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Disturbing trends in the name of equality

Several years ago, my agent talked me into reading a book by one of his other clients. This was, he claimed, the next best-selling phenomenon and he wanted me to write just like this author. (For those of you who know the book of which I speak, let’s not name names, OK? It’s irrelevant to the point of this post.) Anyway…I read said book, and was, to say the least, appalled. If he wanted me to write like this, he didn’t understand me at all. In the name of titilation, it betrayed every philosophical and ethical stand I’d ever taken. He was, however, right. The thing sold like crazy, the author became in great demand for “how to” lectures, and it became a successful TV series.

And I saw the beginning of a very disturbing trend. I’ve recently become very fond of a TV series (also based on books, which I’ve not read and likely won’t) which has, in it’s later seasons, taken a very bad turn, and has me looking at other relationships, both fictional and non, which have rubbed me the wrong way. Again, I’ll not name names and please don’t ask me. I have no doubt you can fill in your own titles.

Why is it that a woman, in the name of true lu-huv, is forgiven behaviors which would brand a man a “cad” (or worse)? Things like, because a marriage has gotten a bit rocky because the partners have been split up for a while and grown in different directions, the woman can, without censure on the part of the readers/viewers, and with little thought to the man to whom she made an honorable (not to mention legal and spiritual) commitment, leave said husband in a fit of pique, then jump the bones and fall in lu-huv with the first hunk who comes along to excite her hormones, and then proceed to further adventures without every really trying to return to/contact said husband?

Or why can a woman, in the name of lu-huv, leave their lu-huv, for his “own good,” of course, having better sense than he what’s best for him, then use marriage to someone else to escape the problem of dealing with the issues supposedly keeping the true lu-huvers apart—all without EVER explaining to said hubby-to-be the truth about her lu-huv for another man, and after making the hubby-to-be fall in lu-huv with her, with protestations of love and commitment—only to reignite the previous passion at the first temptation, grow cold and separate from the husband—without explanation—and then blithely skip back into the arms of the first man? Of course, she does all sorts of hand wringing and waving her arms about and claiming it’s not hubby’s fault…but does that make it right?Is it right to make two men miserable, ruin their reputations, all so you can be free to follow your hormones, all the while using their affection for you to manipulate them into doing exactly what you want?

And then, there’s the woman who has been married for years, whose marriage has gone rocky…even toxic. A woman who has every legitimate reason to request an end to said marriage to pursue her own life. A woman who finds new love and appreciation outside the marriage, then “finding the strength to act in this new lu-huv,” up and leaves the marriage—in the name of a “separation”—to be with the man who lu-huvs her and treats her “like a queen,” leaving hubby to find out the hard way that he’s been deserted. Why is that “strength” and “bravery” rather than “desertion?”

Why is it that “true lu-huv” in a female somehow makes betraying marriage vows right, whereas a male is accused of thinking with his nether regions, and being a dastardly betrayer of those same vows?

Now mind you…for me sex and hormones isn’t what makes a marriage, so for me it’s not the sexual attraction, it’s the lies. It’s the deliberate betrayal of a commitment made, whether that commitment is legal, spiritual, or a marriage of convenience. For me, having sex or even sexual attraction, isn’t the wrong-doing, it’s lying about it and leading people on. It’s the complete lack of honorable behavior, all in the name of self-indulgence.

Bottom line, the fictional models for proper behavior are getting seriously skewed, because such women are held out to be heroines. To me it feels a heck of a lot like the female version of “boys will be boys”…and it gives me the creeps.

19 comments to Disturbing trends in the name of equality

  • Well, it’s at least not the woman being subservient, “delicate,” or supposedly weaker or not smarter. That’s worse, IMHO, and it’s still perpetuated, too often, by both men and women in what they follow (or teach by example) as male and female gender roles, either in religious or secular views.

    Having a lead woman in a story who leaves a bad marriage is one thing. — That, I can understand.

    Having a lead woman in a story who has an affair and skips out on Husband #1 to go with Boyfriend / Husband #2…meh…more “meh” if she then goes back to Husband #1. (But in real life, both women and men do this, at least the first part, and sometimes the second.

    But then, I’ve seen a few married couples who’d have extended fights in front of me (as a kid/teen or an adult) or their kids or guests…or while guests of someone else…who didn’t seem to care how very badly they were behaving or who knew about it.

    In my generation, when I was in school, a high percentage of my classmates were from either single-parent or divorced or remarried and blended families. Now if the previous marriage was a bad one, that’s one thing. Better to end a bad marriage; less toxic for everybody, kids included (or especially). But the percentage was high enough that it was often because the married couple couldn’t agree, got unhappy, fell out of love, or became interested in someone else…or whatever it might have been. (I think it may have been as high as 20$ to 30%.) — My parents were a little older and had a good, stable marriage. Not a perfect marriage, but they stuck with it and loved and liked each other. I had a mostly good home life and family. But in my own generation, that divorce rate and single-parent rate is much higher. Though there’s also been a trend to marry later and then have more stable marriages, so it counter-balances some.

    My piont being that for many in real life, even a long-term relationship, a big commitment like marriage, is less permanent, more temporary, and…more prone to high emotions and breakups or distancing / cooling off (or ending) of the relationship. And there’s more tendency in many real-world people to be influenced by falling out of love with one person and falling in love with another, and therefore ending one relationship (even marriage) for another.

    I wasn’t brought up that way. I was brought up that it was a huge, permanent commitment, legal, moral, spiritual, and ought to be as much best friends as life-partners and lovers. (But they wouldn’t have termed it “lovers,” exactly, because that had a different connotation.)

    There’s also the issue of, in fiction, a juicy story (or steamy romance) (or action-adventure) (or just plain titillation) … sells. It’s that old advertising maxim that s*x sells. (Trying not to trip any filters, not trying to be priggish.) Many people will read / watch a story that does things they wouldn’t likely do themselves. For the thrill of adventure or role-play or “I would never do that, but I can read / watch / have a vicarious thrill about it.” … Which might explain both pulp romance novels and murder mysteries. (Not knocking either, there’s a place for them. And whodunits are fine; some are very smartly written.)

