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Wedding bell blues: Marriage, missing men, and matrifocal follies



In this article, I revisit debates about so-called matrifocal societies as a way to critique the centrality of heteronormative marriage and family in anthropology. Using gender as a tool of analysis, I argue that anthropologists have relied on the trope of the dominant heterosexual man, what I call the “Patriarchal Man,” to create and sustain concepts of “marriage” and “family.” By examining the discourse on matrifocality in studies of Afro-Caribbean and Minangkabau households, I show how it is the “missing man,” the dominant heterosexual man, who is the key to the construction and perpetuation of the matrifocal concept and, by extension, the motor of marriage, family, and kinship. This fixity on the dominant heterosexual man has led anthropologists to misrecognize other forms of relatedness as less than or weaker than heteronormative marriage. I suggest that, rather than positing a foundational model for human sociality, intimacy, or relatedness, researchers look for webs of meaningful relationships in their historical and social specificity.

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