What is marriage? The marriage system has been in human society for a long time. Most people think that marriage is a private world of love and romance between two people. However, marriage is not just the sum of two spouses. Marriage is a relationship defined by law, morality, and common sense. For sociologists, contemporary marriage has more for discussion.
Through transdisciplinarity between biology, history, literature, sociology, ethnology, visual anthropology, law, and politics, this exhibition attempts to explore the evolution of marriage and the challenges of contemporary marriage.
Animal mating systems are incredibly diverse. For example, lions are polygynous; greater painted-snipes are polyandrous; Taiwan field voles are monogamous. Charles Darwin suggested that the animal mating system is related to appearance between sexes in the natural world. In a polygynous system, males are generally larger with bright color and unique structures; and females are usually smaller and comparatively dull-colored. In a monogamous system, the male and female are more similar in appearance.
Human Males tend to be 20% larger and heavier than females on average. According to Darwin’s deductions, what type of mating system should we tend towards?
How did the earliest marriage contract being developed? It is probably related to the concept of property.
About 10,000 years ago, as humans began to move toward an agricultural lifestyle, settled down to live in one place, and developed more advanced concepts of property, conflicts started. Such conflicts were not limited to theft or land ownership. Most likely some were due to family and inheritance, for example, the issue of paternity. To resolve these conflicts, people gradually developed laws. It is reasonable to think that men and women started to form legally binding unions, which became the earliest marriages.
Getting married is an important life event, therefore ceremonial wedding rituals are being practiced in many different cultures. The rituals and objects in the wedding have their symbolic meanings. For example, in Han people’s weddings, they use rice sieve to shadow the bride's head, which would strain out evil and bring blessings. The Rukai's betrothal gift includes a large iron pot, which symbolizes plentiful food and good life. This exhibition presents diverse wedding customs through wedding objects of different cultures.
Marriage Intermediaries: Matchmakers
In ancient times, most marriages were arranged based on economic and political considerations. Matchmakers played an important role as an intermediary to create the best matches. In traditional Chinese, Jewish, and Islamic cultures, there are matchmakers to help people get married. Today, times have changed and most couples marry for love. Are matchmakers no longer needed? As two people still need to meet before they can fall in love, matchmakers continue to play an important role in bringing couples together. Today, matchmaking is conducted by individuals or corporations or through platforms. “Modern matchmakers” such as dating sites and apps are bringing new energy to the tradition of matchmaking.
Inequality in Marriage
Ancient marriages often regarded women as part of men’s property. A man with many wives was said “to enjoy” a happy life. Descriptions of married women who engaged in similar behavior were much less pleasant. Today, in the 21st century when gender equality is highly valued, however, there are still studies showing that marriage is a power relationship in which inequality between men and women still exists.
Another contemporary marital challenge is that more couples are choosing to cohabitate rather than marry. What is the meaning of cohabitation? What are the differences between cohabitation and marriage? Will the contemporary trend of cohabitation challenge the value of marriage?
In 2004, Time magazine published a cover story entitled “Marriage Meltdown” in which it reported that in recent years divorce rates had climbed in Asian countries and even surpassed those of Western nations. For example, in just 20 years, the divorce rate in Taiwan increased nearly three-fold. How to define a successful marriage? Is it about fulfilling one’s obligations to spouse and children? Or is it about pursuing the happiness of oneself? When problems arise in a marriage, what would be your priority? The harmony of the family, or the interest of yourself?
Same-sex marriage laws have been passed in more and more countries. In May 2019, same-sex marriage became legal in Taiwan, making it the first in Asia to provide protections for same-sex couples.
Scientists believe that possible factors for the determination of sexual orientation include genetics, hormones, development, society, and culture. In the natural world, homosexual behavior among animals is very common, and the sex determination of humans is complex. Therefore, both heterosexuality and homosexuality lie along the spectrum of human sexual behavior. From ancient times to today and in different cultures, heterosexuality and homosexuality have been part of the human experience. All sexual orientations should be respected.
Due to globalization, convenience of transportation, and rapid development of communications technologies, people from all over the world are able to have more frequent interactions, resulting in rapid increases in transnational marriages among people in East Asia and Southeast Asia. In Taiwan, foreign spouses, in addition to adapting to life far from home, often face social exclusion and discrimination. Added to that are various restrictions that make it difficult for them to seek employment. These inequalities are gradually being addressed. Now known by the formal term of new immigrants, foreign spouses have been invited to teach their native languages in schools. Some have even earned graduate degrees or opened their own businesses, with the result that Taiwan is becoming a truly diverse society.