Monday, 8 April 2013
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The term free love has been used to describe a social movement that rejects marriage, which is seen as a form of social bondage. The Free Love movement’s initial goal was to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery. It claimed that such issues were the concern of the people involved, and no one else.
Much of the free-love tradition is an offshoot of anarchism, and reflects a civil libertarian philosophy that seeks freedom from state regulation and church interference in personal relationships. According to this concept, the free unions of adults are legitimate relations which should be respected by all third parties whether they are emotional or sexual relations. In addition, some free-love writing has argued that both men and women have the right to sexual pleasure. In the Victorian era, this was a radical notion. Later, a new theme developed, linking free love with radical social change, and depicting it as a harbinger of a new anti-authoritarian, anti-repressive sensibility.
Many people in the early 19th century believed that marriage was an important aspect of life to "fulfill earthly human happiness." Middle-class Americans wanted the home to be a place of stability in an uncertain world. This mentality created a vision on strongly defined gender roles, which led to the advancement of the free love movement.
While the phrase free love is often associated with promiscuity in the popular imagination, especially in reference to the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, historically the free-love movement has not advocated multiple sexual partners or short-term sexual relationships. Rather, it has argued that love relations that are freely entered into should not be regulated by law.
The term "sex radical" is also used interchangeably with the term "free lover", and was the preferred term by advocates because of the negative connotations of "free love". By whatever name, advocates had two strong beliefs: opposition to the idea of forceful sexual activity in a relationship and advocacy for a woman to use her body in any way that she pleases.
Laws of particular concern to free love movements have included those that prevent an unmarried couple from living together, and those that regulate adultery and divorce, as well as age of consent, birth control, homosexuality, abortion, and sometimes prostitution; although not all free love advocates agree on these issues. The abrogation of individual rights in marriage is also a concern—for example, some jurisdictions do not recognize spousal rape or treat it less seriously than non-spousal rape. Free-love movements since the 19th century have also defended the right to publicly discuss sexuality and have battled obscenity laws.
In 1857, Francis Barry wrote that "marriage is a system of rape," stating that the woman is a victim where she can do nothing but be oppressed by her husband, as he tortures her in her home, which becomes a house of bondage. In one of his articles, Barry wrote:
'The Object of this Society,’ according to Article 2 of its constitution, ‘shall be to secure absolute freedom to woman, through the overthrow of the popular system of marriage.’
At the turn of the 20th century, some free-love proponents extended the critique of marriage to argue that marriage as a social institution encourages emotional possessiveness and psychological enslavement.
The history of free love is entwined with the history of feminism. From the late 18th century, leading feminists, such as Mary Wollstonecraft, have challenged the institution of marriage, and many have advocated its abolition.
Mary Wollstonecraft was one of the first women to contribute to the free love movement with her literary works. Her novels criticized the social construction of marriage and its effects on women. In her first novel, Mary: A Fiction written in 1788, the heroine is forced into a loveless marriage for economic reasons. She finds love in relationships with another man and a woman. The novel, Maria: or, The Wrongs of Woman, written in 1798, but never published, revolves around the story of a woman imprisoned in an asylum by her husband; Maria finds fulfilment outside of marriage, in an affair with a fellow inmate. Mary makes it clear that women “had strong sexual desires and that it was degrading and immoral to pretend otherwise.”
A married woman was solely a wife and mother, denying her the opportunity to prsue other occupations; sometimes this was legislated, as with bans on married women and mothers in the teaching profession. In 1855, free love advocate Mary Gove Nichols (1810–1884) described marriage as the "annihilation of woman," explaining that women were considered to be men's property in law and public sentiment, making it possible for tyrannical men to deprive their wives of all freedom. For example, the law allowed a husband to physically discipline his wife. Free love advocates like Nichols argued that many children are born into unloving marriages out of compulsion, but should instead be the result of choice and affection—yet children born out of wedlock did not have the same rights as children with married parents.
Sex, to proponents of free love, was not only about reproduction. Access to birth control was considered a means to women's independence, and leading birth-control activists like Margaret Sanger also embraced free love.
In the 1850s, Hannah R. Brown contributed to the journal, the “Una,” made lecture tours, and edited her personal journal, “the Agitator.” In one of her articles, she stated, “the woman is regarded as a sort of appendage to the goods and glories.” She advocated that true marriages could be formed if only women were allowed to choose freely.
Francis Barry was also a prominent advocate for the free love movement in the middle to late 19th century. He agreed that marriage socially bound a woman to a man, and that women should be free. Although this movement largely concerned women, the chief organizers were mostly men, one of them being Francis Barry. This helped foster a male ideology, and proved to women, such as Mary Gove Nichols and Victoria Woodhull that men were just as serious as they were about this issue. Although men were the main contributors to the organized and written part of the free love movement, the movement itself was still associated with loud and flashy women. There were two reasons for why free love was more agreeable to men. The first reason was that women lost more than men did, if marriage were to become “undermined.” The second reason was that free love “rested on the faith in individualism,” a quality that most women were afraid or unable to accept.
In 1857, Minerva Putnam complained that, “in the discussion of free love, no woman has attempted to give her views on the subject.” There were six books during this time that endorsed the concept of free love. Of the four major free love periodicals following the civil war, only two of them had female editors. Mary Gove Nichols was the leading female advocate, and the woman who most people looked up to, for the free love movement. She wrote her autobiography, which became the first case against marriage written from a woman’s point of view.
Many of the leaders of first-wave feminism attacked free love. To them, women's suffering could be traced to the moral degradation of men, and by contrast, women were portrayed as virtuous and in control of their passions, and they should serve as a model for men's behavior. Some feminists of the late 20th century would interpret the free-love ethic of the 1960s and 1970s as a manipulative strategy against a woman's ability to say no to sex.
Sex radicals remained focused on their attempts to uphold a woman’s right to control her body and to freely discuss issues such as contraception, marital sex abuse (emotional and physical), and sexual education. These people believed that by talking about female sexuality, they would help empower women. To help achieve this goal, sex radicals relied on the written word, books, pamphlets, and periodicals. This method helped these people sustain this movement for over 50 years, and helped spread their message all over the United States.
In recent years, women have created works of art to help keep the free love movement alive, often in ways that even the artist does not realize. Sara Bareilles’ songs, “Fairytale” and “Love Song” are modern examples of how women are participating in the Free Love movement; although, artists such as Bareilles do not write their songs specifically for the Free Love movement.
The famous feminist, Gloria Steinem at one point stated, “you became a semi-nonperson when you got married.” She also famously coined the expression 'A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,' Steinem dismissed marriage in 1987 as not having a 'good name.' Steinem got married in 2000, stating that the symbols that feminists once “rebelled against” now are freely chosen, or society had changed.