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Wondering... - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
In the talk about the family tree, the issue of inbreeding and extreme endogamy has come up, and again, there's been a slight conflict between American and European readers--at least in the conversation I was at--about how weird it was for Sirius's parents to be each other's second cousins. I also remember when I brought up that I figured Harry was probably related to the Weasleys somewhere, someone said that an H/G shipper shouldn't want that to be true... I mean, you don't want them to be related. In general, in America, the subject of inbreeding is met with extreme squick responses, and treated as a symptom of backward thinking (and possibly a cause of it).

So, I was wondering... does anyone know when this rather extreme aversion to it came along? I don't mean the regular incest taboo, which is universal, but the point where we started applying it to the concept of having any relationship at all. It can't have been in place too long... as late as the 1930s and '40s, our president and his wife were known fifth cousins (once removed) who shared a last name. And the 1939 popular movie Gone With the Wind featured the line that "The Wilkeses always marry their cousins," and then the Wilkes marriage being presented as a quite ordinary marriage. I think the shock about Jerry Lee Lewis's marriage to his cousin was a lot more about her age (13) than about the fact that she was his cousin, though I'm not sure about that--and that uproar was in England, apparently.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing to be excessively pro-exogamy, I'm just curious. It was certainly very set by the time I was growing up in the '70s, and that's a very short time for social attitudes to have gone through such a sea change. I can't think of what might have prompted it.
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sea_thoughts From: sea_thoughts Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmmm, speaking as an English girl, maybe it had something to do with the aversion to the South? I mean, I know the South has been seen as rural and backward for quite a while, but then you had the 60s, all the violence because of the fight for civil rights... Now the South was not only rural and backward, but bigoted and violent, too (I'm aware there were race riots in Chicago and other places). And marrying cousins became associated with violent, dirty, backward people. Feel free to pick this apart.
jadeddiva From: jadeddiva Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, I'm going to try to pick this apart (but please, don't hate me, I'm just a grad student who focuses on Southern history). The thing with the South is that you've got social stratification - in the Deep South, the people who own the land are in the minority, the people that don't own the land but work it are in the majority in some places, and in South Carolina and Virginia specifically, you've got these elite families who have all this money and marry one another to keep wealth in the family. Yet, you have that intermarriage going on in New England and New York well into the 20th century as well. As a whole, the South has a lot of problems, mostly with biggotry and ill-treatment of minorities, but compared to other areas (see below) inbreding wasn't that big of a problem.

If anything, the taboo comes from Appalachia, a very poor region that runs through seven states and is centered around the Appalachian mountains, where your community is isolated and leaving it means leaving everything you know. Coal mining communities especially get a bad rap for marrying cousins (the state of West Virginia is an example).

Does that make sense?
jadeddiva From: jadeddiva Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know about anyone else, but I'm squicked by the idea of the Roosevelt's being related. That bothers me for some reason. As for the question of when it happened...the only reasonable assumption I can make is that, as people started going out and experiencing the world (and marrying war brides and expanding the gene pool), cousins became less of a desirable match. Also, factor in birth defects that come from inbreding/the march of science forward and you have this change in social attitude about marrying your cousin. And also factor in the idea that you don't have to marry within your class, and suddenly you have a lot less marriage between blue-bloodlines.

I worked in special collections during undergrad, and we had this college of photgraphs from the Women's Synchronized Swim Team at Iowa State. Up until the 1950's and 1960's, the women looked remarkably the same - facial structure, figures, hair color, eye color, everything. They all looked like cookie-cutter models of women at that time. But starting in the 1960's and 1970's, you saw a great deal more variety in the women on the swim team. I'd wager that travelling and meeting new people from different ethnic backgrounds than your tiny Iowa town (where generations intermarry) had something to do with that. But it could be me. Again, these are all suppositions.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know about anyone else, but I'm squicked by the idea of the Roosevelt's being related.

Right, that's what I mean... I think a lot of people are now, but at the time, he was quite the popular president and it wasn't even an issue.