    Er…I guess what I’m saying is that presupposing things like “honor” or “chivalry” or other kinds of commitment, and discounting, well, the heat of passions, in emotional bursts or in, ah, hormones and attraction and s*x…. Many people don’t seem to operate under those conditions as guiding principles. Or… maybe they simply can’t live up to them as often as they wanted to.

    The manipulative leading woman or the leading woman who goes with her passions / affairs instead of sticking to her principles? (With the caveat that her husband might be a jerk or abusive, or no better example of sticking to higher principles>) — Well, no, I don’t think that’s a more “liberated” or “stronger” woman, and not a great model to follow. (It also tends to reinforce the old ideas about women being “less than” men.)

    Not sure how helpful it is if both the women and the men are not good examples of human behavior. But, well, it’s what’s often observed in the wild, I suppose. I’ll ignore / omit the argument about whether it’s a good idea to have some moral point to a story. (That gets into rarefied literary theory, IMHO, and 20th century schools of literary fiction. Ehh…I’d just say, a writer writes what he or she wants to put into a story, however ideal or realistic or dysfunctional it might be. OK, I suppose now I have to avoid the argument about how showing a bad example in a tale can promote change towards a better reality. … Uh, I’m not doing a good job of avoiding those, am I? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I don’t know of a good solution to the problem. But I think it’s a convenient plot hook and sales hook. And well, a lot of people live that way. Also, even the best marriage has its faults; even the best people have faults. That, too, is plot / character material.

    I suppose I’m somewhat at at disadvantage as far as my approach to the topic goes. I had a good dad who liked and loved a strong-minded woman, and such women ran in his family amd my mom’s family. Er, but I grew up with that home / family life having issues about being gay, and I grew up discovering (and having issues with) me being gay…while being more OK (maybe?) with friends who might or might not have been. I also grew up handicapped and overprotected / sheltered because of it, and with effects from outside the family, in how others treated me, so that I tended to be more of a loner. (Or stubborn or independent-minded, if you give it a positive spin. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    On top of that, I grew up naive, an idealist, a dreamer, religious… the kind of boy who had his head stuck in a book or drawing, and, um… well, that’s not too uncommon, I guess, but it does have a bearing on it. So I’m still predisposed towards some of that, which must show in my reply.

    So these things interfered with my short-term and long-term relationships, sometimes very little, sometimes a lot. Er, there wasn’t much of anything going on in the romance / dating department (or the experimentation department) as a teen. In college, that became an “OMG! I’m gay! But that’s…OMG!” It became a Big Problem. I went very far into the closet and didn’t deal with it well at all for a long time. (Er, but yeah, I still was.) So…once I’d discovered dating girls wasn’t going to do anything much, for them or me…. Well, this did not then mean I increased trying to find the right guy for me. … I had a lot of growing and acceptance to do before I eventually came out.

    In other words, I don’t have near enough personal experience with love relationships. (The long-term partner kind or the short-term boyfriend or girlfriend kind.) So I can’t very well claim I know what ought to be or what works or doesn’t.

    I haven’t managed to find Mr. Right, or the so-called Mr. Right Now either. And that…is a source of very mixed emotions and frustration.

    I look at a few peoples’ relationships as models for good long relationships. — But much of the rest of the world just doesn’t seem to operate that way. — And I am not sure what’s up with me, because, well, it hasn’t quite happened. Not the way I would’ve thought, for sure.

    Hmm, in terms of fiction — Well, I guess I’d equivocate somewhat and say that all sorts of things can go on in fiction and tell tales that are true of human nature in some way or other, good, bad, indifferent, or not on that scale, some other scale of what is and isn’t about being human. In other words, I’d say that a fiction writer may write all sorts of things, and they’re still something valid and telling, about human nature.

    That said, there are certain things that just are not going to appeal to me much, as a reader, viewer, listener. But each person has his or her own opinions on that. I’ve been known to read or watch something I might not otherwise, too, either personally or in a capacity as an editor of some kind, or for class or because soemone asked me to read / watch, recommended it. If something like that can get past my usual preference agains, though, then it has something to say, I think. (When I was an amateur editor, including submissions, online for a few years, I tried hard to be objective and not let my personal tastes influence choices. But there were guidelines, and there were times I or someone else would veto something, or approve something. I wanted to give every new submission a fair shake.)

    How the tale is told, what the characters are like, what happens in the story, have a bearing on that, though.

    I’ve ended up not taking any particular thesis and proving it, I know. But that’s my initial reaction to the post. It’s so seldom a one-size-fits-all solution to any problem in storytelling.

  • Hanneke

    1) This is an incomplete first reaction to your third example: if the first marriage is really toxic, confronting hubby and telling him you’re going to leave may not be safe. In an abusive situation more women get killed when they are leaving, from statistics I’ve read. In that case finding and building a safe situation to go to, and then leaving without confronting him, is both prudent and something that requires bravery, even though it’s not honest. In such situations, because of the unequal balance of power in the marriage, honesty may be too much to ask of the weaker and more vulnerable party.

    • The post is actually aimed primarily at situations where the woman is in no way a victim. She’s financially independent, clever, and could in every way deal with the situation in an honorable fashion, yet chooses not to. I’ve seen this both in fiction and real life. All too often, the author and/or woman in question try to make the spouse the bad guy, just because “our heroine” is what boils down to bored with him. I’m basically talking about stepping out on your spouse in the name of lu-huv, and how society at large seems to be swallowing it, hook, line and sinker. (As you address in part 2)

      Because of the almost fanatical “abuse awareness” in society today, caring men and women who can see that the emperor has no clothes hesitate to say anything because it is immediately assumed that they have no empathy for the real victims, and become the target for all the anti-violence factions. This is one reason I’ve kept this completely off my FB page. I know anyone who comes here is going to actually think about the point I’m trying, however awkwardly, to make.

