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

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

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

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

Synopsis

By the end of World War I, the skyrocketing divorce rate in the United States had generated a deep-seated anxiety about marriage. This fear drove middle-class couples to seek advice, both professional and popular, in order to strengthen their relationships. In Making Marriage Work, historian Kristin Celello offers an insightful and wide-ranging account of marriage and divorce in America in the twentieth century, focusing on the development of the idea of marriage as "work."

Examining the marriage counseling profession, advice columns in women's magazines, movies, and television shows, Celello describes how professionals and the public worked together to define the nature of marital work throughout the twentieth century. She also demonstrates that the maxim of "working at marriage" often masked important inequalities in regard to men's and women's roles within marriage. Most experts, for instance, assumed that women needed marriage more than men and thus held wives accountable for marital success or failure.

Making Marriage Work presents a new interpretation of married life in the United States, illuminating the interaction of marriage and divorce over the century and revealing how the idea that marriage requires work became part of Americans' collective consciousness.

Excerpt

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. 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. 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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