Even with health concerns and science working together, forty years or so--between the '30s of the popular Roosevelts and my own '70s--is a very short time in which to affect actual visceral reactions like this. Smoking causes more problems more quickly than cousin marriages, but the attempt to instill visceral loathing of it hasn't exactly gone swimmingly. It seems to me that something must have happened on a social level that would cause it.

It could be going out and seeing the world, but we went out and saw the world in WWI as well as WWII. Why the changed attitude on returning? And it doesn't explain why the attitude of the Europeans--who were less isolated than we were--is more sanguine toward cousin marriages.
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mafdet From: mafdet Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think that sea_thoughts has a point - that this taboo against marrying anyone even remotely related, jokes about cousins marrying, etc. has to do with setting sophisticated, middle-class Us against nasty backwoods hicks - not just Southern ones, either.

I believe this began to firmly entrench itself around the 1950's - right around the time of the national highway system, the GI bill, and increased social prosperity. What happened was fewer people grew up and stayed in their small towns or cities where their families had lived for a long time, and attended college, joined the Armed Forces, or just went off to taste life in the big city. Social mobility meant that people weren't restricted to marrying others in their same small town who might well be related. Increasingly, middle-class status was marked by geographic mobility, and staying in the same small town, hamlet or rural area for generations was a mark of being poor, uneducated, unsophisticated - trailer trash, hicks, rednecks, whatever term you choose.

Just my $.02.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's a good connection... it's kind of like Victorian silverware rules. We know what the rubes don't.
lorelei_lynn From: lorelei_lynn Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it's mostly due to the rural/backwoods connotation. One of comedian Jeff Foxworthy's riffs is "You might be a redneck if... your family tree doesn't branch." There's lots of jokes about this on "The Simpsons", too.

My paternal grandparents (married 1936 in rural Nebraska) were second cousins. When my dad joined the Air Force in the late '50s, he was ribbed about the fact that his last name, his mother's maiden name, and the name of his hometown were all the same. I'm sure it just confirmed the stereotype of small-town hicks to some.
the_evil_sock From: the_evil_sock Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Martin Ottenheimer wrote a book about this in '96 called Forbidden Relatives: The American Myth of Cousin Marriage

He says there are three reasons why America rejects cousin marriage while Europe doesn't.

1) Bad research in the 19th century greatly exaggerated the dangers of imbecility, blindness, etc, among children of close kin. This research was eventually discredited in Europe, but Americans and their state legislators never got the word.

2) Cousin marriage in the U.S. was considered a sign of barbarism (probable translation: hillbillies did it). In Europe, on the other hand, particularly in Mediterranean cultures, cousin marriage had a long and reasonably respectable history, although it's rare today.

3) European deep thinkers contended that certain forms of cousin marriage increased social cohesion. No such positive arguments were advanced in the States.

For my part, I'm one of the rare Americans to not really be squicked by the idea of second cousins marrying and when I get to third cousins, I hardly consider them "family" at all (after all, we all share common ancestors if you go back far enough).
the_evil_sock From: the_evil_sock Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
#2 seems a little silly to me. It's like saying "Americans find cousin marriage distasteful because, historically, they have found it distatestful," but that's just me.
gabrielladusult From: gabrielladusult Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

What's the Problem

Um -- I have to admit that I haven't even bothered looking at the family tree. Judging from everything I've read about it, there's math errors and other things that make it just, you know, flexible canon.

But -- I don't get the problem with Harry and Ginny being related. I think if they are it is probably quite distant. Sirius already said that all the pure-blood families were all related and inbred in OotP and since the Potters were pure and the Weasleys are pure -- I pretty much thought it was understood that somewhere along the line, a Weasley or a Prewett and a Potter (or whatever Harry's grandmother's maiden name was) had hooked up.

I think the second cousin thing is about as close as you want to get, and that is probably a bit too close, but in a pureblood obsessed family, I was not surprised by it -- or any more disgusted by it than their tendency towards the Dark Arts and to put House Elf heads up on the walls. Let's get real, we're not going to put anything past the Blacks in general, are we?

