How Men and Women (Legally) Screw Each Other (Over)

There are a great many ways for men to offend women. In fact, there are so many that men these days have to walk on egg-shells every day, picking and choosing their words as carefully as possible. They have no idea whether asking a woman about her favorite kind of ice cream will result in a date or a sexual harassment claim.

We’re at a point in our culture where pretty much anything can be construed as sexual innuendo. Take the following sentence:

Sure, I can give you a ride, ma’am.

It seems innocent enough. People probably say this in polite conversation every day. Now, channel you’re inner 13-year-old who just discovered internet porn. That ride isn’t referring to a car and what the man wants to give the woman has nothing to do with traveling. If the guy’s dick had a mouth, it would probably say this:

Sure, I’ll give you a ride, ma’am. Now come over here and sit on my dick while I fuck you!

I’m not saying that happens outside a bad porno. I’m just saying that it’s implied more than we care to admit.

We live in an era where the old patriarchal order is giving way to a new, more equitable way of doing things. By and large, this transition has been very positive. Few outside the clergy and Congress would argue that society is better when both genders get a chance to live their lives as equals instead of adhering to a rigid caste system where the individuals at the top get to decide what, who, and how often they fuck.

As positive as this new way of doing this is, there are a few wrinkles that we’ve yet to iron out. I’m not just talking about the wage gap, spousal abuse, or gender discrimination either. Instead, I want to focus on something a bit more subtle. I want to focus on the other side of the gender imbalance coin that often goes unnoticed.

One of the oldest and most effective ways to offend a woman these days is to tell her to get back in the kitchen and make a sandwich. I don’t know what it is about wanting women to make sandwiches. Making is a sandwich is not that hard. Plus, I kind of like making my own decisions about how much peanut butter I use. That’s just me.

For whatever reason though, the idea of a woman making a man a sandwich is symbolic of that old Father Knows Best mentality that women belong in the kitchen, men belong at work, gays belong in the closet, and sex belongs in a darkened bedroom. We all know that old trope and even most men thinks it’s laughable. However, there’s another unspoken side to that laughable trope that few talk about and isn’t a laughing matter.

Let’s re-examine that old sandwich joke for a moment. Let’s examine it from both sides time. We all know this side from the man:

Shut up and make me a sandwich!

However, what about the side of the woman that says:

Shut up and sign this legal document that entitles me to half your shit and custody of your kids whenever the fuck I feel like it!

Does that sound right? Does that sound like something any woman would say out loud? Of course not. Women wouldn’t say this out loud these days any more than a man would order them to make him a sandwich. However, this dynamic is an inescapable part of modern gender dynamics and it’s making us hate each other way more than we should.

I’ve discussed before on this blog how certain cultural taboos are driving the two genders apart and ruining our sex lives. At least those taboos and quirks aren’t legally enforced. What I just described though does have the full weight of the law behind it. We don’t call it a taboo though. We call it no-fault divorce.

I can already sense some people cringing at the mere mention of the word. Divorce is one of those few concepts that’s hard to make sexy, even for an aspiring erotica/romance writer. I know how ugly it can get. I come from a family that was shaped by divorce. While my family never let it get too ugly, it’s still the ultimate mood-killer that can turn any kind of passion into a toxic (not to mention expensive) mistake.

The modern concept of divorce is actually very new in the grand scheme of things. For most of human civilization, divorce was only granted if there was cause. If a man beat up his wife, cheated on her, or lied to her about the premise of their relationship, then that was grounds for divorce. People couldn’t just get divorced because they felt like it.

That all began to change in the mid to late 20th century. Here in America, the great state of California enacted the first no fault divorce law in 1969, a year that isn’t that ancient when you consider how many people these days recall/complain about it. By 1983, the same year Michael Jackson released Thriller, nearly every state in the union had no-fault divorce laws on the books. When you consider that civilization as we know it is over 4,000 years old, this may as well be the historical equivalent of an abrupt kick to the balls.

This is a painfully apt metaphor because this phenomenon completely changed the dynamics of marriage, especially for men. It shows in the data. According to the Centers for Disease Control, divorce rates really began to spike around the late 60s and early 70s, which is around the same time that no-fault divorce entered the picture.

Granted, there had been spikes before, but these usually came in conjunction with wars and economic upheavals. That’s understandable to some degree. It’s easy to imagine a marriage getting overly strained at a time when bombs are dropping and everybody is flat broke. No-fault divorce took a different path, but this time it screwed over one side more than others.

Once again, it all comes back to economics. I know. It’s right up there with chicken pox and dead kittens in terms of unsexiness, but it’s still the primary driver of damn near everything that guides human civilization.

Using the same caveman logic I’ve used before, we can see the incentives that guided marriage for most of human history. Remember, it wasn’t until recently that people started marrying for love. Most of the time, marriage was a loveless business arrangement. Even without the love though, it had incentives.

Men needed women who could bear children that would inherit their property and/or work the fields. Men can’t have children so they need to provide a home for a woman in which to bear those children. By marrying a man, a woman got a home and a steady supply of care. By marrying a woman, a man got children who could work the fields and inherit the property. It’s a model that served civilization well for a long time…to a point.

The problem with this model is that it had a lot of incentives to keep women in the home and out of the workforce. Remember, this is also an era where most women died in childbirth and there weren’t as many tools with which to maintain the home. Keeping women in the home helped protect them to some degree while the men did the back-breaking labor that their wealthy overlords demanded.

That model needed tweaking in the modern era. It was no longer enough for men to just work the fields and fight wars anymore. The economy became more complex. Opportunities became more varied. As a result, new incentives emerged that drew women into the workforce. Over the course of the 20th century, women became as integral a part of the economy as men. They still aren’t entirely equal in many cases, but compared to 95 percent of human history, it’s pretty damn equal.

Unfortunately, this equality doesn’t extend to divorce. While women are gaining more education and independence, we still have these old taboos and biases that cling to us like ticks. Is a marriage in trouble? It must be the man’s fault. Is a woman unhappy? It must be the man’s fault. Is a home unstable and unhealthy? It must be the man’s fault.

Turn on any sitcom, watch any movie, or listen to any song and the themes are almost all the same. Every problem in every relationship can be heaped on the selfish, arrogant, whiny, insecure, irresponsible, irredeemable man. Men don’t love their children as much. They don’t put as much energy into a relationship. They’re more selfish and stupid. It’s the basis of pretty much every single episode of the Simpsons and Family Guy.

Is it any wonder why, according to the National Parents Organization, that there’s an unmistakable bias in the judicial system towards men in divorce court? Women tend to get custody of the kids, half the man’s assets, and regular alimony payments. On top of that, the man doesn’t even have to cheat on her. She can get this all if she fills out the right paperwork and has a competent divorce attorney. In that sense, the movie Liar Lair may as well be a goddamn documentary.

Go back to the economics for a moment. Look at the incentives as they stand. Then, picture this overly simple conversation between a man and a woman.

Sure! I’ll have sex with you and have your kids. Just sign this legal document that entitles me to half your assets and custody of your kids if I ever feel unhappy enough for any reason whatsoever.

Is it any wonder why marriage rates are declining rapidly among millenials? Is it any wonder why men are reluctant to commit these days? Is it any wonder why some men show hostile attitudes towards women?

This is a problem. This is making it difficult for us to love each other. Men and women can hate each other all we want. Our biological wiring doesn’t give a shit what the law says. It still drives us to want to be together. We can’t turn that drive off, but we can do something about these perverse incentives. We just have to acknowledge they are perverse and realize that there are more effective ways to love one another.


Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights

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