My Photo

« The IG Report and Iraq | Main | Looking Backwards »

July 11, 2009

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d834515c2369e2011571006a46970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Highly Selective Dignity Code:

Comments

It's interesting because I read this column and read the transcript of the above video, and I don't think the column had anything to do with what happened to Brook, even though he does!

Poor thing doesn't know what sexual harrassment is, it literally tried to grab him and he still doesn't know.

I liked his column because it was an interesting analysis of decorum, dignity and self-respect. It's true that the Senator who held onto Brooks' thigh didn't display any of those characteristics, but what sexual harraser does in the middle of an inaproriate advance?

I just think that Brooks' is so clueless and willfully delusional he coudn't or wouldn't see what that whole thing was about, which was a whole lot more than just merely being undignified - it was a pass.

Why else would someone, of any gender, have his/her hand on one's inner thigh for a whole dinner party? It's a whole lot more than being an "emotional freak." Come on, David! I feel sorry for him.


If you read the entire interview, Brooks seems to acknowledge that women are on the receiving end of this to a much greater degree than are men.

I dunno, hilzoy, Brooks also says:

I’ve spoken to a lot of young women who are Senate staffers and they’ll have these middle age guys who are sort of in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Emotionally needy, they don’t know how to do it and sort of like these St. Bernards drooling everywhere. And you find a lot of this happens in mid-life and among very powerful people who are extremely lonely.

Many journalists have reported how it is a favourite tactic of politicians and powerful people in general to invade the private space of others, so I don't know what's wrong with Brooks mentioning it.

Also, I bet I'm not the only straight guy who's been groped by a gay guy before.

As a straight male who admittedly has a broad social network that extends well beyond the confines of academia, into pool halls and various dives, I can say that I've been grabbed and groped by men and women--probably more often by women because men tend to worry about another guy popping them. Generally, I'd say it has been closeted men who go in for this kind of thing.

Brooks seemed kind of freaked by it. It never really bothers me much one way or another. Humans are a messy lot and a large subset have trouble controlling themselves and don't have the best sense of social and psychological boundaries--especially when they've got a little hooch in them. But then again, I'm a guy, not in prison, so I don't really worry that a grope would escalate into a rape. It would be an entirely different matter if I feared that the groper had the physical strength to escalate the assault.

If you read the entire interview, Brooks seems to acknowledge that women are on the receiving end of this to a much greater degree than are men.

But it seems like such a revelation to him. He is clearly one of those men who have no idea what it is like to be a woman because he is utterly incapable of putting himself in their place and uninterested in trying.

Once someone brought up women, he acknowledged it. But the idea that someone might place his hand on your inner thigh over dinner just is not evidence of an alarming new development -- unless you forget that it has been happening to women since time immemorial.

IMO the all-time champion groper was LBJ. He was the king of personal space invaders.

It's not a man thing, a woman thing, a gay thing, or a straight thing. It's a power thing.

If I can cross your boundaries and lay hands on you regardless of your wishes, I own you.

As an aside, I was just reading an account of the Jefferson/Hemmings relationship in a history of NOLA.

What I wasn't aware of was that Hemmings was the child of Jefferson's father-in-law by his own slave mistress, who in turn had been the daughter of a white seaman with *his* slave mistress.

Jefferson's father-in-law, Wayles, willed his daughter Sally as a slave to his daughter Martha, her own half-sister, who then brought Sally into the Jefferson household.

After Martha died, Jefferson began his relationship with Sally when she was about 16 and he was about 45. He kept the children he fathered on her as slaves as well until his death, when they were freed.

This was the man who authored the Declaration of Independence. That's some serious cognitive dissonance.

This is an interesting part:

O’DONNELL: Can I ask one other question David? Do you think, what about female or women politicians? Are they dignified and are there examples of when they have not? Or does it tend to be the men who less dignified?

BROOKS: Yeah, I think that’s mostly a matter of genetics. I do think that…I do think there’s loneliness.

Loneliness?

