Pair-bonding and matrilateral cross-cousin marriage

I suspect, given my plans to see the new Harry Potter movie this afternoon and to make another attempt at the sublime via baking a red velvet cake, I won't have time to get out a review today. Which is too bad, really, because the list of needful posts is stretching around the block at this point. Last night, for instance, I finished the stunning Tehanu, which Ursula K. Le Guin believed at the time would be the last of the books in her Earthsea cycle, and which is my favorite yet. I am going to be hard pressed to keep the next book, Tales from Earthsea, on the shelf and out of my hands until August, when it will make an appearance among my reading goals. We also finished the final (sniff!) episode of Slings and Arrows last night, and, although this third and last season of the show was my least favorite, I think the writers and cast did an unusually good job with the tricksy task of making an end of a serial form.

The night before I finished (after a solid year of reading it) the amusing but somewhat repetitive pop-anthropology tome Watching the English. So I thought, in lieu of a review (I feel like I should have done something worthier of Gilbert and Sullivan with that rhyme), I would leave you with Kate Fox's account of her introduction to the rituals of marriage, from Watching the English. Now, a bit of context: Fox is the daughter of a renowned anthropologist, so she came by her analytical nature early and honestly. Also, those of you who know me personally know that I am absolutely fascinated by and fundamentally cynical about weddings and the institution of marriage (in other words, I cry regularly at weddings and would travel any distance at all to attend a friend's, but have a steadfast political opposition to having one of my own*), so this tale all but leaped off the page at me:

And even if nobody makes a drunken exhibition of themselves, and nobody is offended by the seating plan or the transportation arrangements or the best man's speech, someone is bound to do or say something that will cause embarassment. At the first English wedding I ever attended, I was that someone, although I was only about five years old. My parents had decided that my sisters and I should have some understanding of the important rite of passage we were about to witness. My father told us all about pair-bonding, described the wedding customs and practices of different cultures, and explained the intricacies of matrilateral cross-cousin marriage. My mother took it upon herself to explain the 'facts of life' - sex, where babies come from and so on. My sisters, aged about three and four, were perhaps a little too young to take much interest in this, but I was riveted. At the church the next day, I found the ceremony equally fascinating, and during a moment's silent pause (possibly after 'speak now, or forever hold your peace'), I turned to my mother and asked, in a loud, piercing whisper, 'Is he going to put the seed in now?'

I was not taken to any weddings for quite a few years after that, which seems a bit unfair, as I had clearly grasped the essential points, and only go the chronological order of things slightly mixed up. (373)

* In related news, this snarky article about the New Victorian phenomenon, as the author calls it, tries to get at the question of why my generation seems to feel so much more pressure to conform to traditional family structures so much earlier in life than our parents did. Why do some of my quite iconoclastic friends, for instance, feel a desire to have a highly conventional wedding? Why do those who want to defy convention face such extreme opposition from their families and friends, even when their parents had untraditional weddings and/or marriages? Why do so many people (including some new acquaintances and total strangers) feel they have to right to tell me that I am going to "have to get married one of these days," with an expression of great anxiety on their face, or even (sigh) to advise me about my ever-decreasing fertility (!!!) ? Ok, rant over. For now.

2 Responses so far.

  1. I have been amazed at how much opposition I have faced because I chose to keep my last name when I got married (in a tiny ceremony that only immediate family attended and which lasted 15 memorable minutes)! And yes, I've been married for 5 years, but a baby isn't really in the cards right now, a matter which seems to worry people (and complete strangers as well!) to no end. It's frustrating...

  2. Isn't it amazing how one's private choices can make everyone else so anxious and riled up? Bah. It is remarkable to me how much hurt you can do to people by assuming that "they can't possibly be happy until they have done [x, y, z]" and thus must be prodded into "behaving normally." It is bullying, really - and good for you for holding up so well under it!

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