Here is the full transcript of former journalist Merav Michaeli’s TEDx presentation: Cancel Marriage at TEDxJaffa conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio: Cancel Marriage by Merav Michaeli at TEDxJaffa
Marriage, that holy matrimony, that mystical union that brings us together, to have and to hold, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.
We must cancel marriage. Not only religious marriage, marriage is not an issue of religion. Also civil marriage. I want all secular states to totally eliminate all registration and regulation of marriage. I want to cancel the very concept of marriage.
While you were clapping, I think you thought I was laughing and in your hearts you were saying to yourselves, “Oh my God, who is this crazy person? What does she mean, cancel marriage?” “Cancel this beautiful covenant of love and romance?”
The thing is that love is about love, but marriage is not about love. I mean, not in your case, of course, you’re all madly in love with those you’re married to.
But as an institution, and marriage is an institution, political, legal, financial institution, it has nothing to do with love or romance.
It started ages ago, back when man started wanting his name and property to remain after him. Simone de Beauvoir links this desire to the longing for immortality; one is transferring his existence into his property, and thus continues to exist after the body’s dissolution. Brilliant, or what?
But the thing is that this can only work if the property remains in the hands of its owner, someone he sees as his own reflection: His biological heir. There’s the rub: The woman is the one giving birth to the biological heir, the child.
So, in order to get possession of his children — and also to make sure they are his children — the man needed possession over a woman, or, to be precise, a womb. So, he gets one, and this is called Marriage. Yes. the origin of the word “wife”, by the way is ultimately derived from the Indo-European root “ghwibh”, which means “shame” and “vulva”. Google it. This is the origin of the word, this is the core of things. This is why they still say things like, “I’ll make an honest woman out of you”. This why it’s still considered respectable for a woman to be married.
This is the institution. A man gets himself a woman through marriage. It is very clear to see, because in traditional ceremonies, only the man weds the woman. He’s the only one that announces: “With this ring I thee wed”, the only one actually giving the ring — I mean, not in your case, of course. You all had beautiful ceremonies with at least 2 rings, but — the mutual “I do’s” are deceiving; this is not a contract between the man and the woman: This is the man wedding the woman.
Thing is that up until less than a hundred years ago women had no autonomous status before the law. A woman was not allowed to vote, not to be elected, not to get an education, to work, to own property or to have money. So in this status, a woman was merely merchandise. She belonged to her father and was given away by him to another man whom she will belong to from this day on — happy day on, of course.
So, come to think of it, marriage is a contract between two people: two men, the husband and the father. One has a daughter who can’t stand on her own because she is a woman, so he needs to get her settled, in a house, with food and protection. And the other needs a womb to bear his children and take care of them after they are born; a win-win situation. For the woman, this is the deal: You get a place to live, food, clothes — the right clothes to reflect your husband’s status — and in return, you are the wife. You bear his children, you cook, you clean, you take care of the house, wash, shop. So, actually, marriage was a woman’s way to make a living.
But this is all ancient history. Why are you bothering us, modern women, and contemporary men that we are with this ancient non-relevant history? Let me return the question to you: This is an institution from the time when women had no status before the law, and couldn’t stand on their own. A century later, when women are supporters and legislators, why does this institution still exist? And has it really changed?
Still today, when a couple gets married, they are pronounced “Man and Wife”. The man remains a man and the woman is turned into a “wife”. And the wife is, first and foremost, “shame and vulva”, but a wife is, first and foremost, somebody’s wife: A woman belonging to a man. She is his, so she is given his family name and the children are, too, his.
Why else is it that still today children carry on their father’s name, not their mother’s? Not in your case, of course. You all kept your family name and you have your children and husbands carry them too. But just so you know, the word “husband” is derived from “householder” and “owner” in old English. No comfort there.