Let's not forget that straight guys have a culture that still regards homosexual encounters, whether harrassing or not, as taboo to some degree. Unwelcome sexual contact, while certainly scandalous in its own right, is still notably different from unwelcome sexual contact plus gay panic.

Was the Republican senator Brooks was seated next to Larry Craig, by any chance?

Hey -- just because they are fish, and just because they are in a barrel, what do you mean I shouldn't shoot them?

I was in the Peace Corps in Samoa, and it wasn't uncommon to be groped by the fa'afafines (effectively transvestites). Of course I did what any straight male would do and groped them back.

What was Brooks doing to make the Senator want to grope him?

He must have enjoyed it; otherwise he would have done or said something to make him stop.

[/sarcasm]

"What I wasn't aware of was that Hemmings was the child of Jefferson's father-in-law by his own slave mistress, who in turn had been the daughter of a white seaman with *his* slave mistress."

What's striking is how many levels of disgust this manages to hit, from the very basic (incest taboos) all the way up to sophisticated ideas of universal human rights. Wow.

Maybe being groped in a public setting is a novel experience for straight guys

It would be for this one, but don't let my encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and science fiction trivia mislead you; I have in many ways led a sheltered life.

Now that I am retired, this sort of thing doesn't happen to me anymore, but before age 45 or so it was common. Gropers, humpers-in-crowds, a drunk who lost his balance and kept from falling over by gripping one of my tits -- (I don't count that as sexual harrasment, but simply as being mistaken for an inanimate object), college professors who wanted to teach me a thing or two, to say nothing of the whistlers and shouters at school and on the street.

The people I don't comprehend is the men who think this sort of contact is no big deal. I really have no clue what they're thinking.

(One advantage of the shouters-in-traffic? It is usually impossible to figure out what they were saying.)

Noni

I keep wondering how the senator managed to eat if he kept one hand on Brooks' thigh. Was finger food the only thing served at this dinner party?

I only got groped once. I punched the guy in the nose, making it bleed. The one act of violence in my life.

It's a power thing.

Which is why it is routinely done to women. That's what women are for, right? It's not like they're people or something.

And yes, Brooks seems very much in that category of people who cannot believe an evil exists until they are on the receiving end, at which point it becomes a Big Deal.

There was nothing wrong with what Brooks said. He was making a point that politicians are strange people who tend to invade your space, and he gave an example.

I am a decent looking man, and I have never been touched in public the way Brooks was. I believe that it happens to women all the time, but not men, so Brooks' story is apropo.

Totally OT, I share the following story:

I'm in the front yard this evening, playing with my dog. A nice elderly couple walk up. I've seen them many times before, as they regularly go for long walks in the neighborhood, but not in a month or so. They ask where the other dog is. I reply that she died quite suddenly about a month ago -- apparent heart attack. (Akitas apparently can have weak hearts.) They express condolences and we share dog stories.

The man says that his cousin was married to a rather strange old guy who ran a wolf rescue ranch. The cousin's husband was quite a character -- corporate executive who dropped everything to move to the high desert east of Los Angeles to open a wolf rescue facility. And, oddly enough, the brother of the former president of Harvard, Mr. B_k.

So, hil, you seem to have an uncle whose wife is a cousin to a neighbor. I feel like we're related or something.

Cheers,

Dear Hilzoy: I hope you are well.

First, I'm sorry some oaf groped you when you were in college. Nasty thing to happen to any girl.

Second, my first reaction to David Brooks (no relation of mine!) complaint was a sense of jaded ennui. I've seen so many scandals of this sort come and go that I can't get particularly worked up about it.

And I agree it's probably not good to feel like that. Of COURSE all human beings we meet should be treated with kindess and courtesy. Even people we don't like.

Sincerely,

Dear Hilzoy: Just a hasty additional note.

Out of curiosity, I clicked my name above, to see why I was "blue linked." To my astonishment, it was linked to a discussion I compiled about David L. Dungan's book A HISTORY OF THE SYNOPTIC PROBLEM. I hope it interests you, if you look it up.

