Marvel Comic, “My Love” #10 entitled, “No Man is my Master.” March 1971 http://sequentialcrush.blogspot.com/2009/09/no-man-is-my-master-my-loves-portrayal.html

Feminism and the Rise of Divorce in the US during the 1970s

Feminism and the Rise of Divorce in the US during the 1970s

 Map Image Showing Locations of Corresponding Photos

 

Marker A (red) New York City, New York Marvel Comic, “My Love” #10 entitled, “No Man is my Master.”
Marker B (orange) New York City, New York “Constitutional Equality March led by Betty Friedan.”
Marker C (yellow green) Oak Brook, Illinois McDonald’s advertisement, “She Deserves a Break Today.”
Marker D (green) Norman, Oklahoma “Women’s group meeting at CCEW campus”
Marker E (green) Tallahassee, Florida “Portrait of Mrs. Joe Donadio with her son Joseph Christopher Donadio.”
Marker F (light blue) Richmond, Virginia “Virginia Slims Cigarettes advertisement.”
Marker G (dark blue) New Ulm, Minnesota “Photograph of a bride and her attendants.”
Marker H (dark blue) Seminole County, Florida “Website for professional divorce attorneys in Florida.”
Marker I (purple) Miami, Florida “Cover of Florida issue of Divorce Magazine”
Marker K (pink) Ontario, Canada “Website for Divorcees to Connect.”

 

The feminist movement contributed to the growing trend of divorce in the United States during the 1970’s. There were a variety of ways in which feminists either subtly or overtly, encouraged divorce. Their success in liberalizing divorce laws to provide options for unhappy or abused women was one such way. The feminist argument that marriage was a form of oppression, as marriage meant sex-role segregation also led to the pursuit of divorce. Next, equal pay and access to high paying jobs, the results of tireless efforts of the feminists, allowed women to become economically independent. This meant that marriage wasn’t necessary for financial stability any longer, and economic dependence had been one reason so many unhappy women stayed in marriages. The idea that the “personal is political,” a slogan coined by the feminist movement, led to more open discussions about private matters that would have been off-limits for previous generations, such as abortion, and marriage. These discussions often led to groups of women realizing that they’d be better off being independent, rather than being identified as a housewife. The feminist-driven fight for equality in the workplace caused many women to seek equality at home in their marriages as well, and if they didn’t find it there, they simply left. Finally, the general eradication of social stigmas concerning a variety of topics like abortion, sex, and divorce largely stemmed from the feminist movement in their struggle for rights. This period of great social transition regarding the roles and rights of women in the United States caused a lot of confusion, conflict, reflection, and action, and left an increasing divorce trend in its wake. 

The following spatial photo essay was inspired by a history engine episode, http://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/5843

 

 

Marvel Comic, “My Love” #10 entitled, “No Man is my Master.” March 1971 http://sequentialcrush.blogspot.com/2009/09/no-man-is-my-master-my-loves-portrayal.html

Marvel Comic, “My Love” #10 entitled, No Man is My Master.” March 1971

 

The individualistic attitude portrayed in this comic was one that largely sprang from the encouragement of the feminist movement. These ideas caused some women to justify divorce as a form of self-fulfillment or as an attempt to become independent. “To the feminists, the question (who am I?) struck at the core of the alienation of modern women and could be answered only if wives and mothers rejected cultural stereotypes and developed a life of their own outside the home.”[1]

 

“Constitutional Equality March led by Betty Friedan.” August 26, 1970

“Constitutional Equality March led by Betty Friedan.” August 26, 1970.

 

In fact, marriage even failed to provide women with the protection of the law if they were raped or abused by their husbands in the early 1970s. “The feminist movement sought liberalized divorce legislation…and opened up a host of heretofore closed occupations to women.”[2] Many women now had the chance to escape an abusive marriage. New opportunities for better paying jobs meant that they no longer had to stay in a marriage due to being reliant upon a brutal husband financially.

 

“She Deserves a Break Today.” Targeted McDonald’s ads from the 1970s, posted by Lisa Wade, 9/21/2008

“She Deserves a Break Today.” Targeted McDonald’s ads from the 1970s.

 

As feminists began demanding equality in the workplace, and in the constitution, many women began to realize that they also lacked equality at home. “Under our present practices, marriage is not an equal opportunity employer. The traditional division of labor within marriage typically imposes greater burdens on the wife than on the husband.”[3] The feminist movement shattered the social norm of female subordination domestically, and some men weren’t able to accept this shift in gender roles. Thus, some women decided to divorce and look elsewhere for the respect they now felt they deserved. It suddenly seemed hypocritical to expect equality from a boss, and not from a husband.

