The recognition of "women's rights" initially sprang not from a revulsion against domestic life but from the cult of domesticity itself; and the first "rights" won by modern women were the rights of married women to control their own property, to retain their own earnings, and, not least, to divorce their husbands. Until the middle of the nineteenth century in England and the United States, grounds for divorce were pretty much confined to adultery and cruelty.
Divorces, moreover, had to be granted by legislative enactment. These provisions, making money and political influence requisite to divorce, effectively limited divorce to members of the upper classes; and except in rare cases, to upper-class men, eager for one reason or another to get rid of their wives.
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The new laws, still in effect today in most places, substituted judicial for legislative divorce and broadened grounds of divorce to include desertion. Both of these provisions, particularly the second, show that women were intended to be the principal beneficiaries of the change. That was certainly the result. Ever since the liberalization of the laws in the mid-nineteenth century, divorces have been easier and easier to obtain, and more and more of them have been granted to women.
But those who see in these statistics a general dissolution of morals and a threat to the family misunderstand the dynamics of the process. The movement for earlier divorce owed its success to the very idea which it is supposed to have undermined, the idea of the sanctity of the family. Indeed, it is somewhat misleading to see divorce-law reform as a triumph even for women's rights, for the feminists could hardly have carried the day if their attack on the arbitrary authority of husbands had not coincided with current conceptions of the family—conceptions of the family which, in the long run, tended to subvert the movement for sexual equality.
It was not the image of women as equals that inspired the reform of the divorce laws, but the image of women as victims. The Victorians associated the disruption of domesticity, especially when they thought of the "lower classes," with the victimization of women and children: the wife and mother abused by her drunken husband, deserted and left with children to raise and support, or forced to submit to sexual demands which no man had a right to impose on virtuous women.
These images of oppression wrung ready tears from our ancestors. The rhetoric survives, somewhat diluted, in the form of patriotic appeals to home and motherhood, and notably in the divorce courts, where it is perfectly attuned, in fact, to the adversary proceeding. Judicial divorce, as we have seen—a civil suit brought by one partner against the other—was itself a nineteenth-century innovation, a fact which suggests that the idea of marriage as a combat made a natural counterpoint to the idea of marriage as a partnership. The combat, however, like the partnership itself, has never firmly established itself, either in legal practice or in the household itself, as an affair of equals, because the achievement of legal equality for the married woman depended on a sentimentalization of womanhood which eroded the idea of equality as easily as it promoted it.
In divorce suits, the sensitivity of judges to the appeal of suffering womanhood, particularly in fixing alimony payments, points to the ambiguity of women's "emancipation. It represents, if anything, a heightened awareness of these distinctions, an insistence that women, as the weaker sex, be given special protection in law. From this point of view, our present divorce laws can be seen as faithfully reflecting ideas about women which, having persisted into the mid twentieth century, have shown themselves to be not "Victorian" so much as simply modern, ideas which are dependent, in turn, on the modern obsession with the sanctity of the home, and beyond that, with the sanctity of privacy.
Indeed, one can argue that easier divorce, far from threatening the home, is one of the measures—given the obsession with domesticity—that has been necessary to preserve it. Easy divorce is a form of social insurance that has to be paid by a culture which holds up domesticity as a universally desirable condition: the cost of failure in the pursuit of domestic bliss—especially for women, who are discouraged in the first place from other pursuits—must not be permitted to become too outrageously high.
We get a better perspective on modern marriage and divorce, and on the way in which these institutions have been affected by the "emancipation" of women and by the "sexual revolution," if we remember that nineteenth century feminism, at its most radical, passed beyond a demand for "women's rights" to a critique of marriage itself.
The most original and striking—and for most people the least acceptable—of the feminists' assertions was that marriage itself, in Western society, could be considered a higher form of prostitution, in which respectable women sold their sexual favors not for immediate financial rewards but for long-term economic security.
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There was "no sharp, clear, sudden-drawn line," they insisted, between the "kept wife," living "by the exercise of her sex functions alone," in Olive Schreiner's words, and the prostitute. The difference between prostitution and respectability reduced itself to a question not of motives but of money. The virtuous woman's fee was incomparably higher, but the process itself was essentially the same; that is, the virtuous woman of the leisure class had come to be valued, like the prostitute, chiefly as a sexual object: beautiful, expensive, and useless- in Veblen's phrase, a means of vicarious display.
She was trained from girlhood to bring all her energies to the intricate art of pleasing men: showing off her person to best advantage, mastering the accomplishments and refinements appropriate to the drawing room, perfecting the art of discreet flirtation, all the while withholding the ultimate prize until the time should come when she might bestow it, with the impressive sanction of state and church, on the most eligible bidder for her "hand. It could be repeatedly withdrawn or withheld as the occasion arose, and became, therefore, the means by which women learned to manage their husbands.
