Monday, 31 October 2011

Has marriage gone out of fashion?

This is a question that needs to be asked in today’s society.  We live in a time of drastic change: technological development, social networking, media growth and political mayhem.  I aim to discuss the concept of marriage in relation to such a changing culture with reference to the following issues: rebellion from tradition, dysfunctional families, pluralist lifestyles, stereotypical definitions, radical feminism, financial instability and the law.  

When I met James (22) and Imogen (21), one of the first things they told me about themselves was that they are married.  This was instantly followed by an awkward silence, my head working overtime trying to understand something so ridiculous.  ‘Smile and nod’ is my favourite way to deal with such baffling moments.  Should I congratulate them?  Pity them?  So young and yet so bound by this contract called ‘marriage’.  But was it really so ridiculous?

In today’s world, particularly in the west, marriage is seen as something that happens when you’re old and boring, that you put on like an old pair of comfy slippers when you’re done with fun in your life.  Marrying young is seen as a thing of the past, something our grandparents did because ‘that’s just how things were in those days’.  Well that is exactly how I saw it.  As time went on, I quickly became close with both James and Imogen, and can safely say that they are two of the most fun, lively and attractive people I have ever met.  And they really do live life to the full!

So why is it so rare to see such a phenomena?  Why do we see marriage in such a negative light?  Personally I put it down to experience of dysfunctional families and breakup.  With a distinct lack of role models, and divorce rates through the roof (although surprisingly lower than they have ever been, simply because less people are getting married in the first place), today’s generation are growing up with the misconception that marriage is a burden (or at least that is how I perceived it coming from said situation).  There are few examples of how marriage should be, a happy, enjoyable, secure and loving communion between two people; the epitome of love and joy.  Marriage, as I have learnt through my friends, is beautiful.  We should not be put off by our negative experiences, but learn from them ‘how not to do marriage’.

Sadly this beauty is lost on the pluralist society we live in.  Life is all about ‘convenience’, ‘freedom’ and ‘individualism’.  We do not have time for commitment and investment in relationships, we want to pick and mix the aspects of our postmodern lives to make up our super slick identity.  We want hot cars, top jobs and bachelor pads.  No-strings-attached sex is ‘playful’, ‘fun’ and ‘attractive’, the new alternative for ‘boring’ and ‘out-dated’ pacts of marriage.  On the cover is the glossy idea that commitment has gone out of fashion, but deep down, everyone has that secret longing for love and security.  Even the most hectic celebrities and influential politicians have someone to cuddle up to at night.

But who’s to say that it’s all about security?  Being married to someone is not just about having a safety net when you need someone to turn to or simply having someone there ‘at the end of the day’.  Marriage has been so heavily labelled with such characteristics, that although they are largely important factors of marriage, they draw attention away from other aspects of such a union: the things that marriage once required have now been placed as attainable only outside of marriage, by a generation seeking to rebel against anything that might be called ‘traditional’.  But marriage is what you make it, just because the label carries such negative connotations in wider society, does not mean you have to adopt them on a personal level.  Sharing life with someone means sharing everything; the life lessons, the glamorous social life, the achievements, adventures and heart-warming side-stitching memories.  Two fun-loving people joined together make for a whole lot of fun!

Another reason that marriage has gone out of fashion is the rise in radical feminism.  Some feminists (a small minority) go to the extreme in thinking that being married somehow makes you weak and passive.  Some believe that liberation is only gained through independence and separation from men.  I believe that equality is achieved through unity rather than segregation (but this is another topic in itself so I’ll not go into detail on this point).  Women are afraid to fall into categories of ‘wife’ or ‘mother’, two words again that have the connotations of boring, traditional unchallenging roles.  Most of the women that I know who are either married or in relationships are incredibly strong and active in their position.  Some are even active feminists.  Being married does not take this away.  If anything, being married is an incredible example of equality and unity between men and women, two people loving and caring for one another unconditionally and giving all they have to one another on an equal measure.  It’s not really about cooking and cleaning while the husband is out working as the breadwinner (unless adhering to gender stereotypes is your thing… then err… whatever works for you).

