Dr. Lenore Weitzman's book The Divorce Revolution argues that ex-husbands
owe ex-wives far more alimony and child support money than divorce courts
now compel them to pay. She deems it unjust that the ex-husband should walk
away from his marriage with his earning ability intact while the ex-wife
has little earning ability to walk away with. This male earning ability,
the principal inducement the man had to offer the woman for marriage, is
referred to as an "asset of the marriage," and therefore (by feminist logic)
belongs equally to the unmarried (divorced) woman and the unmarried (divorced)
man, while the children, the chief asset of the marriage from the man's point
of view, are presumed to be the property of the woman by biological right.
The statistics Dr. Weitzman offers in support of her contention--the divorced
man's standard of living is said to rise by 42 percent, the divorced woman's
standard of living to fall by 73 percent--have become an established part
of the folklore of feminism. The original feminist position, given in Betty
Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, had been that women ought to be independent,
to stand on their own feet and face life's challenges on their own "without
sexual privilege or excuse." Ms. Friedan withdrew this view when the cold
winds of economics began blowing and her feminist followers began blaming
her for the loss of their husbands' paychecks:
We did not realize
the trap we were falling into [wrote Ms. Friedan in her 1976 book It Changed
My Life]. We fell into a trap when we said, "No alimony!" because housewives
who divorced were in terrible straits. We fell into another trap by accepting
no-fault divorce without provision for mandatory settlements.
was great as long as it meant not having reciprocal responsibilities; losing
the free ride was less great. It was accordingly necessary to devise a new
justification for the ex-wife's retaining of the ex-husband's money, this
being that most of the "assets of the marriage" consist of the husband's
earning ability. The argument is thus stated by feminist Terry Arendell:
Most of these [divorced] women viewed their husband's earnings and earning
ability as rightfully being a community property issue.
Ms. Arendell regards it as proper that ex-husbands should subsidize ex-wives
but wholly unfair that ex-wives, if they re-marry, "would lose all financial
help from their former husbands" while "their ex-husbands...could re-marry
at will and still lose nothing of what they had taken out of their marriages."
No matter that they had also taken their earning ability into their marriages.
No matter that the first marriage no longer exists, having been dissolved
by divorce. No matter that the second marriage does exist and that the man's
earning ability is benefiting his second family, to which he is bound by
legal and affectional ties. No matter that the ex-husband cannot suffer any
deprivation by his re-marriage because the ex-wife never gave him anything
of which he might be deprived.
The husband's economic-provider services were common property during the
marriage because the wife's reciprocal services were also common property.
But by divorce the wife has withdrawn her services. She doesn't go to her
ex-husband's home to do his laundry, mop his floors, and prepare his meals.
What Ms. Arendell's argument comes to is this: she agrees with Ms. Friedan
that "society asks so little of women" that (apart from bearing his children)
the wife's contribution to the husband bears no comparison to the husband's
contribution to the wife. In withdrawing her services at the same time that
she withdraws her really substantive contribution to the marriage, the children,
she is withdrawing something so trifling that Ms. Arendell can truly say
the ex-husband is walking away with most of the assets of the marriage.
Hence, according to feminist reasoning, the women who make themselves independent
by divorce are entitled to perpetuate their dependence by alimony and child
Dr. Weitzman's statistics concerning the ex-husband's improved and the ex-wife's
deteriorated standard of living are spurious. But suppose they were valid.
What then? First, it follows that there are excellent economic reasons for
placing children of divorce in the custody of fathers rather than mothers.
Second, it follows that during the marriage the husband performed extremely
valuable services for the wife, so valuable that when they are withdrawn
her standard of living falls by 73 percent.
(The wife's "unpaid" services to the husband during marriage are frequently
referred to in feminist literature as something justifying compensation.
How can a woman's standard of living be lowered by 73 percent by divorce
if all she is losing is the non-payment of nothing?)
