June 23, 2019


The Price of Equality: Sociologist Abigail Ocobock on how same-sex marriage has caused a "suppressing and softening" of radical queer critique. (J. BRYAN LOWDER, JUNE 21, 2019, Slate)

What was the top-line finding there?

I think there are a few. One of the things that I found most interesting was the extent to which a kind of social etiquette seemed to make these once very critical people, or even people who still felt very critical of marriage as an institution, feel like they couldn't express that as freely anymore. Because suddenly you're getting wedding invitations in the mail. And it's not this abstract debate that you're having. Your good friends that you've known for years are getting married. And it might be seen as insulting to decline. Or, even more than to decline, to challenge them. Do you say, wait a minute, what about all those debates we used to have? I think there was this kind of self-policing going on. People realized that it just wasn't seen as appropriate anymore to critique marriage as an institution because they were worried that if they did, it would come across as a personal attack.

What I heard a lot was this group of people saying that we just kind of have to grin and bear it. People told me that they just couldn't believe that people they'd known for years, that they thought identified as radical feminists, were now calling each other "wife." But they didn't feel like they could say anything to these people even though they'd obviously once had very deep conversations with them about marriage. Now they felt like they have to keep it all in. You can't critique the fact that someone is now wearing a big, flashy diamond ring when once they were anti-capitalist.

That was one of the biggest findings: Before you have access to something, it's kind of fair game, right? It's this abstract theoretical thing and we can all jump in and we can critique it.
Or at least debate it openly. And then suddenly you gain access to it, and your friends are doing it, and your family's doing it, and you just don't feel able to be as critical anymore.

In addition to the etiquette issue, you also identified other mechanisms muting the criticism of marriage. Can you talk about the role emotion played for your respondents?

Sure. It wasn't just that the people were keeping [their criticisms] in or felt like they couldn't express them anymore. Over time, reluctantly or not, they acknowledged to me that their views had softened. People would tell me, well suddenly we were going to these weddings and you know, I couldn't believe how overcome with emotion I was. I couldn't believe how happy I felt for these people getting married. And so, the emotional power of marriage was really striking. You could have these intellectual critiques of marriage as an institution, but then all of a sudden it was happening and people got very, very swept up in the emotion of it. Like, people saying: How could you not be moved by watching an elderly couple on the news that had been together for 50 years suddenly being able to tie the knot? It was always sort of unhuman not to be moved by them.

Along with that, the more that you felt warmed by it, and softened, suddenly then the next stage is: Oh, well maybe I can do this myself ...

There's a peculiarly American genius to forcing gays into conformity.

Posted by at June 23, 2019 6:25 PM