Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Heterosexual Marriage: Protecting Little Red Riding Hood From The Big Bad Wolf

Judge Walker's over turning California's Prop 8 has spawned a number of articles with some interesting justification for heterosexual marriage and why it should be left alone.  Bill Lyndsey has done a wonderful job of critiquing Russ Douthat's musings in the New York Times.  This piece of Douthat's argues that marriage is really about leveling the sexual playing field and protecting the gene pool by reducing the predation of some males and preventing women from pursuing only powerful males. 

I was still trying to assimilate this view of marriage when I came across the same sort of argument in the Christian Science Monitor.  The author, Sam Shulman takes the 'alpha' male argument even further by insisting marriage exists to protect and defend women from heterosexual male predation.  The following is an extract: 

Marriage is about defending women

Among the many different versions of marriage in human history, very few of them have supplied the high-minded qualities that the plaintiffs feel is their right. The vast majority of marriages in the past, perhaps a majority even now, were dictated by families, clans, holy men or magicians, and enforced on the bride and groom by social pressure, enforced if necessary with brutality and violence.

Marriage is a necessary defense of a woman’s sexuality and her human liberty from determined assault by men who would turn her into a slave, a concubine – something less than fully human. Human communities need to give women some additional degree of protection – through law, custom, religious decree, or sacrament – generally some combination of all three, neatly summarized by the plaintiffs, who demanded the sacred and the eternal from the state of California. (And for most of marital history these noble goals were accomplished by making the woman contractual property--something a bit less than fully human.

Of course, marriage’s power to protect women is far from perfect, but no human institution is. Parents, too, sometimes do awful things to their children.

Unions of men and women are unique

That’s why it has never occurred before to lawmakers (or any human society of which I am aware) to offer marriage to pairs of lovers that happen not to include a woman, or that involve only women and not a man. (Educate yourself.  Try a google search and you might be unpleasantly surprised.)
Relationships that involve a man and a woman are a matter of public concern in a way that other relationships are not. Of course, single people and gay people can be parents, and their equality with married couples as parents can and should be crafted by legislation.

Walker asserts that Prop 8 is motivated partly by “a belief that same-sex couples are simply not as good as opposite-sex couples,” and concludes that the law’s intention is to enact “a moral view that there is something ‘wrong’ with same-sex couples.”

The fact is very nearly the opposite. Heterosexual relationships need marriage because of inferiority: the physical inferiority of sexual defenders to sexual attackers and the moral inferiority of male sexual attackers. (If I were a heterosexual male I might be just a tad bit offended with this line. Talk about reductionist.)

Marriage is not about couples or lovers – it’s about the physical and moral integrity of women. When a woman’s sexuality is involved, human communities must deal with a malign force that an individual woman and her family cannot control or protect.

Modern marriage is only the least worst version of marriage that has emerged from all this – but it is still necessary for women. What protects women, ultimately, is that marriage laws and customs confer upon her independence something extra – dignity, protection, sacredness – that others must respect. And if this quality can be bestowed upon anyone, even those not in intersexual relationships – it reduces, even dissolves its force.

Marriage can't be reduced to esteem

That’s why so many – even the most secular, gay-admiring, civil-rights-conscious among us – feel that something more is going on with the movement to turn marriage into a device to give couples self-esteem – or, in Walker’s terms, status in society.

For Walker, the state of California has an overriding interest in ensuring that a same-sex couple should feel good about themselves. Walker and others are certainly right to want straight people to have a positive view of homosexuals – I want this, too.

But hard as it is for Walker to believe, most of us who prefer to leave marriage (with all its defects) as it is are not concerned with homosexuality at all.

We are merely voicing a sensible desire to preserve an institution that recognizes and protects the special status of women. If marriage becomes a legislative courtesy available to everyone, like a key to the city, it will be women who will lose.


I admit I was stunned when I read this piece yesterday.  I am still stunned this morning.  Am I now to believe that marriage isn't really about pro creation, it's about protecting women from the predations of the big bad alpha wolf?  Or is it as Douthart implies, protecting beta males from being sexually excluded by the big bad alpha wolf?  Are these writers admitting to some sort of atavistic male fear about other males and projecting it on marriage and women? Could it be that they are admitting that Western mores are designed to control the predation of alpha males and give status and meaning to other males?  To perhaps give these 'lesser' males a sense of 'self esteem'.

Maybe I really am just a little too far out on the margins, but these new arguments for the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage are mind boggling.  Or maybe it's I just don't understand this kind of male psyche, and if that's true, I don't see how complementarity between the sexes can exist in any meaningful sense.  How does a woman compliment the agenda of a partner they don't understand?  Any good therapist will freely admit what breaks up most marriages is that the two people entering into the marriage are operating from very different agendas as to what their marriage means to them and as to how it will play out.  Many times those agendas are hidden from the individual until they are faced with a situation which conflicts with the hidden agenda.  In these situations one finds healthy complementarity is not dependent on gender roles, it's dependent on self awareness and communication.