What beats me is how that little item of mine got linked to HERE. Odd.

Sincerely,

Sean: thanks.

Francis: Small world. If my uncle was ever a corporate executive, it's the first I've heard of it. He did, however, run a wolf rescue facility.

His reaction is totally understandable. I saw the interview where Brooks said this as if it were completely bizarre, and the first thing I thought was, "Yeah, geez, who would want to put their hand on David Brooks' thigh?" I'm sure he was just thinking the same thing.

>_>

tomtom, I don't think the story is inappropriate. What hilzoy and others are pointing out is that Brooks only thought the power/sex games of politicians worth noting when it was his thigh being groped.

The Althouse quote is priceless. I'm trying to think what sane person would believe it appropriate to periodically pat a stranger on the thigh.

lightening, you're currently my favorite person in the world.

And hilzoy, I think you've hit the nail on the head; Brooks is wandering around clad entirely in privilege.

@russell & others - not really OT since hilzoy brought up Sally Hemmings.

Let me highly recommend The Hemmings of Monticello: An American Family, which treats everyone involved as full human beings rather than stereotypes, and imparts a much deeper understanding of the legal and social context of slavery in Virginia, the U.S., and France than standard histories.

WRT David Brooks: What a cringe-making spectacle. There might be a lot of people around who combine his lack of self-awareness, narcissism, cowardice, and obliviousness -- but there surely can't be many people paid so handsomely to put it on public display.

Re Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: See also Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: A Brief Account, on the Thomas Jefferson Foundation website, which summarizes many of the facts and claims about the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings.

My quick take: Based on the available evidence, Thomas Jefferson appears to be the most likely father of at least some of Sally Hemings' children; however, the evidence is not completely conclusive. (I.e. it's still possible they were fathered by another close male relative, but there's not strong evidence for any particular alternative.)

I've seen one recent book try to make the case for Thomas' brother, Randolph, being the father, but from what I've seen online, although both Thomas and Randolph fall within the DNA set established by the 1998 paternity tests, it's not clear that Randolph was actually at Monticello at the likely times for paternity.

Boy, Althouse is on a tear, what with this and her previous piece on Obama (not) checking out a woman's rear end. Regarding the latter, she must be proud to have attracted such a high level of comment quality.

Elizabeth -- *blush*

It is, of course, all about power asymmetry. Conservatives imagine themselves in a nice comfortable slot near the top of the hierarchy. Brooks found out he's not as high up as he thinks ...

"Out of curiosity, I clicked my name above, to see why I was 'blue linked.'"

I don't understand what this means. Some idiosyncracy of your browser, I'm guessing? (What browswers will do what things in what colors is up to your settings, not that most people bother familiarizing themselves with any such settings.)

If possibly you're referring to the link under your name (which appears as red, for example, in my settings in Firefox), I would tend to think the only likely way is that somehow you pasted that link into the "site" field here if you've never signed into Typepad, or entered it accidentally when you created your Typepad account. I certainly could be wrong about that, but I agree that I can't think of any reason why it would otherwise show up under your name. On the other hand, a) I am not an expert in such things; and b) who the eff can understand what the hell Typepad does and why?

So, how's that move off Typepad coming, ObWi folks?

lightning: "Conservatives imagine themselves in a nice comfortable slot near the top of the hierarchy."

I think perhaps you mean "New York Times columnists imagine themselves in a nice comfortable slot near the top of the hierarchy."

Most conservatives -- of whom Brooks is certainly not near the rabid end of the spectrum -- tend to imagine themselves a deeply imperiled minority fighting for their survival in a country ruled by evil communist terrorist-loving libruls.

This holds true to a large degree even for the wingnuttier of their representatives in Congress, as witness, say, Michele Bachmann. Their view is that they're desperately trying to save the "real Americans" from the onslaught of big city New Yorkers, Angelenos, Jews, atheists, scientists, makers of Hollywood films, etc., etc.