      Have I mentioned lately I love you guys and gals?)

      Physical abuse is a whole different topic, tho I probably didn’t make that clear enough. Out of control anger and ownership tendencies are dangerous,absolutely—and are not male exclusive, tho testosterone certainly tends to manifest it more frequently in a physical form.

      Toxic as in the woman is as much a part of the toxicity as the man. Women generally take a more psychological approach, but it’s just as toxic, and they shouldn’t get a complete pass simply because a man raises his voice, or even a hand to them. I’m NOT condoning physical violence, but when a woman uses her tongue to rouse the anger in a man who lacks the ability to counter in the same fashion, and she refuses to recognize or understand that inability, she’s as much a part of the toxicity as the man. The weapons are different, but they’re equally destructive to the relationship. She’s not an innocent victim. She has the ability to disengage, and chooses not to, just as the man has, at a certain point, the ability to disengage before striking. The problem is, both sides succeed when the opposition loses control. For the physical abuser, the win is silence and tears, for the psychological, it’s when the blows come. The psychological abuser is treated as a victim. The physical abuser is treated as an out of control animal. I think the case s/b treated as toxic and both sides treated as both aggressor and victim.

      Society has changed a lot. Abuse is a relatively open topic. Problem is, as I see it, anyway, women are not getting the same censure for their part in the problem as men, and so not getting the social pressure to reform. I think people need to be encouraged to behave with honesty and honor, and instead society is increasingly invested in pointing fingers.

      I’m tired of the abuse-excuse. “He yelled and cursed at me and I was afraid so I left” doesn’t cut it with me…especially when the woman’s tongue is as nasty as his…you don’t have to use the F-word to curse someone. There are true victims, absolutely…both male and female. More often, these days, the “victims” are (generally) women using the environment of zero-tolerance to become heroines of their own fantasy…and too many fictional heroines are endorsing this.

      I don’t have a problem with multiple sex partners, casual sex, or even sex outside the marriage vows, I just feel that real heroines consider the effect of their actions on all the people whose lives are affected, and that’s the model authors should ethically give their readers. Even if the betrayal is done in a moment of mindless heat (not a bad plot device and very human), even if the heroine has to wait to address the problems created, they don’t have to wait to think about it, even if the thinking comes after the fact.

      I doubt I’m making much sense here. Trying to to use specific examples is harder than I thot! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Hanneke

    2) I dislike fickle and vacillating characters, and dropping one’s present love whenever the going gets rough and/or a new opportunity presents itself certainly falls into that category.
    It may be intended to portray a woman as an equal to a man: she can be a ‘player’ too, someone always on the lookout for a new, younger/prettier/richer trophy wife/hubby. It’s a type of man that I understand is sometimes portrayed in films as being an ambitous sort of person, who strives for success and is thus an example to follow, if that’s the kind of ‘success’ you-the-viewer want. As from a distance some parts of USA culture seem to be very obsessed with becoming rich and influential at the cost of everything else, people who think like that may consider someone who behaves like that a strong person who sacrifices everything and everyone to go after what he or she wants. Personally, I strongly dislike that kind of behaviour, and don’t consider it a sign of strength. It might be ruthlessness, or simply blowing along with every wind that passes, but it’s not an example I’d want promoted.

    I don’t read books about them, haven’t got cable and don’t watch them on tv or movies/film; so I haven’t got any immediate examples in mind except for one YA (or maybe MG) book I read recently. It made an idiotic amount of fuss about two girls choosing between being best friends or having a boyfriend; then made them switch sides and choices on very flimsy pretexts, while on the other hand sometimes staying loyal to a choice for a long time when it should have been obvious it was manipulated and based on lies- and then flipping again for a triviality which they wouldn’t let the other explain. I disliked it a lot, and won’t read that author again.

    • I’m with you, every point!

      When Wesley wouldn’t keep his hands off Stephen, I had to make a lot of decisions about how I was going to handle their weird and tumultuous love at first sight. When Anevai got involved, it became even more tangled. The point is, character development is not a standalone exercise; it’s a webwork. Each character’s actions and thoughts affect the others in the story…and that’s true in real life as well. Human interaction has to be looked at as a single system, not an encounter between two isolated systems.

      Who knows what, where and how they find out, is the essence of setup and providing sound motivations for the kind of decisions you describe. It can be done, but it’s not easy. I don’t know the book you describe, but YA is esp difficult in that they push for simple, fast, exciting reads. The author that wants to handle sensitive topics either opts out of the motivational details or, too often, I fear, doesn’t bother thinking it through with the mind of a teenager. The problem IMO is that books are too often trying to emulate movies these days. Flow-through entertainment, using complex, real human interactions as plot devices rather than character elements. “Girls have fight here” “Girls make up here” Is not the same as “Girls’ misconceptions come to a head here” and “Girls finally stop thinking with their hormones and listen here.”

      Film tends to be surface. Words have the ability to delve into the reasons, and in doing so, to help readers find a way to logic their way through their own similar situations.

  • Hanneke

    3) In society in general the pendulum seems to be swinging out quite far to the side of a me-me-me culture, with individualism seen as a very great good, and improving one’s personal material circumstances seen as much more important than working together towards some collective goal or common good.
    At the same time, people appear to be growing a lot less patient, wanting instant gratification, and not willing to sacrifice anything (not even just a little bit of comfort now) to gain something worthwhile in the future.
    This might make the portrayal of someone ruled by her whim of the moment accurate enough for how some people live; but again neither of these is anything I’d like to be promoted as an example for young women, even if it’s meant to counteract ages of portraying women as meek and subservient to the needs of their husbands and families.
    There’s a difference between being strong and making one’s own choices and then owning them;, and just doing anything you want whenever the whim strikes you, regardless of the consequences to others.

