Marriage and Models

 “Mrs. Palin’s marriage actually makes her a terrific role model.  One of the best choices a woman can make if she wants a career and a family is to pick a partner who will be able to take on equal or primary responsibility for child-rearing.”   Cathy Young

 Re.:  Thanks to Jay Manifold’s argument below and link to Young.  Heinlein’s women seemed to me (and I wasn’t a fan and read them long, long ago) a bit how a man imagined a strong woman to be.  He is no Michelangelo but both capture energy.  David’s beauty is power & grace, the swirling power of God awesome.  Of course, his women, too, are muscular.  But, then,  I’ll take Manifold (and Heinlein’s) model – I’d like to be someone who pulls her weight.  Most women would.

The attraction of Democratic largesse for a woman who wants the government as mate is countered by self-reliance (and family-reliance) when a woman takes a fallible & loving, flesh & blood partner.  Governor Palin values her husband, which is not submissive but mature.  Franklin’s belief that “God helps them that helps themselves” is seldom more true than in marriage.  This understanding eliminates the synthetic and sentimental drama of the Lifetime channel, “women’s issue” politics, and daily bitching sessions that resemble spinning car wheels deep in mud.  But that understanding, that engagement – not consciousness raising – liberates.

Americans value individualism & exploration; our traditional plots often open-ended, conclude with exile or death. Victorians, however, preferred the comedic – marriage, acceptance in a community.  But it isn’t sentimental:  some marriages worked, some entrapped. 

I encouraged my daughters (not always successfully) to read Jane Austen as they started puberty.  Her major theme is defining what is (and isn’t) a good spouse.  Spinster that she was, she understood that such choices are likely to determine the form of our lives.  And she held her heroines responsible.  The Marxists may complain that her best husbands are the wealthiest, but I doubted her texts led to materialism or gold digging.  After all, Elizabeth first turns down a “safe” if boring match; then she declines Darcy’s rather insulting and oblique proposal despite his wealth.  She is reconciled not to his money but to his character.  Nor is it sex I want my daughters to fear; rather, the kind of man with whom life is difficult, unpleasant, and soul-destroying.  Such men exist – and women sometimes marry them.  The strident feminists are not that good at choosing men:  perhaps if you assume they are all asses, it is hard to differentiate levels of “assness.”

I’ve never been impressed with women surprised their husbands are jerks.  Perhaps I’m a sociopath without appropriate sympathy.  The meterologists tell you staying in Galveston risks “certain death”: you assume hyperbole, but does that mean you want to risk even, say, 10% certainty?  If your guy hits you or yells at you or is just remarkably stupid, probably neither his temperament nor IQ will improve magically by uttering marriage vows.  You deserve better.  And so do your children.  Of course, youth is not a rational period – and hormones play havoc with common sense.  Few of my friends (many divorced) made choices as idiotic as mine (I’m lucky those idiots were not in a hurry to marry me).  They were my stupid choices.  I want to save my children from stupidity, not responsibility.

Many identify with Palin, not because we are stupid as Judith Warner argues, but because her example counters a feminism from which we are alienated.  We want to be independent rather  than dependent;  to embrace life rather than fear it; to be productive rather than naval gazing.  We also see value in a child-centered family; while it may not take a village to raise a child, it is much easier both in terms of work load and in terms of modeling behavior for a couple to do so.

Partnering accepts our differences as well as shared goals.  Ignoring those eventually limits us.  A century ago, Henry Adams noted Americans considered their greatest achievement sexlessness.  But, of course, that was a false truth – no less false than similar political ones.  Palin, beauty queen and mother of five, embraces that part of herself.  Acknowledging our bodies frees us from the hopeless tangle of pretense.  (That critical Democrats quickly speak of her in sexual terms illustrates a rather cheapened idea of the biological.)

Her relationship with her husband takes a tough but flexible form:  he supports her political ambitions, she supports his accomplishments; they work as partners in the fishery business and as parents at home.  In the Palins I am reminded of the old familial partnerships, couples running farms, couples running small businesses today – the parts connecting in an organic whole.   My friend reminds me of the Adams – productive in their partnership: her farm productive as is his pen, constantly concerned with raising their children as well.  Those old forms changed as our lives became urban, mechanical, formal.  Public was sharply distinguished from private, the professional from the domestic.  But our world has changed yet again; now, we may find much in the old models that helps us define new ones. But such partnerships can use little of the political definitions women of my generation so busily applied to the domestic.  Some of our ideas just seem strange, looking back on the seventies and eighties.  Perhaps, however, that reassessment was necessary.  But now, times have changed again; it is time for new traditions and new understanding.  

Governor Palin reminds me of where we came from and how returning to that model – or at least much about it – may help us find a useful synthesis.  Young mothers (like my daughter) work around their children’s naps, blending the productivity of the computer with old forms of parental bonding.  My niece published newsletters as her chlidren slept, took school pictures as they matured.   T. S. Eliot’s “Little Giddings” often comes to mind:  “And the end of all our exploring / Will be to return to where we started  / And know the place for the first time.”

12 thoughts on “Marriage and Models”

  1. Suppose the male protagonists in Jane Austin’s work were poor with great personalities, or even middle class with great personalities. And suppose they had no special prospects of getting very rich and owning beautiful estates.

    Would these novels & movies be as popular as they are with a female readership? Really?

  2. Anon could check out Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, also a delightful popular movie with Kate Winslett and Emma Thompson. The “sensible” older sister is ecstatic that the man she loves is cut out of his mother’s estate as a nearly-poor clergyman, one with whom she can live peaceably and simply.

