The right’s move against no-fault divorce is an attack on women



Stephen Crowder speaks during his protest against Governor Gretchen Whitmer at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. Crowder focused on Whitmer’s decisions regarding seniors with COVID-19. (Nicole Hester/Ann Arbor News via AP)

Editor’s note: Caroline Shanley is a writer and graduate student in public history at American University, where she conducts research on gender, sexuality, and legal history in the nineteenth century. The opinions expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.


Prominent right-wing commentator Stephen Crowder caused a stir recently when he announced his divorce from his wife, which will be filed in 2021. Crowder emphasized the fact that it was his ex-wife who initiated the process, saying: “It wasn’t my choice… It’s totally permissible. ”

Courtesy Caroline Shanley

Caroline Shanley

As reported Rolling Stone and others, this news comes on the back of recent proposals by conservative-dominated state legislatures to overturn it. No-fault divorce In Texas, Nebraska, and Louisiana. No-fault divorce – This means that the filing spouse is not required to show wrongdoing by the other spouse as grounds for annulment – it first began in 1969, when he was the then Governor. Ronald Reagan California Signing the first law of its kind in the United States. Today, every state and District of Columbia offers no-fault divorce.

These bills seek to roll back the husband’s ability to file for divorce appearedAnd it happened too Talk about alleged evils Divorce stabilizes the American family and women’s agency.

And this is not surprising. panic on “to rise” The divorce rate – whether real or imagined – has long been an unjust scapegoat for societal decay. Echoed in nineteenth-century courtrooms, newspapers, and other sources of commentary, this conflation of divorce with the doom it takes on families is as American as apple pie.

Women’s rights in the nineteenth century were limited, so divorce was one way for them to assert their independence. Women of the 21st century are currently experiencing direct and coordinated attacks on their rights, including Childbearing option. This renewed attack on divorce shows how quickly alleged anxieties about marriage can become a proxy for a conservative agenda that seeks to reinforce women’s subordination to men.

This panic is certainly misplaced if not entirely insidious, and it is worth understanding its parallels with the past. Throughout history, the way people talk about divorce says a lot about the values ​​of the groups that oppose it.

The history of divorce in the United States is unique in that it was not possible to divorce in England before the Revolutionary War. Only an Act of Parliament Divorce can be granted. Starting from Puritan settlement In 17th century Massachusetts, the colonies and states eventually individually developed their own foundations. Long before no-fault divorce as we know it today, divorce was based on fault, meaning that aggrieved spouses had to press charges of wrongdoing against each other.

This antagonistic system, pitting couples against each other, made 19th-century courtrooms sites of immense drama and media attention. Their scandal is exactly what enticed spectators from all over the country. In her book on the history of marriage in the United States, historian Nancy F. cot notice And how “the texts of sensational divorce trials, especially those involving elite parties, were hastily published.”

And while states allow divorce, that doesn’t mean it’s encouraged. in 1847, Missouri Supreme Court He remarked that “too great an ease in obtaining a divorce is seriously injurious to good morals and to the happiness of domestic life.” another conservative analyst, Ben ShapiroHe also condemned divorce as the root cause of the “breakup of the family” earlier this year.

As states expand grounds for divorce, the fear of widespread divorce increases. About this same sentiment, he told a San Francisco Chronicle journalist in 1854 notice that “marriage between us sounds like a fun farce.” Commentator Walsh died He made similar comments in February 2023, claiming that the divorce had “downgraded the marriage contract to something less binding than the agreement you had with your cellphone carrier”. For these critics, divorce diminishes the importance of marriage rather than providing an outlet for those hoping to escape distress.

This sentiment reflects a sentiment shared by many in the latter half of the nineteenth century with the increase in divorce rates. Judges, legislators, and lawyers have also faced immigrant divorce, the phenomenon of couples traveling to countries with less restrictive grounds for divorce. In fact, my state of Indiana became known in the 1850s as Indiana “divorce mill” Because lenient divorce laws attracted disaffected couples from far and wide.

It was this steady rise in divorce rates, which arose naturally from states setting their own rules, that most alarmed contemporaries in the mid-nineteenth century. But worst of all for those concerned about the safety of the family unit was the sheer fact that the majority of divorce seekers and petitioners were women. This is a fact that seems true since the first days of the revolution XIX century to The modern era.

Unlike anything else in the nineteenth century, divorce allowed women to disrupt their subordinate position in society. And it is precisely this unease about women’s autonomy that continues to fuel conservative anger on this issue. Nowadays, divorce can be a therapy for anyone. But that’s because she can benefit Controversial woman.

Before his role in writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson advised A divorce case in colonial Virginia. His reasoning showed the freedom that divorce can afford women. In fact, he endorsed it as a women’s therapy because, unlike men, who had other pathways to economic and social security, women were “Confined and Subject” to the family.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the feminist and eventual leader of the suffrage movement, was a staunch advocate of divorce. While other early feminists in the 1870s disagreed with Stanton’s adoption of divorce in all circumstances, it It has been preserved that it is “a sin against … family … to live together in the relationship of marriage under constant hostility, indifference, and disgust.” Some historians assert that it was easier For suffragettes to embrace suffrage because voting rights can be seen as compatible with traditional family dynamics while divorce cannot.

While, for example, the stream of the Republican Party in Nebraska platform Opposed to any action that would “unnecessarily intrude on the rights of the family” or “contribute to the disintegration of the family,” nineteenth-century reformers and pro-divorce actors countered these types of arguments in a way that demonstrated the dangers to which forced women were exposed. To stay in unhappy unions, possibly offensive.

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In my own research I have uncovered several cases of divorce which were heard by the Metropolitan Circuit Court between 1860 and 1863. issue For Jane Elizabeth Martha McCall and Brooke McCall, several of their 10 children submitted statements detailing the ongoing abuse their mother suffered from her husband. The petition accuses Jane of “believing her life to be in danger and therefore…should have the protection of this court.” In this case, as in many such lawsuits, divorce stands as a way for the woman to try to preserve her family’s happiness and stability.

Since Crowder’s initial video, screenshots He appeared shouting offensive insults at his wife (Crowder asserted that the video was “misleadingly edited”). To the wider public, it is clear to many why his wife would seek a divorce as her remedy. But for the rest of the conservative critics, divorce remains an issue worth reconsidering – with the goal of destroying it and making women in bad relationships worse.

The strategies of those who want to ensure divorce remains a legal and easily accessible means may vary. As history reveals, divorce evolved during the twentieth century into the no-fault system we live in today. Yet this current recurrence of the moral panic caused by divorce on families is all too familiar and vividly reflects his critics’ misogynistic, anti-choice agenda.


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