Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Divorce and Alimony

Men and women, along with their legal right to marry (as one of a binary of sexes and marrying the other of that binary of sexes, but we'll get into that some other time), have a legal right to divorce. And upon divorcing, thanks to the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act of 1970, both men and women have the right to ask for alimony payments upon divorce if they were financially dependent upon their spouses. Curiously, though, men seem not to request alimony nearly as often as women do. The reasons are likely to be social: any man facing a divorce will likely speak to a well-informed lawyer, so we can't assume that men are simply unaware of their rights.

It's truly a shame that pressure on men to be breadwinners might prevent them from fighting for much-needed financial support.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Livejournal Counterpart

I have created a LiveJournal account to which I will be crossposting everything seen here. If you use LJ and would prefer to friend me there rather than follow this blog, the username is v_cide.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gendering Victims: Attacking the Family Court System from All Sides

I've seen a lot of articles kicking around the Internet of late talking about the family court system and how wretchedly custody and visitation disputes tend to be handled. Unfortunately, most of these articles attack the family court system from one perspective: the Wronged Father.

"What's wrong with that?" you might ask. "The father is more often the parent denied visitation or custody without good reason. And besides, fighting for fathers whose rights regarding their children have been impinged on can be extended to the tiny tiny minority of mothers without custody who are in similar positions."

Well, there isn't anything really wrong with it. Gender bias is pretty prevalent in the family court system, and pretty generally agreed to be, so attacking the privileges of the privileged group does make sense.

But to talk about unjust custody and visitation decisions as a fathers' rights versus mothers' rights issue unnecessarily genders it and forcibly creates two different groups of people who both feel they have been wronged in different ways- the Wronged Fathers and the Wronged Mothers. They are both just Wronged Parents who should be able to come together and fight the family court as an unjust judicial system, awarding custody unfairly sometimes on the basis of gender, sometimes on other bases unrelated to the actual care and welfare of the child in question.

It's not often that I see an article talking about the family court system in this way, and I must admit I have fallen prey in the past to gendering my discussion of it. This article by Teri Stoddard does an excellent job of calling out custody-seeking mothers and fathers for their petty hostility towards each other and exposing the family court system's mistreatment of them both. It is a good read.

Just one final note: in this post, I use the example of the family court system and the assumed male victim and assumed female aggressor. Soon, I promise, I will address gender assumptions for victims and aggressors of sexual and domestic violence in a similar (and I hope respectful) manner.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Title of this Blog

It seems appropriate that the first post to this blog be self-referential. I've used this name- Virginal Suicide- in the past, and it's raised some eyebrows, so I think it is worth some explanation.

When I was in the sixth grade, I read somewhere that in ancient China, where women had little to no rights or privileges, the best and sometimes only way for a young lady to draw attention to a plight she or her family might be experiencing was for her to commit suicide. The picture that I got from this long-lost source that I cannot for the life of me recover was that the only way for a usually unmarried (and therefore assumed to be virginal) young woman to get the attention of her male family members and social counterparts- essentially, the only way for her to be an activist- was to martyr herself.

For some reason, this image stuck with me: the notion that a woman could not, historically, present an opinion about an idea, ideal or injustice except by making the ultimate sacrifice, coupled with the notion that these ideas, ideals and injustices were worth that sacrifice, giving rise to a dramatic picture of a pure (in whatever sense- I'll address the social implications of virginity as a stand-in for purity in future posts) young woman with her life ahead of her committing suicide to bring attention to her plight or the plights of others.

Actual historical evidence on the prevalence and acceptance of this practice is, of course, spotty, and I'm pretty sure both that it did not happen terribly often and that when it did, the effect was minimal and short-term. However, this picture is still around. The original picture I had of young women in China, particularly the more traditional, rural areas, is unfortunately not inaccurate even today. In fact, female suicide in some rural villages is so common as to be normalized: diagnosable mental illness is far less common in Chinese women who have attempted suicide than Western women, implying that it's a social or cultural rather than medical epidemic, and in some places it is an accepted way for a young woman to express displeasure. (We have examples of this in the West, too, of course: the Virgin Suicides is the obvious literary one.)

But this picture takes many different forms in different cultures, with different gender and sex identities and different causes. Need I even mention religious martyrs such as Jesus who died for ideas, ideals and injustices?

On a larger scale, many groups of people have used suicide, commonly in the form of hunger strikes, to gain attention for political and social causes. It's an incredibly powerful way to protest.

So, after all that, why name this blog after that picture? It's a pretty gruesome, grotesque, gross and-other-g-words image, and one seemingly of desperation.

I chose it as a reminder of what I don't have to resort to. Instead, I can express myself loudly, clearly and verbally, and I can expect people to, if not listen, at least hear me and consider my ideas, my ideals and my notions of what is unjust. I chose it as a reminder of how important these ideas, ideals and notions of injustice can be. I chose it as a reminder of how far we've come, that I can expect these things, and how far we've got to go, that I still must loudly proclaim them.