In such desperate financial times, most people discard the idea of marriage as an unnecessary celebration that costs the earth.  Some people spend thousands and thousands of pounds on a wedding, buying designer dressed, hiring extravagant venues, paying attention to the smallest details from gold leaf place cards to ribbon dressed furniture.  It’s become a competition, who can have the most ‘fairy tale’ wedding.  Couples everywhere are going to drastic lengths to impress, taking out loans, sacrificing other financial commitments, even entering competitions and taking part in reality T.V. shows such as ‘Don’t Tell The Bride’; anything to get their hands on the cash for the big day.  But marriage is not about the wedding.  Of course the ceremony in itself is important, but the 24hours of the first day of marriage is nothing compared with the years that you will spend together afterwards.  To put so much pressure and expectation into one day is pointless.  Keep it small, keep it personal, and get the whole family involved in a DIY wedding!  Bring it back to the bonding ritual it is meant to be, put love into it, not money.  A wedding does not have to be expensive to signify that two people want to declare purely and simply, that they love one another.

Some people are against the idea of marriage because they simply don’t see the point.  When I told friends that I was working on a blog on the topic of marriage, one of them linked me to a video of Doug Stanhope on marriage.  Although ridiculous in the name of comedy, he makes one good point: when we have something as personal and beautiful as a loving relationship, why should we want to get the government in on it?  Why should we have to declare by law that we love one another?  Surely it doesn’t matter.  Well I agree.  To me, whether a marriage is legal or not is not what makes it a marriage at all.  Personally, I believe that marriage is a promise before God that the two of you will love and cherish one another for the rest of your lives, the promise of union, two people joining as one.  You may not agree with my personal perception, but you don’t have to believe in God to make such promises to one another, (although I do believe that a marriage without God at the centre is a fragile one).  If you love someone, the greatest thing that you can give to them is your life, and promising them that you will share all you have with them forms an unbreakable bond.  Marrying the one you love says ‘I will share with you the highs of life, and when the lows bring us down, I will fight for our love’. 

I’m not saying that everyone should get married.  First of all, being single is not a negative thing, and life can be just as great if you have no-one to share it with, trust me, I’m not married!  Also we should not disregard the seriousness of marriage.  It is indeed a great level of commitment, a responsible decision that should be made for life.  Baring these two statements in mind, I am simply asking, that for those of us who have been blessed with a partner, or those of us that are single, do not see marriage in terms of the problems that I have explored in this post.  I ask that we rekindle the magnificence of such a beautiful part of life, that we see the fun and enjoyment that should be sought in marriage, and glorify it. 
Marriage brings not the death of life, but the everlasting life of love.

(I would like to thank James and Imogen Lowe for giving me permission to write about them in this post.  You are such an encouraging couple, and impact the lives of many, day after day. Evangelists for marriage!)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Renaissance: The New Feminism

How many times have you heard that there is no need for feminism in the modern world?  Women have the right to vote, financial independence, (almost) equal job opportunities and powerful positions in the government and other institutions.  The Suffragette’s have won all they fought for, and a line has been drawn through ‘feminism’ as a done and dealt-with cured ill of our society.  So is feminism dead?

I challenge this claim with the proposal that feminism is very much alive, and an essential tool for building a great society even today.  Yes, changes have been made.  Yes, goals have been met.  Yes, norms have been broken and women have been raised up to be more strong, powerful and influential than ever before in the history of gender politics.  But, when we look at the content and context of the most powerful women today, is this what those first feminists really wanted?

Sex: that three-letter word that has more power than the likes of words such as ‘peace’, ‘freedom’ and ‘equality’.  Sex: that weapon that women have used to manipulate the predatory male into a position of passivity and reliance.  Were women really onto something when they discovered the one thing that makes any man weak?  Or have they been lulled into a false sense of security, where once again, men have got women exactly where they want them; driving and fulfilling their sexual fantasies?

