Divorce isn’t so unfortunate when it correlates with the emancipation of women
In 2016, there was a 5.6% increase in divorce of opposite-sex couples compared to the previous year. According to the Office for National Statistics, Britain has the highest divorce rate in the EU. In the U.S, an estimate of 40–50% of marriages ended in divorce, with divorce rates of a subsequent marriage being higher. Although divorce is deemed a negative and exhaustive strain on one’s life, it is more palpable in the 21st century.
As I scroll through social media or opinion websites on the subject of divorce; I see people’s initial judgement be followed with a comparison of the divorce rate today with previous generations. Our predecessors were unlikely to divorce their spouses, but it’s arguable that there was limited access to divorce compared to nowadays. Only recently has the traditional gender roles of marriage been overturned.
In previous generations, the husband, the dominant figure and main breadwinner, was expected to earn a living and provide for his home and family. The wife, his submissive bedfellow, was the Stepford-esque homemaker intent on creating a utopian household for her husband once his working day had come to an end. A woman in a marriage of the 1950's never saw a wage packet, nor they did they achieve sufficient qualifications in their formative years to land a fulfilling career. A woman’s right for independence was such a rarity it took courage and a whole lot of flak from her peers to walk away from her husband. If we reflect back to the eighteenth century and the foundations of Wollstonecraft feminism, women who would seek marital separation lost their right to custody of their children and faced a future without owning a home.
Mary Wollstonecraft was a rebel of the nineteenth century; bearing a child out of wedlock and devoting her adult life to tackling gender inequality in education. But by doing this she paved the way for the independence of the woman becoming a mainstream topic. Wollstonecraft’s legacy was shunned by her contemporaries for decades to come. In the successive century, however, she was lauded by pioneers of the second wave of feminism that brought notoriety to a paranoid patriarchal culture. A second wave icon, Germaine Greer, herself a divorcee and militant feminist, has fervently fought for the liberation of women rather than equality of the sexes. She famously stated that the idea of liberation is ‘insisting on it as a condition of self-definition or self-determination”. Secondly, her U.S ally, Betty Friedan, founder of the strike for women’s equality, is persistently credited for introducing the second wave of feminism into America’s 20th century ideals.
The second wave ultimately led to the success of Hillary Clinton, a staunch political figure and first woman to be the U.S presidential nominee for a major political party. Whilst on the campaign trail for her husband’s bid for the White House in 1992, Clinton came under fire for saying, “I suppose I could stay home and bake cookies and make tea”. Likewise, to Wollstonecraft, probably one of Clinton’s most controversial statements has become her most celebrated one in recent years, due to the quest for gender equality becoming so prevalent.
What these women have in common, also, is that they have experienced a divorce or have faced heavy public scrutiny of their marriages in the past. Rumours of infidelity or power struggles with their spouses have followed them all through their successes. The same notion is relevant in the days of the suffragette movement. Emmeline Pankhurst, then leader of the WSPU fought for the right to vote years after being widowed. Her late husband was an early activist for women’s suffrage, but her succession into the gender politics spotlight came once she had finished tending to her children and husband in the early stages of her marriage. It leads to the question; would Pankhurst be just as influential if she had still been married?
Marital strife I’m aware is challenging, but its pattern with achieving equality of the sexes is profound. Not bringing into account the ramifications it may have on the children of a couple, the comparison with differing generations is futile. Society is ever-evolving and creating paths for women that they would never have walked on before. Divorce was formerly an almighty sin before its widespread accessibility in the present day. Women having a voice, equal education and positions in managerial roles means their reliance on a male partner is becoming extinct.
If young girls aspire to be wives one day, maintaining their independence through their career or life choices is vital whilst the world comes to terms with the current archaic gender-quake.