Brooks is, on the other hand, almost as inclined, rightly or wrongly, to identify himself as a centrist as a conservative, I suspect, and certainly isn't amongst the more paranoid wing. He's Establishment, and I think that has a great deal more to deal with any of his expectations of immunity from this sort of thing than do his beliefs that being a conservative should protect him. This is, to be sure, pretty much just personal opinion of mine, so feel free to take it or leave it.

Dear Gary: You are correct, my name appeared as red. What I really meant was my curiosity over why it was "clickable." I also agree my little item about the late Professor Dungan's book got linked "here" thru some amateurish fumblings of mine.

Sincerely,

Methinks David Brooks protesteth too much...

Lack of boundaries is not the same as sexual harassment. One is an expression of control and dominance, while the other is a yearning for human contact and affirmation. I think it was pretty clear that Brooks was saying that politicians are inherently emotionally needy, and one expression of this is physical familiarity. Not all touching is the same. I will grant that perhaps that's a distinction without much of a difference, but, last time I checked, close talking, while repellent, is not illegal.

I think you're all reading too far into it. he was making a dig at closeted Republicans by mentioning it was a Republican Senator.

It was no more and no less than that. The cries about sexism and power positioning can stop now. Subtle marriage values dig: check. Thesis on gender roles: deferred.

Do you believe Brooks, the Gray Lady's resident faux conservative? The story is too pat and has no corroboration. It raises the question as to whether Brooks is a fantasist. The behavior would not have continued without encouragement on some level. Any adult man knows how to cut short such advances. If true the story says as much about Brooks as the unnamed politician. But this may well be just another of Brooks' spitballs at the GOP. While it cannot be disproved, it does not merit being believed.

Two years ago a VERY famous male science fiction writer walked up on stage to accept an award and grabbed the breast of the VERY honored female science fiction writer who had introduced him (afterwards claiming, along with he didn't see the problem, that they were friends and gigged each other all the time). The majority response to those of us who rose up, mad as hell, tired of this sort of thing in general, in public in particular, and of the the diss to this woman in particular, but just sick of white male privilege, was: "oh, grow up," "he didn't mean anything," "it was no big deal," "you people just can't take a joke," "SHE didn't say anything" (she's an old-school lady who wouldn't make a scene and she was too appalled to say anything at the moment), "you people are always looking for something to raise a stink over," and "sit down and shut up." (Also, "I won't attend to your posts until they're perfect in spelling and grammar.")

I'm sorry Brooks had his ethical cherry busted. Welcome to the rest of the world.

Well, I think Brooks is a clueless chump as much as the next person (and his whole "dignity" crap is just completely ahistorical) but in this case I think you might be coming down a bit hard on him.

In the transcript, O'Donnell (a woman) asks the question, and after Brooks says his harassment story, he adds, "I can only imagine what happens to you guys." When I saw it I took it as a reference that women like O'Donnell probably have it much worse.

Later he says, "I’ve spoken to a lot of young women who are Senate staffers and they’ll have these middle age guys who are sort of in the middle of a mid-life crisis. Emotionally needy, they don’t know how to do it and sort of like these St. Bernards drooling everywhere."

Now, maybe his tone was inappropriate and far too sympathetic to the drooling senators, but I think if you asked him, Brooks would readily admit women have always had it much much worse in the sexual harassment department.

Hey Tamora Pierce, great to see you here. My daughter has been your devoted fan since she was about 8 years old (she's now 22). The big trigger for her to become an independent reader was when I wouldn't spend a whole day reading a book of yours to her, and she had to read it herself if she wanted to know what happened next sooner rather than later. :)

We attended your reading/signing at the B&N in Augusta, Maine, years ago -- a high point of a childhood in central Maine!