Third, it follows that the husband performed these services at great sacrifice
to himself, so great that even with his continued subsidization of her by
alimony and child support payments, and despite the ex-wife's withdrawal
of her "unpaid services" worth $25,000 a year (Gloria Steinem's estimate),
his own standard of living, once he is partially emancipated from her, skyrockets
by 42 percent.
Fourth, it follows that during the marriage the husband had nothing to show
for having raised his wife's standard of living by 73 percent at a cost of
a 42 percent lowering of his own--nothing except the loss of his children
and his motivation (not to mention the probable loss of his home, etc.).
But this loss of children and motivation is an economic fact of the first
importance. From the economic standpoint, the ex-husband's greatest asset
is not his skill, not his degrees and credentials, not his customer goodwill,
not his reputation, but his motivation, which in the typical case (since
most divorce actions are initiated by wives) the wife herself destroys--and
then demands to be compensated for.
Fifth, it follows that Dr. Weitzman is glaringly inconsistent in maintaining
on the one hand that the wife's contribution to the marriage is the reason
for the husband's (and ex-husband's) economic success, and on the other that
he owes her a post-marital free ride despite the fact that she has been a
ball-and-chain on him, lowering his standard of living by 42 percent. One
is reminded of Betty Friedan's assertion that "There are, of course, many
reasons for divorce, but chief among them seems to be the growing aversion
and hostility that men have for the feminine millstones hanging around their
Sixth, it follows that Dr. Weitzman disproves her own contention that the
wife's contributions to the marriage account for the husband's financial
success, and that his future earnings--"assets of the marriage" for which
withdrawn services cannot be responsible--ought for this reason to be shared
by the ex-wife. These contributions are said to consist largely of "moral
support." Why is not this moral support as much community property as the
male earning ability it is said to generate? Why is not its withdrawal by
divorce a justification for the withdrawal of the earning which is said to
result from it?
Seventh, it follows from Dr. Weitzman's estimate of the value of the wife's
contributions to the marriage that the husband sustains a crippling loss
from her withdrawal of these contributions. If they are the reason for the
husband's economic achievement, then their denial entitles him not only to
withdraw his earnings, but to be compensated.
Eighth, it follows that if the 42 percent statistic is valid, the ex-husband
is entitled to compensation from the ex-wife for her lowering of his pre-divorce
standard of living by that amount. (Such a claim would correspond to the
demand made by ex-wives to be compensated for the careers they forfeited
Dr. Weitzman wants it both ways: the woman marries the man and demands
post-marital recompense because marrying him was a favor; she divorces him
and demands post-marital recompense because divorcing him was a favor. She
asks us to believe that the motivations provided by the wife make the man
an underachiever (by 42 percent) while they are acting upon him during marriage,
but then function proleptically to make him an overachiever once they are
withdrawn by divorce.
In writing of the predicament of divorced women, Dr. Weitzman complains of
the "assumption that it is fair to divide family income so that the wife
and children share one-third, while the husband keeps the other two-thirds
for himself." There is no "family"; the woman is not a "wife"; the man is
not a "husband." A family is created by marriage and destroyed by divorce.
The economic predicament of the woman has virtually nothing to do with "no
fault" divorce as Dr. Weitzman's book tries to prove. It is due to divorce
itself. The greater misery of ex-wives today is not owing to change in divorce
procedures (there has been none), but to the greater number of divorces.
During marriage the wife did get from the husband what Dr. Weitzman wishes
the ex-wife (read: non-wife) to have from the ex- husband (read: non-husband).
The only unfairness is that to the children whom the ex-wife drags into poverty
with her to be used as mutilated beggars. It is schizophrenic to insist on
the continuing existence of the "family" as a means of justifying the destruction
of that family itself. It is like feeding a cow its own milk--taking away
its substance in order to nourish it. What such schizophrenia testifies to
is Dr. Weitzman's own recognition that the family--the real, nuclear, patriarchal
family--is the true source of the wealth she is grasping for, while at the
same time she works to destroy it.