As to real life stuff. The Roosevelts were fairly distant for the time -- and it was as much a political marriage as anything. Sure, they had kids, but to the best of my memory, none of them had any terrible defects or anything. Jerry Lee Lewis...there was all sorts of ew there, but I do dig the music. As to Gone With the Wind, not exactly real life -- and I think that with the actual timeframe of the setting (antebellum south) that that sort of thing was normal. Also, in my opinion, Ashley was a wimp and Melly, while strong willed in her own way, was sickly -- so, not exactly advocating endogamy.

I don't know specifically when the extreme aversion to it came along -- but it can probably be traced to the rise of the religious right or something.

Not related exactly, but I just read that HBO has a new series coming out (or possibly just out) about a Polygamist. It takes place in Utah, but they can't use the term "Morman" on the show because polygamy is no longer allowed in the Morman church. There was a Picket Fences episode like that as I recall.

Boy, I'm a geek. Or is it a nerd.
threnody From: threnody Date: February 23rd, 2006 12:58 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: What's the Problem

I'm inclined to be amused about the H/G thing. We're all related somehow.

Totally off topic, but omg Picket Fences! I loved that show. The ep in question had the second wife posing as a daughter. :P
semperintheatro From: semperintheatro Date: February 22nd, 2006 11:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the causes for incestuous relationships is diferent between the continents, which means that the statement they make about the people involved in them is diferent. Incest in a European scenario brings up immediate images of inbred royals; people who have so many restrictions on who they can marry (someone of their social standing in a world of much more distinct class boundaries, someone of their nationality where national borders are so much less expansive, etc.) that avoiding relatives - when looking back even three or four generations can make all suitable suitor inelligable - becomes impractical.

In North America, however, the rich and powerful have free run of an enormous continent, with very little social restrictions on who's apropriate, but the other salient diference is that North America's population is much more thinly spread. Without Europe's millenia of continuous settlment and centuries of overpopulation, North America's population density only approaches that of Europe in a few spots and strips; mainly along coastlines where the port metropoli disperse their wealth. And so it's the people too poor to travel who are limited in choice, and in the last 50 years as travel has become reasonably accessible for everyone but the most desperately poor; the struggling mining communities (in Canada it's the far-north trapping and fishing communities) that rich North America likes to forget or mock, where people work 16 hour days for enough to survive, and no one ever moves into town - and haven't for generations - so they'll only know the same 250 people all their lives.
semperintheatro From: semperintheatro Date: February 23rd, 2006 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)
um, I posted that really fast, and some of it isn't English. It makes more sense at the end if you ignore the "as" between "years" and "travel"...
dangermousie From: dangermousie Date: February 23rd, 2006 12:18 am (UTC) (Link)
That's a really interesting question.

I live in the US but I was born elsewhere (my family immigrated) and I am always mildly confused by the instinctive squick. I wouldn't want to marry my first cousins (for one thing, they are all the wrong gender) but the idea of other people doing so doesn't freak me out at all. And as to second cousins a la Sirius' family, who cares at all?

And it's not as if I come from a culture where first cousin marriages are common (I was born in the former USSR and didn't know anyone who married a first cousin) and after all, first cousin marriage is legal in a number of states. So...confused.
impinc From: impinc Date: February 23rd, 2006 05:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, this is pretty much how I feel. I have a friend who is engaged to his first cousin, doesn't bug me. I was already writing Mrs. Black as a Black, from her saying something about her forefather's house.
angua9 From: angua9 Date: February 23rd, 2006 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
Here's one American who isn't squicked in the slightest by cousins or other relatives marrying. I don't know if it's because I'm from the South or because I grew up reading and loving so many books where cousins married, but I just don't feel it at all. Or maybe it's because of my age??? -- I grew up in the sixties and seventies.

Oh, one bit of data for you in regard to dates: in a book published by Mary Stewart in 1967 the heroine and her love interest were first cousins. For the American version, the text was edited to make them second cousins. It seems that, at that time, second cousins marrying was thought to be at least acceptable to the US market.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 23rd, 2006 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I feel like I'm right in the middle. I "get" the squick--I was certainly raised with the idea--but I can think of a lot of things that squick me more in the post-60s world than the idea of a couple of second cousins marrying. And I recognize that my own relationship with my first cousins is closer psychologically than it is physically. I didn't blink at all when Harry thought Tonks might be in love with Sirius, and was surprised by how many people were utterly shocked that he might imagine it because they were cousins.
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: February 23rd, 2006 01:24 am (UTC) (Link)
Hmm ... I'm English, and even first cousins marrying doesn't seem all that out there -- in my parents and grandparents day especially I know they considered it perfectly normal, possibly because my (maternal) grandparents came from large families (10-11 kids) and they must have had plenty of first cousins living in the same part of the city and many second cousins.