Let us take a quick look at a few powerful respected women.  Carla Bruni, Lady GaGa, Beyoncé, Lady Macbeth, Margaret Thatcher (wait, how did that one get in there…).  What do they all have in common?  Sexual provocation.  These wily women have all used their gorgeous bodies and alluring intimations to get them to the top.  But although they’re in the highest places, the men are still looking up their skirts.

Beyoncé is a fantastic example of feminism gone wrong.  Feel free to cringe as I quote some lyrics here: ‘if you like it then you should’a put a ring on it’, ‘my persuasion can build a nation, endless power, the love we can devour’ and the entire theme of the song ‘Independent Women’.  All of these signify all kinds of independence for women, emphasising the power and strength they supposedly manifest in todays society.  These lyrics alone represent the passion behind those very first feminists and the ideals they strived toward.  But the reality found in other lyrics such as ‘tonight I’ll be your naughty girl’, ‘I know you want my body’ and ‘ladies let him check up on it’ reveals that women are only powerful when using their sexuality as a manipulative tool. 

Feminist fought for freedom, and women having gained this freedom were so bewildered that they didn’t quite know what to do with it.  With this newfound freedom of expression, mixed together with male expectations, women easily fell into the bitter cocktail that we are still drowning in today.  We have a narrow choice: use sexual appeal to gain a cheated upper hand, or remain a weak, prudish, dehumanised existence.  Feminism needs to change this metanarrative, to reconstruct ideologies into realities.  Sexualising women is dehumanising.  Respecting women for their intellect, passion, and inner beauty, is the first step to bringing true equality.

The power of women needs to be reassessed. 
The reality of inequality needs to be reinterpreted. 
Feminism needs to be reborn. 
This is a call for Renaissance for today’s generation.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Bookhouse Boys

- photograph by Annie Davies -
            Crammed onto the stage like a child’s nativity play, the eight-piece London band hit Nottingham’s Bodega Social Club with a performance that was far from amateur.  This group of suave, sophisticated and talented performers, in attire fit for the ‘smoky jazz club’ scene, played a set chosen by the dedicated fans.  Vocalist Paul Van Oestren asks the audience, “do you want it mellow or do you want it loud?” both of which The Bookhouse Boys master with great ease.

The beautiful Catherine Turner hypnotizes fans with her strangely seductive jerky movements, and the smooth vocals of an introverted Kate Bush, complementing the gritty tones of Van Oestren.  The upbeat favourite ‘I Can’t Help Myself’ pulsated through the venue and kept the audience dancing from start to finish.  Bassist William Emms played the haunting tones in ‘Guns Like Drums’, complemented by ghostly vocals, thrashing percussion and regal outbursts from Natty Defriend and Charlie Beringer on trumpets.  As individual members each from radically varying musical and influential backgrounds, the eight compile into a strange cocktail of musical genius, deserving of a fresher consumer than they have so far received. Check out their album ‘Tales To Be Told’, out earlier this year.

(as published in The Mic - Issue 30, 2011)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Did Darwin Kill God?

As part of my theology degree I opted for a module on The Philosophy of Religion last year, in which I touched on the thinking of the famous Charles Darwin. I was so fascinated that I enrolled for a module this year based entirely on the theory known as 'Darwinism'.

So what is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word 'Darwinism'? Probably the same things that popped into mine: Science? Evolution? Proof against the existence of God?

Darwin was the guy that threw the first punch that began the battle between science and religion.
Wasn't he?
I thought that too... until I discovered that Darwin himself was actually a Christian...

I've been reading on some fascinating stuff, but rather than writing out a complicated account of scientific theories and theologies, I thought it would be easier to post a video of the BBC documentary, 'Did Darwin Kill God?', by my very own lecturer Conor Cunningham. He presents a coexistence of science and religion, discusses the place for God in the theory of evolution, and how both Creationists and Ultra-Darwinists get it wrong.

If you're interested in digging deeper in the subject, I would also recommend Cunningham's book, a huge chunk of text to sink your teeth into but a fantastic exploration into the development of Darwinism.

Conor Cunningham - 'Darwin's Pious Idea: Why the Ultra-Darwinists and Creationists both get it wrong' - (William B Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2011)