She complains of the predicament of "an older housewife who has spent twenty
or thirty years in the family home" and then loses it when her marriage ends.
This woman has spent twenty or thirty years living in a home she could probably
not have provided for herself, enjoying a standard of living 73 percent higher
than she could have earned, bestowed upon her by a husband who forfeited
42 percent of his own standard of living for her sake during marriage. Which
partner is entitled to compensation?
It is a commonplace in feminist literature that women should be freed from
what Zillah Eisenstein calls the "patriarchal image of woman as dependent
on man." "In this view," she says, "she is still primarily a mother and therefore
needs a man to support her." Dr. Weitzman's demand for the subsidization
of ex-wives by ex-husbands constitutes a reactionary reversion to this obsolete
patriarchalism, which keeps women from "learning to stand alone."
It was the thrust of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique that it is contemptible
and infantile of women to be economically dependent upon husbands, that the
childish "mystique" they affected for the purpose of perpetuating this dependence
and jollying men into supporting them was stifling, undignified, inhibitive
of women's growth, and that they should discard their economic dependence
and stand on their own feet. "Why," asked Ms. Friedan, "isn't it time to
break the pattern by urging all these Sleeping Beauties to grow up and live
their own lives?" The thrust of Dr. Weitzman's Divorce Revolution is the
precise opposite: that women must remain economically dependent on men, even
when they divorce them and withdraw the trifling services upon which Ms.
Friedan poured her ridicule and contempt. They must rely upon the Motherhood
Card and the Mutilated Beggar argument which permit them to drag their children
into the Custody Trap where they wallow in self-generated economic misery
Dr. Weitzman proposes that this parasitism should never end. Even after the
children are grown, says Dr. Weitzman, "Long-married older wives must also
be assured of an equal share of all of their husband's career assets." But
"wives" are assured of their husbands' career assets, an assurance they enjoy
because of marriage, the stability of which Dr. Weitzman is seeking to undermine
by her attempt to make divorce into an alternative institution capable of
giving women the same benefits marriage gives them. She cannot see where
her own evidence leads. She urges women not to trust their husbands' loyalty
(now eroded by the feminist/sexual revolution) but instead to trust feminist
agitation, lawyers, bureaucrats and lawmakers. Trust in lawyers, bureaucrats
and lawmakers is misplaced. Betty Friedan told women to trust themselves
and to acquire the skills which would make them economically independent.
Now Ms. Friedan, like Dr. Weitzman, is reduced to speaking of such an
undeliverable promise as a "trap" leading women into economic disaster.
These women "deserve some special recognition and compensation for their
contributions, not harsher treatment," says Dr. Weitzman. They receive special
recognition and compensation in the form of a 73 percent higher standard
of living; and it was one of the main contentions of The Feminine Mystique
that this compensation was excessive and unmerited and that wives should
be ashamed of themselves for taking it. Hear Betty Friedan:
In our culture,
the development of women has been blocked at the physiological level with,
in many cases, no need recognized higher than the need for love or sexual
satisfaction. Even the need for self-respect, for self-esteem and for the
esteem of others--"the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy,
for mastery and competence, for confidence in the face of the world, and
for independence, and freedom"--is not clearly recognized for women. But
certainly the thwarting of the need for self-esteem, which produces feelings
of inferiority, of weakness, and of helplessness in man, can have the same
effect on woman. Self-esteem in woman, as well as in man, can only be based
on real capacity, competence, and achievement; on deserved respect from others
rather than unwarranted adulation. Despite the glorification of "Occupation:
housewife," if that occupation does not demand, or permit, realization of
woman's full abilities, it cannot provide adequate self-esteem, much less
pave the way to a higher level of self-realization.
"The most glaring
proof," said Ms. Friedan, "that, no matter how elaborate, 'Occupation: housewife'
is not an adequate substitute for truly challenging work, important enough
to society to be paid for in its coin, arose from the comedy of 'togetherness.'
