Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Slate’s Rebecca Onion thinks so.
Concerned about the potential negative effects procreation might have her on her life and her relationship with her husband, Onion wonders whether a “legally binding document, outlining expectations and setting a course for periodic re-examination of the division of labor, [might] alleviate [her] fears, and prevent aggravation, or fights, or divorce, in the future?”
Onion acknowledges that this idea, which she thought was “revolutionary,” has been around for awhile. In 1970 Alix Kates Shulman published the essay “A Marriage Agreement,” which outlined, in great detail, how the work would be divided in her own household. She and her husband even made the cover of Life magazine in 1972 in a story looking at the equal marriages that were “cropping up all over the country.” Unfortunately that strain of marriage wasn’t quite as contagious as it was thought at the time.
While reading this I wondered if we shouldn’t make such language part of our ketubot, which for many of us are pre-pregnancy contracts that we are already signing en masse. The Jewish marriage contract originated as a document to protect women from financial ruin in case of divorce or death of a husband. It replaced the tradition of a groom paying a bride price to the family of this wife-to-be with an agreement that the wife would be taken care of in the future.
Over the years the contract has morphed into more of a symbolic role for the less traditional among us, namely because we now have the law of the land to protect women or whichever partner earns less. Today we sign ketubot in an effort to declare our vows in a Jewish context, and have created versions with LGBT, interfaith and egalitarian-friendly language to ensure that contemporary Jews feel comfortable with something that has it roots in the patriarchy. A notably compassionate patriarchy, but patriarchy nonetheless.
But perhaps we should once again think about using this tradition to protect women from the potential injustices they might experience in their marriages today? This being the expectation that women will do the majority of the domestic work and child rearing — even in families where both parents work.
Now do I think that including language in a ketubah would inevitably make difference? No. And really it shouldn’t. Equality needs to come from a mutual commitment and a degree of trust and flexibility from both parties. Still, getting the conversation started might help potential parents discover whether or not their bride or groom has those qualities, and if their expectations on who will do what when the baby starts crying match up. The earlier partners start discussing these matters, the more likely they are to build a life together that they will find fair and just once they have children.