If, in the end, it drove husbands to seek satisfactions elsewhere, that merely testified to the degree to which women had come to be valued, not simply as sexual objects, but precisely in proportion to their success in withholding the sexual favors which, nevertheless, all of their activities were intended to proclaim. The defenders of the conventional types of prostitution, meanwhile, did not fail to see the connection between prostitution and respectability; in the words of William Lecky, the historian of European morals, the prostitute was "ultimately the most efficient guardian of virtue" because she enabled virtuous women to remain virtuous.
The purity of the home demanded just such outlets as prostitution and divorce if it was to survive intact and "untempted. The central features of this system of sexual relationships persist into the twentieth century essentially unchanged. Courtship is more than ever a "sex tease," in Albert Ellis' words, and marriage remains something to be managed—among other ways, by the simultaneous blandishment and withdrawal, on the part of the wife, of her sexual favors. Let anyone who doubts the continuing vigor of this morality consult the columns of advice which daily litter the newspapers.
Part Ten: Right of Divorce
Another development, widely mistaken for a "revolution in morals," is a growing literal-mindedness about sex, an inability to recognize as sexual anything other than gross display of the genitals. The sexual advances of the respectable woman, accordingly, have come to be more blatant than they used to be, a fact predictably deplored by alarmists, themselves victims of the progressive impoverishment of the sexual imagination, who erroneously confuse respectability with the concealment rather than the withholding, of sexuality.
We should not allow ourselves to be misled by the openness of sexual display in contemporary society. The important thing is the use to which sexuality is put. For the woman, it remains, as it was in the nineteenth century, principally a means of domination; for the man, a means of vicarious display. Current concern about divorce springs from two different kinds of considerations.
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On the one hand, the prevalence of divorce seems to reflect a ''breakdown" of marriage. Traditionalists demand, in the face of this condition, a tightening of the divorce laws; reformers, a more "mature" approach to marriage. On the other hand, a second group of reformers is alarmed not by the breakdown of marriage but by the hypocrisy surrounding divorce.
They would make marriage a completely private matter, terminable, in effect, by mutual consent—a change which might or might not accelerate the "decline of the family," but which, they argue, would better accord with our pretensions to humanity than the present laws. The plea for more stringent legislation encounters the objection that laws governing morals tend to break down in the face of large-scale noncompliance.
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In New York, the old divorce law did not prevent people from getting divorces elsewhere or from obtaining annulments on the slightest suspicion of "fraud. Most reformers, when confronted with particular cases, admit that divorce is better than trying to save a bad marriage. Yet many of them shy away from the conclusion toward which these sentiments seem to point, that one way of promoting more mature marriages might be to make marriage as voluntary an arrangement, both as to its inception and as to its termination, as possible.
The definition of marriage as a contract, enforceable at law, probably helps to promote the conception of marriage as a combat, a tangle of debts and obligations, which figures so prominently in American folklore. Made sure she was always satisfied during intimate times. Gave non sexual contact as well. One minute she showed me intense love and the next it was like I was her man servant.
After a while I got tired of being criticized and I started expressing my feelings. It is something I can do rather well but to no avail. She rarely could tell me what she truly wanted or how she really felt. Eventually things deteriorated more and more until she gave up, moved out, and eventually divorced. This skips a tonof steps that involved couples counseling that she ended up quitting and I finished, individual counseling, and ally of time in prayer. I became highly reactionary and started yelling from time to time in arguments.
Arguments that usually involved me being yelled at and called names, among other things. By the end of it she was painting me out to be an uncontrollable abuser. I know there is something going on deep inside her that has her ally twisted in knots and reacting the way she has these last couple years. If you met my ex wife then you think she is the most positive, sweet, and caring person you have ever met.
What I have experienced from her is so contrary to what everyone else experiences it is mind boggling. She is well educated, works in early childhood education, and is a professed Christian. I am still working through and healing from everything as the divorce finalized a month ago. We just found out the gender of our baby girl as she is almost 5 months pregnant. Between family support, her job, and all the people telling her she can do it on her own there was really no need to save the marriage for anything other than the sake of saving the relationship.
If I started to go into the amount of the things I tried to do to save our marriage it would be disheartening. I ultimately learned the hard way first hand what it really means when they say it takes two for a marriage to work. In the end she took the easy path and filed for divorce.
This may sound crazy but for me the divorce is part of the hard times or dark times. I have chosen to not give up on my wife even when she has given up herself. I am human. I was able to hug her recently for the first time in quite a while after learning the gender of our child and while in the scheme of the things the hug itself ultimately meant very little, what I felt in that moment was very real. There is no place in the world that feels like home as much as having my wife in my arms and me being in hers. Beautifully written Josh. You are so… open hearted, although I think anon you are responding to hit the nail-on-the-head with his biological assessment of the female sex.
You are a Lover; an affectionate man that has given his life for the sake of Love. The actual problem is these women are below us. Let me explain further if I can by saying that YOU are the person you Love, the ideal, the sacredness, the permanence, dependability, intimacy, its… you.
You are the prize. They have shown us who they really are: spoiled, frivolous, undependable, unpredictable, and, in a nutshell, liars. Biologically, they are unaware how many of us are? Didja beat er?