Essay about Emma Goldman's Viewpoints on Marriage and Love

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Table of contents

  1. Emma Goldman: An Introduction to Her Life and Ideals
  2. Dissecting the Institution of Marriage: Goldman's Critique
  3. The Economic Underpinnings of Marriage According to Goldman
  4. Marriage as a Social Construct: Goldman's Analysis
  5. Women's Liberation and Sexual Freedom: Goldman's Advocacy
  6. Conclusion: Reevaluating Love and Marriage in the Light of Goldman's Thoughts

Emma Goldman: An Introduction to Her Life and Ideals

Native Lithuanian Emma Goldman was born on June 27, 1869. She immigrated to the United States in 1885, where she worked in clothing factories. It was in that setting that she came in contact with anarchist beliefs. A fiery speaker, she was jailed for inciting riots and advocating birth control. Goldman spoke often and widely, not only on anarchism and social problems but also on the contemporary dramatic works of Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, George Bernard Shaw, and others. She was instrumental in introducing the American audience to many European playwrights, and her lectures on their work were published in 1914 as ‘The Social Significance of the Modern Drama’. She also lectured on ‘free love’, by which she meant an uncoerced attachment between two persons for whom conventions of law and church were irrelevant, and she was jailed briefly in 1916 for speaking out on birth control. During her life, Goldman was lionized as a freethinking 'rebel woman' by admirers and denounced by detractors as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love, and homosexuality. Although she distanced herself from first-wave feminism and its efforts toward women's suffrage, she developed new ways of incorporating gender politics into anarchism. After decades of obscurity, Goldman gained iconic status in the 1970s by a revival of interest in her life, when feminist and anarchist scholars rekindled popular interest. Her views on feminism do not change in the essay ‘Marriage and love’.

Dissecting the Institution of Marriage: Goldman's Critique

In her essay ‘Marriage and Love’, Emma Goldman dismisses marriage as an institution that limits the love and reinforces: “The popular notion about marriage and love is that they are synonymous, that they spring from the same motives, and cover the same human needs. Like most popular notions this also rests not on facts, but superstition. Marriage and love have nothing in common; they are as far apart as the poles; are, in fact, antagonistic to each other”. Emma Goldman illustrates how far apart love and marriage are by comparing them to the earth opposing axis. The main themes that are apparent in this essay are marriage, love, women’s liberation, feminism and the socialized institution of marriage by State and Church.

Emma Goldman describes marriage as a facade orchestrated for the sake of public consumption: “There are today large numbers of men and women to whom marriage is naught but a farce, but who submit to it for the sake of public opinion”. She argues that “at any rate, while it is true that some marriages are based on love, and while it is equally true that in some cases love continues in married life”. This conflict of self and the environment evolves throughout the entire essay. She compares love and marriage as two opposing sides by stating that love does not result in marriage and that if a married couple does end up falling in love after marriage on close examination it will be found that it is a mere adjustment to the inevitable. That proved to be demeaning for both men and women.

The Economic Underpinnings of Marriage According to Goldman

One might argue that Emma Goldman’s views are bleak and dispiriting, but the period in time in which this essay was written women either had limited rights or none at all. “Marriage is primarily an economic arrangement, an insurance pact”. She states that the returns of marriage are “…insignificantly small compared with the investments”, she states that the woman pays for it with her very life “…until death doth part.”. Emma Goldman characterizes a woman in marriage as a parasite because her whole dependency is tied to her being completely useless as an individual as well as a social being. Even though women pay a lot just to be in marriage Goldman emphasis that the man pays too: “Pays his toll, but as his sphere is wider, marriage does not limit him as much as a woman. He feels his chains more in an economic sense”.

Marriage as a Social Construct: Goldman's Analysis

Goldman persuades the reader even more on her views of marriage when she equates it to Dante's motto over Inferno. This motto, inscribed on Hell's front door in Dante Alighieri's, Goldman equates marriage to Hell and Purgatory giving it a sense of hopelessness. Further examination suggests that Goldman is Dante looking at marriage as hell laying witness to the suffering and repugnance and pity of the souls that enter into marriage while hornets bite them (social pressure to get married). Goldman ends her views on marriage stating that marriage is a failure and the divorce statistics proved her right.

Women's Liberation and Sexual Freedom: Goldman's Advocacy

Through Goldman’s views, the reader is educated on the women’s liberation movement. The term ‘women’s liberation’ was created as a parallel to other liberation and freedom movements of the time. The root of the idea was a rebellion against colonial powers or a repressive national government to win independence for a national group and to end oppression. Goldman advocated for women to have sexual freedom, talk openly about sex. Goldman viewed sexual oppression as distasteful and disgraceful because from infancy the average girl is told marriage is her ultimate goal, therefore her training and education must be directed towards that end. Like the mute beast fattened for slaughter, she is prepared for that. Yet, strange to say, she is allowed to know much less about her function as wife and mother than the ordinary artisan of his trade. Goldman describes the preparation of marriage as shedding of individualism and that in turn invokes self-emancipation that suppressed the woman’s righteous stance on sexual freedom: “The prospective wife and mother are kept in complete ignorance of her only asset in the competitive field—sex. Thus, she enters into life-long relations with a man only to find herself shocked, repelled, outraged beyond measure by the most natural and healthy instinct, sex. It is safe to say that a large percentage of the unhappiness, misery, distress, and physical suffering of matrimony is due to the criminal ignorance in sex matters that is being extolled as a great virtue. Nor is it at all an exaggeration when I say that more than one home has been broken up because of this deplorable fact”. Goldman correlates this self-emancipation to equate to unhappiness that results in divorce. The author states however that if a woman is “…free and big enough to learn the mystery of sex without the sanction of State or Church”, she will be besmeared, “… shamed and unfit to become the wife of a good man…”. Goldman describes a good man as “…consisting of an empty brain and plenty of money”. Goldman illustrates the absurdity of such an arrangement using sarcasm: “…How can such an arrangement end except in failure? This is one, though not the least important, a factor of marriage, which differentiates it from love”.

