COLUMBIA — Stephanie Coontz, a novelist and expert on the history of family and marriage, spoke to Columbia College students, faculty and community members Wednesday, beginning the college's Women's History Month celebration.
Coontz, a professor of history and family studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., gave her "Courting Trouble: The Historical Transformation of Love and Marriage," lecture in Launer Auditorium.
In her speech, Coontz said the kind of marriage many of us think is traditional, where the man is the breadwinner and love is the main priority, is not really how marriage has always been. In fact, much of what society thinks about marriage isn't always accurate.
"A lot of what you read in the popular press is wrong," Coontz said.
Because marriage was seen for so long as primarily a social contract for economic gain, many people thought marrying for love would destroy that institution.
Today, the married couples who have the most sex are the ones who share housework, Coontz said. People who marry later in life tend to stay married, and cohabitation before marriage is not necessarily a risk for divorce — it actually can make for a longer lasting marriage.
As for men who strongly believe that husbands must be breadwinners, they are more likely to get married faster, but they are also more likely to get divorced.
Marriage and family life in the 1950s seemed simpler and easier because people did not question gender roles, and men and women knew what their roles were, Coontz said. But "cookie-cutter marriages" do not work in today's society.
It's not that we're worse at marriage now, she said, it's that we are doing it differently than people have ever done it. Couples today need to not only communicate but also to compromise and act positively toward each other.
"The excitement and challenge of marriage today is not being able to fake this," Coontz said. "You have to pick a partner you respect, not just love, but like. It's a challenge to men and women."
Coontz has studied the history and evolution of marriage for years and has written a number of books, including "The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap." She has also appeared on shows such as NBC's "Today" show, "The Colbert Report" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," to speak about her books and research.
Tonia Compton, chair of the committee organizing the Women's History Month celebration events and associate professor at Columbia College, said this year the committee wanted a historian. When Coontz's name came up, everyone wanted her to speak because they are familiar with and love her work.
"It addressed good issues for Women's History Month as well as for society in general," Compton said.
There are three events remaining in the celebration. Compton said the committee tries to plan an event each week to remind students why it is important to celebrate women's history.
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