I have to admit though, it feels odd to me personally despite what I might think intellectually. I remember a family party -- my dad's side of the family -- a couple of years back where my sequence of thoughts was roughly:

(1) Hmm, a couple of attractive girls over there ...
(2) Wait a minute, this is a family party! How sick are you?
(3) No hang on, calm down, they're my (*works it out*) second cousins once removed. The actual shared blood is absolutely minimal.
(4) Even so, it still feels a bit icky, unfortunately ... :(

Mind you, when it gets much beyond that -- who on earth counts? Fifth cousins once removed? Harry and Ginny? Unrelated for all practical purposes.
megami_no_ushi From: megami_no_ushi Date: March 10th, 2006 07:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I agree that pyschological feelings are what define the squick...and for very good reason in some cases.

In my great-grandmother Tillie's line, the idea of marrying any of her decendants has always squicked me, mostly because we're all very close. I've been brought up to regard them as cousins. (The fact that our grandmothers were twins also ranks up there.)That being said, this line of the family has the most different-ethinicity marriges. However this natural squickiness feeling of mine has recently been proved right. This side of the family has a as-yet-unnamed hereditary disease that is most similar to Li-Fraumeni Syndrome which is a perfect example of why people should be slightly wary of marrying cousins.

Conversely, on my father's side, my grandmother was pure, immigrated to Canada with her large family when she was a teen, Norweigan. I have a whackload of second and third and x number of removed cousins on that side who I barely know. many of them also married into similar scandinavian immigrant families. Yet the idea of accidently getting involved with one of them is not nearly as squicky as with the cousins and second cousins I know personally and buy gifts for at Christmas.
thisfishflies From: thisfishflies Date: February 23rd, 2006 01:25 am (UTC) (Link)
My own WAG might be how we do not have as much of a history of cousins marrying in the US. There is some like all the ones mentioned so far, but over times that has stopped even more. America was founded my small families coming over and in the beginning I really don't think there were enough relatives to marry. It didn't get started that much, so it lagged in the beginning. As more and more people came families did start getting to the marrying size, but there was no need and it was not the best choice. Why marry cousin when you could marry Mr. Next Door?
I also think the movement others have suggested would add to it. Americans moved like crazy in the beginning just so we could fill up all of America. Once they left they would probably never see their relatives again so the idea of marrying them never really came up.
Cousin marriages weren't given thought and started out as neutral so it was easy to turn that to negative. It is hard to turn positive feeling negative so where marrying close to the family was good, it is not looked on as so bad now, even if it is no longer preferred.

I am not sure if I was coherent in that...
sea_of_tethys From: sea_of_tethys Date: February 24th, 2006 03:20 am (UTC) (Link)
My own WAG might be how we do not have as much of a history of cousins marrying in the US.

We were studying inbreeding and related issues in Genetics the other week, and apparently there were relatively high levels of inbreeding in some regions of Britain up until bicycles became widespread...
purple_ladybug1 From: purple_ladybug1 Date: February 23rd, 2006 01:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Marriage between first cousins or second cousins still leaves the possibility for there to be health risks. And I don't know about everywhere, but I'm pretty sure it's illegal in my state. Third cousins and beyond, however, are okay. My grandmother and grandfather were eighth cousins. My whole family is perfectly fine.
gehayi From: gehayi Date: February 23rd, 2006 01:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, to quote this (http://www.cousincouples.com/?page=facts):

"Children of non-related couples have a 2-3% risk of birth defects, as opposed to first cousins having a 4-6% risk. Genetic counseling is available for those couples that may be at a special risk for birth defects (e.g. You have a defect that runs in your family). In plain terms, first cousins have at worst a 94 percent + chance of having healthy children... The National Society of Genetic Counselors estimated the increased risk for first cousins is between 1.7 to 2.8 percent, or about the same a any woman over 40 years of age.

