Monday, October 15, 2012

Rachel Cusk: a very modern divorce

Earlier this year writer Rachel Cusk published a book about the break up of her marriage.

The bare details of the marriage are as follows. When she met her husband he was a human rights lawyer and she was a successful writer. They had two daughters together but she didn't want to stay home, so he quit his job in order to raise the girls whilst pursuing work in a creative field (as a photographer specialising in social injustice).

She seemed to have everything that a feminist woman might want in a marriage. Her husband was clearly dedicated to liberal causes and he was also willing to put his career second to hers and to focus on the home as a "hands on dad". He made gourmet meals for her and he also kept up his own interests, holding numerous well-received photographic exhibitions.

What went wrong? It seems that the problem was not his discontent but hers. She seems to have been conflicted about the blurring of gender roles in the marriage, not wanting to do the traditional thing, but not liking the new one either.

Her unwillingness to take on a motherhood role she explains as follows:
Call yourself a feminist, my husband says. And perhaps one of these days I'll say to him, yes, you're right. I shouldn't call myself a feminist. I'm so terribly sorry. And in a way, I'll mean it. She wouldn't be found haunting the scene of the crime, as it were; loitering in the kitchen, in the maternity ward, at the school gate. She knows that her womanhood is a fraud, manufactured by others for their own convenience; she knows that women are not born but made. So she stays away from it, like the alcoholic stays away from the bottle. So I suppose a feminist wouldn't get married. She wouldn't have a joint bank account or a house in joint names. She might not have children either, girl children whose surname is not their mother's but their father's, so that when she travels abroad with them they have to swear to the man at passport control that she is their mother.

What she's saying here is that she's an inconsistent feminist. Feminists say that womanhood is a social construct created by men to oppress women; therefore, a consistent feminist would have nothing to do with the traditionally female sphere. But she couldn't stay away altogether, she found herself "loitering" in it, by having children, getting married and even spending some time in the kitchen. She continues:
My father advanced male values to us, his daughters. And my mother did the same. What I lived as feminism were in fact the cross-dressing values of my father. So I am not a feminist. I am a self-hating transvestite.

She was brought up by both parents to follow male values. She is a transvestite in the sense that she is a woman dressed in these male values imparted by both her father and mother.

I find this sad, but it's probably not that unusual. I doubt that most women are conflicted to the same degree as Rachel Cusk but I get the sense that plenty of women can't easily accept a wholly feminine identity. It strengthens my determination to bring up my own daughter in a way that she knows how much I value what women bring to the world as women.

Rachel Cusk then writes,
I remember, when my own children were born feeling a great awareness of this new, foreign aspect of myself that was in me and yet did not seem to be of me. It was as though I had suddenly acquired the ability to speak Russian: I didn't know where my knowledge of it had come from.

To act as a mother, I had to suspend my own character, which had evolved on a diet of male values. I was aware, in those early days, that my behaviour was strange to the people who knew me well. It was as though I had been brainwashed by a cult religion. And yet this cult, motherhood, was not a place where I could actually live. It reflected nothing about me: its literature and practices, its values, its codes of conduct, its aesthetic were not mine.

So for a while I didn't belong anywhere. I seemed, as a woman, to be extraneous. And so I did two things: I reverted to my old male-inflected identity; and I conscripted my husband into care of the children. My notion was that we would live together as two hybrids, each of us half male and half female. He gave up his law job, and I gave up the exclusivity of my primitive maternal right over the children.

The birth of her children awoke a womanly aspect of herself which changed her, but it was alien to the sense of self she had cultivated up to that point. So when she tried to be a mother she felt she belonged nowhere: she couldn't embrace motherhood as it conflicted with the values she had been brought up with and she couldn't live according to the values she was brought up with whilst in the role of a mother. So she handed the motherhood job to her husband and reverted to her "old male-inflected identity".

So why didn't that then work? Rachel Cusk explains it this way:
I had hated my husband's unwaged domesticity just as much as I had hated my mother's; and he, like her, had claimed to be contented with his lot.

Why had I hated it so? Because it represented dependence.

She didn't like the idea that her husband was dependent on her. Her own self-identity was that she was a "compartmentalised" human being, by which she seems to mean an "isolated unit" that stands by itself without the need of completion from anyone else. She saw this as the ideal, and so couldn't respect her husband as her equal for not attempting the same thing:
My notion of half was more like the earthworm's: you cut it in two, but each half remains an earthworm, wriggling and fending for itself. I earned the money in our household, did my share of the cooking and cleaning, paid someone to look after the children while I worked, picked them up from school once they were older. And my husband helped. It was his phrase, and still is: he helped me. I was the compartmentalised modern woman, the woman having it all, and he helped me to be it, to have it. But I didn't want help: I wanted equality. In fact, this idea of help began to annoy me.

Why couldn't we be the same? Why couldn't he be compartmentalised too?

