today do not know how to suffer.
striking observation by Paulina, a Mexican woman who remained
in an unhappy marriage for years while she raised her children
and dutifully obeyed her husband, only hints at the
generational differences in attitudes toward marriage, sex,
and gender uncovered by Emory faculty member Jennifer Hirsch
in her new book, A Courtship After Marriage: Sexuality and
Love in Mexican Transnational Families.
assistant professor of international health in the Rollins School
of Public Health, talked with thirteen families in which one
sister or sister-in-law had migrated to Atlanta while the other
stayed behind in Mexico. For eight months, she sat in knitting
shops and homes with women in two small Mexican towns, immersing
herself in their culture to learn what they thought about marriage
and sex. Then she spent similar time with their sisters in Atlantas
burgeoning Latino community, driving them to church and doctors
appointments as she explored how their lives compare to those
of their relatives south of the border.
differences, Hirsch found, are perhaps even more tied to time
started out as a migration study, but then came this idea of
incorporating the mothers, which was very much in response to
what the women told me, Hirsch says. It became clear
that there was a whole narrative of generational changes in
love and marriage.
the younger generation of women, there is a shift toward an
ideal of companionate marriage, in which both people have a
voice in major decisions and sex is an intimate pleasure equally
shared. Their mothers, by contrast, considered the man to wear
the pants in the home and viewed sex as a wifely obligation.
These older women, Hirsch writes, repeatedly said of their daughters
generation, No tienen verguenza, or they have
surprisingly, women who have come to the U.S. are thought to
have more power and independence than their sisters back home
because of the economic opportunities available here. They also
have better access to reproductive health care and birth control.
Hirsch cautions against easy assumptions that U.S. migration
and modernization are freeing Mexican women of machista oppression.
idea that marriage is about emotional satisfaction is the essence
of companionate relationships, but the fact is, marriage is
frequently unsatisfying, Hirsch says. Theres
no ideal. This is not a story about womens marriages being
better or worse than their parents, its about them
she wrote the book, Hirsch says, her imagined reader was her
own mother. She hopes readers will gain some understanding
of how our ideas of love and marriage are cultural constructions.
Our relationships are such a central part of our lives, it seems
kind of shocking that these intense emotions we have are not
just the only way we could feel. But these relations are shaped
by their political, historical, social, and cultural context.P.P.P.