If this is the new strategy around which heterosexual marriage will be defended, the culture warriors need to drop it in a big hurry.  Reducing marriage to predatory control is about as reductionist as it gets.  Might just as well have the animal control people conduct marriages and be done with it.


  1. What's fascinating in a sense here, Colleen (& everybody!), is that arguments are being made ad hoc and ex post facto - without considering how arguments, like this one, would mesh with other theocon agendas. So... how does this elevation of WOMAN! to a protected status mesh with the refusal to ordain her? I mean, my God, if WOMAN! is so vital, so important, so elevated, then it would seem we need a whole new theology here! She, indeed, should be at the altar, surrounded, of course, by mobs of protecting men, bowing low as she elevates the sacred species in her sacred hands!

    Imagine WOMAN! presiding at a marriage - pontificating about the need to protect the vulnerable, angelic bride. Perhaps there needs to be included in the wedding ceremony a proof of the groom's prowess? Perhaps in jousting? Or some modern equivalent? For if this is so vital to the entire God-given Sacrament and Institution of Marriage then the ceremony itself is in serious need of revision and addition.

    What will they come up with next, these theocons with their ad hoc, ex post facto ill-considered rationalizations (devoid of reason) - made up by males about females - adding crazy-quilt, ill-fitting patches to what was idiocy and non-sense to begin with?

    At the very least we should expect that one argument should mesh with another. How is it that we've gotten to a point where people can write almost any kind of nonsense that would hardly withstand debate on its own merits, let alone make sense alongside the rest of their agenda?

  2. Here is a quote I wanted to post anyway, but it so meshes with the topic at hand, which is really about the "word" and "words" more than it is about gender or marriage:

    The discernment of spirits, to which the apostle John the Theologian calls us, is above all a differentiation of words, for not only did the word, with the world and all creation, fall, but the fall of the world began precisely with the perversion of the word. Through the word entered that lie whose father is the devil. The poison of this lie consists in the fact that the word itself remained the same, so that when man speaks of “God,” “unity,” “faith,” “piety,” “love,” he is convinced that he knows of what he is speaking, whereas the fall of the word lies precisely in that it inwardly became “other,” became a lie about its own proper meaning and content. The whole falsehood and the whole power of this falsehood lie in the fact that he made the same words into words about something else, he usurped them and converted them into an instrument of evil and that, consequently, he and his servants in “this world” always speak in a language literally stolen from God.

    Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist Sacrament of the Kingdom: Sacrament of the Kingdom

    I actually lifted that quote from here:


    (where the blogger is slowly posting a reading through this book by Schmemann)

    Something tells me Mouse will particularly like this quote!

  3. "What will they come up with next, these theocons with their ad hoc, ex post facto ill-considered rationalizations (devoid of reason) - made up by males about females - adding crazy-quilt, ill-fitting patches to what was idiocy and non-sense to begin with?"

    I can't wait for the next installment. This is better than any of the multiple "Real House Wives of whatever and wherever". Maybe we need a new show "Mad Men" defend "Real House Wives".

  4. But it has to be a "REALITY" show!

    For those who want "more" related to that quote I posted above, here's a link to what the same blogger has posted today - from that same chapter:


  5. As a woman I'm insulted by this attitude of marriage exists to protect women who are too weak and sexually vulnerable. Yes, it is insulting to men to be thought of has mere predators. But it is just as insulting to treat women as the prey. The repetitive redundancy of this line of 'reasoning' does not make up for the lack of quality of thought.


  6. Wow. I was a little surprised after reading this to discover that Mr. Douthat is actually married. To a woman, even.

    The introduction of evolutionary psychology into the discussion is intriguing, but I can't imagine too many married heterosexuals taking up this line of argument.

  7. Thank you for bringing in the term "evolutionary" psychology, Prickliest. To me, stretching evolution to include such far-fetched concepts as the "development" of moral reason and the interactions between men and women and social "institutions" such as marriage erodes the umbrella of "evolution" as a pretty good theory, at least when confined to biology. This is another example of what I was discussing in my first comment - how pieces of one argument or theory fail to mesh with other arguments or theories - let alone "reality".

    As the right, more and more, stretches language and meaning we are nearing the breakdown of being able to communicate at all - across vast chasms growing ever wider - between whole segments of our society, not to speak of the church itself.

    (I keep wanting to pull away from these discussions... yet am finding the need to at the very least connect with some vestiges of sanity, as the right - in its effort to be seen as "right" - pulls us all into "orbits" where we seem to be circling nothing but nonsense.)

    God, I hope that made some sense!

  8. What is the source of the illustration? It is simply amazing and so well chosen to start the discussion. The tale of Little Red Riding Hood has an adult meaning that may not be obvious to children. It is a cautionary tale regarding a young girl reaching sexual maturity. Mr. Apha Wolf is one attractive fellow, but beware!

    Often while contemplating the perversion of the Catholic clergy I have thought of these four words: Bondage, Discipline, Dominance and Submission. Yes there is a sub-cultural that have adopted these as their passwords to sexual identity and practice. But it is the close relationship of the mindset and psychology of the libertines and most sexually repressed that comes to mind. This imagery is most disturbing. I don't expect perversion from the the pillars of society, but there it is, over and over again.

