My Thoughts on Catherine Newton’s essay. “I Do. Not.”
I think Newman chose to begin her essay, “I Do. Not.: Why I Won’t Marry,” with an iconic wedding reception scene to juxtapose her thoughts she puts forth in the remainder of the essay. This serves to illustrate the divide between her thoughts and the conflicting ones of society at large. It’s a relatable scene she paints as she prepares to discuss a possibly unrelatable, or more likely unpopular, message. While we, as readers, may not be able to mentally put ourselves in her position, we can certainly imagine ourselves in the familiar awkwardness of the picture she paints. We can feel the pressure being exerted by the “uncle or someone’s dad” and feel a human connection to Newton as she says she “cried as the bride kissed her parents at the alter” (p. 61). This allows the reader to be more receptive of her defenses because she’s enhanced the reader’s like ability for her. Further, Newton’s choice to set the stage as she does serves to show the final image she will ultimately leave the essay’s readers with – the “united front” of herself, Michael and their two-year-old son.
Newton worries that the conventional marriage models scripts her to be an “object” (p. 62). She equates the act of a wedding ceremony to “handing of a woman, like a baton” (p. 61). Again, making an obvious illustration to her distaste for this view of woman. Newton even capstones this ideal with the proclamation that “[she] will not be possessed” (p.64). She feels this is a less-than-advanced cultural result of an unchanging past. Citing that while women may not come with a technical cattle dowry anymore, Newton asserts that they still serves as pawns in men’s desire to concur and reign. She even poses in-laws as the modern-day equivalent of empires. In a world said to be so advanced and far-removed from its beginnings, she feels this culturally lingering mentality is wrong.
My experience with the “marriage paradigm” is a sensitive topic to discuss because it is so painfully relevant. I was once nearly engaged to a man of Egyptian descent. While he did not claim his multi-cultural heritage outright, his father still lived in his home country and demanded certain aspects of their culture be maintained. This did not seem to be a problem as his mother, a U.S. citizen, resided with him here in the States and reinforced values similar to that of my own. We were close friends for five years before we officially began dating, and during that time, I had paid close attention to the potential impact his multicultural background could have on our relationship. However, nothing could have prepared me for what I would encounter. We were on the cusp of engagement. He had asked my parents for my hand and acquired a rings as well as proposal plans. My fairytale was coming true. We went on a New Years’ cruise, which should have been the perfect time to make our future plans official. But, instead of ending the trip an engaged woman, I was a heart-broken girl, now single and confused to say the least. It has only been in recent weeks, I have come to discover that his family was the main part of the equation. Apparently his mother believed we were too young to marry for fear that I would end up suffering at the hand of Egyptian culture like she did with her husband. On the other hand, his father did not mind the age, but demanded that his son be completely finished with his schooling and prepared to offer me a life of prosperity. While I admire the intent, it was fueled by cultural constructs that led to our eventual split.
This reminds me of Newton’s concept of modern-day possession of woman. His mom was afraid of it happening, and his father would not allow him to wed until he could possess completely, with enough money to simply add a woman to it as a token.
Newton’s essay surprisingly enforced my vantage point, however. While the idea of “possession” seems appalling, I suppose I see it more like “fulfilled belonging” versus “ownership.” As long as I was not mistreated in the name of monogamy, I feel it is something I want in my life. It’s a cliche and likely improper to assert on the whole, but men are known to want to conquer and women were once seen as wanted to be needed and saved from herself and the perils of her life alone. While I don’t agree with the intensity of this, I do relate to the Disney Princess-esque quality about it.
My ex never treated my as property and, aside from my daddy, was the most respectful man to woman that I have even met. Even so, the “good” intent of my his family left the two of us torn apart against our will. It sounds dramatic, but that’s not my intent. Mostly, I find this to be a modern-day example of the evils that social scripts can create.
Sometimes I think Shakespeare was perhaps a bit lofty, but suddenly I see myself atop that balcony calling for life to be the way she thought it ought be. Maybe the great bard was simply presenting the feuding family to illustrate the nonsense that can all-too-easily come about when two cultures refuse to communicate without bias. Poor Juliet.
It’s hard to be a Capulet.