April 1, 2008, - 1:53 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
I have mixed feelings about a front-page article in today’s Wall Street Journal, “Men Receiving Alimony Want a Little Respect.”
I’ve always believed that feminists don’t really want true “equality.” That, when women must suddenly take on traditionally male responsibilities–actually, penalties–that go along with that equality, like paying alimony, they suddenly don’t believe in “equality.” They balk. They want male benefits, but not the panoply of duties and disadvantages that come with them. When women, like former “Good Morning America” host Joan Lunden, complain about paying alimony to their less wealthy husbands, I say, “Welcome to equality, babe.”
On the other hand, the increase in the number of women paying alimony to their stay-at-home or less wealthy husbands is a stark symptom of sickness in America. The disease is the blurring of the gender roles. More and more men are rapidly becoming women. And more and more women are rapidly becoming men. No, I’m not referring to sex changes, but to gender roles. It’s not a good thing that there are more and more men who are Mr. Moms and more and more women who are the sole or primary breadwinner in the relationship.
When I hosted a daily radio show in Detroit, I once asked my mostly male listeners if and why they would ever marry a woman who had more money or made more money than they did. At the time, Ben Affleck was engaged to Jennifer Lopez, one of the few women in the world with far more assets than himself. He could have chosen to marry anyone, but chose one of the few women who would be the man in his relationship (which later went kaput, and I believe, partially, for that reason).
Few callers to my show said they’d want to earn less than the woman they were with, but a few said they wouldn’t mind being a kept man. However, being a kept man comes with strings. You are not “the man” in the relationship. While many couples may put out the BS line that they are 50/50, equal partners in their relationship, it’s simply not the case. There is no such thing. In every single relationship, there is a stronger and a weaker party to it. One party is always more powerful than the other.
If you are the major breadwinner, you are “the man.” You have the power. The other person is reduced to the female role. That’s simply the way it is, despite what Gloria Steinem might say or how she wants it to be. Men are hard-wired as hunter gatherers. When they are reduced to the homemaker and Mr. Mom role, it’s degrading and emasculating, despite what they might claim. They simply don’t have the respect of their female spouse that they might think they have. It’s emotional wimpitude.
So, as I read today’s Wall Street Journal article, I felt bad, on the one hand, for some of the men in the article–and on the other hand, I wondered why they’d put themselves in a relationship where they were in “the chick” role from the beginning. Despite what they usually show us in the movies, this usually doesn’t work, as it didn’t–in the final analysis–even in “Mr. Mom.”
In some of the cases in the Journal article, the man unwittingly went from being the breadwinner to the power-weak position because the wife advanced in her career, while his had plateaued.
Then, there is the issue of alimony in the first place. If you marry someone–male or female–should you be entitled to half or even a large chunk of their assets? If you were there when your spouse rose the ladder and you helped get him/her up there, you certainly deserve your share.
Joan Lunden’s case is a great example. Her ex-husband took her from chintzy, backwards, small-town hick to polished, sophisticated host of a major network news show that led in the morning ratings pre-cable TV and the Internet. He was her guru and led her to earn millions. And yet, she balked at having to pay him $18,000 per month in alimony. To paraphrase an obscene bumper sticker I once read, “Alimony is the Bleeping You Get for the Bleeping You Got.” (Not saying I agree with that.)
In the case of Joe Garnick–from the Journal article–he quit his job to help his wife move up the earnings ladder and became Mr. Mom. Bad move. The wife, now his ex, didn’t appreciate his efforts. And now she and her classless relatives are further trying to emasculate him by dissing him in print. I feel for him. In a complete reversal of the classic story, he’s now in the position that we traditionally used to think of as the ex-wife position, the woman who gave up everything for her man:
In the marriage of Joe and Diane Garnick, she logged 12-hour days as a global equity derivatives strategist for Merrill Lynch, earning several times what Mr. Garnick did as a top-performing toilet salesman. So in 2001, he quit that job to focus on raising their two girls, keeping the house clean and doing the shopping.
Following his 2002 divorce, he received alimony of $50,000 a year for four years from Ms. Garnick, now an investment strategist at Invesco Ltd.
As a stay-at-home dad, Mr. Garnick notes that he missed out on career opportunities that would have boosted his earning potential, particularly those involving travel. “I couldn’t [travel] while I had a kid,” Mr. Garnick says.
Mr. Garnick used the alimony to earn a mathematics degree from a community college. But he has returned to his old job selling toilets, where he earns only half what he did before quitting. “Society thinks that just because you are a man you can pick up a career after you have dropped it for 10 years and jump right back,” he says. “That’s just not the case.”
Still, relatives of his former wife continue referring to Mr. Garnick as a “deadbeat,” he says. And Ms. Garnick herself says, “In some instances, alimony has become akin to a social-welfare program provided by working women to their ex-husbands.”
And so, with Mr. Garnick and others, we’ve done a 180 on marriage and child-rearing. A man’s career–which is generally far more of his identity than that of a woman–is half of what it used to be because he gave it up for his power-seeking, masculine, unappreciative wife.
And we can expect to see far more of this, as the Labor Department documents that 1/3 of American wives earn more than their husbands, as of 2005. In a related note, the Journal also reported today that women with MBA degrees (and I am one) are more than twice as likely to get divorced than men with MBAs. There are similar statistics for women with law and medical degrees. And don’t forget that, as I’ve noted before, men are now becoming the endangered species, while women dominate, at professional graduate schools.
So, I ask you, is this a good thing for America–men put in the position where they are now the wives, asking for alimony? And women becoming the men, where they put their husbands in the position of giving up their masculinity–their livelihood and career–to advance that of their wives?
As I’ve answered before, only if you want your men to be women. And your women to be men.
I’m all for full equality for husbands in a divorce. But it’s a strange concept when full “equality” for men involves them having assumed the position of wife as the prerequisite.
And it simply goes against nature. Women as hunter-gatherers? Men as nurturers?
No thanks. America is not San Francisco’s Village People.
Tags: America, Ben Affleck, Cable TV, Debbie Schlussel, Department of Labor, Detroit, Diane Garnick, global equity derivatives strategist, Gloria Steinem, Good Morning America, hunter, Invesco Ltd., investment strategist, Jennifer Lopez, Joan Lunden, Joe Garnick, Merrill Lynch, Mr. Mom, San Francisco, toilet salesman, USD, Wall Street Journal