Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Great Expectations: Why the Mass Media’s Portrayal of the “Ideal Marriage” May Not Be Such a Bad Thing





Although the mass media has caused the downfall of various marriages due to the unrealistic "ideal marriage" broadly portrayed (and the subsequent failure of man or woman to fulfill these high expectations), ultimately, the mass media (especially in the Digital Age) has served to inform women about their rights and encourage them to seek safer and happier relationships. 

HENRY, KATHERINE, AND JANE

Marriage. It’s a term that has come to mean a million different things in today’s world. Through the ages, the role of “romantic love” in the decision to be married has become more prominent. Marriages were almost always arranged by the parents or grandparents of the eligible bachelor and bachelorette up until the 18th century. More than anything, marriage was seen as a sort of business deal; the acquisition of “land, power, and money,” as YouTube Channel “The School of Life” will teach us below. 



Almost every history of divorce begins detailing the most celebrated divorce in history: the divorce of King Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. Surely it was not the first divorce in the history of the world, but it was definitely the first publicized and highly controversial divorce. As the story goes, King Henry VIII fell deeply in love with a young woman named Anne Boleyn after he had already been married to Katherine of Aragon for about twenty years. For the first time in those twenty years, Henry decided to bring up a matter that had been dismissed years earlier; that is, the fact that Katherine had previously been married to his brother, Arthur. Henry interpreted a passage from the Bible to mean that if a man marries a woman who has previously been married to his brother, his marriage will be unfruitful. Katherine had failed to give Henry a male heir, so the Bible passage became his favorite argument as he pleaded with the Pope to annul their marriage. J.S. Brewer comments, in his 1875 collection of Henry VIII’s letters and papers, 

“As Katharine was devout, obedient, fatherless, and friendless, and any interposition by the Emperor in her behalf was to be dreaded, Henry made no doubt that she might be flattered or frightened into compliance with his wishes.” (1)

What Henry didn’t take into consideration, however, was his wife’s interest in education and the easy access to information she had as his Queen. Katherine, a strong, intelligent woman, did not react as he expected. She said, in a letter to Charles V in November of 1531, 

"My tribulations are so great, my life so disturbed by the plans daily invented to further the king’s wicked intention, the surprises which the king gives me, with certain persons of his council, are so mortal, and my treatment is what God knows, that it is enough to shorten ten lives, much more mine." (2)

The next year, she is quoted as saying, 

"In this world I will confess myself to be the king’s true wife, and in the next they will know how unreasonably I am afflicted." (3)

You see, Katherine loved to learn, and she was in no way oblivious to her rights as a human being. J.S. Brewer says,

“Katharine, from whom entire submission was expected, had resolved to defend her own cause, and desired counsel. She must be heard. It was monstrous to suppose that she, who was queen of England, daughter of a king, and niece of an emperor, could be debarred from that justice which was readily accorded to the meanest of the King's subjects.” (1)

Katherine is said to have been a successful student who strived to teach her children to study literature as she did and even became somewhat of an activist for the education of women near the end of her life. She was the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, and watch attentively throughout her childhood as they dealt with various issues. In a time when women were expected to submit, it was the educated woman - the woman with endless resources, a love of literature, and a knowledge of the world - who retaliated and decided she was capable of fighting against the divorce her husband sought. 

Katherine in Court
The mass media (books, news) served to empower Queen Katherine. She might not have sought love, in-line with the time period, but she would not tolerate abuse. When the world began to accept love as a valid reason to marry, the mass media began to portray the “ideal marriage.” It is often said that Jane Austen is single-handedly responsible for the almost-universal shift in peoples’ view of marriage that mostly happened in the 1800s. 