(Off-topic, I know, but not entirely, because Tamora's books mean a lot to girls in a world where most of the heroes in books are male, a topic not unconnected with the subject of this post. In fact, I just attended a college graduation where Geena Davis spoke about, and was honored for, her work in relation to gender (im)balance in movies and on TV, especially in children's programming. It's not like everything is all better now.... But that's enough semi-OT for now.)

brooks may have some minimal awareness that women face similar groping, and for his minimal acknowledgment of this fact he deserves some minimal credit.

however.

the premise of the original column he wrote for the nyt was that a momentous change has occurred, that manners and morals nowadays are completely different than they once were, that standards have slipped, and things are now done that were never done in america as it was.

and when he was on tv, he chose the example of being groped by a republican senator exactly as an example of this new decadence in public comportment.

so hilzoy's charge stands: given the context of his earlier column, his anecdote only makes sense as a claim that groping is something new, some unheard-of innovation.

freiersdorf's write-up over at sully's place does an excellent job of missing the point and replacing hilzoy's observation with a straw man (hilzoy never claimed that brooks is not "against" the groping of women).

and freiersdorf also gets extra points for doing exactly what tamora peirce describes above--responding to an accurate feminist observation by tut-tutting about feminists over-reacting.

what a jerk.

Who could resist giving DB's plump thighs a squeeze?

Did you notice how much he was blinking in that interview? I began to wonder if he had made it up. I've never seen anyone blink that much in a interview.

The art that has been lost is the art of listening. David Brooks was following the oral tradition of softening in a self-deprecating way what could come across as a scolding point by using humor. He exaggerated enough that it is clear that he was not being literal .. and he also has an obligation to be entertaining enough with his anecdotes to be on commercial television. And now he can't correct his error of over-estimating the intelligence of his audience becuase he knows he would come across like every politicians who pretends that every Freudian slip was actually 'a joke'. The dumbing down of America continues. I foresee a time when every turn of phrase or humorous exageration will have to be required to be framed with a disclosure.

Robert: don't forget the lost art of reading.

The "point" that you pointed to in your 1:30 pm comment was in fact referenced - and dismissed - by "kid bitzer" at 12:23 pm.

Tamora: we must travel in different SF circles. The almost universal reaction among people I know was "What an a-hole!" (Though they're largely people who had no use for Ellison in the first place, so at least some of that is simple dislike.)

Groping or appropriate touching? Depends on who's doing it. My girlfriend and I would frequent a gay bar here in our town because we like to dance and they had the best dj's. Lot of playfull firting but I was never 'groped'. Now I have a few straight, jocky friends who have more than once grabed at my crotch when they were quite drunk. Some kinda closeting behavior I think. When an attractive women holds my arm as she shakes my hand I don't mind at all. I think the lingering touch is what starts to offend, especially by a stanger.

a 'stanger'?

'firting'?

I'm going home.

I once had a guy bump & rub his naked erect penis on my butt on a crowded NYC subway train during rush hour for maybe 20-30 seconds. It took me that long just to figure out what was going on (it's just not something that enters your mind -- you have to make your brain go into an alternate universe where people actually do such things before you can understand what's happening) and I didn't have time to do anything but glare at him as he rapidly tucked it back in & leaped off at the next stop. Yes, I'm female. YUCK.

Gotta say, I think you whiffed on this one, Hilzoy. I didn't get the impression Brooks was talking about being groped in a sexual harrassment kind of way, but rather that politicians are social misfits who don't understand the concept of dignified (read: WASPy) personal space. It's the creepy over-familiarity he's objecting to, not some imagined sexual advance.

that's helpful, r. dave.

i hope all you women will now realize that when you have been groped, there was no creepy over-familiarity involved.

*your* being groped was sexual harrassment. that has always been compatible with the dignity code, and david brooks was not complaining about that.

*his* being groped was creepy over-familiarity, and that is something entirely new under the sun, which has never happened to women before, and which demands an editorial in the new york times.

"And hilzoy, I think you've hit the nail on the head; Brooks is wandering around clad entirely in privilege." -- Elizabeth

An oft used expression amongst feminists, this privilege, but something I have to nitpick. It is not a privilege to have no personal experience with being groped or sexually harassed; in a just world one would hope this would be the norm for everyone.

Of course, the reality is there are many things a white, hetrosexual, english-speaking, male can take for granted in our society. Nevertheless I don't see how it does anyone any favors by assuming David Brooks is speaking in bad faith without some kind of evidence to that effect.