    4) On the other hand, if two people have really grown apart, it may well be better for both of them to each go their own separate way; rather than staying unhappily together because years ago you made a promise.
    It’s late, I’m tired and the reading hiccups don’t help me absorb the storyline; but in your second example I get the impression the couple had grown apart and been estranged for some time before the woman fell in love again with someone else. In that case I really don’t see your suggestion of the original couple trying to get back together as much or any better than each going their separate ways (as they were already doing) and trying to find happiness separately. It probably depends on the specific people and circumstances whether trying again together would have any chance for success. If the best that can be achieved is living together like polite strangers, then taking a chance on building something better with a new partner also frees the first partner to look around and maybe find someone else.

    • I completely agree about the me-me-me part of your comment.

      I evidently misrepresented my thoughts, re the growing apart. And the various examples I gave are not necessarily mutually exclusive. People do grow apart, absolutely, and I’m not advocating forcing a reconciliation that just can’t be there. I am advocating being honest about the drift and dealing with it honorably rather than in secret.

      I’ve seen it in fiction, but more often in real life where the spousal-unit will grow discontent/bored, but stay in the (sometimes toxic) relationship for years without actually trying to deal with the poison, (maybe because it’s just easier?) then finally just up and leave. If the trigger for the departure is a new love interest, a woman who leaves is (commonly) completely forgiven, even applauded for following her heart and sexual needs, a man is (commonly) considered a womanizer…esp in “women’s fiction.” I’m not saying don’t leave, I’m saying don’t leave without being honest about why you’re leaving. I’m saying don’t break a contract without fair negotiations with all cards laid on the table.

      The catch is, if the “adulterer” is honest about “stepping out,” legally speaking they’re “at fault” in the divorce settlement, not a good position monetarily, and consequently often go to great lengths to keep it quiet. This leads to all sorts of related lies and betrayals and self-delusions. The worst, for me, is the female who uses the mutually toxic situation to turn herself into a victim in the eyes of all her friends who have never seen the relationship in action (or worse, have only seen it when she’s manipulated the poison buttons to reinforce her claims,) so that by the time she takes off to be with her new lu-huv, all her friends remain solidly behind her. Those who see a fuller picture, who have been witness to the mutual toxicity, who have been caught in the lies, are put in the position of either cutting off the friendship or compromising their own sense of honor to remain as steadfast as all the misinformed friends.

      One curious fact…my new (young) doc told me, far too late, that the one almost sure-fire way for a female to avoid the libido crash associated with menopause is to…you’ve got it…get a new love interest. I suspect, tho I’ve no proof, that for male and female alike, the “stepping out” that occurs at this stage in life is a very instinctive survival tactic, and if we as a society had the sense gawd gave a newt, rather than let ourselves be restrained by contrived moralities linked to mutual possession and inheritance, we’d be looking into this interesting phenomenon and maybe finding a way other than divorce to help couples get past this tricksy point in life. Couples might still split, but it might help them get past the betrayal and get to truth.

      I dunno, but the (self-interest-above-all) way we’re going right now is toxic for all parties, including those standing on the peripheries.

      • Hanneke

        I understand what you’re saying, about the secrecy and lying being toxic to both the principals and the bystanders. As long as ‘culpability’ has such serious and longterm financial consequences, I guess it’s unrealistic to expect people not to try to keep their wish to end the marriage and/or look for outside sex secret. If divorces were more about dividing things equally and less about punishing the straying spouse it might lead to more openness? I recently read something about it even being possible in the USA to sue the extramarital love interest for alienation of affection – that would be another reason for keeping it quiet and lying about it!

        Sometimes, it’s not clear even whether or not one partner is keeping their dissatisfaction quiet or if it is something that’s supposed to be clear to both parties – a clear case of miscommunication, when one person thinks he’s stated his views and plans clearly; and the other has either forgotten (because it was years ago) or thought it wasn’t a factor anymore, because it was a long time ago.
        I’ve got one example in mind, from my parents’ generation.
        The man, from a warm and caring family, fell in love with a beatiful woman. The family was afraid she was a rather cold fish, but he was so in love he didn’t want to listen to the few careful questions bwith which they tried to make him think a bit beyond her face and figure. So, not wanting to alienate the young man, the family said no more, and tried to welcome her in (without much response from her, she stayed distant). The couple had two children, and somewhere around that time the young man realised his parents had had a clearer view of her character than he had – she was a woman who was incapable of expressing warmth and caring. He was an honorable man, and didn’t want to desert her and the children, over something she was really incapable of remedying (and didn’t think needed changing) – she was raised in an orphanage and hadn’t learned how to bond with people. The only way he could deal with his chilly home life was to shut down his own feelings, and as long as the children were home they lived together in perfect politeness but without any warmth. She was perfectly content with this way of living, didn’t miss what she had never known, but for him it was a sort of purgatory – which he never told anyone, because as a husband he considered it essential to be loyal to his wife.
        When the children were grown and left home, he told her he couldn’t live like that any longer, and left her. She didn’t understand, could still not see what he was missing in their marriage, and was furious with him. Both kids took her side, and haven’t seen him since (which hurts him a lot, for he loved them; but he accepts it as his penalty for leaving). Even his own family was angry with him: leaving your wife of 25 years when she’s done nothing wrong is *not done*.
        But a year later, when he met a nice woman, who was capable of caring and expressing warmth, and the family noticed how much he had changed from the frozen man we’d seen all those years, the family forgave him and started to understand a bit of what he’d been through for the sake of behaving honorably to his wife.
        But from her point of view, he is still a cad who deserted her (suddenly, from her point of view) when she’d done nothing wrong, and their marriage hadn’t changed from what it had been for the last 20 years. From his point of view, they’d tried to make the marriage work 20 years ago (including counseling), and it hadn’t worked, so he’d stayed for the sake of the children, but the marriage had been unsatisfactory and they both knew that.
        It’s a situation that hurts all concerned, but also hard to see what would have made it less awful. It’s also difficult to decide whether the way he handled it is honorable, for staying; or caddish, for leaving, and which way you lean depends on whose viewpoint you take.

