Friday, November 13, 2009

The Malignant and the Maligned

In other news, you may have seen this story about how couples are substantially more likely to get a divorce if the wife gets cancer than if the husband does, which has been doing the rounds.

What I find interesting about most of the discussion surrounding the story is how there's an implicit assumption that the 'proper' state of things would be for the partner to stick around. Personally, I'm a lot more shocked that more women don't leave, and can't help wondering if the difference isn't so much that men are that much more evil or selfish, but that women are that much more likely to be financially dependent on their spouses and therefore less able to walk away, or just that much more socialized into seeing themselves as doormats. In a truly gender equal world, would more men stay, or more women leave?


Piggy Little said...

i think in a financially more equal world, not a more gender equal world, more women would walk out and more men would stay. :)


Poornima said...

Do I read this post as - "one cannot assume being there for your partner through illness is 'the proper' thing to do; walking out is just fine. And women probably stay for money or because they don't have any self-esteem. Not out of love or anything impractical like that"?

I hope not. But somehow this post and the comment before, makes me rather sad. May be its the horror of imagining such theories in connection with some real people I know - men and women who didn't walk out. May be its just me being naive.

p.s. Unique blog yours otherwise...

Piggy Little said...

i dont think i intended to imply that (its proper to walk out on your partner in case of grave illness) in my response poornima neither i think that was the intent of the original post.

and trust me, i really doubt that there are impractical thigns that make women stay- there are more practical things, we may just want to look at them impractically. there may be many many couples, many many people who choose to stay even with an ill partner, even when it is not out of love. i am not saying ALL do. i am saying MOST do.

and i think women do it more than men because they are condititioned that way- to be the emotional caregiver and nurturer. its a social function which men are not generally accustomed to provide or a role that they are supposed to be in.

Poornima said...

@Neha: thanks for your response. Your comment of course doesn't say anything abt whats proper. So that part is meant for the author of the post, and if you noticed, I am indeed hoping that I misread his intent.

But, if I also misread your first comment which says 'more women will walk out, more men will stay (???) in a financially equal world' - then i declare today as a 'mega misinterpretation and unnecessary reaction day' in my world and apologize!

I would still feel sad if you are right about there being many many people who stay for 'practical reasons' only. But you shouldn't take my feelings so seriously... Its not even my blog, I only commented here :-)

Falstaff said...

Poornima: Sort of, yes. I'm saying you should stay if the emotional cost of staying is outweighed by the emotional benefit of being in the relationship (love isn't impractical - it's a net positive experience), otherwise you should go. So it would be rational to expect that a certain proportion of relationships will fall below the happiness threshold that would justify staying, and in a gender equal world that proportion would be the same for both men and women (since, after all, the content of the marriage is inherently shared). If more men leave and more women stay it's either because women, on average, get more out of marriage; or because women have a lower threshold. And the lower threshold comes from low self-esteem or lack of financial independence.

And "the horror of imagining such theories" - the horror? really? hyperbole much.

Falstaff said...

P.S. It's also possible, even perhaps likely, that more men are making the decision to stay or leave based on rational calculation, while more women are making it based on some romantic notion of love or duty. It's not clear to me that the romantic ideal is necessarily superior to the rational calculation. On the contrary, if it were true that more women make decisions based on the romantic ideal, I would argue that was another neat trick of the patriarchy to keep women subservient, and that the cause of gender equality would be better served if women were more calculating.

Piggy Little said...

@poornima- oh no, please dont think i meant it otherwise. but i like commenting and i am always open for to read furhter comments. :)

@falstaff- i agree with both ur observations.

Ana said...


Yes, more women make the decision on a notion of "duty", but I do not see it romantically.
Families and marriages always have a pragmatic side to them. Somewhere, in a past world, the roles were clearly defined and to an extent made sense –even if it did not made much justice to women. But we are still programmed to behave according to the pattern – for we are, in many ways, just complex social animals. And there are studies to show that women feel rather guilty if they fail in their role as caregivers, whilst men feel more guilty if the fail in their role as breadwinners.

Falstaff said...

Ana: Fair enough. But that just strengthens my larger contention that the substantially lower rate of women leaving is a function of gender inequalities, and that the question we need to be asking is why more women don't leave and what is constraining them.

