What is Marriage For?

iVillagers chat with EJ Graff, author of What is Marriage For?

EJGraff: I'm looking forward to talking about the history of marriage.

Cadette34: E.J., what are your credentials?

EJGraff: I'm an affiliated scholar at Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library, and have spent several years researching the history of marriage. My book is What Is Marriage For? The Strange Social history of Our Most Intimate Institution, available now on amazon.com!

Cadette34: Thank You.

Kherrity: E.J., was it always more important for a woman to marry than for a man?

EJGraff: I'm not sure that was so. For centuries, neither men *nor* women could make their livings without having either a partner or the support of their families. I can talk more about this. A farmer required a farmwife, a fisherman required a fishwife. Those weren't just words, but jobs. The German medieval guilds, for instance, wouldn't let a man move up from journeyman to master unless he married. Certain jobs -- gaoler (jailer), for instance -- were only given to those with spouses. Someone widowed had to prove they had a fiancé in mind to keep the job.

Kherrity: Why was there the name "spinster" but no equivalent for men?

EJGraff: Spinster began as a word meaning anyone who spun wool. That was often the job given to unmarried young women who had left home to earn their dowries.

Kherrity: Wow -- so initially it wasn't a derogatory term.

EJGraff: But because there's a bit more misogyny out there than male-bashing (yes, it's still true, gals), that word got downgraded while "apprentice" never turned into a word meaning "bachelor." And no indeed, it wasn't derogatory: It was a working term. Young women did all the textile jobs. In fact, women didn't stop working until the 19th Century ... what's happening now is that women are reclaiming our place in the working order. How did women get shoved into the home? The answer (if you'll excuse the term) is industrial capitalism. Work left the home: The workshop stopped being downstairs (the bakery, the leather-making, etc.) and women were shoved back into the home. No longer could they keep the books, take the goods to the market, etc. Now, instead of having servants -- young women had traditionally earned their dowries by being dairymaids, laundrymaids or caring for children -- *married* women were the servants.

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