        • That really is a tangled instance. And sad, because it sounds like something a little honest communication between two fundamentally “good” people could have solved a long time ago. My initial reaction was, of course, if she (the beautiful wife) could have found a way to open up, to herself and to him, not to mention the children, all lives would be richer. (One suspects the children will end up emulating her approach to marriage, since they seem to be sympathizing with her.) But that’s my definition of rich. Others find security in keeping everything to themselves and never laying their hearts on the line. I’m not about to say either life approach wrong, just not, as you mention, compatible.

          I do wonder if his leaving was truly out of the blue, if they really had gone 20 years without the topic ever coming up again. If he said something, if he tried to get her to open up, or both of them back into counseling, then she’s deluding herself that his leaving was a surprise. If he continued to hide the problem in the name of “best for the kids” and make himself out, at least in his own mind, to be some kind of martyr, his behavior is, IMO, wrong. People being left behind deserve a reason. They deserve a chance to fix what’s broken, (and the compatibility was broken, not her or him) something virtually impossible after 25 years of festering. Among other thing, she deserves to hear something like: “I was wrong 20 years ago. I lied, to myself as much as you. I can’t handle this. Not when it’s just you and me.” and know, without a doubt, that he truly believes he is/was at fault, at least in that aspect.

          Because he was the one hurting, he was the one who needed to stop the bleeding. Keeping silent was the “fault” if you will. IMO, “Martyrdom” in relationships is NOT a virtue. It’s self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing, and poisonous. (Not to mention passive-aggressive.) This is not to say the person is self-indulgent or self-aggrandizing by nature, but we all want to feel good about ourselves, and our society has made heroes of martyrs and victims, and so it’s a way for a person to make excuses for the path of least confrontation/resistance they’ve chosen.

          I personally doubt he successfully hid it. In my experience, this kind of incompatibility finds release in arguments, even screaming/crying fits, in pointed silence, in walking out of a room to avoid conflict. The problem is when partners take the “live and let live” or “it’s just his/her nature” approach “for the sake of the other person’s feelings” and in the name of “tolerance” and try to ignore it.

          Tolerance. Acceptance. In this case, you can replace those words with masochistic and martyrdom. Or cowardice. Too often, people who indulge in the silent acceptance approach or the “I say it all the time and he/she never listens” simply haven’t the courage to examine their own actions with the same scrutiny with which they’ve examined their partner’s.

          BTW, that “I say it all the time and he/she never listens,” usually translates to “I exploded and screamed and yelled or cried or left the room” in a high state of excitement and with lots of tears and accusations, and he/she never got it through their thick skull and admitted they were wrong and changed their nature, which if they lu-huved me, they would.

          Explosions aren’t necessarily a bad thing. We say things in the heat of the moment which carry grains of truth, but which are often instinctively designed to wound, in order to distance us from our opponent, and rarely touch the root of the problem. What needs to happen is discussion of the event in cool blood, trying to analyze and understand the underlying cause, not nit-pick the details of the explosion. What usually seems to happen is a lot of finger pointing and should-haves—and more tears and scowls.

          Where real affection exists, just the fact that each side is aware of, and trying to deal with, their own limitations is comforting. Basically, from her point of view, he said: 20 years ago, I decided to do the “honorable thing” (i.e. look good in the eyes of society—remember, we’re in her VP) and stick with you and the kids. Now the kids are gone, and there’s no reason to be honorable any longer.

          Too often, the “martyr” makes themselves exactly that in their own minds. To them, they are heroically bearing all this pain “for the sake of the family,” when in reality, they haven’t the courage to face the fact that their own unwillingness to face the problem head on is helping to create an insurmountable problem. Not to mention that their own motives and actions are likely suspect and contributing to the problem.

          I still maintain, anyone, male or female who leaves because the partnership isn’t what they want, without first making a concerted effort to address the problem and, if you will, clear the air, is wrong. (And again…we must assume I’m not talking about potentially life/death situations.) When they find themselves driven to find what they need in someone else’s arms, they should either address that reality with their legal partner before jumping into bed, or admit that they have done so and accept the consequences.

          I think any relationship accepted in the throes of an unhappy one is not exactly the most reliable either. The time to address and either mend or get out of a contract is before you’re driven to legal, moral, and/or emotional extremes. And running this back to the original topic, i.e. the presentation of such matters in film and in books and how those both reflect and affect social attitudes, I’m personally queasy with what I see.

          The 50/50 divorce…in most cases, I agree, but there are a lot of divorces that have clear monetary consequences. Take for instance the spouse who temporarily suspends their own education to work during the marriage, helping the partner get through college, only to be sued for divorce once that partner graduates. 50/50 on extant assets, but then, he/she deserves to be supported through a comparable education as well. Or a spouse who stays at home to raise the kids and make a home, only to be rejected, for whatever reason, at an age where creating a career is virtually impossible. A person who has helped a doctor have a good home for decades based on a supposedly “for life” contract, does not deserve to be cast out to work at MacD’s with no retirement income because they never had a chance to hold a job.

          I personally feel equity should be the main focus of settlement decisions in most legal matters.

          Obviously, none of this has a single, simple solution, but for me, it all starts with honest evaluation and an assumption that the person on the other side of the table has a legitimate point of view…and that the person on your side of the table isn’t necessarily perfection incarnate.

