THE DIVORCE CULTURE by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead

THE DIVORCE CULTURE

How Divorce Became an Entitlement and How It Is Blighting the Lives of Our Children

KIRKUS REVIEW

 An eloquent diatribe against divorce as an entitlement in which the interests of other ``stakeholders,'' particularly children, are subordinated to the enhancement of self. Social historian Whitehead (who first advanced her argument in an award-winning 1993 Atlantic Monthly piece) contends that under the prevailing ethic of ``expressive individualism,'' divorce has become the psychologically approved response to marital dissatisfaction and, as such, morally neutralized (``no right or wrong reasons . . . only reasons'') and socially sanctioned. It is, she contends, even applauded, by the likes of liberals, feminists, and psychotherapists, whose agendas conveniently blind them to consequences that have surfaced on reappraisal. If, as Whitehead maintains, the early supporters believed that ``adults were emotionally fragile and need divorce, while children were emotionally resilient and could handle it,'' later studies bear out her own conclusion, felicitously articulated, that married parents have greater capacity to invest in their children both affectively and instrumentally and also ``to recruit other sources of social and emotional capital.'' Whitehead weakens her fine case for ``the norm of permanence'' when she fails to tame her tendency to caricature and accuses straw men of ``eroticizing'' the ``Love Family'' that putatively supplants the broken nuclear unit. These traits betoken a decidedly selective vision, as does the metonymic representation of contemporary American culture by a privileged subculture (one fluent in Friedan and Freud and affluent enough to forsake economic mobility for ``psychological entrepreneurialism''); ditto some idiosyncratic choices of historical reference points (Edith Wharton novels) and psycho- sociological citations. Whitehead's ethical bias in favor of responsible parenting is unassailable, however: Marriage, she says, is ``children's most basic form of social insurance,'' and marriages with children should be considered ``a special kind of trust.'' Her confrontation with that tough reality merits attention and support. (Author tour; radio satellite tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-43230-2
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1996




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