"Second cousins have little, if any increased chance of having children with birth defects, per the book "Clinical Genetics Handbook”– courtesy of the March of Dimes."
gehayi From: gehayi Date: February 23rd, 2006 01:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I don't know when this revulsion came about. I do know that it perplexes me. I see lots of stories being billed as incest (Sirius/Bellatrix, Regulus/Narcissa), and that's not what I'd call incest at all. I don't think it's incest unless the relationship is so close that you couldn't legally get married (parent/child, aunt-or-uncle/niece-or-nephew, sibling/sibling).

Cousins can get married in many states. First cousins can marry in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona (provided they're over sixty-five, or provided one cousin is unable to reproduce), California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois (if both are over fifty, or if one is irrevocably sterile), Indiana (if they're at least sixty-five), Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin . According Cousin couples, "[n]o European country prohibits marriage between first cousins. It is also legal throughout Canada and Mexico to marry your cousin. The USA is the only western country with cousin marriage restrictions."

Cousins can even get married in the Catholic church--well, not first cousins, but marriage between second cousins has been perfectly fine with the Catholic church since 1983.

The odd thing about this revulsion toward romances between and marriages of pureblood cousins--which makes perfect sense historically (royalty and nobles married their cousins all the time)--is that it doesn't seem to carry over to forbidden relationships. I've seen plenty of people who are repulsed by Sirius/any of his female cousins, or by the very canonical marriage of Lucius Malfoy to his cousin Narcissa...and yet they find brothercest, sistercest, parent/child incest, and twincest to be utterly fascinating.

But cousins together? BLECCH.

I just don't understand it.
From: ex_stateline124 Date: February 23rd, 2006 03:38 am (UTC) (Link)
wait -- where is this 'canon' that lucius and narcissa are cousins?
moeyknight From: moeyknight Date: February 23rd, 2006 02:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting ideas and observations. Personally, first cousins marrying does squick me out for any number of reasons up to and including that some of my cousins I grew up with and are therefore like brothers, and the others are way too young. So yeah, yuck.

And as for there not being any real biological reasons for not marrying someone that is genetically close to you, I'm no biologist, but I would think that there are reasons. I believe first cousins share 1/4 of their genes which I'm guessing is a more than someone farther outside our family tree. The more genes you share, the more chance you have of having children with genetic abnormalities. I also think that this was frowned upon because of what science was finding and to not encourage it further. It's all fine if some first cousins marry and have no problems. But what if their children marry their first cousins and it starts a pattern? Not saying that it would ever really happen to such an extent, just saying it was probably frowned upon in order that it never became that type of problem. (Ever see that X-Files episode Home? Heh.)

Someone else pointed out about our post WWII, much more mobile world. Before this, your options for a mate are limited. After, they are much broader. I was watching a show on one of the science channels where a study was done that men and women are actually attracted to people whose immune system was the most dissimilar to their own and we are attracted to these opposites based on their smell (pheromones). By mating with someone with different immunities you therefore insure stronger, healthier offspring. A link to the study is HERE. I'm just guessing but it makes sense that the farther away you go from your immediate gene pool the more chance you have of finding someone whose immune system is much more dissimilar to your own. So while it may not be much of an issue for some, there probably are sound biological reasons why we've branched out.

From: isabela113 Date: February 23rd, 2006 02:06 am (UTC) (Link)
I am going to suggest that xenophobia might be another possibility for our aversion to cousin's marrying. Having grown up in an ethnic community, in California (my family is Armenian) you kind of assume that when you meet another Armenian from the area that there is a relation. That never stopped us from dating one another. Because we moved in a specific community, not marrying based on some distant relation didn't make sense. I think that is true of many ethnic communities that have concentrated themselves in geographic areas.

Perhaps in addition to the practice of cousins marrying being associated with the Amish, or Appalachian mountain folk, middle class white America learned to associate it with ethnic groups. (That wasn't a swipe, by the way, just a hypothesis.)
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