Making Marriage Work: A History of Marriage and Divorce in the Twentieth-Century United States

By Kristin Celello | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
MAKING MARRIAGE WORK

Nestled in an article about St. Petersburg, Russia, in the July 28, 2003, issue of the New Yorker is a Mick Stevens cartoon that pokes fun at the mores of contemporary American relationships.1 It features two well-dressed, white, heterosexual couples walking toward one another on a city street. On the left, the female member of the couple rides on the man’s shoulders. On the right, the woman carries the man. The latter woman, with an infuriated look on her face, exclaims to her mate: “Now there’s a relationship that’s working.” The cartoon thus cleverly transforms what sociologists refer to as the “emotion work” of personal relationships into a physical burden.2 In a similar manner, the drawing gently mocks the gender norms associated with such endeavors. The angry woman’s comment is funny because it acknowledges the novelty of her male counterpart’s efforts. She expects (however reluctantly) to shoulder the weight of her relationship and is thus jealous of the other woman’s free “ride.”

Stevens’s cartoon assumes that New Yorker readers are readily conversant with one of the most sacred rules of personal relationships, and especially marriages, in the early twenty-first century: they require effort on the part of one or both of the partners in order to succeed. The pairing of “marriage” and “work” is so pervasive and

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