The women acting in this little morality play were told that they had the
starring roles, that their parts were just as important, perhaps even more
important than the parts their husbands played in the world outside the home."
"Most of the energy expended in housework," she says, "is superfluous." It
is this "underused, nameless-yearning, energy-to-get-rid-of state of being
housewives" that is now said to be the justification for prolonging dependence
after divorce. "The problem seemed to be not that too much was asked of them,
but too little." "The husbands of the women I interviewed," says Ms. Friedan,
"were often engaged in work that demanded ability, responsibility and decision.
I noticed that when these men were saddled with a domestic chore, they polished
it off in much less time than it seemed to take their wives."
Dr. Weitzman gives an example of how divorce arrangements perpetuate women's
dependence (though Dr. Weitzman wants more, not less, of this dependence):
Consider the following
situation as an example of the typical legal (and social) issues that may
arise with remarriage. A remarried man is legally obligated to support his
two children from a former marriage and the young child he has fathered with
his new wife. At the same time, his wife's two children from her former marriage
are currently living with him, and by virtue of their presence in the household
(at his dinner table, etc.) he finds himself supporting them as well. While
he is not legally obligated to support his wife's children if he has not
legally adopted them--and let us suppose that neither he nor the children's
natural father wants that adoption to take place--in practical terms, he
inevitably contributes to their support because they are members of his new
household. The situation is further complicated by the fact that his new
wife's ex-husband has also remarried and started a new family, and has not
been paying her court- ordered child support. Our man feels the law should
either relieve him of his financial obligation to support his own two children
by his ex-wife (who are now living in another man's household) or force his
present wife's ex-husband to pay his support obligations. He is disconcerted
to learn that there are no legal guidelines to allocate and apportion support
responsibilities among several families.
Which is to say,
because he is a male the legal system cannot be bothered about his rights.
This man is paying the price for the liberation of three women: (1) the current
wife, who deserves his support because of his marriage-vow to her and hers
to him, in compliance with which she performs reciprocal services; (2) his
former wife, who deserves nothing, since his marriage vow to her has been
annulled by the divorce court and since she has withdrawn her services from
him; and (3) the new wife of the old husband of his present wife, who gets
a free ride because she is able to spend her husband's entire paycheck.
This man is perpetuating the ills feminism was created to end, by keeping
these three women from growing up and standing on their own feet "without
sexual privilege or excuse," with "self-respect, courage, strength," with
"spirit, courage, independence determination...strength of character," "assuming
true equality with men," "learning to stand alone," "launch[ing] forth, as
men do, amid real, independent stormy life' doing "the work [they] are capable
of, [which] is the mark of maturity," accepting the hard but necessary truth
that "freedom is a frightening thing...frightening to grow up finally and
be free of passive dependence."
Here is another of Dr. Weitzman's cases:
On the other hand,
consider how the present system may provide a windfall for a second spouse
while unjustly depriving the first. At age 58, a corporate vice president
falls in love with his secretary and decides to divorce his wife of 34 years.
(The two children of this marriage already have families of their own.) Aside
from a substantial home the major assets of this marriage are in the husband's
career, in generous company benefits (including full medical, hospital and
life insurance and an excellent retirement program) and executive perks (a
luxurious car, a large expense account, investment options and extensive
travel at company expense). His secretary, who is 28 at the time of the marriage,
has two young children whom the executive agrees to adopt. If, let us say,
the executive has a heart attack the following year and dies suddenly, in
most states, a third to a half of his estate would go to his new wife, with
the remainder divided among the four children (two from his last marriage
and his new wife's two children). His first wife will receive nothing--neither
survivors' insurance nor a survivor's pension nor a share of the estate--and
both she and his natural children are likely to feel that they have been
treated unjustly. A legal rule that would allow some weighted apportionment
between the two wives would seem more just.