And “wife” still means bear his children, raise them, take care of the house, clean, cook, wash, shop and all of this work is completely invisible. All of this work is unpaid, unrecognized for its financial value, unrecognized for social security, for pension, for tax deduction. Even in places where childcare expenses are deductible — only childcare is deductible — and not the cleaning-cooking-washing, and also, childcare is only recognized if you pay for it, not if you do it yourself.
This invisible work is so much work, that according to the International Labor Organization, if housework was included in the national accounts worldwide, the total value of world GDP would grow by 25% to 30%. That is how much unpaid work there is and it is all done by women, because we never cancelled marriage. Not in your case, of course; you all share the housework with your spouse, evenly and equally, not only that, you do it together to candlelight and violin music. Of course.
But in Canada, a contemporary, modern country, women in double-income households spend 72% more time on childcare alone than men, in those same households, probably 150% more on housework and of course in India, women do 10 times more time than men on childcare and housework.
And if you think to yourselves: “Oh well, what’s the biggie? Women are doing this kind of work while men are at work, and all in all they do the same,” Think again. In Canada, which is so advanced that it is the only place checking it regularly, women do 30 additional minutes a day of paid and unpaid work compared to men. That doesn’t sound much, 30 minutes. Again, no biggie. Over a year, this adds up to 5 weeks of full time work. Five weeks. When is the last time you had a 5-week vacation, that men get annually from women, in Canada, at least?
So this information may help you to understand that research shows that married women are in the worst physical and emotional condition, followed by single men, single women, and, in the best condition, married men. Not in your case, of course; you are all used to putting your feet up and having everyone fuss over you, but UN analysis on women shows that though women are half the world economic population, we put in two thirds of the working hours. And still, after that, own only 1% of the world’s property.
So it seems that women still have to get married to make a living. Fact is that unmarried mothers are much poorer than married mothers in America today. That is why they put so much effort into making us want to get married. This is why we are raised on myths that are organizing for us the idea of marriage as the dream of love and romance come true.
Let’s think of Cinderella, the world’s No. 1 bride, the ultimate dream of happily ever after. After all, she married a prince. But was it for love? First of all, how did she meet the prince? They didn’t just meet and hit it off. No, she came to the ball that the prince held with the official intention of finding a wife. He wasn’t looking for love, he wasn’t looking for a partner. He was looking for a wife.
And did you ever notice that no one ever asked Cinderella if she wanted to marry the prince? Well, I know she probably wanted out of this abusive home with the evil stepmother and stepsisters, but is that a reason to get married? Well, yes definitely. When you have no status in the eyes of the law, no way to make a living no way to protect yourself, you cannot afford not to get married.
So marriage and the myth of marriage is keeping us under the clear understanding that if we want to move up in life it is not by work, not by talent, but by marriage, and as best you can, with the strongest, richest man possible.
Why was Cinderella chosen? She was pretty. Like, Hello? Again, the deal: She’s pretty, he’s handsome — or not. She’s young, he’s probably not. She’s delicate, he’s not. He’s taller, she’s looking up to him — not in your case, of course; you’re all willing to corrupt your feet and backs on 10 inch heels because your husbands are dying to look up to you. This is how marriage organizes our gender role. This is how marriage is making us man and wife.
But this is not just Cinderella, this old fairytale long gone. It proliferates in so many ways, all the time. Just a year ago: The Royal Wedding, Kate and William. The Patriarch — that’s how it’s called: The Patriarch, the Thing itself, the Patriarch asked: “Who giveth this woman to be married by this man?” And then her father takes the hand of Cinderella Kate, gives it to the Patriarch who has given it to William, the prince. You were watching, I hope. It was broadcast for us to watch and learn to refresh our memory in case we’ve forgotten how wonderful marriage is.
Ah! We must cancel marriage. And what if marriage is about love? How is it good for us to be registered that we love someone? How is it good for us to be registered in order to have sex or to prevent our spouse from having sex with others? Speaking of marriage and sex, how is that working out for you?
