Recently I had a conversation with a divorced man and woman (not from each other) about why divorces happen. I was surprised, but intrigued, to hear the man’s take on why there are so many divorces. He contended that marriages are doomed to fail because “women don’t respect marriage and society doesn’t respect men”.
Are Stereotypes Ruining Our Relationships?
He went on to explain that “society condescends men and portrays them as emotionally stunted”. Whoa! This was certainly not a perspective I had ever considered before! I have many of my own opinions about what I believe contributes to divorce; but, I needed to contemplate this a bit more.
My response to him was that I am not comfortable making sweeping statements such as “ALL women disrespect marriage” or “ALL of society condescends or misrepresents men.” It has always been my belief that men and women can be equally at fault for a failed marriage and both should be held accountable for mistakes and divorces. Additionally, I wanted to point out that I certainly respect marriage as a sacred institution that should be fought for and protected; however, I could agree with him that the media (TV sitcoms, in particular) do portray husbands and dads as incompetent buffoons…so maybe he was onto something?
Our conversation added another layer of interest when the woman added her agreement to the fact that gender stereotypes have infested our collective conscious with images and characters who represent all of us in the worst possible ways and not often very factually. Her example was in searching for images of domestic abuse, image after image in clip art or graphics catalogs were of women berating and yelling at men like, as she described them, “shrews”.
So, on the one hand, we have TV and movie dads written as too dense to figure out which way a diaper goes on a baby, incapable of preparing a meal, forever glued to a football game on the TV, experiencing one bonehead adventure after another because they’re too lazy, stupid, can’t listen, or generally need a wife to serve as a mother figure to tell them what to do. On the other hand, we have cartoon wives chasing their husbands around with rolling pins, rolling their eyes at the stupidity of their spouses, and forever enduring the heartache of not being able to find any man on the planet who truly knows how to love.
I find myself perplexed by all of these representations because I know for a fact that there are as many women as men who aren’t open to loving fully, have no natural instincts for taking care of children or a home, and who have been the cheater or the abuser in the relationship. And, there are multitudes of men who are amazing parents, loving and devoted husbands, and extremely adept at organizing and managing a home and relationship.
If we only listened to the entertainment industry or common opinion, most of us would assume that the male partner is at fault for divorce, that only mothers should get full custody, that men should all get down on their knees and thank the heavens for women being around to make sure they remember or know how to do anything, and that there’s only a handful of men on the planet who “get” what a woman needs in a relationship. Yikes, what a big can of worms we have opened here!
In trying to reconcile all of these generalizations with the truth, I think the first thing we need to do is recognize that the stereotypes are screwing everything up for everyone! Let’s try to set some facts straight to, perhaps, help us understand how some of the inaccuracies floating around can be so damaging.
For instance, if asked about domestic violence statistics, how many of you believed that women were the overwhelming victims of physical violence in the home? According to the National Coalition against Domestic Violence, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be victimized by a domestic partner during their lives. Consider the fact that men are less likely to report abuse or be believed when they do report it when you review this number. Chances are that the numbers are much closer than they appear!
Next, how many men stay home with the kids as primary caregivers? That number has jumped from a surprising six men who labeled themselves as such in 1970 (The Huffington Post, 2015), to a whopping 1.9 million today! Clearly, plenty of dads are taking care of business on the home front!
How many men versus women had infidelities during marriage? The numbers are surprisingly even: 57% of men admit to infidelity in any relationship they’ve ever had, and 54% of women claim the same (Infidelity Facts, 2006)!
So, clearly, men and women screw up and succeed at nearly the same rate.
Some of us are good at loving others, parenting, being responsible, and staying committed, and some of us fail miserably in one area or another. We are all flawed and could stand to make improvements in ourselves, and clearly, none of us has much room for finger-pointing at any other group. Maybe it’s just time to ditch the stereotypical notions of what men and women do or do not do, and look at the qualities of each individual.
Maybe our relationship foibles boil down more to us being humans and our programming as men and women for what we want and need out of a relationship? Spice up the biology of the matter with how we were all raised, and then each individual incorporates what he or she is willing to give to the relationship, what skills and weaknesses they possess, and what baggage they carry.
If society is looking to the entertainment industry to teach us or reflect back to us who we are supposed to be, then it’s time to unplug the TV and recognize that’s as realistic as saying a Victoria’s Secret model accurately represents me as a woman or that some doofus primetime dad is who my husband should be.
Aside from the stereotypes, we also have to be really careful about letting our own bad experiences color the way we look at an entire segment of the population, whether race, gender, religion, disability, and so on. I suspect my male conversation partner’s former spouse “didn’t respect marriage.” Perhaps the wives of other people he knew also mistreated their marriages, and it’s truly sad that anyone would have reason to develop these opinions!
Making generalized assumptions about any group of people based on what we see in movies and TV or experienced personally is dangerous. This would be like me concluding that “men refuse to help out around the house or with taking care of children” because this was how my ex-husband was…only, now I’ve learned that they most certainly will (and do a great job, too) from my now husband!
This is a tricky road that we divorce warriors travel down as we seek to heal from our past relationships, learn from mistakes, and consider new relationships. Look for the good in each person you meet, and throw that other garbage out the window!