Jane Austen’s novels include Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Sense & Sensibility, and Persuasion. Each of her novels includes some type of storyline in which romantic love is pursued. Especially in Pride & Prejudice and Emma, we see that the main character must “court around,” must suffer some disappointments and awkward situations with potential suitors, in order to obtain life’s ultimate prize: a happy married life that has everything to do with romantic love. The concept of “falling in love” was introduced to the world with simple phrases like,

“To be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love.” (Pride & Prejudice) (4)
(5)

The happiness of Austen’s characters who ultimately find the love they are seeking is obvious, and it’s difficult to read what is said about a life of love in her novels and not wish to find exactly what she’s describing. Elizabeth, the main character of Pride & Prejudice, says after finding her “soulmate” Mr. Darcy, 

“I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than [my sister] Jane; she only smiles, I laugh… I must learn to be content with being happier than I deserve.” (4)

What’s more, many of Austen’s female characters are educated, and much like Katherine of Aragon, love to read and learn about the world. Also like Katherine of Aragon, this knowledge gives them confidence and helps them believe that they have the ability to make correct decisions and are capable of fighting against the men who believe themselves to have the last word. For example, against the wishes of her mother, Elizabeth turns down the marriage proposal of a distant cousin - a cousin who offers her a house and all-around comfortable lifestyle - because she does not love him. Elizabeth had created her own definition of “marriage” throughout a lifetime of study, and undoubtedly somewhere along the way she had been presented with an “ideal marriage” that she was determined to find for herself. 

Elizabeth's Potential Husband (6)
While Elizabeth is a fictional character, it’s very possible that Jane Austen herself was very much like Elizabeth. She never married, perhaps seeking an unattainable “ideal.” Even after marriage, the mass media began to nag at men and women alike, began to suggest that their marriage was not all it could be. Kelly Hager says in her novel Dickens and the Rise of Divorce: The Failed-marriage Plot and the Novel Tradition:

”It was the Victorians who brought us both the popularization of the novel form and the legalization of divorce…that coincidence is no accident.” (7)

#RELATIONSHIPGOALS

It can most certainly be argued that the mass media - literature, the news, music, movies, television - can create unrealistic expectations for married couples, and when expectations aren’t met, a marriage could crack. Social media is full of images of blissful, seemingly-perfect marriages. (Visit https://www.pinterest.com/emmalesueur/ for more examples of this, and other collections of pictures and quotes about this blog post's topic.)



(8)

It is very common to log on to Facebook and immediately find, somewhere at the top of your feed, someone bragging about something their significant other has done for them. The hashtag #RelationshipGoals is common. It’s usually a hashtag used by a somewhat jealous friend commenting on a picture of one of these seemingly “perfect” couples. 



Some of the "Dream Relationships" From My Own Facebook/Instagram Feed
Yes, the mass media can cause jealousy, and I’m sure that unmet expectations (fueled by literature, tv, movies, books, social media, etc.) have caused the downfall of a few marriages. However, I recently contacted Trent C. Holmberg, M.D., Forensic and Adult Psychiatrist, seeing as he works through the divorces of plenty of patients. I introduced the topic, and he said:

“…Having a lot of info readily available through mass media is probably better overall so people with controlling partners aren’t kept in ignorance and manipulated so easily. I think the unrealistic ideals are still out there but…the positives outweigh the negatives.”
Trent Holmberg M.D.
Elana Levine's book Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early 21st Century discusses the ways in which pop culture has affected women in the 21st century. She emphasizes the fact that, rather than presenting an impossible, frustrating ideal, media forces women to think about what they would do in certain situations and gives them ideas about how to improve their relationships. Speaking of a popular series of books, she says, 

"Readers revealed that they used the series to consider how they would react if put in similar situations... Readers shared that they would be interested in the adventurousness in Ana and Christian's...relationship." (9)

A HuffPost article called "These TV Couples Are Our Marriage Role Models" also shows how an ideal marriage can serve as an inspiration rather than a source of frustration. In this article, Anna Almendrala lists off her favorite married couples on television programs and all that she's learned about love from each of their situations. For example, she shares a video of a couple from the TV show "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air." 


After the video, she says:

"What They Taught Us: Phil and Viv show that the effects of a good marriage can ripple out far beyond the couple itself. Not only were they strong enough to raise four children and do it well, but they also had enough room in their hearts to help raise their nephew, Will. They’re an inspiration to couples who either want to raise children or who want to be a force for good in other people’s lives." (10)


IN CONCLUSION:

A photo and comment I recently saw on Facebook illustrated my point completely. There was a photo of a text message from a boyfriend to a girlfriend. In this text message, the boy was obviously "prepping" his girlfriend for a night out on the town.



