While it may seem like a modern topic, the burning question of whether men should marry or more to the point not marry, is centuries old. That men are rejecting marriage in increasing numbers is well documented, however cynicism about the virtues of marriage is nothing new.
Numerous scholarly books such as Howard Chudacoff’s Age Of The Bachelor, or J. McCurdy’s Citizen Bachelors have traced the historical rise of bachelor movements, which tend to occur when a given society sufficiently devalues men while saddling them with unreasonable demands of service to wives and the State. When societies treat males more favourably, then bachelor movements organically decline.
I recently chanced upon another book outlining the deeper history of ‘marriage avoidance’ under the heading the querelle du mariage (quarrel about marriage). The following excerpt provides some interesting detail:
Christine de Pizan’s praise of women was directed against the misogamists and misogynists of her time, the anonymous text Les quinze joies de mariage (The Fifteen Joys of Marriage) deplored the loss of male liberty in marriage, and a century later Erasmus of Rotterdam presented the misogamist virgin in his Virgo misogamos (The Misogamist Virgin – 1523), who desperately wants to enter a convent but inspired by love she thinks better of it at the last moment. Philogynous texts questioned why women were punished more strictly for adultery than men or why a husband had to be brought (by a dowry); misogamists and misogynists, eg. In England, answered the question by stating that women tend to squeeze money out of their husbands.
In Germany this aspect of the querelle has been largely ignored (interest has focused on voices which argued in favor of women’s intelligence and reason), although the querelle du mariage played an important role here: the wide-ranging marriage debate during the Reformation, in particular in its sensational and scandalous early phases – public betrothals of monks and nuns, closures of monasteries and convents, an epidemic of marriages in Germany to which even French reformers travelled who wished to marry – must be read as an integral part of the European querelle des sexes and the same goes for the marriage debates of the Counter-Reformation. Martin Luther’s Von chelichen Leben (The Estate of Married Life – 1522) speaks quite in the manner of a querelle text by turning against the traditional misogamist attitude:
“What we would speak most of is the fact that the estate of marriage has universally fallen into such awful disrepute. There are many pagan books which treat of nothing but the depravity of womankind and the unhappiness of the estate of marriage […]. So they [young men listening to the advice of a Roman official] concluded that woman is a necessary evil, and that no household can be without such an evil. […] For this reason young men should be on their guard when they read pagan books and hear the common complaints about marriage, lest they inhale poison . For the estate of marriage does not sell well with the devil, because it is God’s good will and work. This is why the devil has contrived to have so much shouted and written in the world against the institution of marriage […]. The world says of marriage, ‘Brief is the joy, lasting the bitterness.”2
I’ve long wondered what form male activism might have taken in response to the excesses of traditional European and Anglosphere gynocentrism. From the above description, and from the many anti-marriage texts abounding through old Europe, it’s clear that a historical form of men’s rights advocacy concerned itself with the dangers of entrapment within marriage.