Posted on | October 30, 2013 | 48 Comments
Bradley Wilcox has an excellent article at The Atlantic showing the data that correlates marriage to economic outcomes for children. This is reminiscent of one of the most best articles ever published by The Atlantic, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s 1993 “Dan Quayle Was Right.”
You may remember the controversy referenced in the title: Vice President Quayle criticized the CBS comedy Murphy Brown for glamorizing unwed motherhood. There was fierce feminist criticism of Quayle who, supposedly, was against Progress and Equality. But the social science then, as now, was perfectly clear: Marriage is a good thing, and is especially beneficial to children.
Whitehead expanded her thesis into an excellent book, The Divorce Culture: Rethinking Our Commitments to Marriage and Family, which I strongly recommend to anyone who wants to understand the social, economic and cultural forces that hurt families.
Divorce and unwed parenthood are correlated with bad outcomes for children, but we must remember that correlation is not causation and that a demonstrable statistical trend — e.g., higher incomes for children of intact marriages — does not mean that every child from a broken home is doomed to a life of poverty. Something else to remember: Trends do not make people. Rather, people make trends.
What causes divorce? Most often, selfishness is the reason. Marriage requires generosity and patience, because any two people will inevitably have conflicts. The normal human tendency in any conflict is to blame the other person, and it requires an unselfish spirit to say to ourselves, “Maybe this is my fault or, even if it isn’t entirely my fault, it’s better to just take the blame and end the argument.”
The selfish person is the one who insists on winning every argument, merely to satisfy his or her pride. Such a selfish spirit is unsuited for marriage, because if you insist you are always right, this turns your marriage into a constant humiliation for your spouse.
A domineering personality — a selfish bully who enjoys the humiliation of others — does not want a partner in marriage so much as he wants a handy target, someone he can push around, just to prove to himself his own superiority. A good marriage requires respect and trust. We should strive to deserve the admiration and cooperation of our spouses, rather than seek to coerce or trick them, which is what the domineering, controlling or manipulative spouse does. And because all of us are imperfect, voluntary cooperation within marriage requires an unselfish, forgiving and patient temperament.
We have to know our own needs, and to be able to discern between our actual needs and our mere wants. I sometimes joke that I married a woman mean enough to keep me in line, and there is truth in humor. My wife is a sweet and generous woman, but she is nobody’s doormat. She is ferocious when angry and always willing to tell me when I am out of line — which, of course, I occasionally am.
OK, probably more than just “occasionally.”
My goal in life is to make her happy, and I succeed in this goal far less often than I would wish. As I am proud to have her as my wife, I want to make her proud to have me as her husband. This requires a constant striving, and that in turn requires a determined commitment — the mental will to stick it out, no matter what, even when she’s so angry that she is ready to pack my bags and kick me out.
“If Americans can be divorced for ‘incompatibility of temper,’ I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.”
– G.K. Chesterton, 1910
My defense of the traditional family and my criticism of feminism have, I fear, created the impression that I am some kind of Archie Bunker stereotype of a husband, a perception that is quite the opposite of truth. Actually (as my oldest daughter’s husband could certainly testify), our daughters have been raised to be confident and independent. A good woman is not timid or helpless and, in fact, one of the reasons I despise feminism is because it fosters a victimhood mentality that cripples women’s capacity for happiness.
Like all other radical egalitarian movements, feminism degrades the individual in order to promote a sense of collective grievance (on the part of the alleged victims) and collective guilt (on the part of their alleged victimizers). The ordinary unfairness of life — which we all experience routinely, no matter who we are — is rhetorically magnified into systematic Social Injustice, and the radical crusade for collective Equality is promised as the utopian solution. Anyone who buys into such a mass movement mindset thereby surrenders responsibility for their own life, and this is in fact the basic incentive: “You are not responsible! Your unhappiness is not your fault!”
Damn you, and damn your miserable victimhood movement.
Marriage requires mutual respect and cooperation. I refuse to endorse the degradation of women inherent to the feminist mentality.