On Heteropatriarchy, Presidents, and Families

I've been reading a lot these days about polyamory. The theory itself is pretty convincing and so are the arguments against the heteopatriarchal myth of marriage:
"For instance, we may be in a relationship we are super into, but then want to have an experience outside that relationship with someone who shares a characteristic with us that our partner doesn't, whether that be race, language, age, class background, ability, trans identity, or something else. Our radical politics tell us we don't have to pretend that those things don't matter, and that we can honor the different connections we get to have we get to have with people based on shared or different identities. If we love our partners and friends, it makes sense that we would want them to have experiences that are affirming or important for them in those ways, and not let rules of sexual exclusivity make us into barriers for each other's personal development (For Lovers and Fighters, Dean Spade)."
I think in our minds, polyamory makes more sense to us. However, we've been socialized from the likes of parents, Disney movies, church, television shows, and of course, our Presidents.

What does it mean that only one of our U.S. Presidents have been unmarried (James Buchanan was engaged to be married before his fiancé died)? And that none of them have been married to someone outside of their race? Or that all of them have been Christian and heterosexual? What message does being married send to the American public? 

A recent article in the L.A. Times about Mitt Romney focusing on his marriage to Ann Romney throughout his campaign and increasingly so, now that its almost time for the primaries, outlines the fact that Romney's marriage is evidence that he is a man of "steadiness and constancy." 

It has been said that Romney is using this focus on marriage, in direct opposition to another candidate, Newt Gingrich, who has had three failed marriages; Republican voters cite it as the main reason why they might not vote for him. One woman interviewed said, in reference to Gingrich, "If you can't work at a marriage and make that work, how can you make the government work?" What does it mean that President Bill Clinton was impeached when it was found out that he had an extramarital affair?

Our society is rooted in capitalism. It is the fundamental building block of America and it is present in every corner of our lives. Therefore, it is no wonder then, that the wives of American presidents, particularly in this example of Mitt Romney are treated as the property of the President and by extension, the American public. 

"The President is a product" and marriage is a huge part of the campaign for the Presidency. The American public must also fall in love with the wife. She is touted at events and speaks often during the campaign on behalf of her husband. Marriage, particularly in the case of the American presidency is a property arrangement, where the wife is sold to the American public as the perfect wife. 

The marriage of the President to someone of his same race; one man, one woman, white picket fence as the traditional love story is essentially a myth, a message sent to the people of the world that this is success, this is what you should attain to. I'm not married, but in my experience, marriage doesn't last, monogamous relationships that follow this framework don't last, at least most times, statistics show and if they do, its probably not because both parties followed this stoic framework.

Andrea Smith, in her article, "Heteropatriarchy and the Three Pillars of White Supremacy" quotes Christian Right activist and founder, Charles Colson, "Marriage is the traditional building block of human society, intended both to unite couples and bring children into the world... the family, led by a married mother and father, is the best available structure for both childrearing and cultural health." 

I've heard comments from black men, that a real woman is a woman like Michelle Obama, a woman who, they've never met, that this is they way it should be done, referring to a familial structure. Their marriage normalizes black heteropatriarchy. As I discussed here, black womyn are particularly oppressed under this institution of patriarchy. 

Black womyn's worth is based "solely in terms of success at finding and keeping a romance, to brainwash women into spending all their time measuring themselves against this norm and working to change their bodies, behaviors, and activities to meet the requirements of being attractive to men and suitable for romance. 

I see this myth as both personally damaging to people-in how it creates unrealistic expectations about ourselves and each other and causes us to constantly experience insecurity-and also politically damaging because its a giant distraction from our resistance and it divides us (especially based on the fucked up self-fulfilling stereotypes about how woman compete with each other.)...It's important to have a critique of the myth of romance that looks at how damaging it is to us in our personal lives, and how it is designed to fuel social arrangements, codified in law, that we invented to subordinate woman and make them into the property of men (Dean Spade)." 

Womyn are socialized to do everything to fulfill the "perfect woman" myth to enter into the capitalist structure of a relationship, which is marriage, even diss other women, in order to help perpetuate categories of women that are acceptable and unacceptable for marriage.

The marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama is drooled over by the American public as well, particularly the Black American public. That's not particularly a bad thing either. Media, even black media, depicts black relationships as tainted and violent; Baby Boy is one example, not to mention that Chris Brown's violence against Rihanna received more media attention that any white man beating up his white wife. However, I believe that the near worship of Potus and Flotus' relationship is unhealthy, because its almost never accompanied by a real interrogation of the President's politics. 

It's always "I love my President!", "I love them!", "They are so cute!" when we see a picture of them together or Barack talking about Michelle. This myth, adopted to a prominent black family, makes it easier for black people to adapt to it. Andrea Smith continues "heteropartiarchy is the building block of US empire. In fact, it is the building block of the nation-state form of governance." 

Maybe its because a lot of us have grown up in communities "listening to their choice of baby mama anthems while using “baby daddy” as a term of endearment" like Janelle Harris, in this article describes. Perhaps we've grown tired of seeing poor, single mothers. But is marriage really the solution? 

Of course, we wish that more dads would stick around after they've had a child with a woman. But as Smith says "Christian Right politics work through the private family (which is coded as white, patriarchal, and middle class) to create a 'Christian America.' She notes that the investment in the private family makes it difficult for people to invest in more public forms of social connection. 

In addition, investment in the suburban private family serves to mask the public disinvestment in urban areas that makes the suburban lifestyles possible. " Therefore, marriage is seen as the solution to the struggling single mother, with no real movement for the social services necessary to make caring for a child as a single mother or even as a family possible.

In conclusion, whether choosing polyamory, monogamy, single hood or marriage, we must create our own ideals of family that include consciousness about our relationships with the community around us.

Malaka is an anti-sexual violence activist. She is in the process of starting a community organization, Youth Institute for Anti-Sexual Violence Activism. She was born in Los Angeles but wants to move to San Francisco ASAP. Read more from Malaka at her blog, Hip Hop Cheerleader.

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