Such a rule would
defeat the whole purpose of feminism and reinstate the "patriarchal image
of woman as dependent on man"--the idea that a woman "needs a man to support
her." It would deny to women the privilege of standing on their own feet
"without sexual privilege or excuse," "with self-respect, courage, strength,"
et cetera. It would turn the clock of feminist progress back a quarter of
a century and revert to the ills of the old system--with the principal difference
that patriarchal marriage, which formerly gave wives security, has now become
so de-stabilized that the security no longer exists. The original feminist
complaint was that "society asks so little of women." The new demand is that
an ex-wife should retain her free ride even after divorce has emancipated
her from the performance of that "little."
Dr. Weitzman sees no social value in the executive adopting his second wife's
two children. In discussions of divorce, it is common to hear much about
"the best interests of the children"; but such concern for children gets
expressed only when the children are attached to Mom--when it is the rights
or advantages of a man, not those of a woman, which a court or a lawmaker
wants a pretext to ignore. Why shouldn't the man who earns the money and
the perks be permitted to be magnanimous with them for the purpose of benefiting
his second wife's children? For what better purpose could his money be spent?
Dr. Weitzman would like to imply that the money and perks are not really
earned by the man but accrue to him by virtue of his ex-wife's previous
ministrations or are created out of nothing by lawmakers, lawyers and divorce
court judges, whose generosity is generosity with the money of someone else,
In this case, the best interests of the children are very well served by
this wealthy gentleman--and also by the good sense of the young secretary
who invests her assets--including her youth and attractiveness--in a new
marriage, thereby becoming "assets of a marriage" in the fullest sense of
the word, assets promoting the welfare of her husband, her children and herself.
If the first wife has lost similar assets, this is principally the consequence
of the weakening of the institution of marriage, a weakening, let it be
remembered, which it has been one of the chief objects of feminists to bring
about. Much is written in feminist literature about the predicament of divorced
women, but nowhere in that literature is there expressed a wish to help women
avoid this predicament in the only way most of them can be helped--by
strengthening the contract of marriage. Dr. Weitzman would like to transfer
some of the man's assets to the first wife; but her proposal (strengthening
divorce as an alternative to marriage) would have the effect of further weakening
all marriages and creating more cases like that of the first wife for whom
she is concerned. (She loads the case by making the executive wealthy. Her
principle, once established, would be applied to wealthy and non-wealthy
alike, with the consequence that few divorced men could afford to re-marry--or
would be worth re-marrying.)
Dr. Weitzman describes the scenario as a "windfall" for the second wife,
the word suggesting that her marriage to a wealthy man is the result of chance,
while the loss of this wealth to the first wife is "unjust." Chance had no
place in the decision of either the second wife or the man. The plea that
the first wife is unjustly treated has a justification only on the supposition
that she had a right to expect marriage to be a stable institution. Neither
Dr. Weitzman nor any other feminist desires the stabilization of marriage.
What they do desire is for the benefits of marriage to be replaced by comparable
benefits from divorce--in the present case by giving the first wife, who
has withdrawn her services from the marriage, an unearned windfall at the
expense of the ex-husband and his second wife, who perform valuable services
for each other and who are therefore the ones entitled to enjoy the assets
of the only marriage which exists, their own.
Dr. Weitzman's proposals for transferring the earnings and pensions and bank
accounts and insurance programs and real estate and annuities and stocks
and bonds of ex-husbands to ex-wives would lead men to take all sorts of
socially undesirable self-defensive measures--squirreling money into coffee
cans, renting rather than buying a home, opening a secret bank account in
the Cayman Islands, reducing or liquefying attachable assets, minimizing
take-home pay- -so that the wife would have fewer incentives for divorce.
The possession of assets such as these formerly promoted marital and social
stability. Dr. Weitzman, by offering them, or a moiety of them, as rewards
to divorcing wives, is making them into de- stabilizers of marriage--in effect
de-motivating men from creating the wealth she covets. A husband who creates
such wealth and acquires such assets under the threat Dr. Weitzman is holding
over his head is simply buying insecurity for himself. Dr. Weitzman makes
much of the fact that a middle-aged divorced woman is economically disadvantaged.
