La Neta: Is Marriage Normal?

Shi-Li-Bo Nouvavou, a voudoun spirit. “She is the zenith of solar force, assured and possessed of confidence that is tempered by time and knowledge.” The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot. Destiny Books: Rochester, VT, 1992

In A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness (Duke University Press, 2011), Cherríe Moraga writes that the issue of legalizing gay marriage has the potential to detract from a more pressing issue:  why is marriage normalized in our society, while other kinds of unions are denied legitimacy?  Along with Moraga, I maintain that marriage is the right of heterosexual and homosexual unions alike, but I also join her in wondering if it should be idealized as the ultimate expression of love’s maturity.

Divorce is a process in which a legal authority dissolves the bonds of matrimony.  According to Paul R. Amato’s research brief “Interpreting Divorce Rates, Marriage Rates, and Data on the Percentage of Children with Single Parents,” the commonly cited statistic that about 50% of American marriages eventually end in divorce is accurate.  In a Latino cultural environment, the celebration of marriage is the major rite of passage that defines our entry into adulthood and, as women, one of the most crucial measures of our adequacy. According to Catholic belief, marriage is a sacrament.  Once it is consummated, it cannot be dissolved, and if a divorced person remarries, they are living in perpetual adultery – a state of mortal sin.  As a writer, I can appreciate the poetry in this.  It is true that although it has ended, a relationship never remains safely in the past, and it continues to be a part of who we are forever.

However, as a feminist, I need to question this doctrinal attitude. First, it is clear that sexual control of women (“once it is consummated…”) is the objective here, and this control is used to prevent women from making their own choices about who they partner with.  Secondly, divorce is just as valid an expression of love’s maturity as marriage, and it takes a great amount of faith and spiritual resilience (whatever your system of beliefs happens to be) in order to leave a marriage and travel into the unknown.

I really couldn’t point to a body of films or television shows that portray divorce as the successful outcome of a love relationship. In the media, Latinas are only happy when they are wives and mothers, or perhaps celebrating their quinceañera in a stretch Hummer. To go outside of what our culture promotes as normal is a frightening thing.   People want to know what went wrong, and there is something deeply humiliating about breaking the news to friends, family, co-workers, and in-laws. If children are involved, you are shifting their universe irrevocably.  You are in a world of judgment.

Recently, I overheard a conversation that made me think about how we look at divorce.  The conversation was between two long-time students of capoeira, a Brazilian martial art.  A current capoeira player talked with a woman who had trained for many years, but had stopped playing.  The woman who left capoeira said she felt that the martial art could have been better to women. The more aggressive player invariably “won,” while a player exhibiting just as much mastery in their evasive moves was perceived as the lesser player in the bout. I think of our society on whole, and our cultural traditions in particular, like the capoeira player who promotes offensive tactics as intrinsically more valuable than the defensive moves to avert the deathblow.  A divorce takes great love and skill.  It is described as a loss, but it takes enormous courage and emotional mastery to move away from the attacker into a position of greater safety.

As women, we are trained from childhood to cooperate with sexually controlled, officially legitimized unions.  A recent news article about two girls in Iran who assaulted a cleric in a small town says volumes about the pervasiveness of this control.  The older, male authority figure told one of the girls to cover herself more completely. “She responded by telling me to cover my eyes, which was very insulting to me,” explained the cleric. On many parts of this planet, “normal” still means to be controlled by a husband, father, or priest.
Divorce is about believing that love can be better. So plan your anti-bridal shower with your best girlfriends, make that appointment to get that new tattoo – or get that tired “forever yours Enrique” on your neck covered over.  And if a cleric tells you he doesn’t like what he sees, you may cordially invite him to cover his eyes.

(Feel free to share your own thoughts or experiences in the comment section)

4 Responses to “La Neta: Is Marriage Normal?”

  1. Stephanie Diaz Reppen says:

    ha! We left the Catholic Church the day the priest brought up the subject of “divorced women” in Mass. I was six. My mom stood up, muttered, “Well, then, I’ll see you in HELL, Father!” and took herself and her six-year-old out, stepping over the other people in our pew. When we got outside, she cried.

  2. Maria Lopez says:

    Were you writing this article while you were thinking of your own failed relationships. It is interesting to read your thoughts on divorce and how you believe that women who are married are miserable. I think it is a way for you to justify your poor choices in how you handle your relationships. If we all believed what you believe, there would be a collapse of the family unit. Divorce is another word for quiter, someone who is not willing to fight for their family to provide a stable loving home. While I believe that there are extenuating circumstances where divorce is the only option, I think what you are promoting is an easy way. How many hyphens are you willing to add to your last name that then you will need to explain to your son?

    • Paloma2013 says:

      Thank you for taking the time to reply, and for the courage it takes to engage in dialogue with a perspective so different from your own. I’d like to clarify a couple of things. Among those I associate with, there are women who are both happily and unhappily married, and there are women who are divorced and many who have never been married at all. It’s my hope that we can find ways to support all these different ways of being as valid. It was feeling to me like too many media streams were focusing on marriage as being the only appropriate course. I wanted to create a space to voice a different orientation.

      Thank you for your concern for my son. I hyphenated my name when I was in high school because I wanted to include both my parents’ names in my own. My grandfather had two daughters, so it meant a lot to him before he died to see that his name was passed on. I would never change it.

  3. teresa says:

    “As women, we are trained from childhood to cooperate with sexually controlled, officially legitimized unions.” NOT
    And marriage is normailzed while other unions, etc etc etc.

    Where have you been since the 60′ — there are myriads of women portrayed as happy and “normal” who are single, divorced, not to mention family unions that are NOT the nuclear family but anynumber of different familial AND friendships unions.

    LOOK AROOUND BEYOND THE SELF

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