A friend of mine commented, saying:


Who knows how many women will see this message and realize in that moment that their relationship is resembling the relationship portrayed in the picture?

As a young college student preparing for marriage myself, I am realizing more than ever how important matrimony actually is. I have seen wonderful examples of wonderful marriages (my parents included), and more than a few examples of a marriage built on something other than love. I've seen how these wonderful marital relationships are a support system, the perfect "program" for becoming a better person - honestly and truly, in a good marriage, the husband and wife are ONE. I strive for this. I know it's worth fighting for. I intend to fight for it. I intend to let the media help me fight for it. 

I truly believe that sometimes, we, as women, remain inside our "bubble" and fail to recognize our relationships as they really are, or fail to recognize what they can potentially be. Without the mass media telling us otherwise, perhaps it is in our nature to lack the confidence necessary to initiate an important "relationship improvement" conversation or even a justified divorce. Just as Dr. Holmberg said, "the positives outweigh the negatives" when it comes to the mass media and marriage. Yes, #RelationshipGoals create high expectations. However, I consider us lucky to live in a world in which we all can afford to be "Katherine of Aragon." I consider it a blessing that our rights as women are constantly being made known to us, that education and access to history books is almost universal, that we are encouraged to seek true love and continually progress in that love - never settling.


Works Cited

1. 'Introduction, Section 5', in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1875), pp. ccxxv-cclxxxv. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol4/ccxxv-cclxxxv

2. In Triumph's WakeRoyal Mothers, Tragic Daughters, and the Price They Paid for Glory, Julia P. Gelardi MacmillanDec 8, 2009 - History - 432 pages

3. Notorious Royal MarriagesA Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny,and Desire Leslie Carroll PenguinJan 5, 2010 - History - 528 pages

4. Austen, Jane. Pride and Prejudice. New York: Modern Library, 1995. Print.

5. https://themodernmanuscript.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/pride-and-prejudice-1946.jpg

6. http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-PG5czLtAqTc/UMvJI6UINfI/AAAAAAAABFk/OBe30yaVTaQ/s1600/proposals1_pride_and_prejudice.jpg

7. Hager, Kelly. Dickens and the Rise of Divorce: The Failed-marriage Plot and the Novel Tradition. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2010. Print.

8. pinterest.com 

9. Levine, Elana. Cupcakes, Pinterest, and Ladyporn: Feminized Popular Culture in the Early Twenty-first Century. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
10. These TV Couples Are Our Marriage Role Models 02/21/2014 12:02 pm ET | Updated Feb 21, 2014 Anna Almendrala Healthy Living Editor

3 comments:

  1. Really well done! One concern I have though is that the idea of true love in marriage may be somewhat recent, or so I've heard. Most religions that didn't get their start in modernity combine legal commitment with a stance on children. Neither of these necessarily has anything to do with the happiness of the couple but the duty of perpetuating family as a tradition. I dunno.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Emma, this post is incredible! I remember you saying when you thought of your thesis statement how you didn't even know if you believed it yourself. Now you have literary examples from the past and social proof in the present in the form of your friends on Facebook and a PHD. I loved you you wove all of the requirements of the paper into your post. I made specific headings for the social proof and social curation, but now I see that these things were meant to flow with the post and enhance our arguments, rather than being a random aside.

    I think that you could improve your post by referring back to your thesis a little bit more and clarifying how the different sources you chose support it. I can sort of understand it, but I think that regular references would make your connections more clear. You could also add headings (simple ones) to give your post a more clear organization without ruining the natural flow that you have already come up with.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Emma, this post is incredible! I remember you saying when you thought of your thesis statement how you didn't even know if you believed it yourself. Now you have literary examples from the past and social proof in the present in the form of your friends on Facebook and a PHD. I loved you you wove all of the requirements of the paper into your post. I made specific headings for the social proof and social curation, but now I see that these things were meant to flow with the post and enhance our arguments, rather than being a random aside.

    I think that you could improve your post by referring back to your thesis a little bit more and clarifying how the different sources you chose support it. I can sort of understand it, but I think that regular references would make your connections more clear. You could also add headings (simple ones) to give your post a more clear organization without ruining the natural flow that you have already come up with.

    ReplyDelete