          • Hanneke

            I think I gave you a wrong impression about my old family-member, as there’s nothing martyrisch about him. He doesn’t talk about it, never even said anything in his own defence when the whole family was mad at him. He doesn’t present his staying as martyrdom, but the entire family noticed him slowly coming alive again in the year after he left. There weren’t quarrels or explosions before that, but how much they talked we don’t know. She wasn’t capable of changing when they went to counseling decades ago -so he shut himself down emotionally to conform to her way of living, for as long as the kids needed him. She never saw a need to change, and he accepted that she couldn’t, but couldn’t live that far shut-down anymore when the love that the kids brought into the household left when the kids moved out. Maybe trying counseling again would have given them another chance; and maybe she would still have been incapable of change and not seeing any need to. He wouldn’t walk out without talking, but no-one knows the details; she is angry and he still shields her and doesn’t talk about it.

            And yes, I recognise what you said next, as that too happened to an aunt. She married a doctor when they were both studying at university, gave up her studies and career to support him; and when he was about fifty he left her with the four kids for a younger woman from the hospital where he was a surgeon. She wanted to stay in the family home very much, and he agreed, in return forno alimony for her – which meant she also got no welfare, as that is at least partially assessed from the husband’s salary if he earns enough (he did pay for the kids until they were grown).
            By now she gets her basic old age pension, but money is always tight. Still she is grateful he left her the house and never niggled about supporting the children; she’s a remarkable woman, with great empathy and caring.

            Sorry, I’ve drifted far off-topic and into anecdotes (or is it gossip, even though I’m careful to shield the names and exact relationships?). I don’t really have anything useful to contribute, except agreement, but I’m happy to hear from you again.

            • You ALWAYS have something interesting to contribute! And I appreciate the feedback. It’s a really hard subject to parse, because there are so many variations. I don’t for a moment pretend to have answers, just personal observations/opinions.

              I should clarify…martyrdom is a term I use for people who convince primarily themselves that they’re doing the right thing sacrificing their own happiness/well-being for others. Parents who work extra hard or in jobs they don’t like to (for instance) give their kids a good life aren’t martyrs, they’re doing their job, if that makes any sense. Martyrs often suffer in silence, because it’s really an internal reconciliation. When they carry those internal rationalizations into conversation with outsiders, it becomes…I dunno…something else, which I’m too tired to try and sort out.

              I fear came off a little strong in my word choice…possibly because I’ve known a couple of people who really carried the martyr/victim motif to an extreme, one very much not in silence, and it’s a bit of a sore point for me.

              Wheee…and I’m finding my brain taking off on a bit of tangent, and it’s too late to go there! Be back tomorrow.

              • Hanneke

                Ah, a different interpretation of terminology. I only associate martyrdom with the not-suffering-in-silence kind that needs to impress everybody else.
                You raise interesting discussions.
                Goodnight, hope you sleep well.

  • Short responses to Hanneke’s comments:

    (1) I agree very strongly. If a woman’s in a very bad, especially an abusive relationship, then yes, finding/building a safe place and friends to support and protect her is a must, and she deserves and should get out of that bad relationship, fast and silently. She has a right to a safe, stable, decent life. And if there are kids, she has a responsibility to them so they don’t get hurt, emotionally and physically, and don’t absorb the model that it’s OK for a man to abuse a woman, a daddy to abuse a mommy, or the kids. — I tried to compare this also to a man ending a situation with a bad girlfriend or wife, and found myself thinking he’d probably confront her and then leave. But that might be just as bad an idea as a woman (girlfriend or wife) confronting a bad man (boyfriend or husband). And it made me wonder if I had gender bias sneaking into my ideas there; in other words, how much is a cultural gender role and how much is an innate male or female tendency to behavior. — If it’s a same-sex couple, they also have to end a relationship, if one or both partners are abusive (physically or emotionally or verbally) or otherwise bad for each other. — I don’t think a woman (or man) leaving an abusive or otherwise toxic relationship is being “dishonest” by not confronting or telling the other person. That’s simply being prudent, smart, safe, and protecting oneself and any kids. Get away, where the bad partner can’t touch you, then notify him (or her) anonymously, untraced, or officially if need be, and settle it in court. … I would also have some sympathy for her (it’s usually a woman) to leave and cut off all contact, if it’s that bad. But if there’s a marriage, and/or children, then yes, she needs to resolve it with legal protection (and friends who will stand up for her).

    I’ll add, I’ve known a case where a wife left her husband and kids when she had an affair with another man. She just left, took up with the other man, and that was essentially it for her husband and kids. Her husband then filed for divorce, there were visitation rights set up for the kids, but the kids (3 boys) all stayed with their dad. Can’t blame them one bit. The kids were elementary and middle school age, and the parents were in their late 30’s or early 40’s. Old enough, you’d think the wife would’ve been more responsible than that…and more caring for her children. I think that’s what got me the most, or anyone who knew the family: That the wife and mother would just abandon her children, not just her husband, for some guy she’d met. Just…very bad all around. The husband, who then raised his kids as a single dad, probably did have strong opinions, but didn’t seem like he’d be impossible to live with. He, at least, knew how to be responsible and love his children. He was stunned for quite a while by what happened. So were people who knew them. Just…it was very quietly bad. The kids did grow up fine, with a few rocky times in there. But honestly, you’d expect they would’ve had it worse off. This says something for the dad and the kids themselves, in terms of integrity and character.

    Of course, there are far too many examples of women in bad relationships who have to leave stealthily, often with kids.

    (2) That plot summary sounds odd to me too. Most girls, best friends, wouldn’t be too bothered about a boy they knew, unless both girls liked him, wanted him for their boyfriend, or had some strong dislike of him and therefore were looking out for their best friend. Most boys would be the same about a girl they knew. And friends would generally be happy for their friend to have found a boyfriend/girlfriend, unless they were somehow jealous because they didn’t…or wanted the friend all to themselves, which is…well, it happens (and I don’t mean in a sexual way). Then again, kids/teens and some adults can make really emotionally-charged sudden choices, or can make some not-smart poor decisions sometimes. — And yes, that overly ambitious, ruthless, or fickle person? Get me outta there. In real life, people like that really, really bother me. Where’s their emotional or moral backbone? (Because you know the first time they see more advantage somewhere else, or it doesn’t suit them, they’ll drop you (or others) like a stone.) I don’t get the current trend of setting up that kind of behavior as somehow admirable, to be emulated. Uh, no. No, thanks. — But there can be characters like these (2.a. and 2.b.) story-wise. I’d tend to think of the confused girls (or boys) as, er, confused; and the greedy/ambitious guy or girl in 2.b. as the antagonist, not the hero to model after.

