A not-so-shining moment

May 17, 2014: This entry has been corrected since it was first published. I misremembered my grandmother’s language for Black people. She in fact referred to Blacks as ‘Colored’ rather than as ‘Negroes’.

It was not, I have to admit, one of my more shining moments.

A friend, whom I’ve known for over ten years, posted a mournful note on Facebook. It seems he’s going through a contested divorce, and his wife was testifying about all the horrible things he’d done, when all he had were countless memories of good times.

I was shocked. A contested divorce? What happened? Have conservatives won? They’re the ones opposing no-fault divorce.[1] And they do so for reasons that reflect poorly on their attitudes toward women:

[Christopher Olaf] Blum’s primary focus is to celebrate a French politician, Louis de Bonald, who, following the Restoration that ended the French Revolution, succeeded in repealing the legalization of divorce. Blum seems to regard this as the highlight of a great life, a life he reviews in service to a traditionalist and social conservative agenda that opposes divorce, defends patriarchy against charges of tyranny, opposes nudity or revealing attire of women, reasserts the place of religion as essential to preserve social order, and opposes both abortion and contraception. Blum approvingly quotes T. S. Eliot writing, “It would perhaps be more natural, as well as in better conformity with the Will of God, if there were more celibates and if those who were married had larger families” (p. 30).

Given that a repressive attitude toward sexuality may be a means of disparaging women (Holland, 2006), Blum (2006) risks an accusation of misogyny. He assumes that husbands and fathers will be protectors rather than rapists or assailants. And in this light, it is hard to see where women exist as persons in themselves rather than as receptacles for others, in sex, in pregnancy, and for other forms of abuse.[2]

I failed to realize that if my friend’s wife was saying all these disparaging things about him in court in a contested divorce, that means that she was suing him for that divorce, that he was resisting her wish to end their marriage. So my comments about conservatives trying to make divorce harder were far from welcome.

I’m sorry for my friend. But I also remember my maternal grandparents’ marriage. In their case, it wasn’t just law that kept them together despite decades upon decades of enmity. For them, divorce was simply inconceivable. I remember once flying back to visit them. It was a trip I would never repeat.

My grandmother had some issues. She wouldn’t take her car, a car that badly needed maintenance and was in fact dangerous to drive, to the mechanic. We took a trip into downtown Pittsburgh and she embarrassed me with her talk of ‘Colored’ people. On the way back, there was some plastic sheeting blowing in the wind from a rooftop, and she exclaimed, “Look at all the birds!” My mother, it should be noted, has somewhat fonder memories of my grandmother from a somewhat earlier, somewhat saner time.

But the bickering between my grandfather and my grandmother was so intolerable I wound up getting to the airport to fly home on a domestic flight two or maybe even three hours before I was supposed to be there, with absolutely nothing to do. I was that desperate to get out of there. And their relationship was as dysfunctional as any I’ve seen.

Those who advocate making divorce harder, in addition to the ills I cited above, also advocate the preservation of relationships like my grandparents’. I’m sorry, Rich, but you’re wrong. You should have let her go.

  1. [1]David Edwards, “Ralph Reed: Making divorce harder for women is a ‘better solution’ than food stamps,” Raw Story, March 18, 2014, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/03/18/ralph-reed-making-divorce-harder-for-women-is-a-better-solution-than-food-stamps/; Amanda Marcotte, “Republicans Are Quietly Trying to Kill No-Fault Divorce,” Slate, April 14, 2014, http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/04/14/republicans_against_no_fault_divorce_gop_politicians_push_for_waiting_periods.html; Scott Keyes, “Conservatives aren’t just fighting same-sex marriage. They’re also trying to stop divorce,” Washington Post, April 11, 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/conservatives-arent-just-fighting-same-sex-marriage-theyre-also-trying-to-stop-divorce/2014/04/11/5f649bd6-bf48-11e3-bcec-b71ee10e9bc3_story.html
  2. [2]David Benfell, “The Quixotic Quest to Comprehend Conservatism, Part 1,” May 16, 2014, https://parts-unknown.org/wp/2014/05/16/the-quixotic-quest-to-comprehend-conservatism/

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