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Beyond the Access Narrative: Marriage Politics, Austerity, Surveillance

Submitted by on July 10, 2012 – 9:32 pmNo Comment

I wrote a piece in May for The Feminist Wire titled “Beyond the Access Narrative: Marriage Politics, Austerity, Surveillance.” A reader on the Facebook page for The Feminist Wire hated it and wrote this response: “This article is all over the place (KFC chicken, stereotypes of the submissive Asian woman, gay marriage, black marriage, immigrant rights, etc.).  It is and argued so poorly, I got tired of reading.  I was all prepared to go in and dissect each argument point by point, but it failed to interest me enough to devote that much time.”  By the way, this person continued to write five more paragraphs of criticism!  In the final paragraph the author made it clear that we were having an ideological disagreement (and not one of organization in terms of my writing) as they were pro-gay marriage and had a problem with me being critical of marriage as an institution.  But doesn’t the snippet of this person’s six paragraph critique make you want to continue reading my essay?

“Beyond the Access Narrative: Marriage Politics, Austerity, Surveillance”

May 19, 2012

Several years ago I was at a mall in Philadelphia buying a meal from KFC.  Because I didn’t want my cole slaw to run all over my fried chicken and biscuit—having had this not so pleasant experience in the past—I asked the cashier to put the side dish in a separate paper bag.  As it had begun raining when I entered the mall and because I was riding public transportation back home, I also asked the cashier to double bag my entire order.  I did not expect my effort to avoid eating a soggy biscuit or arriving home with a soaked container to yield a comment about my marriage prospects. But that it did.  Exasperated at my two requests, the cashier said while handing me my food, “You’re probably never going to get married, are you?”

I share this experience with my students during our section on marriage and the family in Introduction to Sociology, a course I teach regularly.  I tell the anecdote for a couple of reasons.  One, I found the situation rather funny even as I recognize that the cashier’s comment was, as many of my students point out, rude and overly-familiar.  Two, and more importantly, it serves as a basis for interrogating the beliefs about marriage found in the majority of sociological research on inequality and assimilation as well as in public policy and more recent debates about gay marriage.

There is usually an audible gasp from the class when I finish the story.  Most of the students’ comments express a preoccupation with me being deprived (at least verbally) of marriage.  Some also raise concerns about the gendered aspect of me being perceived as too “dominant” a woman (which could also be racial since I am Asian American) for marriage since I felt comfortable asking for what I wanted, in this case, the separation of my cole slaw and an additional bag.  While kind, underpinning my students’ reactions is the belief that I am somehow being denied something of value if I cannot get married.  As we read and discuss sociological articles about marriage as an institution, including more contemporary literature on gay marriage, students tend to express the same argument found in most social science research and political analysis: marriage is the goal.  Although some students do not seem totally comfortable with homosexuality—judging from their responses to our readings on gender and sexuality—most who do participate in the class debate about gay marriage appear to support lesbians’ and gays’ right to wed.  Not surprisingly, then, most of these students are perplexed when I present sources that indicate ambivalence or even aversion to marriage from gays and lesbians and some LGBT organizations.

Given this, I also think many of my students would be surprised to find out that marriage is not necessarily a right that has been “kept” from people in the way often suggested in political debate, a point I want to explore further here.

To read the rest, go here.


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