    (3) Hanneke said, [quote]Thereโ€™s a difference between being strong and making oneโ€™s own choices and then owning them;, and just doing anything you want whenever the whim strikes you, regardless of the consequences to others.[/quote]

    Oh, absolutely, exactly.

    (4) I’d agree with this too.

    Maybe I’m “old-fashioned” (or naive, or idealistic, a dreamer). And maybe I don’t have enough experience with love relationships. That’s true enough. But … I would also like to think I have principles, things I stand for, for myself and others. I do have life experience knowing how very hard it can be living with those principles, for good or ill. And yes, I’ve made a few mistakes in life, pro and con. Gotta live and learn.

    Hmm. The examples in (1) and (2) made me think of the case (tangential) in which a child or teen is in a bad home situation and needs out. That’s really difficult. But kids (I mean children and teens) really need allies to turn to for support, friendship, love, and sometimes a safe place to stay, privacy, a “safe house” if need be. They may sometimes need some person who can stick up for them. This is such a big topic, I couldn’t begin to address it in a comment. But it could be vital for that kid’s (child’s, teen’s) welfare, and for his/her siblings/cousins, or friends.

    Examples (1) and (2) also put me in mind of the tough case of… what about a kid (at times a pre-teen, more often an older teen) who has realized he or she is gay/bi/transgender/etc. (too many labels!) and has also realized he or she may not be safe at home, because of the family’s views on being gay (etc.). The statistics on that are truly awful, alarming. Youth (male and female) with a problem like that very often are at risk for self-harm, harm by others, or being kicked out or running away from home, ending up in terrible situations. — The advice I have seen for that is for kids to find somewhere and someone for safety, a trusted adult or best friend, a youth shelter, a free youth health clinic, or yes, legal advocacy, and to save up what money he or she can. But this is often very hard and scary for a young person in that situation. And it’s vital to find someone safe to open up to, to trust, someplace to go if they need a place to stay. And that too is very hard. — Many youth try their best to hold it in, not tell, and make it until they are of legal age, graduate high school, and can be on their own. (That’s actually the alternative advice often given.) … And even if their home situation isn’t quite that drastic, it can still be a question, a feeling of being unsafe or unwelcome or unloved, if their family knew the truth, that their child is gay (etc.). It can be very hard if the pre-teen or teen doesn’t feel he or she has anyone to talk to, to trust, and is too afraid to talk about their feelings (questions or feelings about being gay, expressing it, finding a boyfriend/girlfriend… tons of things this issue raises).

    It’s another topic that’s way too big to get into in a comment. But it’s an important problem and I’d say it’s in that same category where there’s a severe risk to the person in a relationship that’s bad for them, and what then do they do?

    I’d also say, it wasn’t the utmost issue in my mind, growing up, but it was an important one, one which I didn’t know really what to do about, how to talk to anyone, or how to find anyone (boyfriend) or simply a friend (fellow teen) or ally (adult) to go to, to talk, or for safety if it had been found out. (I wasn’t really afraid I’d be hit or disowned or kicked out. But I was *very* afraid I would not be understood or loved unconditionally, or what they might do about it then. I didn’t feel like I could talk to my parents (or other relatives) about it, and even my best friends.) I wasn’t even entirely sure I was gay, most of my teen years… but I had some idea that it was true; I just didn’t know how to accept it. (Hey, I was also a “good boy” and religious. I knew how I felt (without getting too personal there) but I knew. I was confused about it, but I knew. So…this is a common thing for gay youth. — Strangely, I’d later learn there were at least a few people (adults or kids my age then) that I could’ve talked to. … But I didn’t *know* that, and I was *scared* about it. (Because I was confused and felt guilty/ashamed about it, as much as I wanted to find someone to be with. But the word “boyfriend” would not have occurred to me as even possible.)

    So — There are all sorts of ways in which either safety or moral behavior enters into relationships.

    And if someone needs help, for goodness sakes, get help. Talk to someone. If that person doesn’t listen, talk to someone else. Call a hotline. Find a shelter or clinic. A trusted friend. Someone. — A woman, a man, a child, a teen, should not have to feel unsafe or unloved/unlovable in a relationship. A “relationship” is where you are supposed to be loved, liked, cared about, cared for, safe…of course. We all know that…which I guess is why it feels so impossible when a relationship is not what it should be.

    “When a relationship is not as it should be.” I think that might cover most of the examples and why they don’t “feel right,” which is what prompted (I suppose) Jane’s post and Hanneke’s and my replies.

    And … It’s very likely other people have other opinions or something comments so far have missed or got not quite right. It’s a subject area I think is very important. (I know how I felt, growing up, and I’d say I had a good home, a good family. It was the one area I felt really, deeply insecure about, when I began to know what was going on with me.) Others have it very differently. But many others deal with some kind of bad relationship. So discussion is good, to bring things to light, to try to improve things.

    Jane, thanks for bringing up the topic, your post. Some things are subtle but still hard to grapple with. Other things aren’t so subtle, but still equally hard to grapple with. It takes guts to bring up some things and say, “Y’know, this bothers me. What’s up with this thing?”

    • It is a tough topic to discuss because there are so many factors. It’s something I tried to get authors to talk about years ago when such topics began to be acceptable in fiction. I DO feel authors have a huge responsibility to their readers and unfortunately “female fiction” in particular became rife with lots of individual freedom with far too little emphasis on individual responsibility. It’s socially toxic.

