They seem like a fun couple, and for conservative critics, that is the problem.
On a personal note, I’m not married, but I’ve been in a relationship for long enough that Beyoncé’s portrayal, on her new record, of long-term monogamy as a fun and sexy way to live spoke to me, folks. I am not objective about this. However, I suspect my emotional reaction to that is pretty common, which is why I included the “Drunk In Love” performance from the Grammys in the last post. I saw it as a rejoinder to Ross Douthat’s relentless portrayal of marriage and monogamy as a state that is to be endured for the good of god and country instead of a potential source of joy and pleasure that one should enter into only after finding the right person. While I think he’s basically an amoral idiot, I do think Douthat is right to understand that wanting marriage to be pleasurable is, indeed, part and parcel of a modern approach to sexuality that also includes support for reproductive rights, acceptance of diversity in people’s personal choices, a tendency to delay marriage, and, treating women in heterosexual relationships as equal partners instead of subservient beings. There’s tension between wanting everyone to be married and wanting all marriages to be happy, and Douthat does get that, even if he prefers many unhappy marriages over fewer happy marriages.
Anyway, I agree with Alyssa Rosenberg that the “Drunk In Love” performance should read as an advertisement for how great marriage can be, and in that rough sense, conservatives should be falling all over themselves praising Beyoncé and Jay-Z for making “marriage look fun, and sexy, and a source of mutual professional fulfillment”. But I also suspected that conservatives would probably not see it that way, because as much as social conservatives claim their concern is about marriage vs. not-marriage, I think the real concern is other people are having fun and they want to shut it down. So NOM went ahead and cleared that up:
It is a song which Rosenberg herself calls “raunchy, fun and even silly” [emphasis added]. In the performance, Beyonce was adorned (according to The Hollywood Reporter) in “Saint Laurent black tights, custom bra, La Perla collar body and Nichole de Carle body suit, complete with wavy wet hair” and performed while “expertly twirling in a chair.”
Rosenberg concludes of the performance, “If marriage is a product that conservatives desperately want to sell, the smartest thing they could do right now is to hire Beyoncé and Jay-Z as a product spokescouple.”
But as we won’t be quoting any of the raunchy song’s lyrics nor linking to video of the performance, it must suffice to say that we politely decline Rosenberg’s suggestion.
For our part, we think that neither of the ‘performances’ last night are an ideal starting place for a proper understanding of marriage.
The “proper understanding of marriage” being, I suspect, closer to the picture Douthat painted: A man who wishes he could be free tied, out of a sense of duty, to a woman he hardly loves and barely understands because they have to raise their children. A woman who tolerates sex because she wants to have children and while she doesn’t love having a husband who resents her, she’s so attached to the social status that comes with being married she puts up with him. Fun and sexiness aren’t a part of the story. In fact, the problem is that people want fun and sexiness out of their relationships, and so they hold out for it, which is a bad thing because reasons. The reality is that coercion is an anathema to fun, and so making marriage more fun necessarily means making it more optional.
I have no doubt conservatives would prefer to make generic “marriage is great, everyone should do it” kind of arguments, but lately that’s come in direct conflict with the increasingly hard line being taken on the subject of reproductive rights. You can’t oppose accessible contraception and abortion for single women without also opposing it for married women who use those things to keep the spark alive. As Thers at Whiskey Fire wrote regarding Mike Huckabee’s contraception comments, “Hickabee is talking crap even from my boring minivan-driving perspective. It’s absurd. Christ, it is, dare I say it… HETEROPHOBIC. My marriage requires birth control. The overwhelming majority of long-term monogamous heterosexual American relationships require birth control.”
And that’s really all there is to it. I do, in fact, think that Beyoncé and Jay-Z have created a public image that is aspirational. Many, probably most Americans look at these two dancing sexily with each other and they really, really want that. Conservatives tend to talk about low marriage rates as if people, especially women, are rejecting long-term commitments in favor of “hook-up culture”. The reality is more complex. People want fun marriages. But what makes sex inside a marriage fun is, to be blunt, what makes sex outside of a marriage fun. The religious right has argued in the past that abstaining from sex before marriage is what makes sex inside it fun, the that lie is collapsing under its own weight.