And so I felt, beneath the reconfigured surface of things, the tension of the old orthodoxies. We were a man and a woman who in our struggle for equality had simply changed clothes. We were two transvestites, a transvestite couple – well, why not? Except that I did both things, was both man and woman, while my husband – meaning well – only did one. Once, a female friend confessed to me that she admired our life but couldn't have lived it herself. She admitted the reason – that she would no longer respect her husband if he became a wife.

But is she really as "compartmentalised" as she makes out? If you read extracts from the book (here and here) there is still a yearning for a complete family life and for a male presence in her life. And she is not entirely immune from feeling the pull of maternal feeling for her children. In the aftermath of the divorce, when the children are upset, she writes:
When my children cry a sword is run through my heart. Yet it is I who am also the cause of their crying. And for a while I am undone by this contradiction, by the difficulty of connecting the person who acted out of self-interest with the heartbroken mother who has succeeded her.

Perhaps it is not such an easy thing to hold together a modernist view of identity and relationships.

21 comments:

  1. Human rights lawyer and writer.

    The kids were doomed from the start.

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  2. It's interesting that she was fairly honest in her assessment. It's also my observation that in marriages like the one described (role reversal marriages), the issues stem precisely from the fact that the woman does not like the man being dependent on her. This happens for a slew of reasons, ranging from loss of respect, to fatigue from being the breadwinner and the pressure that brings, to ideological/values issues from different directions. But it has been my personal observation that these marriages are rather unfulfilling for the women in them.

    By contrast, what seems to work better is the earthworm scenario she has described. Although the specifics of how this plays out tends to differ from couple to couple, I have known quite a few (many, actually) couples where H&W both have relatively powered careers, earn roughly the same amount, and split everything down the middle -- the most common arrangement I have seen is the morning/evening "shift" whereby one spouse manages the kids in the morning and arrives at work later, say between 930 and 10, while the other arrives at work earlier, say between 630 and 730, and leaves earlier to manage the kids in the evening after school and after-school programs. Other things like meetings with teachers, doctors appts and so on are alternated as well. This tends, of course, to depress the career advancement, somewhat, of both H&W as compared with a situation where one or the other has their complete foot on the gas at work, but the marriages seem to work out better, and you don't see the "I don't respect my dependent husband" dynamic developing.

    Of course, the other alternative is SAHM, and I've seen some of that as well among the same high-SES (high educated) set. This also seems more stable than the SAHD arrangememt, although it is less common (in economic terms, in order for these couples to compete with the 2-income high SES couples, the one spouse has to have a job that doubles the income of one such others -- which isn't that common).

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  3. I have known quite a few (many, actually) couples where H&W both have relatively powered careers

    Brendan what is the household wage for these couples? $200,000? $500,000? $1,000,000?

    These are the professional class correct? The "working rich"?

    Are these people upper-middle class (e.g. Barack Obama/Michelle Obama) or upper-class (e.g. Mitt Romney/Ann Romney)?

    Of course, the other alternative is SAHM, and I've seen some of that as well among the same high-SES (high educated) set.

    Brendan the number of richest people (or richest households) in America with Ivy League degrees has been declining. In 1980 it was 30%. Now it's around 10-20%. We even have a couple of multimillionaires and billionaires that didn't go to college.

    A lot of people can't go to expensive Ivy League colleges and so we're starting to.

    (in economic terms, in order for these couples to compete with the 2-income high SES couples, the one spouse has to have a job that doubles the income of one such others -- which isn't that common).

    Brendan, you have perfectly illustrated how feminism is little more than status whoring. Congratulations.

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  4. Apologies. I meant how "A lot of people can't go to expensive Ivy League colleges and so we're starting to have a decline of richest people with them."

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  5. "She didn't like the idea that her husband was dependent on her."

    But she also depends on him -- to keep the house in order and to take care of the kids.

    And the kids depend on both of them to work together as a team. Now that she's broken up the team, presumably she depends on nannies and maids to do the jobs her husband formerly did. How is that better than depending on him?

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  6. A woman that lost respect for a man that was dependant on her? Oh really, tell me how men and woman are supposed to be equal and how a man being independant is a social construct.

    If you guys want i made a traditonalism subreddit where we can post articles to traditional blogs and feminist propaganda why they're wrong. Just go to reddit.com/r/traditionalism, my first post was link to oz's blog here explaining the liberal autonomy theory. We might be able to find other like minded people or convert more,traditionalism is worth it and i think many people are traditional at heart they just believe the emotional arguments of liberal/feminists.

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  7. Brendan what is the household wage for these couples? $200,000? $500,000? $1,000,000?

    These are the professional class correct? The "working rich"?

    Are these people upper-middle class (e.g. Barack Obama/Michelle Obama) or upper-class (e.g. Mitt Romney/Ann Romney)?


    The ones I'm talking about are, in terms of household income, in the 200k-500k range. Upper Middle Class (my county has a median household income of just over 100k).

    Brendan, you have perfectly illustrated how feminism is little more than status whoring. Congratulations.

    Not really. Just pointing out the reality as I have experienced it in my professional class in the Washington DC area for the past 20 years. People are competitive. Income matters. SAHMs where I live tend to be married to guys making in the upper range of that 200k-500k bracket noted above, so that the income is in the same range as the dual-income couples.