"Maybe being groped in a public setting is a novel experience for straight guys; not being a straight guy, I wouldn't know."

This claim smacks of the same ignorance that Brooks is being accused of. First of all, guys do a lot of weird things to each other in locker rooms. But it's hardly confined to male-only spaces - once you hit your teens, there are always a few (straight) guys who will grab your ass or try to stick a wet finger in your ear. Add to that the constant threat of pederasts and there's a hell of a lot of unwanted looking and touching you have to put up with. Also, after years of going to the gym and the grocery store in the Castro, I can tell you that gay guys also engage in a fair amount of unwanted advances and touching. And a lot of the time, there's nothing you can do.

I'd like to see Brooks sitting next to Sacha Baron-Cohen, btw...

"The behavior would not have continued without encouragement on some level."

Sure, and sexual harassment of women only takes place with consent.

"Two years ago a VERY famous male science fiction writer walked up on stage to accept an award and grabbed the breast of the VERY honored female science fiction writer who had introduced him (afterwards claiming, along with he didn't see the problem, that they were friends and gigged each other all the time)"

Oh, lord, this was a lot more complicated than that, and no, I'm not going into it here. But it was a lot more complicated.

I really wish people wouldn't bring up examples, in general, in contexts where most people aren't familiar with the original context, when the original events resulted in literally hundreds of thousands of words of debate. One might consider that it's difficult to present something resembling an objective account of such a matter in under 10,000 words or so. It's simply unfair to everyone involved.

(Neither am I elaborating on my own view, save to say that it would require a lengthy exegesis.)

Others have already recommended fine books and articles on the Jefferson-Hemings relationship. I wish to address the notion of "incest taboos" mentioned further up. I'm not sure what taboos the commenter has in mind, but there is no blood incest here. Ms Hemings was Mrs Jefferson's half-sister, but neither of them was closely related to Mr Jefferson.

Perhaps it's because I've been aware of the relationship for as long as I can recall having any impression of Jefferson at all, but I have trouble understanding the shocked or outraged reaction that so many display when they first hear.

I see three things here: (1) a man of property engages in a lasting but non-marital relationship with a servant of the household; (2) a wealthy and powerful man pursues a relationship with a woman who is a full generation younger than he; and (3) a widower is attracted to a woman who bears a strong physical resemblance to his departed wife.

Whatever you may think of the propriety of these, none of them is the least bit uncommon.

Finally, at the risk of grossly oversimplifying this complicated relationship, it should be noted that it is not at all clear that Mr Jefferson's interest in Miss Hemings was unwelcome.

servant of the household

What exactly is the point of that euphemism?

She was his slave.

If you truly care to consider where the shock and outrage come from, consider the possibility that they're just a subset or particular instance of the outrage the institution of slavery inspires in some people.

right, mdl, got it.

so men raping their slaves has always been common, and it's incomprehensible how anyone could be shocked or outraged by that.

but one guy putting his hand on another guy's thigh is evidence that the old code of dignity is crumbling and we are falling into a moral decline.

and hilzoy was just over-reacting as a humorless feminist.

so awesome!

Furthermore, incest taboos don't just have to do with blood relationships. Marriage with siblings of deceased spouses is also a type of "incest taboo."

From Wikipedia, just as the first thing that pops up in a quick search:

The Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907 (7 Edw.7 c.47) was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, allowing a man, if his wife had died, to marry her sister.

Previously, it was forbidden for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife.

"I have trouble understanding the shocked or outraged reaction that so many display when they first hear."

Yeah, what Janie said, it's the "slave" part that galls.

To bring this back to the Brooks thing, the issue here is one person's power over another. If somebody can lay hands on you when you don't wish them to, they have power over you.

Period.

If Brooks had an ounce of sense and self-respect, he'd simply have said "Excuse me, but I'd rather you didn't put your hand on my thigh." "Back off, @sshole" works, too.

But when it comes right down to it, pissing off Senators would probably interfere with his gig.

