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no angel

What I thought was interesting about the blog post my ex-husband published in the Huffington Post was how he, unwittingly or not, invoked the age-old "madonna/whore" complex even as he (by implication) warns against the danger of thinking in "cliches" (in this case, the cliche of the successful middle-aged man who dumps his first and aging wife for a younger woman). Which speaks to some things that have always frustrated me about how this culture views women.

He says:

It is worth mentioning that [his fiance], as anyone who knows her would attest, is one of the most kind hearted and gentle people in the world. The cliché that has been propagated, of me abandoning a devoted wife to "run off" with a young actress, could not have been more falsely applied.

I've met his fiance and I think she is very cool (and smart and witty and a talented actress besides). But my ex seems to be suggesting that the nature of a woman's character is somehow directly responsible for actions that he himself either did or did not take. Which falls in line with the idea that it's "the other woman" who is always "the homewrecker", that she is the one to be blamed for "stealing" the man (no matter that the man allowed himself to be "stolen").

(No one is responsible for the end of my marriage except my ex-husband and me, but that's not the point I'm trying to make here.)

Of course, what my ex is really saying is I did not have sexual relations with that woman before I was officially separated, and no one can fault him for that, or for defending the woman he soon plans to marry. But he does this through a rejiggering of certain female stereotypes. His fiance, he is assuring us, is not and was never "the other woman" or "the homewrecker". Both of these stereotypes carry the connotations of whore, which is the "ultimate" degradation of reducing a person to her sexuality (what's more, that evil female sexuality that kicked us all out of Paradise and continues to plague and victimize helpless men). She is instead "one of the most kind-hearted and gentle people in the world". She is an angel.

Because he's also (wittingly or not) juxtaposing her against me, pulling me into the 'cliche' as the 'devoted wife' even as he states that this cliche could not have been more 'false'...

...because he then, a couple of paragraphs down, goes to some length to assure the reader that Dude (whom he makes a point to identify in full, and also to claim that Dude was a "friend" of ours throughout the marriage) did not play a role in our divorce. By saying this, he is implying -- "framing" -- that, in fact, Dude might have done just that. (This is a rhetorical device called 'apophasis', where you communicate one thing by stating its opposite.) He also refers to Dude as my "long-term" boyfriend, which might make a reader wonder, How "long-term" could he be if they just got divorced?

(We started dating nine months after my separation, but that's not my point either.)

Of course, what my ex is really saying is, Justine is no angel. Which is fine; I will admit that I am infinitely more complicated than that (and so, for that matter, is his fiance).

But if I'm no angel, then what am I? What are the options? You're a good girl or a bad girl. You're a madonna or a whore. And if his fiance is the good girl, then I must be...?

And then he swings into the rest of it, including his interpretation of the events surrounding our divorce. Which I won't get into here, but needless to say it puts me in a less than flattering light. One might even use the word (and say it with me, boys and girls): golddigger. And what is a golddigger but a glorified....[fill in the blank]?

So by saying that he is "correcting the record" about our divorce, by putting himself forward as the final and real authority on the situation, he is also defining a certain kind of reality in which his fiance and I get slotted into our "proper" places.

And I must roll my eyes.

I agree whole-heartedly with my ex about "the danger of cliches". People cannot and should not be reduced to cartoon characters. And women should have the freedom and dignity to exist in a space that does not involve pedestals of any kind (whether you're still on it, or you've been knocked off it). That is not truth. It's distortion, and it hurts.
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Comments

(Anonymous)
Jul. 24th, 2010 09:29 am (UTC)
Re: My Take - A male's perspective

"Justine, I have a lot of respect for you, but you gotta cut this guy some slack. He's trying to make this world a better place. The guy probably doesn't get more than a couple hours sleep a day, and the last thing he needs is a distraction like this messy divorce to ruin the success of Tesla Motors."

You were pretty logical until here. This statement implies that, if you're in charge of a large company, you get to decide all aspects of how a marriage ends because you are somehow more important. Messy situations end when both parties negotiate in good faith, giving up things they don't want to in order to reach a greater good - not one person capitulating to the other because of their level of "importance."

About Me

I'm the author of three published novels: the dark fantasies BLOODANGEL and LORD OF BONES (Roc/Penguin) and the YA supernatural thriller UNINVITED (MTV/Simon&Schuster). I also have stories in the MAMMOTH BOOK OF VAMPIRE ROMANCE 2 and ZOMBIES: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE HUNGRY DEAD. I'm working on a psychological thriller called THE DECADENTS. I am divorced, with sons, and live in Bel Air.

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