      OTOH…we see far too much in our own genre as well. Making it grey is tough. Making it simple sells. Simple means “girl power”, kicking ass, free love and nickle beer, ruthless executive, without ever thinking about the consequences. I’m so tired of the phrase “magic has a price.” All actions have a price. As writers, we have an obligation to help readers reason their way through the choices our characters make. Honorable characters become increasingly aware of those consequences and grow. Dishonorable characters say to hell with the consequences and follow Hanneke’s me-me-me path.

  • Hanneke

    I fully agree with Jane that it’s a disturbing trend to see cads, nasty and self-serving people, presented as if they were admirable examples for teens and others to follow.
    As I don’t keep up with popular TV or films I haven’t seen much of this myself – it’s definitely not something I’d search out to watch or read.
    But I’ve heard and read about things like the Wolf of Wallstreet and Game of Thrones, where rotten behaviour that is detrimental to society is presented as permissible/necessary/admirable.
    Honesty, it horrifies me when such bad behaviour, untrustworthyness, and putting one’s own immediate gratification or (material) advancement first at great cost to others and/or society is seen as a positive example, regardless of whether the person doing so is male or female.

    But I also see that the “Love made me do it” argument to excuse doing bad things is maybe used more often for women than men, at least in the kind of scenarios Jane describes. If it’s used to defend male bad behaviour it’s more likely to be used to excuse some kind of violence, anything from stalking up to and including murder. Running off with a new love-interest seems when done by a man to be seen more as a result of lust than “love”, and falling in lust with a younger/prettier/etc.woman (or gay partner) is not seen as an acceptable excuse for desertion.

    Though the women in Jane’s examples seem to be playing roles that were traditionally more likely to be men’s (hence the ‘in the name of equality’); the “love made me do it” excuse seems to be very strongly linked to old (and hopefully outdated) gender roles and expectations. Such as:
    – women being irrational creatures, at the mercy of their emotions (their ‘new love’ sweeps all before it, never mind rational decisions, honesty and commitments);
    – women being ‘weak’/unable to stand on their own feet, and needing to be with a man for economic and social security (hence needing to have a replacement ready if the deal with the present provider doesn’t work out), which for poor women with low income-generating capacity may still be a fact of life, considering the lack of an adequate social security safety-net in the USA;
    – women are fickle, it’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind;
    – women being not very sexual creatures, needing an excuse like “instant true love” to indulge their whims when they fall in lust and selfishly want to pursue that – thus necessitating throwing the whole family’s life into chaos, as lust may be a temporary whim but “true love” is supposed to be permanent (again) (just as permanent as it was the first time, I recon). Maybe the pervasiveness of religion in American society has something to do with that: sex being supposed to occur within marriage, and marriages being supposed to be made in Heaven and last for all time, never mind the divorce rate – if the marriage is in difficulties it ‘obviously’ wasn’t made in Heaven, thus a mistake, and of course the new heart-throb is the answer!
    I don’t know all the stereotypes and hidden biases in these things, I never studied feminism or women’s studies or anything like that, but I get a lot of bad vibes along those sorts of lines from Jane’s descriptions of the plots and motivations.

    And all that combines very uncomfortably with the extolling of the me-first mindset as a good thing!

    • So totally agree. The me-first, I’m OK, You’re OK, has been taken to a truly unpleasant extreme. For me, I prefer to interpret it as putting the oxygen mask on yourself first, i.e. understand yourself, honor yourself, and once you’ve made peace with yourself, you can deal start to understand and honestly with the world at large.

      But that’s not going to catch on any time soon! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • WOL

    The thing that disturbs me most about this whole thing is the kids. Firstly about the kids of a marriage between one or both people (tarring both sexes with the same brush) who are so self centered that they cannot think of anything else but their own gratification — what it all boils down to — and what such behavior does to the unfortunate children of such people. (If all you can think of is yourself, then things like commitment, honesty, loyalty, etc., mean little to you, never mind the emotional, not to mention physical health and safety of your children in that relationship) Secondly, what does it do to the minds of children who watch this kind of stuff on TV. These children do not have the maturity to realize that this kind of stuff is not being held up as the sort of things people are supposed to do. Children learn by the example of what they see around them, and what they see on TV is part of that example.
    I tried to watch a purportedly historical/religious drama the other night, and about 20% of it was about history, with a passing nod or two at religion, and the lion’s share of it was about single women who couldn’t say no to married men and married men who couldn’t keep it in their pants. (Are we, perhaps, talking about the same show?) There were at least two out of wedlock children born to these women. I don’t know what happened to the children. I bailed out before part 2. Of course, I don’t watch a lot of network TV. I can’t imagine why. . . (sarcasm there, ya’ll).

    • Hanneke

      Yes, the children are almost always the victims in these situations, and that is very bad – as WOL says, both for the fictional kids and for the real audience.
      But sometimes, having such a selfish bad parent walk off, if they are left with a single good parent might leave them substantially better off.
      I remember a co-worker with 2 young children and an alcoholic wife. That’s an addiction that totally turns on me-first! He was trying to take care of his kids, but had to go to work too, and his wife was quite unreliable with the care of the kids when he wasn’t home – not always, but often ebough tgat he was constantly worried. If she’d left him for whatever reason that family would most likely be better off -then he could arrange responsible care for them, instead of his wife insisting that wasn’t necessary as she was home, but then not taking care of things.

    • Whooooo-we! YOSH! Alternatively, CJC just got us started on a Chinese drama about the women in the Chinese emperor’s harem. What a great representation of a man with power over women! A man absolutely in control of his fly. I’ve only seen the first ep, but it’s already given us more character development of the key players, men, women, good, bad, than most American TV gives in ten seasons.

      One of the things that bugs me is when an author/TV show gets us all invested in a given relationship, gets us trusting the characters…then has them go off and do something like this all in the name of retaining the sexual tension! GLUG. Alternatively…look at Castle. Now there’s a show that’s done the post-sexual-tension-release right. Sex is an addition to the partnership rather than warping the characters.

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