[Note: These opinions are my own. I don't consult with others before having them and I don't ask permission before sharing them. This is my prerogative as the owner and writer of this space. Do I really need to say this?]
If only more men read more feminist literature the vast unknown-ness of their wives would be laid bare and life would be less confusing.
During the various ups and downs of watching my family 'find themselves' I'm struck at how hard it is for a woman to break free of social expectations. Like Lucy Honeychurch, my sister is bucking all the expectations of her class, gender, mothering status and perceived orientation and, in the process, making everyone around her freak out. Even I am stunned, watching my sister go through a process that makes me think of Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own or Kate Chopin's The Awakening.
Her defiant refusal to remain in her marriage has apparently broken the rules of her little social community. In this community obligation to family (including friends) and church supercedes anything else, no matter if you're dying inside. But now, suddenly, relationships and identities are thrown into upheaval, children are endangered and all of morality has been upended and requires defense. Justifications must be made, core motivations must be plumbed and Someone needs to give a public accounting of how one has Betrayed Everyone.
Certainly, there was a betrayal. But which comes first? The betrayal of vows, or the desperate scramble for air that prompts the betrayal of vows? My brother in law asked me if I thought it was 'ok' that my sister did what she did. But I don't think in those terms. I try to put myself in her shoes and imagine what could have been done to facilitate the most immediate break in a marriage, deliver the greatest shock and bring things to an inevitable, and irreparable, conclusion. And then my sister's actions make sense.
But it doesn't make sense to the male members of her community. Their reactions are interesting. I think hysteria is accurate. There's also a degree of anger, seen especially in their demand for my sister to 'explain herself.'
All because a woman decided she wasn't happy.
What happens when men aren't happy? They can pull a Tiger, flaming out in a collection of hostesses and sleazy text messages. Or they can pull a Pastor C-, pushing everything down, only to release the unhappiness in bursts of furtive vacations. What do women do? We suck it up. We swallow our unhappiness until it turns us into the woman from The Yellow Wallpaper. Or we kill ourselves like Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary.
Again, I don't think men read a lot of 19th century domestic fiction. If they did, women's unhappiness would make a lot more sense.
A patriarchal society always inhibits a woman's autonomy and refuses to see her as an agent with a value system of her own. Her freedom, her independence doesn't exist unless some man authorizes it. And this is what I see. Men (very nice ones) demanding that my sister give an accounting of her actions because they're not satisfied with any of the answers they've received. These aren't bad men - they're just men. In defense of one of their own, they want to reassert control of a situation that she has set in motion.
For this, her journals have been secretly dissected, in an effort to find these answers when the woman herself is standing in front of them, repeating, "I wasn't happy. This wasn't me. I lied from the start. I never wanted any of this - wife, marriage. I was only that other person for everyone else."
Let's go back to literature (where all answers can be found, actually. At least humanist ones.) At the end of A Room With a View, Lucy Honeychurch is living in Florence with George Emerson, isolated from her family, even from her staunchest supporters like Rev. Beebe, because that is the price a woman pays when she betrays all expectations of her.
When a woman has defined for herself what her freedom entails, and she dares to take it, she finds herself cast outside of the castle walls. Imagine the Disney castle gone dark and quiet. The moat is filled and the drawbridge pulled up.
The only thing she has in front of her is the open world.
And it's worth it.