I was having dinner with my children the other night, and my oldest launched into a monologue about her latest imaginary world. This time, it was a world of dragons. My child described how the dragons have adapted to their various environments, and how they evolved, Pokemon-like, from their original states. Some dragons marry, she explained, and raise their offspring. The ones who don’t marry evolve to become legendary.
Whoa, dude. We’re getting in really deep here.
Obviously, we can’t take this as a 1-to-1 corollary for humans. There are lots of married people who have done legendary shit. Agatha Christie, for example. (Although she did divorce her first husband, WWI air force pilot Archie Christie, shortly after the war. They had a daughter, Rosalind, together. Agatha Christie later married archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she met on a trip to the Middle East. I am the biggest Agatha Christie fan in the world. Thank you for coming to my Ted talk.) Marie Curie is another example of a legendary married lady. Mary Shelly too.
And of course there are endless legendary married men, which should be 0% surprising to anyone. Women and girls are socialised to take on the lion’s share of home stuff and child-raising. And men and boys are socialised to let them.
So when there’s a schism, and people have to choose home or career, the majority of married women choose (or are forced to choose) home. Four times as many women as men dropped out of the labour force during the Covid lockdown (and the stratification is even more pronounced for women of colour). In the majority of cases, when the shit hits the fan, men are better off for being married, while for women, marriage and family can be a liability.
Studies have also shown that married women do more housework than single moms. So you can’t even blame the kiddos. Yes, kids are a lot of work. But they’re nowhere near as much work as being married to a man.
It may make a lot of sense for human parents to pair up to raise offspring together. Baby humans are born helpless (because of our giant-ass baby heads), and it takes more than a decade for a child to become a functional person. But this “parents pairing up” got distorted into something different; something culturally-based and performative. Cave-parents weren’t locked in a house by themselves, worried about performing gender all the time.
Another area we see a massive gender disparity is charitable donations. People have studied the question of how married couples divide up their donations. But for separated and divorced families, women out-donate men in almost every category. This has been dramatically demonstrated by MacKenzie Scott’s divorce from Jeff Bezos. While Bezos earned scads of money by treating his employees like shit during a global pandemic, Scott has given away literal billions of dollars to charities. (You could argue that Scott was complicit in the capitalism that propelled her ex-husband forward, and therefore should not be celebrated now. It may be a “better late than never” situation.)
So this whole married vs legendary thing may have some merit after all. Shortly after my separation, I met my NaNoWriMo goal of writing 50,000 words in a month. On weeks without my kids, I wrote and wrote throughout the day. During weeks with kiddos, I would jump into my Google doc once they were both in bed. It was exhausting, but I kept at it with single-mindedness, and in the end, I did it.
Am I saying men are bad? Yawn. I have no interest in this line of thinking. I don’t care who’s bad or good, only the effects of an individual’s or group’s behaviour. First off, if a man is tempted to be critical of my writing because they think I think men are bad, I’m okay with that. Secondly, if you’re more interested in maintaining the status quo than you are in ensuring that everyone gets a fair shake, you are officially part of the problem. The desire to maintain status quo has been the fuel that has kept the patriarchy going, so go off. Men wanting to centre their feelings where their feelings are not the intended centre is patriarchy in action.
Also, I know that I didn’t address non-hetero marriages, nor did I address any enby, trans, or gender-non-conforming folks. And I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be married. You do you, man. For some people, their partnership fuels them and they do awesome shit together. That’s great.
I’m a newly separated mother. It’s been tough, to say the least. I have been taught my whole life that single motherhood is a massive social ill; a blight on society. Now that I am here and am facing the internalised weight of society’s disappointment, I figure I may as well splash around and do some awesome shit. All I can do is just be where I am, and work to deconstruct the challenges I’ve faced.
Featured image was created by the author using elements from canva.com.