Critiquing Card's Anti-Marriage and Motherhood View

Claudia Card’s essay Against Marriage and Motherhood argues that the institution of marriage and, in turn, motherhood is so flawed that it should not be reproduced or improved by anyone. Card criticizes the effects of politics on marriage, citing the oppression women face in heterosexual marriages, and uses its flaws as a backdrop for discussing the absurdity of arguing for same sex marriage. In this essay I will be analyzing her arguments against the institution of marriage and motherhood and lastly discussing the notion of choice as an objection to her argument.

The essay Against Marriage and Motherhood expresses the imbecility of fighting for homosexual marriage as she debunks the structure and instituion of state sanctioned marriage. The introduction of her essay states that the title is deliberately provocative as she fears that radical perspectives on marriage and motherhood are being forgotten in the quest for equal rights. For decades, many feminists, feminist philosophers, and LGBTQ+ activists have been optomistic about the potentialities of legal marriage. Today, same sex marriage is legal in 28 countries.

Card states the four problems with marriage — three that may be remediable and one that is past fixable. The first problem is that employers and other units for government often make obtainable only to legally married couples certain benefits such as affordable dental and health insurance, the right to live in “attractive” residential areas, and other spousal benefits. These benefits are a significant portion of many worker’s compensation; ultimately married workers are often paid more for the same labor than unmarried workers. This is especially a problem in the fight for equality as people who do not have independent access to an income often find themselves pressured economically into marrying. The second issue involves the consequences of divorce. Although divorce is by mutual consent and now generally permitted in America, many couples who should divorce feel pressured not to, a direct continuation of the benefits problem aforementioned. There are new economic motives to preserve emotionally disastrous unions as one partner can sue the other to receive a share of possessions. The third problem is the very definition of “marriage”: The legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship (historically and in some jurisdictions specifically a union between a man and a woman), as stated by Oxford Dictionary. This is a problem especially for lesbians as Card explains that many of us have more than one long-term intimate relationship during the same time, dismissing the notion of adultery. Any attempts to redefine “marriage” as a union of two or more individuals would have economic repercussions. Lastly, the fourth problem she deems is unfixable, are the legal rights of access that married partners have to each other’s property, persons, and lives. This is significant in understanding that many married couples aren’t protected ahainst torture, rape, stalking, and in some cases, spousal murder. This particular problem enlists state support for conditions conducive to murder. The point is not that marriages are violent, however we know they can be. Rather, it is to make the case that the institution of marriage makes it difficult to protect spouses. It is in these four ways that make the institution problematic. She also explains that legalizing gay and lesbian marriage is probably not the best idea, and their unions should be left as it is in which she says, “Had we any chance of success, we might do better to agitate for the abolition of legal marriage altogether”. A firm objection to her argument against marriage lies in the notion that many believe marriage provides an environment for raising children effectively. Historically, marriage and motherhood have gone hand in hand.

So why is Claudia Card so against motherhood? To Card, “motherhood” is a core element of patriarchy. Within the institution of motherhood, the mother’s commitments and priorities have been to the father and secondly the children she bears or raises with him. The term “motherhood” itself has ambiguity as the experiences of “mothers” vary from family to family. Just as every partnership is a marriage, not every medium of child reading equates motherhood. She examines the different types of mother-child relationships and finds that not all children have the privilege of calling someone a “mother”, many children come from broken homes, and many children are not raised under the pretense of a successful marriage. Unmarried women have been held responsible by the institution of motherhood for the primary care of the children they birth, unless her male counterpart decides to claim them. Children raised by other members of a “family” are all in the midst of patriarchies however these are generally regarded as deviant parentings; this is nothing like the prestige, social, and/or legal support that is available for patriarchal mothers. It is necessary for children to possess intimate stable bonds with adults in addition to supervision, education, health care, and a variety of other relationships. By the same token, Card argues that, “What the state tends to enforce in motherhood is the child’s access to its mother, which guarantees none of these things”. The lack of economic ability and adequate material or social sources force many women to turn to violence, which the State has been reluctant to prevent or acknowledge. This is what is meant when the State decrees a child to be a mother’s “own”: her “own” is the child who has legal access to her and for whose “waywardness she becomes answerable”, however she is largely left to her own for carrying out these responsibilities.

Communal action is quite necessary in implementing new models of parenting. One thing to note is that under the present system of marriage, heterosexual couples are emulating the same model of heterosexualilty, which assumes responsiblities but not the privileges. Card suggests that children raised without this heterosexual model of “concentration of power may be less likely to reproduce patriarchal and other oppressive social relationships”. The idea of “revolutionary parenting” is her solution, which aims to dilute the power of individual parents. With this model, children retain the special affection and intimacy with their mothers, but accountability for children’s “waywardness” is widely distributed. Children could roam anywhere in a village and it would be safely assumed that they were well taken care of.

Claudia Card essentially proves everything that is inherently wrong with the institution of marriage and I am willing to grant that current institutions of marriage and motherhood make it difficult to detect and stop child and spousal abuse. However she does not address the wide range of issues that need to be confronted before making decisions about the current existing institutions of marriage. For one, marriage often involves religion, and it is an institution governed by religious standards and not by federal or state laws. For a large portion of people, they argue that the legal institution of marriage should reinforce the religious norms. Many of these people would regard an attempt to change or impose on them alternative arguments that reflect the values of Claudia Card as an attack on their religious freedom. Ultimately, I believe Card yearns to redefine specific terms: “marriage” and “motherhood”. In the case of motherhood, we do not know the impact her suggestions may have on the lives of the people brought up under them — her argument gives us only a miniscule insight in what would have to be a complex debate legally, socially, and politically.

Claudia Card argues that marriage disadvantages women and facilitates violence and abuse while making the case that motherhood should not be solely placed on the woman the child is born from. I would argue that her argument lies in her experiences in her own family, in which she references her own upbringing. Card favors an alternative form of partnerships and child rearing based on such experiences. It is important to bear in mind however that under our type of society, one run by capitalism and patriarchy, that a core element of feminism is choice. It is my understanding that Claudia Card aims to tackle issues relating to specific institutions, but there is the privilege of choice for many people especially in the United States. Choice is important to mention especially in our current social climate where women and men are granted choices; women do not have to marry, women do not have to carry children.  

16 August 2021
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