate but to carry on the feminine functions in their generality. 

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