 

“Women’s group meeting at CCEW campus” State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, CCEW downtown campus, 1973. http://floridamemory.com/items/show/15747

“Women’s group meeting at CCEW campus 1973″

 

The rise of consciousness raising groups, were made popular by the feminist movement as an environment for women to air their shared grievances about societal roles. The groups gave women the freedom to talk about their marriages, which often led to their recognizing that they were unhappy in their marriages and should thus pursue divorce. “Liberals have traditionally excluded the institution of marriage from political criticism, partly on the grounds that public/ private split relegates marriage to the realm of the private and, hence, the apolitical and un-criticizable.”[4] In fact, thanks to the feminist movement, women felt more comfortable talking about a variety of “personal” topics in public such as marriage, divorce, abortion, and sex that had largely been considered inappropriate beforehand.

 

“Portrait of Mrs. Joe Donadio with her son Joseph Christopher Donadio,” Tallahassee, FL June 13th 1973 photographed by Richard Parks. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/46600

“Portrait of Mrs. Joe Donadio with her son Joseph Christopher Donadio,”

 

Marriage also came under scrutiny due to the feminist movement’s fight for abortion rights. The slogan, “the personal is political” rang true for women both for abortion and marriage laws, as prescribed gender roles in the 1970s meant that being a female meant being a wife, which in turn meant cooking, cleaning, and having children. “However, in marriage law and in marriage contracts the roles are determined by birth because they are defined by sex, rather than by the function that people choose to, or are able to fulfill. Legally, a wife is female and no amount of housework and child care will make a man legally capable of falling under the provisions for wives; the husband’s housework is legally a gift, while a wife who performs the same work is fulfilling her legal obligations.”[5] For many women, this lifestyle simply didn’t appeal to them anymore, and they filed for divorce.

 

1970, Virginia Slims Cigarettes Advertisement, before 1989, manufactured by Phillip

Virginia Slims Cigarettes Advertisement, before 1989, manufactured by Phillip
Morris

 

The feminist movement made being independent not only acceptable, but something for women to aspire to and be proud of. This led to women feeling more comfortable to break norms that would have been considered taboo, such as discussing abortion, getting a divorce, or smoking in public, simply because those activities were seen as expressions of women’s growing freedom. “The social stigma associated with divorce clearly has diminished, and this had contributed to a decline in legal barriers to divorce. The rise of individualism associated with urbanization and industrialization has meant increasing emphasis on self-fulfillment and growing intolerance of unsuccessful marriages.”[6]

 

Photograph of a Bride and Her Attendants in New Ulm, Minnesota, 10/1974. Record of the Environmental Protection Agency, National Archives http://docsteach.org/documents/558236/detail?menu=closed&mode=search&sortBy=relevance&q=women&era%5B%5D=contemporary-united-states&type%5B%5D=image

Photograph of a Bride and Her Attendants in New Ulm, Minnesota, 10/1974

 

More radical feminists saw marriage as a patriarchal institution reinforcing sex-role segregation. “The argument was formalized by Becker (1981), whose economic model assumed that the chief benefit of marriage arises from the interdependence of men and women, which in turn results from the specialization of women in domestic production and men in market work. The model predicts that when women obtain another source of income… the incentive to remain married declines.”[7] In the 1970s, women were expected to be the submissive domestic housewife, and the feminist movement exposed this oppressive stereotype. As a result, women began taking steps to achieve an identity beyond that of ‘wife,’ which often led to spousal conflict, as some men weren’t ready for a change in the status quo concerning gender roles.

 

“Website for Professional Divorce Attorneys in Florida.” Screenshot. 2/5/2014.

“Website for Professional Divorce Attorneys in Florida”

 

The liberal divorce laws in Florida have obviously made the state a significant market for lawyers and attorneys. This website offers free consultations, information regarding child custody and alimony rules and regulations, and boasts a large network of attorneys willing to help citizens obtain a divorce. That so many attorneys are successful, and that such a website is necessary, goes to show how prevalent divorce is in our society.

 

: “Cover of Florida issue of Divorce Magazine.” Screenshot. 2/5/2014.

“Cover of Florida issue of Divorce Magazine”

 

Divorce magazine created certain issues especially for Florida divorce, which is a testament to how high Florida’s divorce rates still are. The magazine offers financial advice, as well as helpful hints as to how best to guide children through divorce. The woman on the cover also shows that this magazine is tailored to women, perhaps showing that even women today feel the urge to become independent, and financially stable without a husband by their side.

