x132 (down and out: of race and marriage)

So I had written this whole big long self-deprecating blog post about the phenomenon of black women either marrying out, marrying down, or not marrying at all. It was inspired by Rachel W. Miller of APW, who read a book called “Is Marriage For White People?” by Ralph Richard Banks (good book if you’re into sociology; I recommend picking it up at the library), and also partly by a different Rachel from APW who wrote about the societal pressure for women to marry “up” and the letdown that happens when they don’t. I started asking Ashley questions so I could get her input for the blog post, and she immediately shut me down. She very firmly believes that while she did marry out, she most certainly did not marry down. So instead I’ll focus on the (incredibly heteronormative) concept of marrying down and how that’s a bunch of BS in modern society. Let’s discuss, shall we?

I want to preface this by saying that as a white ally, I really have no business discussing race. If you have questions about race, turn to the internet and Google some self-identified marginalized authorities on the issue (Black Girl Dangerous being one of my favorites). Any discussions of race will be taken directly from either Rachel W. Miller, an biracial woman, or Ralph Richard Banks, a Black man (or from Ms. W. Miller quoting Mr. Banks, in which case both of them had some input). Because I am in an interracial relationship, I will have a little bit to say about that, but not much (perhaps I’ll talk some other time about how much fun it is to get glares from Black women while in public because I stole a “good Black woman” from one of their own).

Essentially, the concept we’re discussing is this: Black women are less likely to get married than white women. Trends in Black families and marriages tend to eventually get picked up by white people, so pretty soon it’s not all that likely that white women will be getting married, either. The reason for this is that more women (Black and white) are getting college degrees and becoming “successful” (read: entering the middle or upper class), and when given the choice between marring “down” (marrying a man who doesn’t have a college degree or who has amassed less wealth than they have) and marrying “out” (marrying a man of a different race who has a college degree and is equally financially successful), they choose to marry down or not marry at all.

We have two issues here: interracial marriage and interclass marriage. Rachel W. Miller did a pretty good job of discussing the former (and how sad it is that it‘s not happening more often), so I’m going to focus on the latter and why I think it’s inherently problematic. For starters, is it even possible for a woman in a lesbian relationship to marry down? I’m not a sociologist, but in recent history the concept of marrying “down” has been relegated to men in the following way: if a man can’t support his wife and children, then he’s not worth marrying. It generally was a woman’s place to take care of the family and to marry someone who can support her. And with Disney’s “Aladdin” being the notable exception, fairy tales and media inundate us with the idea of a woman either marrying up or marrying her equal, if she’s already wealthy. In a lesbian relationship, the idea of marrying down would require heteronormative gender roles to be in effect – the classic question “which one of you is the man?” would inevitably be asked. Even in a heterosexual relationship, the idea of a man caring for a woman is becoming old fashioned – most households intend to be dual income, and I can tell you from personal experience that the majority of high earning men expect their partner to have a college education and pull equal weight – or at the very least, they’d rather not date a woman who works in retail or who is on disability. Men aren’t looking to take care of a woman, and women with wealth and college degrees aren’t looking to be taken care of, either. The issue is simply that in a society that promotes egalitarian marriages between people of the same class, there are less eligible men because men aren’t receiving the same schooling that women are.

But if men are the ones who aren’t obtaining college degrees, how does this even affect gay women and bisexual women involved with other women? It would seem that the chances of a lesbian having to marry down are pretty slim. And yet, here we are with a woman who chose to both marry “out” and marry “down”. I suppose it’s worth noting that a college degree is not an indicator of intelligence, but moreso of socioeconomic status: yes, there are scholarships available, but the way our education system is designed (from pre-k on) is both classist and abelist and does not provide as many opportunities for the poor and for those with learning disabilities and mental health conditions. What we’re really looking at is a system that society has designed that rewards women for marrying wealthy men (or in this case, other wealthy women). And in a day and age when women are able to be breadwinners and primary earners, why is there so much pressure for her partner to be in the same earnings bracket? Simple: society hates it when men take on positions formerly occupied by women. As an intersectional feminist, I think it’s important to note that we’ll have reached true equality not when women can do all the things men are allowed to do, but when men can do all the things women are supposed to do. Put plainly, femininity is feared.

In a situation where one woman is the financial caretaker and one woman is the homemaker and familial caretaker, both are often providing needed services to keep the family functioning. As Ms. W. Miller states in her APW article “Feminism and ‘The New Domesticity’ ”, “…[W]e have to stop perpetuating the idea that ‘women’s work’ is silly and inherently oppressive, and the idea that anyone who says she enjoys it is just pretending to like it in an effort to put other women down and get herself a husband.” Instead of marrying down, Ashley is marrying an intelligent young homemaker who is contributing to the partnership and who was adversely affected by an abelist education system. Had she married a man in the same situation, the same would be true, but the people around us would be hard-pressed to admit it. Marrying down is simply a societal construction that puts emphasis on demonizing men for taking up a position formerly occupied by women. If we stop looking at it as marrying “down” (or marrying, in actuality or symbolically, a woman) and start looking at it as marrying a partner who is simply bringing different things to the table, we remove the classist and misogynistic implications of the term. We find a family who functions much as families have for years: one person as the primary earner, and one person earning less but contributing non-monetarily to the partnership. Gender becomes irrelevant, and as long as the family unit functions properly, nobody is left “down and out”, so to speak.


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