So, he put up with it, and kept it as a juicy tale to tell on the TV.

As Janie notes, Hemmings was not a "servant of the household". Hemmings was Jefferson's property. Just like his dog, his horse, or his freaking boots.

The fact that she was attractive, a generation younger than him, and that she resembled his wife (due to being her half sister) was gravy.

Human rights begins with respect for other people, and for their basic humanity and human integrity. Those concepts are utterly incompatible with the idea of humans as property.

And "unwelcome" doesn't have a lot of meaning in a world where someone's control over their own life is essentially nil.

Maybe she thought he was all that and a bag of chips. The kids he fathered on her were his property, too, and they were his slaves until the day he died. The Hemmings were the only slave family freed by his will, my guess is she made a deal.

But at least he didn't sell his own damned kids off for a quick buck. That was also quite common. They were pretty light skinned, they probably would have made great house slaves, and he probably could have gotten a good dollar for them.

So, in context, not such a bad guy, eh?

"Marriage with siblings of deceased spouses is also a type of 'incest taboo.'"

I'm not sure what you mean by this: it's incredibly common in history, and was an outright obligation in many cultures, for a man to marry his deceased wife's sister. The reason for the prohibition passed in Britain in the The Marriage Act of 1835 was because such marriages were so relatively common. What kind of taboo is that?

From the very Wikipedia post you quote:

[...] The desire of widowed men to marry the sister of their deceased wife became the subject of particular agitation from the 1860s onwards and strong feelings were roused on both sides. However, it was to be nearly 50 years before the campaign for a change in the law was successful, despite the introduction of draft legislation in Parliament on many occasions. The lengthy nature of the campaign was referred to in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe, in which the Queen of the Fairies sings "He shall prick that annual blister, marriage with deceased wife's sister".

The Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907 removed the prohibition (although it allowed individual clergy, if they chose, to refuse to conduct marriages which would previously have been prohibited), but the Act did exactly what it said and no more so, for example, it was not until 1921 that the Deceased Brother's Widow's Marriage Act 1921 was passed. The Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Relationship Act 1931 extended the operation of the 1907 Act to allow the marriages of nieces and nephews by marriage as well.

Biblically, the prohibition was on the man taking his wife's sister while his wife was alive. http://bible.cc/leviticus/18-18.htm

After the wife was dead, hey, it was perfectly common.

Torah:

b. "During her lifetime" - while the relatives of the wife mentioned in verse 17 are "each forbidden to him forever, whether he divorces her, or she is still alive, or after her death," a woman's sister is "forbidden to him until his wife dies" (Rambam, ibid.). After his wife's death, her sister is completely permissible to him, and such marriages have been quite commonplace throughout the generations.

While the expression "during her lifetime" makes the marriage permissible after his wife's death, it also involves a limitation: even if the man and his wife are divorced, her sister remains forbidden to him so long as the divorced wife is still alive. This requires emphasis, especially in light of the reason given for the prohibition: "as a rival."

The prohibition of marrying the sister of one's wife is the only one among all the forbidden relations which, although arising from a blood relationship, is nullified upon the death of the person who represented the reason for it.

I'm not making any moral arguments here; I'm just, as usual, discussing history, and the "taboo" you refer to is extremely recent, and extremely culturally limited. Throughout almost all of human history in almost all cultures, there's been no taboo at all about a man marrying his deceased wife's sister.

Or vice versa, Gary - generally a woman marrying her deceased husband's brother is quite OK, assuming that it's not too hasty (ie give the funeral meats time to cool off before they furnish forth the marriage table).

i don't know, ajay; some people may still feel that counts as incestious--and they may even spell it that way!

"I sat next to a Republican senator once at dinner and he had his hand on my inner thigh the whole time."

Hasn't Brooks heard of simply lifting the guys hand off his thigh, and dropping it back in the senator's lap? Works for me.

Or was he just too afraid of "offending?"

The comments to this entry are closed.

Whatnot


  • visitors since 3/2/2004

August 2014

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31            
Blog powered by Typepad

QuantCast