A Response-Critique of “A Marriage Agreement” by Alix Kates Shulman Alix Kates Shulman is an author whose work includes fiction, memoirs, and essays written predominately from her perspective as a feminist. Shulman hails from Cleveland, Ohio and is best known for the novel “Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen”. She is also listed in Who’s Who in America and in Feminists Who Changed America, 1963-1975 (Shulman, Psychology Today: Alix Kates Shulman).
In 1970, Shulman’s document, “A Marriage Agreement”, was published in a feminist journal but became so popular and controversial that it was later reprinted in several other publications including Harvard University’s contract law textbook (Behrens). Shulman’s idea of introducing a concrete treaty into matrimony, above and beyond marriage vows, was completely unheard of at the time. She felt the only way her and her husband could live a more balanced family life was by following a strict contract that divvied every household responsibility equally between the two of them.
Men and women typically assumed the gender roles society afforded them even when they themselves didn’t agree with the typecast standards. As Shulman and her spouse experienced, fulfilling these automatic roles can lead to a dissatisfying marriage (Shulman, A Marriage Agreement 304). Although I was too young to have been aware of the wave of feminism erupting through American history, I agree that men and women were created equal and should share the same human rights as well as household responsibilities.
Although Shulman was very creative in balancing her marriage and ultimately achieving her rank amongst men in the working class, I disagree with her method. Learning the true meaning of love and marriage dissipates the need for feminism, especially in today’s society. “A Marriage Agreement” begins with Shulman’s delightful marriage to her husband before they had children. As their family grew, first with their son followed by their daughter two years later, Shulman’s life became quite burdensome when she left her job to become the homemaker.
All of the household duties became her responsibility alone. Her husband was rarely home in enough time to enjoy their children and Shulman herself neglected much need companionship due to sheer exhaustion. These gender roles were typical at the time but Shulman and her husband were frustrated enough to make a change. They both sat down and came up with a stringent agreement that outlined a new foundation for their marriage. The new agreement addressed their entire lives in three segments; Principles, Children, and Housework.
Shulman and her spouse disbanded the ideas of sexism in the Principles segment of the marriage agreement while the two remaining segments addressed daily duties for the children and household responsibilities. The structure from the agreement fostered a willingness to share responsibility, provided equal employment opportunities, and allowed for more family time. Shulman gauges the success of the agreement by the advancement of her children’s relationship with their father (Shulman, A Marriage Agreement 307).
There is no denying the amount of changes having children will place on a marriage. My wife and I will blissfully celebrate 11 years of marriage this June but our lives now are nothing like we expected. My wife is my best friend and before we had children spending time with each other was effortless. It took little or no planning to take off and go on a road trip, visit friends, or go to a concert. Once we had our daughter, our lives became consumed with planning for diaper changes, feedings, and baby clothes shopping.
I agree with the newfound chaos one encounters after having children but I cannot agree with Shulman on the assumed gender roles because I was the one who gave up my job to become the homemaker. My wife was offered a position with the Chrysler automotive company just after giving birth to our daughter. I was employed at an automotive factory as well but Chrysler offered my wife twice the amount of money I was making at that time. We only had one vehicle and our jobs were in two different cities so the decision was fairly easy.
I stayed home and cared for the baby and the house while my wife worked to support us all. Shulman’s need for an agreement to justify women’s equality in a marriage or in the work field is simply outdated because the dynamic of who “brings home the bacon” isn’t static anymore. Needless to say, we have a ways to go as a nation because both genders still experience sexism in the workplace. Our marriages, however, constitute a different understanding; one built on unconditional love and devotion. Why is there a need for a contract in matrimony?
Other than the legal documentation declaring the marriage of one individual to another, personal relationships should be void of legalism. When I want to figure out how something works, I seek the manufacturer’s instructions; the one who created the object of my attention. The institution of marriage was created by God; first between Adam and Eve (The Holy Bible). There are many passages in the bible that instruct husbands and wives on marriage; and I do refer to those instructions occasionally.
Every day I consider my own life and think about the wonderful being God has blessed me with but never do I regard her as my legal obligation. I get to love her and I don’t take that for granted. It is an honor and a privilege to be in her life and although I don’t understand why she feels the same about me, I know she does. I am completely in love with her as she is with me. This level of secure covenant allows us to give to each other freely with no apprehensions. The power of our love allows us to communicate openly without fear.
The height of our commitment and devotion to one another prohibits abuse and misuse. All of these things work together in our marriage to allow us to function as a unit without a legal document dictating the honorable nature of our characters. I commend Alix Kates Shulman for taking charge of her life and marriage by doing something so radical it shook the hinges off our nation’s history. I am left to wonder what her passion would have been if she was born a couple of decades later. “A Marriage Agreement” could have won the hearts of men also if Shulman’s feminist overtones were more muted.
Moreover, if Shulman would have addressed her family issues from a nest of love instead of a soapbox for women’s rights, I think more married couples would have embraced the article. One of Jesus’ disciples, Paul, wrote in the first book of Corinthians: Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails (The Holy Bible). Every time I see the word “love” in this passage, I mentally insert my wife’s name and desire to be a better husband, an improved friend, and an enhanced partner. It is exciting to know that she feels the same way about me but even if she didn’t, my devotion would be my gift to her. I challenge anyone to love the way that my wife and I do and not feel the same.
Works Cited Behrens, Laurence, Leonard J. Rosen. “Introduction to “A Marriage Agreement” by Alix Kates Shulman. ” Behrens, Laurence, Leonard J. Rosen. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Virginia L. Blanford. 10th Edition. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. 303. Shulman, Alix Kates. “A Marriage Agreement. ” Behrens, Laurence, Leonard J. Rosen. Writing, and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Virginia L. Blanford. 10th Edition. New York: Pearson Longman, 2008. 303-307. —. Psychology Today: Alix Kates Shulman. Sussex Publishing, LLC. 3 February 2010 ;http://www. psychologytoday. com The Holy Bible. New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.