Friday Ephemera

New Tyranny Detected

I want to divorce the man I love and he wants to divorce me. We do not wish to separate – simply to end our seven-year marriage… We are both fed up with being part of the hetero-husband-and-wife brigade that is accorded so much status and privilege.

So says Lara Pawson in a piece titled The Tyranny of Marriage, thereby raising self-preoccupation – a Guardianista signature - to transcendental levels. It’s the “hegemony of coupledom,” see? Something must be done. Perhaps we should make room in our catalogue of classic sentences.

So why did we marry? Our wedding was in 2003, two years before the legislation for civil partnerships was introduced. Had civil partnerships been available we might have been the first in the queue of heterosexual couples now fighting for the right to become partners.

Heterosexual couples such as Tom Freeman and Katherine Doyle, who object to the terms “husband” and “wife” as being “patriarchal” and insufficiently egalitarian, and who claim their human rights have now been “violated.” For exhibitionist ideologues, the words “husband” and “wife” must – simply must – denote inequality. You can see the terrible bind they’re in. Will the oppression never end?

Ms Pawson continues,

We wanted a public celebration to acknowledge our love, and my husband- to-be felt strongly that a ceremony with singing and reading was important, as well as the almighty knees-up. Marriage, albeit a God-free one, seemed to be the only available path.

Ms Pawson’s marriage - or, as she puts it, “state-sanctioned agreement” - took place at a London register office,

and was followed the next day by a large party in a large garden with a grand marquee and later still, 184 hangovers.

Not exactly a shoestring do, then. Perhaps the garden marquee, extensive guest list and “almighty knees-up” were meant to express the injustice, tragedy and trauma of the event.

I did not change my name, nor he his. We simply swapped rings, gave appalling speeches and that was that. Or so I thought… Before we even tied the proverbial knot, I became swiftly aware of discrimination against wives.

Remember, this is a piece objecting to the “hetero-husband-and-wife brigade” being “accorded so much status and privilege.”

A job in journalism I was up for suddenly became unavailable: a female manager called to say that now I was married she presumed that it would be difficult for me to be a foreign correspondent.

Unfortunately, Ms Pawson doesn’t tell us whether her marital status actually had any bearing on her failure to get the job. Indeed, she seems unclear on the sequence of events: “Before we even tied the proverbial knot… now I was married.” Was the female manager softening the blow with rationalisations after the event? Either way, this isn’t the most persuasive demonstration of the “status and privilege” supposedly extended to married people.

When you marry, you gain a certain unspoken gravitas.

Given Ms Pawson’s convoluted fretting, gravitas isn’t the word pressing foremost in my mind.

One of the more recent vows we made to each other was to promise to divorce if the Tories introduce a tax break for married couples. We want no part of that.

Readers may note that civil partnerships are based on the same “heteronormative” model, insofar as they entail the same rights and responsibilities regarding pensions, tax, inheritance, etc. As a result, identical tax breaks would apply to civil partners. That was pretty much the point of civil partnership legislation. As Ms Pawson would like a civil partnership, albeit a heterosexual one with her current husband, it therefore remains unclear what “privileges” would heroically be surrendered.

Being married pulls you into a new elite… We assume that those who are unmarried probably have something just a teeny bit wrong with them because they have never managed to persuade another to settle down into that cosy unit of coupledom.

Ah, the “privilege” of not being regarded as faintly dysfunctional. But regarded by whom? Who, exactly, does this and what fearsome power do they wield? Sadly, the “we” in question remains mysteriously vague, as does their leverage. But then the paranormal “we” is a regular feature of Guardian commentary.

This is the smug tyranny of husbands and wives.

It’s a tyranny, I tell you. 

For those of us who are married but have seen the light, our work is cut out. There is only one ground for divorce: that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. So if we really want to get one we will have to lie. We may have no choice.

Such are the terrible burdens of those who go out of their way (and then some) in order to invent problems and thereby become interesting. Behold: fake divorce - it’s a bold political statement. Ms Pawson is of course indulging in a spot of overlording, which is to say, using pretentious egalitarian hand-wringing to signal her own moral, social and intellectual superiority: “See how sensitive, radical and intriguing I am - so much more enlightened than those lumpen married couples and their heteronormativity.”

And hey, not a trace of smugness there.


In the comments Ms Pawson pursues her idea further. By getting married at all – even in a register office – Ms Pawson feels she has “colluded in an inequality in our so-called democracy.” (The measure of a democracy being whether or not Guardian writers get their own way.)

She goes on,

We need to move away from the hegemony of coupledom to consider all sorts of other relationships, such as those shown to us by nuns and monks…. Why stop at 1+1 if 5 people want to get together (and raise or not raise kids); or if two sisters want to legislate their relationship; or three monks; or four anarchists; or a group of mates? That’s the point.

Presumably, Ms Pawson imagines such configurations would be structurally sound for child-rearing and “free of the negative, sexist connotations of marriage” to which her vision seems quaintly limited. And apparently it’s “unfair” that the relationships between lifelong couples aren’t deemed interchangeable with those of nuns or students sharing a house. And maybe children would be raised just as well by a gathering of anarchists.

Ms Pawson tells us her Guardian column is “a bid to make Britain a fairer and more equal society.” (Note the assumption that a fairer society would be a more equal one, so vast is her imagination.) However, as several commenters here have noted, Ms Pawson has shied away from the endpoint of her own egalitarian zeal and anti-bourgeois posturing. Why should any union be exclusive and privileged with boundaries and conditions – isn’t that also discriminatory and unfair? Shouldn’t Ms Pawson extend her concern to the needs of random passers-by? After all, differentiation is oppression and fidelity is theft. Surely anything less than free love diminishes those less fortunate?

So present those buttocks, madam. There are always strangers in need.