I was reading something online recently about marriage and the risk of losing a significant portion of one’s assets in a divorce (particularly for men since they tend to be the higher earners in most marriages). The piece itself was pretty standard but what I found intriguing were the comments that followed. Most of the men who wrote in were complaining about how divorce is a gravy train for women, how they are deterred or are deterring their sons from marrying so they do not lose out to some greedy, scheming woman and about the general unfairness of divorce and family laws to men. The tone of the comments was painting the men as victims of evil women just looking out for some poor guys to sink their hooks into and exploit. Never mind that the guys themselves presumably took an active role in choosing their ‘gold-digger’ wives.
None of these comments came close to expressing an understanding of one of the underlying reasons for divorce: unfairness to and in far too many cases, abuse of women in marriage. The way I see it, the current state of divorce and family laws has come about as an imperfect response to quite a serious problem. There is no denying the flaws in many family law systems where fathers may have to overcome presumptions in favour of the mother when it comes to disputes over custody and access to the children. There is no denying either just how destructive and painful divorce often is. However, this is the case with many solutions to problems that we created in the first place. I find it curious that in criticising the flaws of the solution, not many people seem to ever really get to discussing the problem itself.
Comments like the ones I referenced above seem to be implying that marriage in the good old days was such a bed of roses for women. If you took them seriously, you’d believe that wives had it so perfect and have now by their capriciousness destroyed the system and life for everybody else. They never seem to remember the incredible sacrifices and difficulties that generations of women endured in the name of marriage. In present day Nigeria, women are still subject to all manner of abuse because they are keeping their marriages together.
Instead of questioning the society which promotes the idea of marriage meaning that one group of human beings should become and remain dependent on the other, we complain about the almost inevitable results of such a system of values. It seems only natural to me as a matter of common sense and justice that if you make someone dependent on you (even if it was done out of good intentions like a desire to take care of them), you don’t get to turn around and complain when the person then has to continue relying on you for support. Should people (in this case men) be able to throw their dependants out on the streets to fend for themselves when the love runs out? Especially when the overall earning capacity of the woman has been so severely hampered because she has stayed out of paid employment to put her energy into that man and their family. Yet this is exactly what happens to so many women left to look after kids on their own with little contribution, financially or emotionally, from their former husbands. These are the type of issues that the liberalisation of family laws tried to address.
The main point for me in raising this topic is not to assign blame to men for the situation. Rather it is to highlight what I see as an obvious blind spot in discussions about marriages, divorce and families. Encouraging people to form committed marriages and stable families is a matter of responsibility for everyone. It is no good men moaning about being the victims of family laws without taking an honest look at their role in solving the problems that created the need for them in the first place. If society is not going to protect the parties in a marriage voluntarily, the law will have to step in to do so. Unfortunately, we will not necessarily be better off for it.