    I for one am married to what I lovingly call “an old-fashioned Good Provider.” I value this not only because our family is well-provided-for. Mostly because it is so interrelated with the character aspects I cherish: unselfish, resilient, uncomplaining, takes risks and tests and applies himself over time. It is a kind of male “nurturing,” and I tend just naturally to puzzlement whenever men suggest either they shouldn’t have to undertake such a classic character-building adventure, or that women shouldn’t appreciate it. Property, inherited or earned, is a good forum for such demonstrations of virtue; but men of property who offer only property are best avoided by the wise woman.

    If modern men think they run into too many gold-diggers, they should both look for women with better values (churches contra bars), and develop their own presence and impact in the world. That pincer strategy should improve matters.

  3. Um, the recent Austen films and TV dramatizations are not very good so there seems not point in discussing them as if they reflected what Jane Austen wrote. The books are about the women and their families as well as the social set-up around them. The films are about the love stories.

    But they are not all Mr Darcy or even Mr Knightley. Captain Wentworth in “Persuasion” is a naval officer who becomes well off from prize money. Not terribly rich. Henry Tilney in “Northanger Abbey” is a vicar though his father is fairly rich so he will eventually inherit. The wet young man in “Mansfield Park” who marries the equally wet Fanny Price is a vicar and a younger son – will inherit but little. And so on, and so on. Riches do not really come into it.

  4. Money is important – not because of quantity but as indicator. Dilys finds in her husband a good provider and notes that it isn’t the money as much as the character that has taken on the responsibility of providing for a family. This seems wise because such priorities are important. They reflect maturity.

    I can’t remember where I read a blog that examined the Palin’s quite transparent financial statements; a financial planner was impressed that Todd Palin put money into long-term savings at an early age and both seemed to have a handle on planning in terms of their future and their children. Such planning prepares for the most important choice – a child.

    Franklin’s advice on that kind of thing was useful, not because he believed in thrift (though he did) but because he understood that “an empty bag can’t stand upright.” A spouse who requires a series of bailouts from parents, who must dodge creditors, who destroyd the family’s credit so mortgages will be hard (and expensive) to get is either undisciplined or stupid. The family is placed in situations that endanger its integrity. On the other hand, if you have a nest egg and live under your income, you can resist pressures and even take gambles.

  5. Helen’s went up while I was posting.

    Thanks for your observation. Wentworth isn’t rich, but he did become successful because of the virtues the heroine had seen in him – and her family, looking only at money, had not (as I remember, it’s been a while). The aunt and uncle, making their money in trade, modelled a good marriage when the Bennett girls were exposed to few others.

  6. My husband and I were just talking last night about whether women’s entry into the workforce had been a societal good, on balance. (Before I go on, I want to point out that he was an at-home dad by choice when our first was a baby, and that he’s encouraging me right now to undertake a Five-or maybe Eight-Year Plan to position myself to take his place as family breadwinner. We have three young children; I work, but part-time and on a school schedule; my job pays diddly but keeps my brain fully engaged.)

    His position was basically just that he’d love to have time to research the question. My position – because I’ll jump to such things – was that I think we’re in the earliest stages of the end of a major transition. (Got that?) Adding a second person in some families to the workforce gave those families more money to spend, initially. As more families followed suit, the addition of that second full-time worker became an inflationary pressure, ISTM (and to him). There was a lot of talk in the ’80s and ’90s about how a family just couldn’t survive on one income, and somewhat less talk about what constituted “survival.”

    Back in the late ’90s, my husband and I each made just over $40,000 a year. We lived near downtown Seattle and had a mortgage and some student loans but no other debt. We’d undertaken an effort to fund our 401(k)s as fully as possible over about three years, so that if it became difficult or impossible for us to keep funding them at some point, we’d have the biggest possible nest egg as early as possible. When I found I was pregnant with our first, we started setting aside one of our four two-week paychecks a month, plus both “extra” paychecks that result from being on a two-week pay schedule each year, toward enabling one of us to stay home for at least a year after our child was born: we stopped buying anything we didn’t actually need and economized wherever we could. We succeeded in our goal, and listened to friends in our same educational and economic bracket tell us for years afterward how “lucky” we were to have had the chance to stay home with our baby.

    So – the transition: I think maybe the pendulum is swinging back to a realization that family life is much easier if only one partner works full-time while children are in the mix, but it’s no longer taken for granted that the husband is that one partner. All my evidence is anecdotal. But I hope I’m right!

  7. Two more Heinlein/“Lazarus Long” quotes seem apposite:

    Sovereign ingredient for a happy marriage: Pay cash or do without. Interest charges not only eat up a household budget; awareness of debt eats up domestic felicity.

    Another ingredient for a happy marriage: Budget the luxuries first!


  8. Prior to getting married, I told my wife to be that I wanted her to get into a training program, advance, and be self-sufficient: no woman ought to have to depend upon the good graces of her husband. She is very successful today and I continue to be proud of what she has achieved. We have been married now for 25 years.

  9. Ginny,

    I’d forgotten Mr and Mrs Gardiner in “Pride and Prejudice”. He is, indeed, in the City though not specified as what. He is clearly successful and the Gardiners are among the few in Austen’s novels who have a truly happy marriage and family. There are children, I recall. I wonder if that is the first example in English literature of an admirable businessman. There aren’t many. Hmm, I think this is going OT.

  10. Ahh, ‘wet Fanny Price’! Not to get into a Mansfield Park discussion, which is OT, but, I sooo like Mansfield Park, although, the end sort of just, er, ends. Again, I think this has to do with my being more of a Bronte than Austen person.

    *Very sweet comment Fred Lapides!

  11. Can’t see how a Bronte person can possibly like “Mansfield Park”. And talk about dysfunctional families – none to beat the Brontes. Definitely OT. ;-)

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