    I never said that this was "representative of the country" -- it isn't. But it *is* representative of the "professional class", which is the same class that this woman was living in.

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  8. Hmm...I have family members who are like this woman with that weird feeling of independence/dependence. I don't think it has anything to do with feminism, I think some women are just born this way. Genetics pure and simple. I also venture to say this is very Scandinavian woman problem (assuming they were not brainwashed by Jewish sources.)

    Everyone here understands that woman aren't just mothers or wives...Women are warriors in a way. The protectors of society. The protectors of the future. I think that that 'warrior' instinct is still very much alive in many scandi-descended women, and they don't know what to do with it. So it gets channeled into 'making money' as the battlefield.

    I think all of these woman's problems would be alleviated by realizing that Motherhood is the ultimate warrior and independence and show of strength. Your repopulating the world in your image, your spreading your views, and changing the world...as a result financial dependence on a man is nothing! It's like being paid to run your army from the King...but your still the General?
    Not to mention once the kids get older your back to your old warrior self.

    Once you are anti-PC, you see the daily battle that has to be waged amongst friends and loved ones and for your children's mind. If she had seen this battle...all her problems would disappear and she'd be married and happy right now.

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  9. I never said that this was "representative of the country" -- it isn't. But it *is* representative of the "professional class", which is the same class that this woman was living in.

    Brendan, the problem is that these individuals honestly believe that their ideals should be foisted on society as a whole. Which is horrible, because it's all about exceptions to the rule dictating how generalities should be organized. That's not right. These people make up what? Less than 1-5% of the population?

    Then again aren't some of these gals just "Playing Career Woman" like the manospherian blogger Dalrock wrote 2-3 years ago? They go to these expensive Ivy League colleges not because they want to be professionals and work forever but because they want to meet rich men and then "retire"?

    That's great. How is this anything less insidious than being a gold digger?

    I love it how feminists always harp on the stupid beta Peter-Pan manboys, those sad omega males, those oppressed omega female prostitutes and how beta females are a bunch of gold diggers, when the greatest materialists are the supposed strong independent alpha females. LOL

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  10. Not really.

    Alright. You wrote a good example of how feminism possesses elements of status whoring.

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  11. The social conservatives who make the choice to cower in the corner rather than express their views are as much to blame for the state of modern families as the progressives. The so-cons silence is destroying lives.

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  12. This is very sad.

    Does Rachel talk about the details of the settlement with the divorce?

    What does the ex-husband do now? I presume from the last paragraph you posted he's now out of the picture without the kids.

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  13. The people Brendan is talking about are about 3% of the country. What 1/33 people do is not terribly useful in trying to figure out a better path for the remaining 32/33.

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  14. My daughter was a feminist. She vehemently fought her instincts through 3 marriages before she realized she did not like equality at all. Then settled down with a good man as a real wife. To bad she messed up my grandkids because of it.

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  15. For the pick-up artist community this is very easy to explain. Women are naturally hypergamous. In order to love a man, a girl must look up to him.

    In the middle class, the normal way that this happens is if he makes more money than her. So if a man becomes a house-husband, he is skating on thin ice.

    A man who goes this road needs to find some other way to be superior to his wife. For example if he regularly does work on the house or car and uses tools that require a lot of skill and/or physical strength. Or if he is the president of their church. Or even if he works part time as a fitness coach at the local gym and has bulging muscles.

    I myself am not a pickup artist but I do think that the pickup artists are correct on this point.

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  16. Does Rachel talk about the details of the settlement with the divorce?

    Yes. She didn't want her husband to have equal custody as she felt the children were hers. And she didn't want to pay alimony as she thought that her husband, as a man and as a trained lawyer, oughtn't to claim any (nonetheless she and her husband did get equal custody).

    She was not happy after the divorce. She felt that her life had shattered to the point that she couldn't bring herself to eat.

    As I tried to argue in the post, she just seems caught between the "male inflected" values she was brought up with and the instinct toward motherhood that she "loiters in". She has a conflicted identity.

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  17. "As I tried to argue in the post, she just seems caught between the "male inflected" values she was brought up with and the instinct toward motherhood that she "loiters in". She has a conflicted identity."

    I don't think there's a conflict. She is pure, 100% narcissist. Her behavior is explicable as a pattern of pure selfishness: she wants what she wants, at home and at work, and the husband and children got crushed when they were in the way.

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  19. "She didn't want her husband to have equal custody as she felt the children were hers."

    Quoting the wretched woman:

    "I wanted equality."

    A biological adult, gentlemen.

    "She knows that women are not born but made."

    Now imagine two kids being raised by her.

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  20. The happiness I derive from never having married increases with each passing year. No demands that I must be a combination cart-horse/dancing bear. No worries of a surprise divorce bringing everything down like a carefully laid mine. Just peace & quiet, good classical music, Chopin, Bach, Mussorgsky &c., a drop of fine brandy & good books. In short the life of a bachelor is a life worth living.

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