The Patriarch, in the Royal Wedding, just a year ago, gave a speech about the goals of marriage. Listen carefully: It is an honorable estate, meant for (a) the increase of mankind, (b) that the natural instincts and affections — sex — will be directed aright, and (c) for the mutual society, help and comfort. Help and comfort. Three goals, all are and for the benefit of society. Marriage is good for society. It is good for keeping us organized in little cells with a commander in charge, a go-to guy in every little cell, it is good to keep sex under control. That is why governments are giving money and visas based on marriage. This is why governments give benefits and rights depending on marriage.
Governments are practically pushing us to marry. This is so good for society. Marriage is good to perpetuate the idea that we must all have children, even if we don’t all want to have children. But society makes us believe that we are less women without them and without them we don’t have it all. It is good to keep the home the wife’s responsibility, and thus to maintain the gender wage gap of 30% more for men, on average, so it keeps making economic sense that the wife will stay home. It is good for reinforcing the gender roles into forced heterosexuality, forced monogamy and forced inequality. Look at what marriage does to even gay people, how it makes them adopt the roles of Mommy and Daddy with everything that comes with it.
And if you thought that this arrangement is the best thing for children, think again. I know we live under the impression that the outside world is hostile and dangerous, and that there is no place safest and sweetest than home. But the truth is that children are most likely to be abused — sexually, mentally and physically — in their homes, inside their core families, formed by marriage, where men are patrons over their wives and children. Women and children. Fact is there is sexual assault in every sixth home in the Western world.
I know people are saying at this point, usually: “OK, it’s a fucked up arrangement but no one has ever found a better one.” Wrong. No one has ever looked for a better one. That is because this is the default option, and as long as marriage exists, it continues to be the default option. Your favorite TED speaker, Dan Ariely, shows in his research that fewer things in human life are more powerful than the default option. Not because it’s good. Just because it’s there. And marriage is such a powerful default option, that one of the top picks to my column, “Cancel Marriage” said: “What’s next? Cancel Tuesday?”
So, yes, we must cancel marriage because as long as we don’t cancel marriage we can’t even start to imagine new options, new agreements, new arrangements. We need to deconstruct in order to build something new. We need to think of agreements for having a joint household, making a child together or raising it together, not necessarily both. An agreement for mutual guardianship over a child or over each other, all of those, regardless of gender and of the number of people involved.
Or we can go back to old arrangements like Boston marriage: Unmarried women living in one household. Remember? It takes a whole village to raise one child. Let’s invent the modern way to create this village.
States must cancel marriage. Must cancel marriage and offer such agreements, non-mandatory, as inspiration. States must cancel marriage and stop giving us benefits and rights based on whether we are married or not, and, above all, we have to do away, abolish marriage because we must make our governments rethink economy to include housework and childcare. This is the fundamental thing that we must change in our lives.
Women want to get married, because from the minute you can remember yourself you were told how one day you will meet the right one and you were painted the dream of Prince Charming sweeping you off your feet kneeling on one knee with the perfect ring in his hand, next, you’re saying: “I do,” and living happily ever after.
What if…since you can remember yourself everyone had told you that one day you’ll find the right one, you’ll give him everything that you have, work much harder, be sick, exhausted, have no rights, give up your family name and if not, your children will not carry it, be a slave, practically, legally belong to someone and work with no pay. But you will have an amazing party and you can choose any gorgeous dress that you want. Would you have been still longing for this day or would you have run and hid?
And guys, I know marriage is good for men, but let me quote John Stuart Mill: “It is better to be an unhappy human being than a happy pig.”
So, if we aspire for equality between men and women we cannot sustain this institution that was created and designed to give men control and possession over women and children. We must cancel marriage. There is no point in trying to change it from within, for this is the nature of it.
We must cancel marriage, so we can have a new dream, or better yet, many kinds of new dreams. And until then, create your own agreements, have your own arrangements, but, needless to say, don’t get married.
Thank you very much.