It has been interesting to watch the tabloids switching from cheerleading Angelina Jolie for her empowering decision to divorce Brad Pitt, to seeing her as destroying the lives of her children. There are a number of factors which explain this, but one critical factor is that Jolie has a track record of not only breaking up marriages, but being unable to remain married. Feminists have been wildly successful at teaching us to react in horror at concepts like “she can’t keep a man”, but since reality can’t be brainwashed the risk of this concept creeping back is ever present. This kind of badthink is ironically more of a risk for women than for men, because while Team Woman is real, women also are in fierce intra sexual competition.
Back in September Drake Baer at NY Mag tried to stop the bleeding with an article titled Angelina’s Divorce Shows How ‘Failed Marriages’ Are Failing Us. Baer’s thesis is that divorce and broken homes only cause harm because we misperceive them as failure. Baer argues for a new morality, where staying married is immoral and divorce is heroic:
The dissolution of Brangelina is a “union’s failure” to the The Atlantic, a “failed marriage” to Newsweek and Us Weekly. Trend stories continue to speak of a “divorce epidemic,” one that’s contagious from couple to couple and needs to be “vaccinated” against…
It would be more generous to everybody involved to allow that divorce could be a courageous, positive act. To quote Louis C.K., “No good marriage has ever ended in divorce.” Like Vicki Larson, author of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels, argues, it would be absurd to think that sticking it out in a sexless, alcoholic, and abusive relationship until somebody dies is success, while sharing a respectful, loving bond for 5, 10, or 50 years and then realizing that you’ve grown apart is failure.
While we can’t know the full circumstances of Jolie and Pitt’s dynamic, we do know that, in some cases, staying married shows an incapacity to do what’s in the best interest of yourself, your partner, and your kids.
This of course is a very common argument today. Baer pairs this with an equally common rationalization, that while lifetime marriage once was feasible, longer modern lifetimes make lifetime marriage no longer reasonable:
To put the grand institution of marriage into context, it’s useful to note that “till death do us part” used to be a lot more immediate…
Zooming into the United States, the colonial era saw American marriages lasting under 12 years on average: Between childbirth, communicable disease, and natural disaster, people had a habit of dying way younger. One of the great miracles of the 20th century was the increase in lifespan, shooting up over 25 years, on average, in the U.S…
Thanks to increases in medicine and decreases in war, you can’t count on death to dissolve a marriage; it comes through divorce.
I haven’t been able to locate the original source of the claimed 12 year average for marriages in the colonial era*, but even stipulating that for the sake of argument, Jolie hasn’t been married for a total of 12 years even if you add up all three of her failed marriages. Given her past average, even a fourth marriage wouldn’t put her over the combined 12 year mark.
Even worse for the claim that longevity is the reason for the divorce revolution is the fact that divorce rates are by far the highest in the younger age brackets. No matter how hard men like Baer and his peers in the media try to sell the idea of grey divorce, the reality is divorce is rare in the very age groups which this argument assumes is driving the divorce revolution. Divorce is considered empowering for women in their 20s and 30s, when their chances of remarriage are still fairly good. Once women reach their 40s as Jolie has, their chances of both divorce and remarriage have dropped dramatically and continue to do so.
But the biggest threat to Baer’s argument is the fact that no matter how hard we try to pretend that divorce doesn’t represent a failure, it always will. If we really believed that breaking up families isn’t harmful, we wouldn’t bother with the idea of marriage in the first place. No matter how much feminists try to convince us that children don’t need a father in the home, we all know better. Even worse for Baer, those women who didn’t fail to keep their families intact will always be at risk of pointing this quite obvious fact out. And even when other women remain silent, the women who failed will always know that other women are secretly thinking these thoughts feminists have tried so hard to banish.
*The link provided points to an article identifying Stephanie Coontz as the source of the statistic, but does not name her data source or state where she made this claim.