At first glance it may seem strange that feminists like Claire Cain Miller and Justin Wolfers would go to such lengths to convince the public that high divorce rates are a thing of the past. One might expect that feminists in their hostility to marriage would be more likely to celebrate high divorce rates. Isn’t each new divorce a woman saved from the terrible fate of being trapped in marriage? Why do feminists simultaneously celebrate divorce as a tool of empowerment for women while claiming that no fault divorce doesn’t really lead to many divorces? Don’t they want as many women as possible to experience the profound spiritual growth and personal empowerment that Elizabeth experienced in Eat Pray Love? Why are feminists arguing that no fault divorce is safe, miraculous, empowering, and rare?
We can find the answer to this paradox by looking at a paper Justin Wolfers authored with his wife Betsey Stevenson, Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: Divorce Laws and Family Distress
Unilateral divorce changed the bargaining power in marriages and therefore impacted many marriages…
The mechanism examined in this paper is a change in divorce regime and we interpret the evidence collected here as an empirical endorsement of the idea that family law provides a potent tool for affecting outcomes within families.
Wolfers and Stevenson were delighted to find that no fault divorce and the accompanying biased family courts encouraged wives to destabilize their families with threats of divorce. Divorce itself isn’t the intended outcome, but having all husbands live in a state of at least a low level and constant fear of divorce is the goal. Keep in mind that it isn’t just husbands who now live in fear that their families will at any moment for any or no reason be torn apart. While they aren’t the intended target, children also now must live in this fear.
This is the system Wolfers and Miller are defending when they claim the public is unaware that high divorce rates are a thing of the past. Ironically they are complaining about people experiencing the very fear the system is designed to instill. More accurately they are trying to fine tune the amount of fear the population feels about divorce. They want husbands to greatly fear divorce so they will follow their wives’ every whim. But they don’t want prospective husbands to fear divorce so much that they don’t marry in the first place, and they don’t want policy makers to become afraid enough of divorce to reduce the legal encouragement for women to divorce. Once we understand the goal of no fault divorce the schizophrenic message around divorce suddenly makes sense.
It is critical to note that it isn’t just overt feminists like Wolfers, Stevenson, and Miller who are selling this message. Modern Christians have adopted the same posture with incredible enthusiasm. This is why the Director of Family Formation Studies for Focus On the Family has spent so much effort sharing the triumphant news that only 38% of the most devout Christian marriages end in divorce. It is also why Christians around the world were so excited to hear Shaunti Feldhahn make the same case as the NY Times about the sustainability of no fault divorce.
If only modern Christians were as faithful to biblical marriage as they are to their marriage with feminism. If anything, modern Christians have gotten out ahead of feminists on this issue. Modern Christians embrace the power of wives threatening to divorce, depicting it as a miraculous tool to transform marriages in accordance with God’s will. But to modern Christians threats of divorce are only one of many ways a wife can transform her marriage and assume headship. In addition to threatening divorce, modern Christians encourage wives to use emotional outbursts, acts of insanity and destruction, denial of sex, and leaving the home (preferably with the children) as tools to gain and maintain primacy in the home. This new feminist Christian doctrine is what I have dubbed the wake-up call narrative, and it is coming from the conservative wing of modern Christianity. That all of these things are sinful doesn’t stop modern Christians from embracing them, because what they are trying to create is a sort of theological gender bending.
The primary difference between feminists like Wolfers and modern Christians is that feminists are less deceitful about their actual goals. But whether you get your feminist embrace of the wondrous power of divorce from the New York Times or the conservative church down the road, the ultimate source of the wicked message is the same, and the damage to children and families is immense.