    It seems to me the main difference between the sexual BDSM community and the rest of society is that they embrace the perversion and enjoy it knowing it is just a game.

    I'm reminded of Jean Paul Sartre's discussion of bad faith in "On being and nothingness" when he describes a man, employed as a waiter, who is play acting the role of waiter. He is deceiving himself and yet...


  9. The word verification ghost just scolded me as soon as I hit enter on my last comment: culcat (In French the "cul" is slang for "ass or arse". "Asscat"

    I guess what I was trying to say in a rather roundabout way is that marriage can be seen either as a civil contract, or a sacrament, or both. Depending on your attitude and experience it could be heaven or it could be hell.

    And I guess that's why I pointed out the double entendre of the words associated with perversion.


    PS: Incidentally, we've had same sex marriage in Canada for 5 years.

  10. This is no doubt and interesting view of Marriage. It is not one I can even half heartedly subcribe to though.

    If, Marriage is a necessary defense of a woman’s sexuality and her human liberty from determined assault by men who would turn her into a slave, a concubine – something less than fully human, it is a shabby effort at best.

    Everyday I get closer to thinking that rather than being a path to sharing fully in each other, it is a poorly constructed road map to taking a spouse or partner completely for granted.

    My picture of marriage formed in childhood was an image of danger, risk and ultimately dissapointment for my Mother Father, step parents siblings and all but one set of Grand Parents.

    I did not enter the state with the idea that I would live in a Disney cottage. I wish I could say that my spouse had the same ideas, since he had actually been married before.

    Even now I have this great picture of what Marriage could be once we learn that we are not really any different from each other where it counts and start to engoy the elegant little differences we have.

    Some days I can't waite.

  11. When I read this I had to laugh, thinking of my son, a yellow belt in karate, describing his attempts to be a gentleman and be protective to the 5 foot tall black belt female who was teaching him.
    No wonder the clergy don't "get it" if they believe any of this c... which dishonors male and female as made in the image of the Divine

  12. "Or maybe it's I just don't understand this kind of male psyche, and if that's true, I don't see how complementarity between the sexes can exist in any meaningful sense.

    I sure don't understand that kind of male psyche either!! I am drained trying to figure out what the heck he means. Women need protection from roving bands of male wolves! Oh my gosh, the world has truly gone mad!

    And, great question - "How does a woman compliment the agenda of a partner they don't understand? "

    And, how does a man compliment the agenda of a partner they don't understand?

    This would be where we are at for the moment. The rapid and rabid increase in predatory males? Both writers imply this. I wonder if they themselves are predatory males?

    It's too weird to contemplate this stuff.

    TheraP, you are making a lot of sense! Thank God there are sane people still alive!!! It is getting really crazy!

  13. Butterfly that's the trouble with these assumed notions of gender complimentarity, they are generalizations which don't allow for individual expression or outside influences.

    How many men are unable to see a lay off is not the result of some fault in their masculinity, but the result of company decisions? To these men lay offs mean they are unable to fulfill their gender role, not that companies are unable to fulfill their corporate roll in society.

    This works great for corporations, as men instintively blame themselves for something which is not their fault. It also leaves corporations virtually free of blame and free to pursuit their own corporate agenda.

    People really need to ask the question who benefits from gender stereotyping? It isn't necessarily children, who are actually given a model of their gender which no longer functions as particularly adaptive in this culture.

  14. "People really need to ask the question who benefits from gender stereotyping? "

    Stereotyping of Individuals by gender does not benefit anyone or culture at all. It stifles creativity. When creativity is stifled it is a symbol of the stifling of the Creator. It is in a true sense attempting to place the Creator's life and energy into a box which contains unconsciousness, not Truth. The box itself is a man-made construct that contains falseness.

    I guess many a male has fallen for the stereotype of "maleness" box as Truth, tied to employment and income, status, property, sexual ability, physique, etc. Those with an institutional or political agenda seem to play on the stereotypical notions of gender roles. They reinforce the ideation.

    I've always hated stereotypes that people have projected onto me, of the type that insist I must be their ideal model stereotype to meet their ideal expectations of me, so I seem to be very sensitive & against the stereotyping of anyone. It is simply a narrow & false view that one has and projects onto an object. They cannot see the entire person and only see what they want to see from the ideal of their concocted notions, not the real. It is a blindness away far from Truth. It is also a fear of their wanting to know the real which is far away from the Truth.

  15. butterfly:

    When people have idealized me, I tell them that makes nervous... because from a pedestal there is only one place to go - and it's not up!

  16. TheraP, that was a good one. I'll have to borrow that one if it ever happens to me. My point was not that I was ever idealized as being perfect or better, far from it. I would be nervous about that as well.

    Here's one:

    Do not follow me, I may not lead
    Do not walk ahead of me, I may not follow
    Walk beside me and be my friend

  17. In real life people don't idealize me, butterfly, just patients in therapy. Though now I'm mostly retired and those few I still see know I'm human.

    Yes, I far prefer to walk beside than lead or follow. Though I am prepared to walk away if necessary!