Monday, June 20, 2011

How Divorce Got Its Stigma Back

Way back when, in the early days of contemporary feminism, marriage was branded a form of domestic servitude for women.  

Feminist leader Betty Friedan famously, and mindlessly, labeled suburban homes: “comfortable concentration camps.”

Feminist thinkers saw that women could only be liberated from the soul-deadening  drudgery of unequal marriage by removing the stigma associated with divorce.

The results were almost predictable. In the 1970s a wave of divorces swept the land, leaving in its wake liberated women and traumatized children. In the end the feminist-inspired wave of divorces led to what is blithely called the feminization of poverty.

As one might imagine, or as one witnessed, the middle age men who found themselves liberated from their first marriages had little difficulty finding second wives.

Destigmatizing divorce was a bad idea. Given that it was coming from enhanced feminist consciousness we should not be surprised that it ultimately hurt women.

Not all women, not every divorced woman, but a large number of women, to say nothing of their children.

Now, the New York Times has just reported, among Americans with higher education, divorce is getting its stigma back.

Divorce no longer has cachet. People are no longer proud of having been divorced; women tend to avoid other women who have been divorced; married people are making a concerted effort to stay together.

Working out problems and learning to cooperate have replaced the rush to divorce court.

Anyone who is savvy in the ways of ideology would not expect that feminists would be contrite, even apologetic, for having persuaded so many women to instigate something that was detrimental to their own and their children’s well being.

According to Stephanie Coontz, the marriages that failed in the heyday of divorce, the 1970s, deserved to fail. They were, as she puts it, “fundamentally unequal.”

Coontz adds that, what with the wonders the women’s movement has visited on us, today’s marriages are more equal. At least among the better educated classes they are. Therefore, there is less divorce.

I am always impressed to see how ideologues can distort reality in order to prove that they were always right. Almost by definition, a real ideologue is never wrong.

If you don’t believe me, just ask one.

If you would like an alternative look at the reality of married life today, Time magazine today ran an article about how: “Moms resent Dads for not doing enough at home.”

Hmm. Wasn’t that the reason why so many marriages failed in the 1970s? You mean to say that things are not all that different now than then. Sometimes it all gets so confusing.

If marriages are more likely to survive, then perhaps it’s not because men are doing more dishes. Perhaps divorce got its stigma back because women have "divorced" themselves from feminist ideology.

Happily enough, the Times offers a rational analysis of the phenomenon. It suggests that divorce has been restigmatized because many of today’s young married couples were children in the 1970s and 1980s. For having been there, they experienced first hand the ravages that divorce produced in their homes and minds.

Trial and error has taught people that divorce is bad for women and bad for children. It has shown them that the stigma had a rational basis.

Claire Dederer explained that in the 1970s, “the feminists, the hippies, the protesters, the cultural elite all said, It’s O.K. to drop out.”

Today, Dederer continues: “We made up our minds, my brother and I and so many of the grown children of the runaway moms, that we would put our families first and ourselves second. We would be good, all the time. We would stay married, no matter what, and drink organic milk.”

Note the phrase: “runaway moms.” It’s not quite the same thing as liberated woman.

Hopefully, Dederer is marking an important step on the road away from individual self-indulgence toward responsibility.

We would happily see a larger step if those who were touting the virtues of divorce in the 1970s would finally admit that they were wrong.


Anonymous said...

Marriage has to end, because given current family law, it is a prison for a man where his children and financial viability are held hostage in exchange for marriage to a woman who is required to do....nothing at all.

Roselyn said...

Pretty effective data, thanks so much for your article.