I’ve just watched an episode of the British What Not to Wear. The two women they made over had divorced within the past few years, and spent most of that time feeling worthless. I’m always happy to see how this show transforms a woman’s entire self-image, giving her the confidence she always should have had. And yet in this case, it especially pained me: why the hell would a woman let a divorce make them feel worthless?
Because marriage is designed to be the center of a woman’s life and just a side dish in a man’s. Forget the individual exceptions to this rule, and consider childhood programming. Girls are encouraged to plan their weddings, while boys are encouraged to plan their careers. Girls are asked how they expect to land a man, looking like that; guys are asked how they expect to get a job, looking like that. A boy who doesn’t want to get married is a bachelor, respectable and sexy; a woman who doesn’t want to get married must have been damaged at some point. And a woman who doesn’t want babies is selfish. And a woman who has a baby but utilizes day care so that she can keep her career is a horrible selfish evil person, whereas a man who fathers a child but doesn’t stop working is a respectable hard-working father.
It doesn’t matter that many individuals have better sense than that. This is still the overall programming we receive, through TV, film and other avenues. A woman who wants a man on her own terms must compete with thousands who are so desperate to get one that they’ll put up with just about any behavior from him. In this way, women encourage men to act like jerks, thus screwing over women who demand better. The men who voluntarily do better aren’t particularly rewarded for it. And they are the ones who take divorce almost as hard as women do.
In short, the patriarchy isn’t pitting men against women; it’s pitting people who value themselves and others against those who do not. The real losers, the real damaged people, are the ones who will tolerate whatever they have to in order to land a trophy spouse and the false sense of validation that comes with it.