Does the phrase ‘Having It All!’ now deserve to be purged from public discourse - along with other speech crimes such as ‘an emotional roller coaster’, and ‘at the end of the day’?
Do you remember Caster Semenya – winner of the World Championship 800m gold medal in 2009? The International Olympics Committee hasn’t forgotten her and is hoping to test ‘some women’ to prevent those with abnormally high testosterone levels from competing ‘as women’; and in principle one supposes to prevent men competing in women’s races at the London Olympics? The male synchronized swimmers may have been excluded on that basis?
We had of course Kate & William which looks like the first successful royal marriage for a long time because of or despite that fact that the bride is an outsider. But most spectacularly we saw the Archbishop of Canterbury being routed by a combination of gay marriage and women bishops, unless this was just an excuse to run back to his Cambridge bolt-hole which would be perfectly understandable. And in this morning’s newspapers again we have David Cameron dithering about gay marriage; not his own of course though he and Nick Clegg are promising a renewal of their Rose Garden vows.
Perhaps us anthropologists have always had a more mechanical view of what marriage is for, which at the same time may shed some light on current debates about European marriage or indeed may need to be adjusted to reflect those debates.
Anthropologists see marriage primarily as a mechanism for ensuring social reproduction & regulating the other kind. Marriage with all its legal and/or religious trimmings is a socially sanctioned way for ensuring that the physical and non-physical valuables of one generation pass seamlessly (in principle) to the next. If looked at in this way it becomes obvious why families with more physical and non-physical valuables make more of a fuss about having a very noticeable marriage (dynastic marriage); and conversely why people who want to suggest that they have more than they actually do tend to hold exaggerated ceremonies (the Downton Abbey effect).