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Et Tu, Touré? A Critic of White Privilege Is Oblivious to Marital Privilege

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Suppose I challenged you to write the most cliché-drenched ode to marriage you could possibly imagine. Don't do any critical thinking. Don't worry about whether what you have to say is true, or logically consistent, or whether it could be potentially offensive to millions, or whether it might serve as the basis for a women's studies essay on cultural criticism or a Saturday Night Live skit. Just pour it on thick.

Perhaps your essay would include excerpts such as the following:

  • "There is tremendous social and spiritual value in marriage."
  • Marriage "is transformative."
  • When a man proposes to a woman, she looks at him with eyes that say, 'You're a real man."
  • With marriage, you are "being propelled each day to fight the good fight it takes to provide for your family, rather than wanting to succeed because it boosts your ego, your status, and your self-image."
  • Marriage is especially important for men: "There's just something about the right woman that helps you mature into that man you're supposed to be."
  • "Marriage connects you to something bigger than yourself." For example, you no longer leave your socks on the floor and you learn to compromise.
  • "Humans can't help but respect people for doing something that helps you perpetuate the human race."

The quotes you just read are real ones. They could easily have come straight from the mouths of right-wing ideologues such as Maggie Gallagher. No one would be surprised to find claims such as these at pro-marriage websites, including those excoriating same-sex marriage.

But no, the author of these marital bromides is Touré. He proudly read his mash-letter to marriage as part of the "Daily Rant" feature on the Dylan Ratigan Show, guest-hosted that day by Matt Miller. You can listen to the entire rant here.

In case the problems with Touré's platitudes are not already obvious, I'll review some of them here.

Let's start with the one about how people who are married are "being propelled each day to fight the good fight it takes to provide for your family, rather than wanting to succeed because it boosts your ego, your status, and your self-image."

So those are my two choices? Either I'm providing for my family or I'm out to boost my ego, my status, and my self-image? Touré, there are around 100 million adults who are not married, and that's just counting the ones in the U.S. So Molly Ivins, Condoleezza Rice, Janet Napolitano, David Souter, Maggie Kuhn, Ralph Nader, every Pope, and all of the other lifelong singles were all out just to boost their egos? Consider, too, that many single people are providing for their families, including those who do not have children of their own. You have just insulted a whole lot of them. Plus, you do not flatter yourself by proposing this dopey dichotomy.

What about Touré's claim that by marrying, you help "perpetuate the human race"? Here I feel like Rachel Maddow explaining contraception to Mitt Romney, and that sort of naivete is not at all what I associated with Touré before I heard his rant. I feel embarrassed to spell this out but here goes: You don't need to be married to have kids.

Touré, do you really believe that it only occurs to married people to pick their socks up off the floor? And about needing to marry in order to learn to compromise, have you ever been in a workplace?

Now let's talk about the woman who looks at you with goo-goo eyes because you proposed to her, and only now believes that you have become a real man: That's kind of sad. And, in my opinion, bigoted. Single men are not fake men. And commitment comes in many varieties other than the marital kind.

I have a similar reaction to Touré's wistful reflection that "there's just something about the right woman that helps you mature into that man you're supposed to be." If a man can only mature with the help of the "right woman," I think that's a sorrowful statement about that man. I have much greater respect for the men who are all that they can be regardless of whether they ever marry.

Is marriage not just a valuable experience, but a "transformative" one? For more than a decade, the claim has been made that marrying transforms single people -- otherwise doomed to nasty, brutish, and short lives -- into blissfully happy, healthy, and long-living couples. When I wrote Singled Out, I looked up the data supposedly supporting such claims, and found it stunningly unconvincing. I still read closely just about every new journal article purporting to show the transformative power of marrying, and continue to be unimpressed.

In Singled Out (and in subsequent writings), I also took on Touré's belief that marriage is especially transformative for men, pushing and shoving them to, at last, grow up. That's a crock, too.

I will, though, grant Touré one way in which marrying really is transformative: It transforms single people from targets of unapologetic stereotyping and discrimination into privileged members of the Married Couples Club. It grants them the keys to the kingdom of presumptuousness. As long as you have that certificate, you are in. Regardless of the stuff you are made of, getting married means that you are "mature," "a real man," or a complete woman. No matter how insular and greedy your married life may actually be, you are pronounced "part of something bigger than yourself." You are, Touré maintains, a credit to your species.

There are plenty of people who glorify married people, and in the process, degrade single people -- however unwittingly. I'm picking on Touré for a reason. He's smarter than that. He should know better. So should Matt Miller, the guest host who responded to Touré's rant by exclaiming, "Touré, I love that!" and "I agree with all of this."

Matt Miller, who also uncritically highlighted some singles-bashing during a previous stint as Dylan Ratigan's guest host, is, like Touré, not usually one to mindlessly parrot the conservative party line. Dylan Ratigan also fashions himself as a thinker, and often really is. But he, too, has been credulous about the links between marriage and happiness, and has reiterated such shaky statements with as much cautiousness as would Tony Perkins.

The stereotyping, stigmatizing, and discrimination against single people -- what I call singlism -- is pervasive. So is matrimania -- the over-the-top hyping of weddings and marriage and coupling. What's more, singlism and matrimania slip by mostly unnoticed and unquestioned, even by progressives and by the intellectual vanguard of our society. That has to stop.

In the most recent issue of Time magazine, Touré contributed an essay on "Black Irony," one of the magazine's "Top 10 Ideas that Are Changing Your Life." (Living solo was #1.) In it, he said:

While our parents battled oppression, we're left to explain that racism is still present to skeptical people who continue to benefit from white privilege but struggle to see how.

Touré, I would like to explain that marital privilege is present and always has been, and that you are benefiting from it.

This essay originally appeared as a two-part post at the "Single at Heart" blog at PsychCentral. You can learn more about marital privilege in Singled Out and Singlism.