 

“Website for Divorcees to connect.” Screenshot. 2/5/2014.

“Website for divorcees to meet.”

 

Divorce is now so common, as are re-marriages, that entire websites are devoted to helping divorcees find new relationships. Obviously divorce is no longer the rare, taboo practice that it once was in the 1970s. That this website reaches a significant number of people shows how acceptable it now is to get a divorce, and to re-marry.

 

In conclusion, the feminist movement played a significant role in contributing to the rise of divorce in the United States during the 1970s. Feminists were responsible for liberalizing divorce laws, and breaking down the social and cultural stigmas that had previously been associated with divorce. The movement’s public fight for abortion legislation, and the “personal is political” ideas that sprung from the debate led to greater discussion about gender roles, reproduction, and religious institutions like marriage. The rejection of the submissive housewife identity was also a result of the feminist movement and its successful attempts to persuade women to become more independent. The push for greater pay equality, led to new opportunities for women to support themselves financially without having to be reliant upon a husband for income.  Finally, the fight against workplace discrimination showed the women of the 1970s that they also deserved equality and respect in their homes, an attitude that probably created some spousal conflict. The growing trend of divorce was an indirect consequence of the feminist movement. The struggle for women’s rights gave unhappy housewives greater opportunities to be independent and showed them how oppressive society was, which led to many American women dissolving their marriages in the 1970s. Thus, divorce was increasing rapidly as these women struggled to find their place in the patriarchal society that was 1970s America.

 

 

 


[1] Chafe, William Henry. The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic, and Political Roles 1920-1970. 292. New York: Oxford University Press, 1972.

[2] “Lifestyle and Social Trends, Feminization of Poverty.” In American Decade 1970-1979, edited by Victor Bondi, 350. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc 1995.

[3] O’Driscoll, Lyla H. “On the Nature and Value of Marriage.” In Feminism and Philosophy, edited by Mary Vetterling Braggin, 246. Totowa: Littlefield Adams and Co.

[4] Ketchum, Sara Ann. “Liberalism and Marriage Law.” In Feminism and Philosophy, edited by Mary Vetterling Braggin, 264. Totowa: Littlefield Adams and Co, 1978. 

[5]Ketchum, Sara Ann. “Liberalism and Marriage Law.” In Feminism and Philosophy, edited by Mary Vetterling Braggin, 267. Totowa: Little Adams and Co, 1978.

[6] Ruggles, Stephen. “The Rise of Divorce and Separation in the US 1880-1990.” Demography, volume 34, issue 4 (1997): 455-466.

[7] Ruggles, Stephen. “The Rise of Divorce and Separation in the US 1880-1990.” Demography, volume 34, issue 4 (1997): 455-466.

 

Photo Citations:

 Marvel Comic, “My Love” #10 entitled, “No Man is my Master.” March 1971 http://sequentialcrush.blogspot.com/2009/09/no-man-is-my-master-my-loves-portrayal.html

“Constitutional Equality March led by Betty Friedan.” August 26, 1970 http://www.sophrosyne.radical.r30.net

“She Deserves a Break Today.” Targeted McDonald’s ads from the 1970s, posted by Lisa Wade, 9/21/2008 http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/09/21/targeted-mcdonalds-ads-from-the-1970s/

“Women’s group meeting at CCEW campus” State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, CCEW downtown campus, 1973. http://floridamemory.com/items/show/15747

“Portrait of Mrs. Joe Donadio with her son Joseph Christopher Donadio,” Tallahassee, FL June 13th 1973 photographed by Richard Parks. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/46600

Virginia Slims Cigarettes Advertisement,” before 1989, manufactured by Phillip Morris http://tobacco.stanford.edu/tobacco_main/images_body.php?token1=fm_img0914.php

 “Photograph of a Bride and Her Attendants in New Ulm, Minnesota,” 10/1974. Record of the Environmental Protection Agency, National Archives http://docsteach.org/documents/558236/detail?menu=closed&mode=search&sortBy=relevance&q=women&era%5B%5D=contemporary-united-states&type%5B%5D=image

“Website for Professional Divorce Attorneys in Florida.” Screenshot. 2/5/2014. http://www.800prodivorce.com/orlando-fl-divorce-attorney/

“Cover of Florida issue of Divorce Magazine.” Screenshot. 2/5/2014. http://www.divorcemag.com/aboutus/pressreleases/FLpremier.sht

 “Website for Divorcees to connect.” Screenshot. 2/5/2014. http://www.divorceemeet.com/feedbacks