While Dolores has an understandable reason for killing her husband, Vera Donovan is a different story. She killed her husband because he regularly committed adultery and ignored Vera completely when she tried her utmost to win his affection through displays of niceness she reserved for him alone.
My first reaction is to think murder was not really called for in this situation, so I had to ask myself why Stephen King included this little wrinkle. Was he endorsing Vera’s solution to infidelity?
Vera has all the power the patriarchy allows a woman. She has money and a good name. She can order staff around and fire people for a laugh. She can be as rude as she wants and make up as many fussy rules about household chores as she wants without anyone so much as talking back.
And yet, she can’t get her husband to keep his marriage vows. She’s not even entitled to expect that, because although the patriarchy wrote those fidelity vows, it also wrote “boys will be boys” and she knows which message counts.
From birth, Vera and any potential husband of hers would have been getting the message that cheating is fun stuff when men do it. Conversely, Vera and her potential husbands would also have been aware that women have been (and in some regions still are) put to state-sanctioned death for adultery. While the US government doesn’t sentence anyone to death for adultery, more US men kill out of possessiveness than from habitual abuse, and they serve on average 2 to 6 years while women who kill their husbands, even in battery situations, serve 15.
Anyone else getting a none-too-subtle message? As Vera says, “It’s a depressingly masculine world.” For centuries, patriarchal men have used everything from words to laws to stonings to ensure women adhere to a higher moral principal than they require of themselves. Vera is simply flipping a gendered issue by judging and passing a mortal sentence on her husband for his adultery. I can’t call it “right”… but when I think of a modern young woman being stoned to death on film (warning: nasty footage via link) merely for loving the “wrong” man, it occurs to me Vera is exactly what patriarchies deserve. She is the natural result of a system that holds women to a higher standard while simultaneously teaching us we’re entitled to nothing when our entitlement comes into conflict with a man’s, and precious little the rest of the time.
Be glad that when feminists talk about “equality” we only mean “equal opportunities”. True equality would mean a couple thousand years of women owning men, trading virgin sons for land, abusing boys and men with impunity, putting non-virgin and adulterous men to death when they feel like it, and making men insane with worry over the unattainable perfection of their bodies.
Vera did a bad thing. But she learned it from the patriarchy. If they don’t want her following their example, perhaps they should think twice in the future about what examples they set.
Posts in this Series
- Dolores Claiborne (first post in series)
- Dolores Claiborne: a woman’s options in a man’s world
- Dolores Claiborne: entitlement
- Dolores Claiborne: recovery