Goldman gives examples of tales of women who leaped for their freedom without permission and were meant with excruciating consequences: “If on rare occasions, young people allow themselves the luxury of romance, they are taken in care by the elders, drilled and pounded until they become 'sensible', as a way to instill morals'. Goldman describes how a girl's morals are shifted from the pursuit of happiness and individualism that feeds the soul to the concern of whether or not they are marrying a rich enough man: “The moral lesson instilled in the girl is not whether the man has aroused her love, but rather is it, 'How much?'. The important and only God of practical American life. Can the man make a living? Can he support a wife? That is the only thing that justifies marriage. Her dreams are not of moonlight and kisses, of laughter and tears; she dreams of shopping tours and bargain counters. This soul poverty and sordidness are the elements inherent in the marriage institution. The State and the Church approve of no other ideal, simply because it is the one that necessitates the State and Church control of men and women”.

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Goldman describes marriage as an entity that has power but can never be willed it against a person’s consciousness: “Marriage may have the power to bring the horse to water, but has it ever made him drink?”. Emma Goldman describes marriage as a curse and parasitic institution that insults life and degrades human experiences: “Therein lies the curse of marriage. Not that it protects her, but the very idea is so revolting, such an outrage and insult on life, so degrading to human dignity, as to forever condemn this parasitic institution”.

Goldman emphasizes that marriage is like capitalism, it robs a man of his birthright and stunts his growth, punishing him for his existence whilst providing him with ignorance for his pending existential crisis. Goldman emphasizes how marriage makes a woman a parasite by making her completely dependent on it, because it controls her virtue for living and existing: “The institution of marriage makes a parasite of woman, an absolute dependent. It incapacitates her for life's struggle, annihilates her social consciousness, paralyzes her imagination, and then imposes its gracious protection, which is, in reality, a snare, a travesty on human character”.

Goldman states that “If motherhood is the highest fulfillment of woman's nature, what other protection does it need, save love and freedom? Marriage but defiles, outrages, and corrupts her fulfillment. Does it not say to woman, only when you follow me shall you bring forth life? Does it not condemn her to the block, does it not degrade and shame her if she refuses to buy her right to motherhood by selling herself… Yet, if motherhood is of free choice, of love, of ecstasy, of defiant passion, does it not place a crown of thorns upon an innocent head and carve in letters of blood the hideous epithet, ‘bastard’? Were marriage to contain all the virtues claimed for it, its crimes against motherhood would exclude it forever from the realm of love”. Encapsulating that women birth the people that put these social prisons in place, that even though they put love and freedom into the bodies that they birth the same bodies end up imprisoning them in the same virtues they are tired of living in.

Goldman states however that even though these injustices prevail love remains the only element unaffected by this plight of hideousness. Love the “harbinger of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; love, the defier of all laws, of all conventions; love, the freest, the most powerful molder of human destiny; love remains unhinged by the rules enforced by State and Church”.

Goldman explains how man has accomplished greats triumphs but has failed to conquer or even encapsulate love for their own will: “Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Because love is free it dwells in no other atmosphere. In freedom, it gives itself unreservedly, abundantly, completely. All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil, once love has taken root, love can’t be owned it is earned”.

Goldman educates the reader on the social climate women in that era lived in how it was supposed to change. Using the evidence from the text the current climate induces the second feminist revolution, because women are still held as second class citizens and even the way they express themselves is judged and ridiculed , one may notice that the female revolution might have changed over the last decades from Goldman’s era , but the principles of self-emancipation, feminism, marriage, and love still hold precedence when it concerns the freedom women are allowed to have and the income or capital they provide for themselves.

Conclusion: Reevaluating Love and Marriage in the Light of Goldman's Thoughts

In conclusion, Goldman persuades and educates the reader about the absurdity of marriage in correlation with love and how the two are antagonistic to each other, she states that very few marriages are brought on by love, and most marriages are brought on by the necessity to build capital using marriage and appease societal standards of what a woman was created for. Goldman’s viewpoints are inspired by feminism and the women’s liberation because women were fighting for equal rights that allowed them an individual standing point that meant they didn’t need to sacrifice their souls and lives for the mere right to exist. Goldman describes the socialized institution of marriage as a disruption for women to not stand up for themselves but rather to shed their true selves to appease men and the gender norm they currently lived in. Goldman's principles express an enlightened view of women's lives. The essay ‘Marriage and Love’ still holds up in this day and age, under the second-wave feminism that is still fighting for the freedom of women and the dismantling the current structures that allow this emancipation to continue.

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