AUTHORBethan McGarry Bethan McGarry graduated from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service in 2012 with a degree in Culture and Politics. Originally from Natick, Massachusetts, she spent the fall of 2010 in Valparaíso, Chile, where she wrote for the Junior Year Abroad...
November 9, 2010
December 10, 2010
The Junior Year Abroad Network (JYAN) connects Georgetown students studying abroad in a variety of cultures. Students share reflections on religion, culture, politics, and society in their host countries, commenting on topics ranging from religious freedom and interfaith dialogue to secularization, globalization, democracy, and economics.
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Bethan McGarry on Divorce, Marriage, and the Church in Chile
November 9, 2010 | 1 COMMENT
Since the new Chilean divorce laws in 2005, separation rates have almost quadrupled in Chile. (Before 2005, annulment was the common way to separate, and many couples would purposely leave loopholes in their vows in case something went awry). Despite the prevalence of divorce in Chilean society, however, there is still a stigma attached to being divorced. In an enlightening conversation with a divorced Chilean woman in her 40s, she told me that her relationship with her father and brothers became strained after her divorce, because she was the driving force in ending her unhappy marriage. Her relationship with her sister and her mother, whom she characterized as being less religious than the males of her family, was not affected.
In thinking about my experience of the Chilean perspective on marriage, I came to realize that many of the people I have spoken to have expressed a general sense of disillusionment with the institution. I have heard more than one single host mother of a fellow exchange student here scoff at the idea of marrying her current boyfriend (many of them date), and it is not uncommon when talking to Chilean peers about marriage to be told that its something they never intend to do. When Chilean's do marry, it is usually when they are older than the typical age in the United States; sometime in their mid-30s.
Maybe the Chilean aversion to marriage has something to do with the legal rigidity with which it was maintained for so long, and now the societal stigma that remains for those who end it. Maybe disenchantment with traditional family structures is yet another way that Chile is moving away from one type of society; one that is patriarchal, intensely family oriented, and religiously defined and move towards another type, one that could be called more liberal. Chile self-identifies as the most progressive country in South America, and perhaps even all of Latin America; while this perception is certainly backed up by economic and perhaps even political and structural realities, in terms of gender equality, acceptance of homosexuality, and racism Chile still has ground to cover that other countries, for example Argentina, have come closer to figuring out. Though I have certainly heard ideals of gender equality and independence for young professionals expressed, in practice, it is evident that the Chilean perception and treatment of women is somewhat different from what I am used to in the United States, especially in the household, and many of the 20-something Chilean's that I have met still live in their parents' homes.
You could say that the antipathy towards marriage that can be perceived when discussing the subject with many younger Chilean's, and even some older ones, is an expression of the desire to be independent and progressive. The anti-marriage sentiment, however, may be a somewhat misdirected step forward when it is taken in light of the reality that many Chilean's are dependent on their parents into their thirties and, almost invariably, when Chilean's do settle down it is the mother or wife figure (or for wealthier households, female nannies) who are expected to do all of the domestic labor, from making each family member's bed to washing the dishes after every meal.
COMMENT FROM PAIGE LOVEJOY JULY 18, 2011
I found Bethan's reflections on the unusual attitudes about marriage in Chile to be fascinating. My own experiences in Chile very much mirrored her analysis of common marital situations - my host mother was divorced and remarried recently and one of her daughters just got married last month to the father of her 5 year old son. Family, it seemed to me, did not require the institution of marriage to be legitimate and important in Chilean life. At times I understood this mentality and I saw true love in action that didn't seem to require any formal vows. At other times, however, I thought it was awful to see that while the benefits of traditional marriage - commitment, loyalty, monogamy - might be sacrificed, the negatives of patriarchal, masochistic relationships of "old fashioned" Chilean men and women aren't gone yet. It is interesting to note the juxtaposition that Bethan witnessed between "progressive" and "liberal" views about marriage and the antiquated attitudes that many Chileans still hold about the role of women in a family.