Her greatest economic disadvantage by far is the burden of child custody,
which should indeed be taken from her and placed upon the father, for everyone's
benefit, especially the children's. With this burden removed she might still
claim to be disadvantaged in the sense that she has less work experience
and fewer vocational skills and will accordingly probably earn less than
the ex-husband. But her needs are less than his, especially if he has custody
of the children. She is not going to have a second family, as he may have--and
as wise social policy might well encourage him to have. She has only herself
to provide for. Affluence will not make her more attractive to most prospective
second husbands: a man contemplating marriage with a woman cares very little
how much money she has. A woman contemplating marriage with a man is primarily
concerned with his ability to provide for her. In particular, a middle-aged
ex- husband will need an attractive bank account and stock portfolio if he
hopes to be taken seriously by a prospective second wife, for without these
she would prefer a younger man. He may need to finance the rearing and college
education of children yet unborn-- and society might well encourage him to
do so, for there are few more socially useful ways for him to spend his money.
A second family would enhance his motivations, his wealth-creation, and his
social stability in a way that subsidizing an ex-wife would never do. Dr.
Weitzman, by creating "rules that require (rather than allow) judges to
redistribute the husband's post-divorce income with the goal of equalizing
the standards of living in the two households," would penalize the man and
his second wife and their children and society itself by making the man into
an under- motivated, rather than a highly motivated, worker in order to provide
a free ride for the woman whom Betty Friedan, in The Feminine Mystique, sought
to salvage from a life of meaningless parasitism.
Dr. Weitzman perceives the family in terms of what Vance Packard calls "the
[H]e is a bystander.
He is economically useful but stands outside the basic family unit as perceived
by his wife. This basic unit consists of herself, her children, and her home."
The problem of
the feminist movement, as Dr. Weitzman articulates it, is to use the Motherhood
Card and the Mutilated Beggar argument to get that peripheral male out of
the home without losing his paycheck. The problem of patriarchal society
and of the men's rights movement is to ensure that this separation of a man
from his paycheck and his family does not occur.
Dr. Weitzman's concern is with the economics of divorce and how it disadvantages
women and children. It does indeed. A minority of the elitist women addressed
by Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique have achieved the cherished goal of
economic independence from men, though few of these women have children.
For large numbers of women the skyrocketing divorce rate has meant independence
at the price of poverty or near-poverty. Dr. Weitzman's book is a storehouse
of data proving to the hilt that children would be economically better off
in the custody of fathers rather than mothers.
But important as the economic argument for father custody is, it is less
important than the greater likelihood of delinquency imposed on the children
by mother custody, a fact alluded to earlier. A recent study of 25,000
incarcerated juveniles made by the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates
that 72 percent of them came from broken homes (read: mostly female-headed
homes). 74 percent of the nation's children live with two parents, 26 percent
with one parent (read: Mom). In other words, 74 percent, coming from intact
homes, produce only 28 percent of the juvenile crime; 26 percent, coming
from mostly female-headed homes, produce a staggering 72 percent of the crime.
The ratios of delinquency probability in the two groups can thus be stated
numerically by dividing the size of the group by the proportion of the
delinquency it generates. 72 divided by 26 for the female headed group gives
2.76; 28 divided by 74 for the intact group gives .378. The ratio of the
delinquency generated by the two groups is thus 2.76 divided by .378, or
7.3. If the findings of this study are to be trusted a child growing up in
a single-parent home (usually female-headed) is seven times as likely to
The delinquency may be greater than the statistic suggests. According to
the Los Angeles Times, "Researchers found that many of the young adult offenders
had criminal histories that were just as extensive as those of adults in
state prisons." In other words, when the careers of these youngsters have
become as long as the careers of older criminals, they will have committed
far more crimes.
Annex to chapter I