Poornima said...

@falstaff: I understand the probability of unhappy marriages and women sticking on cos they do not have financial / emotional security. Completely. But where does one person's illness factor in that equation? It’s not the same as an abusive marriage right? Your emotional cost-benefit analysis and 'romantic notion of love and duty' vs. rationale are not working for me either. But that’s ok. We could agree to disagree!

To put my 'horror' in context, it’s easy to think up theories based on nameless, faceless multitudes. When applied to real people like my landlord or another young woman I know of - neither 'rational calculation' nor 'romantic ideal' seems to do justice. But I am sure one could call them exceptions and me? just an over-reacting female.

Almonds said...

The question of leaving comes out of a presupposition of Choice, being able to do so. And unfortunately, all the responses seem to indicate that everyone here is conceiving of choice as a liberal idea, available to every woman, [oh, doesnt she have the brains yet?!]. If it was so easy to identify oppression and correct it, why would we all be, for instance, living within nations and showing our loyalty despite its main aim being constricting us within a passive citizen framework?!

The hold of patriarchy is far more complex and insidious than this. For most women, to see this as a choice they can make itself remains a distant possibility. And I dont blame them, considering how vast and ubiquitous the network of patriarchy is in our lives.

Falstaff said...


"everyone here is conceiving of choice as a liberal idea, available to every woman,"

Ummm, what part of women being "less able to walk away" did you not understand?

and, while we're about it,

"For most women, to see this as a choice they can make itself remains a distant possibility."

what part of "socialized into seeing themselves as doormats" did you not get?

Of course the patriarchy works in all sorts of insidious ways, and creates a world where women don't leave because they either can't or think they can't. Which is precisely what the post says.

Almonds said...

I understood enough to expect exactly this sort of a senseless reply.

Falstaff said...

Almonds: Whatever. If your jaundiced (or perhaps insidiously conditioned) eye makes you read this post and the subsequent comments as somehow blaming women or saying that they aren't smart enough, that's your erroneous interpretation, and therefore your problem.

I find it amusing that you're essentially agreeing that a) the 'problem' is that more women don't leave and b) that this is because financial and social pressures keep this from being a real choice for them, but feel the need to pretend that this is an original point you're making. Your point that there are many shades of what I'm clubbing under social conditioning is well taken, but spare me the holier than thou posturing.

Almonds said...

My and your points are essentially the same, agreed. But what all these posts are lacking are absolutely any sense of empathy\sympathy\whatever you want to call it; when you talk of a 'doormat' you are pretty much in the same framework as the rest of the predominantly male population, talking within the same language with its presumed superiority.

Just making a cool gender sensitive point doesnt mean you've dwelled on the question thoroughly, and it shows here. And by calling me names, it certainly doesnt help any of your supposed political stands.

I dont see where I was being holier than thou in my opinions, go on and live in your stupid blog bubble for all I care now.

Falstaff said...


doormat n. one who submits without protest to abuse or indignities.

Just calling a spade a spade.

And let me get this straight - we're both saying essentially the same thing, but I clearly haven't thought about it and am just saying it to be cool, while you're apparently the soul of empathy / sympathy? And this doesn't constitute being holier than thou?

Almonds said...

Have you sat down and counted the number of protests that happen everyday in most womens' lives for you to believe they submit to it like lambs?

I am sure most of such protests never reach anywhere even beyond them. For if you were sure, then you wouldnt be making such a presumptuous and disdainful comment. It takes spine to do so, and I personally know enough young women who keep trying despite everything.

The second allegation is too puerile for me to respond to it.

Almonds said...

And I see you've started moderating my comments on this thread.. interesting.

Falstaff said...

Almonds: Huh? You're the one who claimed women don't see that they have a choice because they're in the insidious clasp of the patriarchy. If they can't even identify oppression (again, your claim, not mine) then they could hardly be protesting against it, could they? At least try to be consistent.

And no, I'm not moderating your comments - all comments on posts over a fortnight old are automatically subject to approval. Though I suppose it makes sense you would see that as part of my insidious patriarchal agenda.

I'm done having this discussion. If it makes you feel good about yourself to think you're more gender sensitive than me, be my guest. I've got nothing to prove.