…and a side dish of marriage, please

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.


  1. scarlett says

    In all fairness, I think there are plenty of men who take divorce hard, too.

    Having said that, to put my situation in context: I’m from quite a traditional Catholic family. To be divorced is to have failed, fullstop.

  2. Jennifer Kesler says

    Yeah, but for a woman it’s to have failed at her entire life, her whole value as a human being.

    For a man, it’s to have failed as a family man, maybe as a Christian, but not as a plumber or lawyer or whatever he is.

  3. Ifritah says

    It’s interesting to hear stories like this, considering statistics show that women are much happier single than married.

  4. Maartje says

    Yes (said the patriarchy) but that’s just because when they are unmarried they can talk about men more. Just watch Sex and the City, all they do is talk about men!

    That said, I don’t particularly believe in statistics, they can show whatever you want them to show. Statistics show that women used to live longer then men, but now that they have careers of their own, the average age of death of women is steadily equalizing with that of men. read: You should stay in the kitchen! I’m only thinking of your own good now, woman!

  5. Gategrrl says

    I’m curious now — did they dress these down-in-the-dumps divorced women into man-catching harlots, or did they dress them to look *professional* and *classy*, if you know what I mean.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Classy. Of course, on this show, their idea of sexy evening wear is more glamourous than revealing – think classic Hollywood versus today. They really don’t do trashy on this show, so far as I’ve seen. They prefer classic styles to trendy, too.

    One woman, they were specifically clothing for a job hunt after a number of years out of the workforce. She’d been dressing frumpy on her own – when they got done she looked confident, expensive, classy to the hilt.

  7. Ifritah says

    As one with a BA in Sociology, I can’t agree with your opinion on statistics. (Note: I’m not trying to show off, just saying I have background as to why I feel this way.)

    Yes, there are statistics out there that you describe. Ones that try to make their theories fit into their facts instead of the other way around. But statistics have a positive reason for existing when used properly. They are used as a guidline to help observe society. They are not an end-all, but a way to view the world to get an idea of what’s going on. And different hypotheses occur because of it.

    For example, some theorists observe the statistical findings of women being happier outside of marriage to date back to Carl Jung’s thoughts of women feeling as if a part of them died after they walked down the aisle. Now, I could babble on about why he felt this way. Actually, I could keep going and going about all this stuff in general.

    My point is, statistics, when used with large, random, samples, can benefit by showing us something. Does this mean all women who get married are worse off? Certainly not. Some are happier. But that doesn’t change the fact that something about marriage causes a good deal of unhappiness to many women. (Again, I could list a few off, but I’m sure I’ve talked on long enough.)

    Just as a statistic where it’s showing that women are now dying around the same age of men is not necessarily false. (Though I’d prefer checking out how they went about getting these findings before I decided anything about it one way or another.) But does that mean that women having careers is causing a shorter life? *Shrug* Perhaps. But it could also be something not at all related to work. What sort of diets were these women accustomed to? Where did this study take place (does location cause an interesting result)? And so on.

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    I learned of that study not as statistics, but from a psychiatrist. He said that psychiatric findings show that men are consistently happier in a bad marriage than they are single, and women are happier when their single and lonely than when they’re married. Of course, quantifying happiness is impossible, so let’s take this sketchy finding and bounce it against common sense and anecdotal observations.

    It seems logical to me that marriage was invented for men. It serves no evolutionary purpose, and it’s only of benefit to women BECAUSE men seized control of all resources and only allowed women access to resources when women traded sex in the form of marriage or prostitution. When women have equal access to resources, they don’t really benefit from having a husband.

    Since marriage was created and made necessary by the patriarchy, one can only conclude it was designed to serve a male need. Perhaps a need for validation: of being certain you’ve sired a child, or of having a woman “belong” to you and only you, etc. Perhaps just to defeat the evolutionary process, as the system we have ensures that even men of low quality will most likely have the chance to reproduce, thus polluting the gene pool with crap.

    Therefore, in this case, I’d expect the statistics to report that men prefer marriage to singlehood, and in our emerging environment of equality (relative to the no vote, no job, no education days), women would be starting to see more of the downside of marriage and more upside to being single, even with children.

    Okay, done now. 😀

  9. Ifritah says

    That’s… pretty much what I would have said if I’d of gone off on a ‘why’ discussion. *Nod* Exactly. Back in the day, women married so they could have ‘security’. The man farmed or went to work, the woman stayed at home. Women couldn’t survive without men back then. Now, this isn’t to say they were happy (and as you said, that is difficult to quantify), but they had a solid reason to marry.

    Now, women are finding less and less reason to get/stay married. Sure, there’s kids, but with the rate of divorce with children involved, that’s not as much as an issue anymore either. Men have far more to gain from marriage, certainly.

    But just because you can logic out the why doesn’t mean statistics don’t serve a purpose.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    I didn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. I was just showing my own rationale for thinking there’s something to that particular set of statistics. :)

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